Damien and I haven’t spent any time above 10k feet since Mount Shasta back on Memorial Day weekend. With several projects involving climbing at high altitude looming in the suddenly not so distant future (where has this summer gone?!) we decided that a trip to Mount Rainier National Park was in order. We developed a plan based around two obstacles: we did not have an overnight permit and, again, the forecast was HOT! Thus, the strategy was to start from Paradise in the early evening so we would only catch the tail end of the heat, then climb through the night as far as we could go on the DC route. Summiting Rainier in a day was partially on our minds and we brought gear for a summit bid. However, the main focus of this excursion was to spent time at/above 10k.

We did our best to prepare for the impending all nighter. Saturday morning was sent mostly hanging around the house and napping. We headed out to the park early afternoon and, after fighting some strangely heavy traffic, stopped at Longmire to pick up our climbing permit. It was bizarre to actually get a glimpse of the park during midday. We’re usually only in the front country very early in the morning, very late or in winter when it’s empty. At 3:45 the park was a bit of a circus. We were eager to get on the trail and away from the crowds.

We swung on our packs at the overnight lot at Paradise in early evening at about 5:30pm. Our packs were lighter than normal for a Rainier climb, but with climbing gear in tow they still weighed respectable amount. The trail to Panorama Point was crowded with people. This provided some entertainment for me: folks wearing Mary-Jane shoes and jeans. I was annoyed by the fact that there seemed to be an unseemly number of descending visitors that did not make way for us as we traveled uphill with heavy packs. I know that some people do not know that uphill trekkers have the right of way, but if you see someone with a large pack you should step aside out of common curtesy.

Beyond Panorama Point the crowds thin considerably. Sweating in the early evening heat we watched as the sun edged in what seemed like excruciatingly slow motion toward the horizon. At Pebble Creek we paused to filter water and cool down in preparation for the snowfield ahead. From then on it seemed that the tourists ceased to exist.

The snow was sloppy from the radiation of the day as we began to climb up from Pebble Creek at 7100 feet. However, as the sun slipped finally behind the lower slopes of Rainier the temperature abrupted dropped. We found a good up-track which was further improved by a team passing us (their objective was Rainier in a day). I think it’s the first time we ever found a good track going up the mountain. As we climbed we turned back to gaze at the hues of the pink and purple sky behind Adams, Hood, Jefferson and Helens. All the mountains surrounding us glowed in the soft pastel colors of evening light. Rainier is always a magical place, especially this time of day when the crowds are gone and there is nothing but the splendid, tranquil, beauty of the volcano.

The snow stiffened as we continued upward passing familiar slopes and talus ridges. Ahead the glaciated mountain loomed before us fading into the darkness. At 9:45 we switched on our headlamps and donned our crampons. Our feet with unbalanced on the rapidly solidifying snow. As our crampons crunched in the hardened snow we caught a glimpse of what we thought was a rescue flare streaking across the sky. I would find out later that it was a fireball meteor. We were surprised to reach camp Muir at 10:30pm. Our calibrated altimeters somehow got off count during the climb which is pretty typical on Rainier and read 9800 feet instead of 10100. We had climbed to Muir in 5 hours which was a record for us with or without heavy packs.

Camp Muir was abuzz for with activity.  The guided groups were preparing to depart at their standard 11:00pm. Private teams were also milling about cooking and sorting gear. Damien and I dumped our packs on the dusty ground and, after a quick snack, settled down against some rocks for a 15 minute recharge nap. I especially needed it as fatigue was beginning to take its toll. Damien also alerted rangers and guide of the “rescue flare”. They seemed surprisingly unconcerned.

We were roped up at moving across the Colwitz Glacier at 11:20pm. I had never departed this late to climb Rainier and it felt strange to be part of a conga line of teams instead of climbing in silence. We moved well across the glacier. There were a few crevasses to step across, but nothing significant. However, we began to fall apart on the ascent of Cathedral Rock at 10,470~ ft. The “trail” up the rock formation is my second least favorite aspect of climbing DC (my least favorite being the cleaver). The tread was extremely dusty and, as always, the volcano crude unstable. The upper portion where rock meets dirty glacier had some crevasses, but what was more noteworthy was the audible roar of water coming from beneath the ice. Finally, we stepped onto clean glacier ice and received a healthy blast of wind. The gusts could not have been more than 20mph, but it definitely made it feel colder. Under the twinkling stars and frothy milky way we made our way to Ingraham Flats. There is a sketchy crevasse step-over here that got our attention. The others were minor.

