This weekend’s planned agenda was to climb Observation Rock. However, for the first time in what seemed like an eternity rain was in the forecast… lots of it. It seemed that most of the heavy rain and high wind (up to 60mph) was predicted to occue on Saturday. Sunday’s weather appeared a bit better with light showers and some sunshine. Thus, Damien and I opted to pack our ice gear and head out to Mount Rainier National Park. If the weather was as predicted on Sunday we would climb. If not we would have a backpack trip to Spray park and scout out the approach for Observation Rock. Most importantly, we would be spending time in the backcountry in some wretched weather… our specialty!

We spend a good deal of time hydroplaning across the highway to the Carbon River Ranger station to pick up our permit. Then we drove the endless miles of dirt road to Mowich Lake. The rain and winds were right on schedule though now and then sun and blue sky would make an appearance for five minutes. When we left the car the rain was steady, but not a complete downpour. Plus the trail was woods and the trees offered protect from the wind and rain. We saw some very wet and very unhappy looking boyscouts just before heading down the trail… we were smiling. RAIN!!!!!

When I say “down the trail” i truly do mean down. The trail descends down stairs and then meanders up and down for 2.2 miles never actualluy gaining elevation, but loosing about 500 feet. We stayed got a little lost at the Junction for Eagle Roost and  left at the Eagle Roost “water: The map seemed to show that we were supposed to past the camp so we descended to it only to find that the trial did not continue from there. Luckily it was only a .1 mile detour and soon we were back on track following the trail for “water” (the trail to the left). Soon after the junction with the Spray Falls Overlook the trail suddenly decided to ascend (finally). We went up a few switchbacks and entered Spray Park, which is a large open meadow, just in time for the monsoon.

The rain grew insane just as we stepped into the meadow and the wind whipped through the trees. Thinking it might be just a momentary unleashing of water we waiting fifteen minute under some trees, but it didn’t let up. We put on our rain-pants and walked into what felt like a constant waterfall. It wasn’t all that horrible though to be hoenst. There was a real alpine feel to the weather and the place. The trail wandered through the meadows and overflowing tarns slowly gaining elevation. We took a side-trail at about 5800ft that headed in the direction of Observation Rock which we could see in the distant. We could also see trees ahead that would offer shelter from the roaring wind. If we gained much more elevation the tent would never stay up in the 60-70 mph gusts.

We founded a nice sheltered place near the trees and a clear tarn. We put up the tent in a hurry and crawled inside stripping off our rain gear. The wind roared int he trees and over the slopes, but inside, aside from being a bit damp, it was nice and cozy. We didn’t linger inside though for more than an hour. It seemed like the rains were letting up so we went out and ventured cross country in the direction of Observation Rock. To our surprise a blue sky and sunshine made an appearance.

We found what we thought would be a good route to Observation Rock (we already knew we wouldn;t be appraoching the traditional way since we had to camp lower due to the wind). Then we started climbing up to the stop of several ridges as the weather slowing began to disintegrate  again. On the high ridge at 6200 ft the wind nearly blew us off our feet. We retreated to lower ground and headed back to camp once again in the freezing rain. By then it was evening so we filtered water and cooked a delightfully warm dinner before turning in for the night.

At 5am the wind and rain had not left up. Itw as too dangerous to climb. We waiting in the tent until 9:00am with no improvement in the weather. We decided that this was not the day to climb and packed up camp… it was impossible to keep anything dry when packing so we probably carried an additional ten pounds each in water weight. The trek out went quickly and we reached the trail-head at 11:35am. While we were stuffing our gear into the car who should wander over to us but Colin Haley, one of the most talented alpinists in the world. We exchanged a few words about gear and climbing routes. That chance meeting made our day!

 

We had on the calendar to backpack the Icicle Divide last weekend. However, as you can see from the title of this post, that isn’t what actually occured. Damien had been following the route conditions on Mount Rainier ever since our last attempt a month ago. It seemed the DC was in doable shape… At first he said he was just playing with the idea, but that he wasn’t serious…. but of course this all led to a call to us calling ranger station to check reservation availability… and that led to faxing in the reservation form for Ingraham Flat. Thus our plans changed…

We picked up our permit on Thursday afternoon at Paradise, had a less than tasty dinner at the visitor center deli and enjoyed a restful night sleep of two hours. We were moving up the trail to camp Muir at 8:00pm. The evening was peaceful as we passed the final few visitors heading back to Paradise. The stars twinkled in a perfectly clear sky. The air was crisp and still. The snowline began at about 7500 ft and pack was pretty hard so we decided to put on our crampons since the conditions were perfect for it. Together we took one steep step after another up the mountain. It was pleasant though even with our 55lb packs. However, as the night wore on we grew tired. We decided to take a nap about about 8000 ft and midnight. It was quit cozy there on the rocks with our giant Feathered Friends puffys in the quiet night beneath the mountain.

We began moving again about 30 minutes later… and about 15 minutes after that the stillness ended. We knew a front was coming in that would bring wind and possibly rain. However, reading 50mph winds and feeling it are two different things! The wind thrashed at us blowing silted and sand in our our faces, blinding our uncovered eyes. The gusts practically blew us off our feet and pushed me around sideways off the track. We battled it with our heads down and spirits low, watching our altimeters closely hoping the barometer reading was thrown off by the weather change and that we were higher than it read. I cannot describe how ecstatic we were when the rocky ledge of Camp Muir camp into the headlight focus. And 200 ft earlier than our altimeters read!

It had already been non-verbally decided that we would stay at Muir until the winds died later that day (it was 2:45am so we had a lot of time). Ingraham Flat was always windier and it would be impossible to set up the tent . As luck would have it, the hut was empty and we gratefully unpacked our sleeping bag and setting in for the rest of the night listening to the wind howling outside.

The wind did not stop howling. Climbers bailed at 11,000 ft due to the wind. The few teams that mad eit reported being severely sand blasted on the Cleaver and 70mph winds on the summit that knocked large men off their feet. Tents at Ingraham Flat and Camp Muir got blown away or shredded. And the winds were now reported to remain until midnight. Long story short, we stayed cuddled in the Muir Hut. Summit day would just have to be longer.

We departed Camp Muir at 11:30pm on Saturday night. We had spent most of our time since arriving at  Muir in our sleeping bag so we were well rested and ready to go. The track traversed the upper Cowlitz (stepping over a few crevasses). There is a somewhat short scramble (or like a scree/pumice climb) to the top of Cathedral Rocks Ridge and Ingraham Glacier. The Flat is about ten minutes away from here at 11000 ft. The route traverses the glacier making a beeline for Disappointment Cleaver, a vague outline in the darkness. It’s a good thing I couldn’t see it very well so I could remain in my happy place longer. We crossed two horizontal ladders (easy to walk across) over two crevasses before reaching the base of the cleaver and stepping off the ice.

The well flagged route of  Disappointment Cleaver ascends up the side in some long switchbacks until it reaches the spine. From here we climbed  about 1100ft of misery (rocks, scree, sand… lots of volcanic crud) until we finally got deposited back onto the glacier to my ultimate delight at 12300 ft. It took a bit to locate the track from here, but once we did the way was pretty straightforward int he well beat path. We reached a series of hand-lines leading up the broken up glacier no far from the Cleaver. A fun surprise in the midst of the hand-lines was a vertical ladder which ended up being easier to scale than i predicted. From the top of this jumble of hand-ines and broken up ice was easier ground, but ground that was above the height of Mount Adams (my previous highest peak). I quickly discovered that my tolerance for altitude was higher than most… but I still had a breaking point.

At 12500ft I began to feel sleepy and noticed that each step seemed to take more labor than usual. By 13000ft Damien and I were not particularly happy and wondering why the hell we were up on Rainier and not backpacking the Icicle Divide! It’s an odd feeling. The feeling of having fully functioning and strong muscles that are in no pain… but yet you cannot get anything to move at a normal pace because every twitch of your finger is exhausting. And… we were frustrated! We’ve spent so much time since March above 10,000ft climbing volcanoes and going to Muir. How could we not be in condition!

The sun came up and we did manage to admire the beauty of the mountain despite our altitude sickness. The ice had created cone formations I had never seen before. It was enchanting! Seracs, broken ice, caves, crevasses… it was all a frozen kingdom of gigantic scale I had never seen before. It was simply gorgeous! But as soon as I was done admires nature’s artwork I went back to trying to breathe.

We traversed left for what seemed like ages (and it was… the route really did go more our the way left than other years). The next bridge was horizontal but angle uphill as it crossed over a mess of crevasses. Just reaching the bridge is a but sketch crossing over a snow bridge, scaling and scaling and thin ice protrusion. We crawled across this one. EKKK! From here with slowly, very very slowly, ascended switch backs to the next bridge (this one also angle upward) over a less scary crevasse. We traversed some more beneath a tall ice wall until it ended and we switched back right and up the final few hundred feet to the crater rim.