Damien belayed me into the camp and we stared up at the procession of headlamps journeying up the clever. We both felt trashed for lack of sleep and the fatigue seemed to be making the elevation of 11,100 feet seem worse than it really was. Ahead laid another 4500~ feet of gain. The route this season features a marvelous 600 foot descent mid-route before climbing back up. We decided that Ingraham Flats was as far as we could safely go. We must have sat there at camp in our giant puffys for a good 30 minutes before willing ourselves to get back to our feet. Exhausted, we descended back down to Camp Muir which had lighter winds.

We did not have overnight gear. However, we did bring our sleeping bag covers for a situation like this. Damien opted to sleep inside the hut. I did not wish to join the snore-fest indoors so I slept on the bench outside. However, I could only insulate half my body with my backpack, so my lower half stayed pretty cold preventing me from getting any meaningful sleep.

Damien wanted to head down right away in the morning to avoid the next impending heatwave. I wasn’t too jazzed about that since I despise descending hard snow in crampons. I felt wreaked for the first 600 feet. After vitamin I and some coffee infused chocolate though things became a lot less painful. At about 8,000 feet the snow was soft enough to begin glissading which I took advantage of (crampons off of course!).

Once again things got busier the lower we went. At Panorama Point the folks in jeans once again dotted the trail. Back to society. Somehow, we managed to drive home without falling asleep at the wheel. Another learning experience as with many of the trips this summer.

Crater Lake was our final destination on our Triple Park Trip. We had originally planned on hiking to the top of Garfield, Scott, Crater and Union Peaks. However, an unseasonable snowstorm which dumped 5 feet of snow on the park change our plans. The Rim Road was closed which took away access to Crater, Union and Scott. The Road was open to The Rim Village though so we could still get Garfield and walk the road Watchman, a small peak with a watchtower.

We began up Garfield at first light. The air was frigid and it was hard to believe I had been sweating in Yosemite less than a day before. The trail starts behind the Hotel, but it was invisible under the snow. But we new it followed the rim and then up the ridge. There were also some tracks. Right away I had a feeling crampon would be a nice addition to the hike. I didn’t realize though they they would become a requirement. We ascending the switchbacks up the ridge. The trail was pretty apparent with the snow and the going was straightforward and doable with just poles until about maybe 7400 feet. After that the angle of the snow got much steeping and the ledge of the trail most exposed. There was one point where we had to walk for about 3 yards on a rock catwalk next to the snow that had drifted on the trail right on the edge. The trail was eventually obliterated in steep angled snow and invisible. Without crampon we opted to climb up some exposed talus and scree . We then reentered the snow and stopped at a tiny flat area about about 7600 feet to examine our options. The snow was frozen and had been questionable and sketch up to this point. It was about to get steeper to regain the ridge… and we weren’t sure how stable the ridge was. Without an ice axe and crampons we made the hard decision to turn back.

We instead walked down the West Rim Road to Watchman Point. There is a trail beside the road, but it would have slowed up down and we didn’t have the time to post hole. We didn;t think we’d make it up Watchman without snowshoes when we first got there and just hung out at the point enjoying the perfect view of Wizard Island. But as we got up to leave Damien took a closer look at the trail and found that he wasn;t sinking as much as expected. We decided to go for it. We followed the gently switchbacking trail through the snow with minimal sinkage to the summit of Watchman. There is an out lookout there what is not open to the public, but the views are spectacular! And we had it all to ourselves! Well worth the long road walk…

Speaking fon the road, we wanted to cut off some road travel time so instead of descending the trail we opted to plunge straight down the mountain to cut off a mile of the road which circles around the back of the Mountain to the TH. This is kind of an adventurous moves as the road around watchman features of impassable cliffs. But we figured we could troubleshoot if need be. We used a combination of plunge stepping and glissading to descend. We did end up popping out on a cliff above the road, but there was a lower angle place we were able to down-climb.

We followed the road back toward the Rim Village. Along the way we came across a vole that had no issue with me walking right up to it and well… I also petted it with my gloves on of course. i doubt it will be long before he is picked up by a predator, but he was so darned adorable!

Yosemite was granted a very heavy duty rain storm over the weekend and when the skies began to clear on Monday the Upper Falls, previously dry just days before, was gushing with water. Since the rock will still wet, we decided to make Monday our hiking day and headed onto the Trail to Upper Falls (starts at Camp 4). The trail is pretty steep at times and ascends 2800feet in about 3.4 miles to the brink of the Upper Falls. The path begins in the forest on typical switchbacks. As the tree open the trail gets steeper and our first views of well, mostly mist, were revealed. After ascended for about 1400 feet the trail drops 200 feet to avoid and slab and curved around the shoulder of the rock wall to a wonderful viewpoint of the Falls. After a short section of flat hiking the trail goes into what seems like endless switchbacks until it reaches the top of the North Rim. Here signed point to the right toward the overlook. A quick 1/2 mile jaunt over rock and down some stairs with a rail led us to the top of the deafening falls and views of Yosemite Valley still partially covered in mist.

After a quick break and snack we backtracked to the Junction. We followed left hand turn from the valley bottom and toward Eagle Peak. There are a few junctions on this gently ascending trail, but they are all well signed with arrows to Eagle Peak. The elevation gain here barely noticeable as you trek through the pine forest. Finally a junction is reached with a sign indicating the summit of Eagle. We took this trail which was also not very steep to the rocky summit. It features maybe 2 or three 3rd class moves. It was still misty, but the clouds were break every few minutes revealing a great view of Half Dome! It was hard to leave the summit. The mist gave everything a real high sierra feel and laying on the rocks was just addicting. But we reversed route. We ran into throngs of people on the Upper Falls trail and were very happy we had started early in the morning before light (typical us).

The mist did manage to fully clear on the way down so we were granted perfect views of Half Dome in vivid afternoon light. But nothing could compare to the solitude of the morning where we had the North Rim to ourselves in the mist.

The Day we took off from our Triple Parks Trip a huge heavy rain and wind warning was in effect for the entire PNW. Though it wasn’t half as bad a predicted a copious amount of rain did fall during our Redwoods Excursion. Luckily we were in the trees which provided Shelter. The Redwoods National and State Parks Complex is composed of a series of State Parks and Redwoods NP. We went to Prairie Creek State Park which i believe provides the best sampling of everything that is the Redwoods: Tall Trees, the beach and Fern Canyon.

Damien and I completed connected several trails to make2 a loop tour of the the major features of the State Park. We began at the mian trail from the visitor center and followed the signs to the James Irvine Trail which offers a great tour of the Redwoods. This trail leads to Fern Canyon. The trail is almost none existent Basically you walk through the creek that runs through the Canyon. This area of lofty fern canyon walls is where Star Wars with filmed… The third of the original films. I get confused at this point which episode is which. The rain actually made the canyon even more beautiful.

We exited the Canyon to Golden Bluffs Beach… which exceptionally high surf. We followed the road/trail along the beach  for about a mile or 2 to Miners Ridge Trail. Walking out in the open on the road allowed us to fully experience the wrath of the rain so we were happy to be back under the cover of the tall trees. From here we trekked back to the VC completing the 12 mile loop.

After climbing Mt Shasta and visiting the Oregon Caves we opted to close out Memorial Day weekend with a quick morning hike before heading back to WA which ended up being a ten hour drive. We woke up at 3am at camp on Selmac Lake, quickly packed up and headed along the twisty twindy road to Oregon Caves National Monument. Although the big draw to the park is its underground attraction, there was also some hiking to be had in the Siskiyou Mountain above ground. We chose the longest trail, The Mount Elijah trail. It is 8 miles with 2390ft of gain (summit height 6390ft). Pretty much a stroll in the park for alpinist, but still nice way to end the weekend.

We began at 4:45pm on the right branch of the Big Tree Loop just behind the Visitor Center. The trail traverses through the forest with a few switchbacks for 1.7 miles at a gradual grade to the junction with the Elijah Mountain Trail at 5070ft. The trail’s elevation gain through the forest and high meadows continues to be very steady and gradual except for about 200ft of gain just beyond the NM border when the trail enters Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Here is is respectably steep. But it evens out again after that. There are several trail junctions. All are well marked except for then the Mt Elijah Trail splits into a loop. There is no sign here. Just a tiny carin. If you look down the trail on left you will see a sign regarding a forest service road ahead. You can climb up the Mt Elijah trail and then descend the mountain to Bigalow Lakes, walk on the said forest service road and get back to this junction. Basically the left turn heads to Bigalow Lakes and then Elijah and it is a longer route to the summit. We went right, not wanting to walk on a road. The trail goes up a forested ridge for what seems like forever until it curves left and breaks above treeline. Now a a high ridge covered with phlox and  small shrubs that trail continues it gradual ascent to the summit. An old sign makes the top.

It was another clear day and we could see all the way to Mt Shasta to the south. The green, forested Siskiyou surrounded us. They are not the craggy peaks of Washington, but they still held their own beauty. We stayed here enjoying the views for about a half hour before heading back down the way we came, but finishing the hike on the other half of the Big Tree Trail. The entire 8 miles taking our time took us exactly 4.75 hours to complete. Great morning walk before a long car ride!