This is where we stopped. Finally. We’d reach the top of Rainier… though we barely enjoyed it. We were too busy sitting in a sheltered area trying to drink and breathe as much as possible. It hurt to drink. I forced myself. It was exhausting to open my pack to get out my jacket. Every move left me feeling as though I had just run an ultra marathon. But we were there, we were there. High above the clouds and  thick smoke that blanketed the mountains below making their peaks appear ghostly (later it occurred to me that even though were above the smoke some of the soot particles were probably still floating around up high hampering our breathing). We lingered for about 30 minutes leaving the rim at 11am. It was going to be a long journey down.

The way down was easier since not as much effort was required and with each foot descending each breathe came easier. Going down the first two now downward facing ladders was got our hearts racing as we crawled down face first. We were more concerned about the hand-lines and vertical ladder below as the sun had been shinning for some time. Luckily everything was still stable as we passed through the area.  It was amazing to see the towering seracs and ice formations that was shrouded in darkness when we’d passed earlier. We stopped to rest at the cleaver. Damien was nearing his breaking point of exhausting. But some rest and water did him some good… which worked out well because I reached my point of exhaustion just as we began down the cleaver of hell. I don’t like descending loose scrambly stuff… never have and in my state i just didn’t have the patience or tolerance to complete the journey in good spirits. I felt massively better when i was back on the snow… in fact i felt like my energy was renewed on the glacier (typical of me).

We returned to camp at about 6:15pm… still too exhausted to realize that we had climbed Rainier successfully. We the ranger’s permission we stayed in Muir again and set up our tent for the night. We then spent the a relaxing hour melting snow for water before having dinner and turning in.

We completed some cruddy glissades the following morning the the snowline. Then joined the masses of tourist on the panorama point trail.. a couple asked us if we’d made it all the way up to Pebble Creek…. in my exhausted state I just couldn’t help being a bit snide (okay… i think i would have said the same thing in my normal state)I added “do you really think i packed this 55lbs of crap on my back to do a little day hike?”). People began to ask us though if we’d summited and the more we said yes the more it began to sink in… we did it together. We conquered altitude hell… and with that all the pain faded. In fact we’ve forgotten so much about the pain that we’ve already started talking about how to do better when we make some more attempts again next year!

Last time I attempted Mount Forgotten it was January. I had to turn back because of the wretched run-out  on the steep snow slope leading down from the Forgotten Meadows. Damien experienced that same thing when he attempted to make the climb several years ago in the winter. This time we came together with a rope and in summer hoping for better luck.

The weather wasn’t exactly stellar. The forecast called for rain and that is exactly we we got. The typical Seattle misty rain pitter pattered over the valley as we walked down the Perry Creek Trail early in the morning. As wet as it was the lack of sun was relief. The creek crossing near Perry Creek Falls was barely a crossing as the water level were extremely low. The trail up to the meadows was in mostly good shape with a few downed logs and a few overgrown parts.

It was clear when we reached the top of the switchbacks that there wasn’t going to be much of view. We couldn’t see the mountain at all! Everything was shrouded in a eerie white mist. We put on our harnesses and helmets in the Forgotten Meadows and easily found the trail that leads down to the right side of the ridge toward Mount Forgotten. This part of the trail is extremely steep as it drops about 200 ft. It is very overgrown in some places and sometimes difficult to locate the trail. If you look though (often though thick brunch) you can find your way. Due to the overgrowth and wet weather we were thoroughly soaked from the branches as we pushed passed them. the trail ascends upward as it traverses the side of the mountain until it reaches a basin on the back side of Forgotten. From here the trail disappears a little as it enters a steep and rocky gully (class 2). The climbing was pretty easy to the top the the gully. The final 300-400 ft the trail reappears and steeply ascends to the summit block(s).

There is controversy over which summit block is the highest. When you turn left at the top of the slope there are some easy 3rd class steps to the first summit. Beyond that summit further left is a drop and then a knife edge class 4 scramble to the next summit. This is why we had brought the rope. We built and anchor with the rope wrapping it around a massive horn on the first summit. I belayed Damien out onto the next summit where he created a hand-line by tying his end to another horn. I clipped into the line with my PA and made the very exposed crossing. There was one big and intimidating step but the rest wasn’t too scary. Crossing back however was more more terrifying and I opted for standing almost on top of the narrow knife edge to cross. Damien found easier steps.

We returned back to the car after a 12.5 hour day completely drenched, cold, shoes with lake in them and tired, but smiling. Suffering during a climb always makes it better!

 

ng down from the meadows to Forgotten.

Damien and I headed out to climb the seracs of Mount Baker last weekend. There was some rain predicted Saturday afternoon, so we left early Friday morning to squeeze in the most climbing. Of course the forecast was wrong and it never rained. Thus we got in a whole lot of ice climbing practice. There is a far amount of blue ice, but the upper seracs fins seems pretty thin when we went up to explore them. We found a lower crag that had a good variety of routes and stayed there most of both days. The ice is soft, but we were able to build some bombers anchors with screws backed up by V-threads.

The conditions of the Heliotrope Ridge Trail are pretty good. All creek crossings are doable by rock skipping/log crossings. The second to last crossing before the ridge though features a scary crossing over a thin log and some rocks. Tread cautiously here!

 

I’ve been looking at Mount Shuksan for almost 4 years now from Mt Baker Ski Resort and dreaming about climbing the most photographed peak in the world for just as long! After snagging a permit to camp in the National Park on Friday we began our journey the following day…leaving Everett at 1:30am.

We were on the Shannon Ridge trail at about 4:30am. The first part of the trail is a pretty even grade when steepens after about 45 minutes as it heads up to the ridge. At 4500ft there are a few waterless camps as the trail breaks out of the trees and onto the ridge. Here the grad once again evens as it follows the gentle bumps of the rolling meadows until reaching the border of the North Cascades National Park.  From here the trails gets steep and rocky climbing straight up through a notch to a small pass. From here we were afforded gorgeous views of the North Cascades and our first glimpse of some of the glaciers on Shuksan. There is a split int he trail after a few yards. Take the right fork and traverse below rocky cliffs until the trail seems to just end. Look left and follow rock cairns up the lower angle cliffs to the snowfield above. Here are the low camps for Mount Shuksan. There was also a giant crevasse (usually not present). We opted to rope up here and continued over the snow headed directly away from the rocks and slightly right.

The iconic summit Pyramid finally came into view as we approached camp. There are sites near a heather bench near the base of the Sulfide Glacier and also up on the ridge to the left. We took the camps by the heather bench since there was a beautiful little blue pond next to it. The rest of the day was not all that eventful. We exploded the area and talked to climbers coming down. Mostly we tried to find shade and sleep.

We were up at 12am on Sunday to begin the climb. The moon was so bright we barely needed our headlamps as we headed up the Sulfide Glacier There is a well worn path headed up the route. The track led over a few sno bridges, around crevasses and also featured several step-overs. The steepest part of the climb is right at the base of the route. From then on the glacier is very broad and low angle until reaching the large slope leading up to the pyramid. The grade steeps some here and then gets very steep the final several yards to the rock. We made it to the base of the pyramid in 2 hours and twenty minutes.

We stashed our gear in a moat to the left of where the snow track led onto the rock and, began to grip our way, around the rock in the dark. Even with the moon it wasn’t very clear which route we should take up. We scrambled up and down looking for the gulley but nothing seemed “obvious”. We decided to wait until it got lighter. About 30 minutes later some other climbers showed up. They figured out the way to enter the gulley… some steep moves and then over a snow field. We’d left our ice gear below so i belayed Damien across the snow and then he belayed me in. The lowers rap station is on top of the snow field. From there on it there were raps every 30 meters. The route was not very hard to follow and there was a few variations. However, it is sketch with high exposure, class sustained 4 (and some class 3) moves and loose rock.The scramble took longer than the glacier climb and was very intimidating. However, we got through it and found ourselves finally at the summit of Shuksan at 7ish.

The group sharing the summit with us had sent up rappel with two 30M rope tied together and offered to let us use it since they planned to stay on the summit longer. We checked all their knots and headed down the first two pitches. From there it was 4-5 (I don’t recall exactly) more raps using our two 37meter twin ropes. This was the hardness part of the climb for me since I don’t like watching people rappel anymore from above… but I asked Damien to go first each time and bu the end I stopped shuttering at each creak of the rope. We were back on the snow at about 8:30am and back at camp at 10:00am.

With the last glacier climb of the summer season complete we began descending back to civilization. The insane amount of heat ended the season early. Now I can’t wait for winter!