Damien and I went to TX to visit family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but we came back in time Sunday to get in a quick day hike up Mt Dickerman. To be precise we got home from the airport at about 1:45am on Sunday and left the house at 7 to go on the hike.

I won’t go into too much detail about the trail as I have several posts on this convenient conditioning hike already. The snow/ice line begins at 3800 ft and snow/ice is continuous after 4000 ft. Crampons were very much needed on the trail. Microspikes will probably work, but you’d have to go very slow. There is a good trench in the snow in the meadows above to the summit so no snowshoes required.

Great summit views all the way to the Olympics. We were surprised it wasn’t busier. The gray jays greeted us during our summit lunch as always. We shared a few crumbs with them before heading back down.


No trip to Yosemite would be complete without spending some time on the trails! We opted to climb to the shoulder of Half Dome, one of the most famous hikes in America. Actually the hike to the top of Half Dome using the cables to ascend the 5.4 finally few hundred feet is the famous trip, but this late in the season most of the caple setup is removed and only a length of chain remains on the icy rock. So we decided to just get as high as we could.

We had a bit of a rocky starting finding the right trail to take from the Happy Isles Nature Center. We found finally that we had to go to the road and cross a Bridge to get to the Mist/John Muir TH. The trail is not terribly steep here and is on broken up concrete which kind of took away from the wilderness experience. There are also restrooms and concessions (closed for the season) at the Vernal Falls Bridge. But we had the trail to ourselves this crisp November morning as we walked deeper into the Valley.

Eventually we met an intersection where the mist trail stems off left. This is a shorter way to Half Dome, but its much steeper and Damien expected it to be icy with all the “mist” from the falls along that direction. We continued on the John Muir Trail which now began to gain elevation stradily. We cam across massive patches of ice and really wanted our micro-spikes, but alas we did not have them so we did our best to skip along the very edge of the trail or protruding rocks. It wasn;t too bad until the forest opened up and we could see marvelous views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Liverty Cap. However, the trail was now between a low stone wall barrier to the left and a massive rock wall to the right. The trail was basically an ice skating rink with large shards of ice on top of it that had fallen off the rock wall. To cross we had to hang onto the barrier and move quickly as some smaller pieces of ice fell on us!

We made it to the top of Nevada falls and paused for a snack. A few other people who had come up the Mist trail passed by and headed back down the Muir Trail. We continued on the now snowy trail toward Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, well signed. High up now the world was white and once again if felt like winter compared to the sunny dry valley below.

The trail makes a massive circle around Half Dome before climbing up once again. The snow and grade slowed us down some, but it wasn’t enough to require snowshoes and the snow was well packed down by other hikers. Finally we reached the large slab shoulder of Half Dome. Here there are spare trees and expansive Views of the Sierra Nevada Wilderness. We had the option of scrambling to the top of the sub-dome from here to the base of the cables. However, it was steep, snowing and icy. It is sketch in dry summer conditions too so we opted not to take the chance in these even more treacherous conditions. Instead we enjoyed the view from the shoulder.

The way down went very quickly. we opted to take the John Muir Trail back as we feared from other hikers reviews thatt he Mist Trail would be too dangerous to go down (normal route down). The ice was a little melted on the John Muir Trail, but not as much as we expected. We made safe passage though back to the Valley.

We couldn’t do an overnight this weekend as we needed to fulfill some half day obligations on Saturday. So we opted to head out to Mount Rainier National Park to complete a well known conditioner: Camp Muir. Lots of folks use this trail because it reaches 10080ft and features 4640ft of gain in 4.5 miles. Folks also claim that it tests the hiker mentally too as the camp can be seen for almost the entire hike, but it never seems to get closer!

I was told all of this before setting out Sunday morning with Damien. It was my first time climbing to the camp and I was curious to see if it was as bad are everyone said it was. The sun was blazing when we began walking around 8am. We started with a thick layer of sunblock, glacier goggles and caps to protect ourselves. There is a fairly good stamped out trail and the snow was frozen still so we didn’t bother with snowshoe. I did put on crampons for the steep climb up the hill to Panorama Point. I liked being able to front-point. Damien didn’t bother though and did just fine.

It was a lovely clear day and the Tatoosh Range, Adams and Helens were visible as we climbed. I didn’t find that looking at Muir the whole way was a problem. I just picked smaller landmarks like rock piles to mark my progress. After Panorama Point there are only a few steep places. The rest of the gain seemed pretty gradual to me. I did end up putting on snowshoes as the sun softened the snow. It was very hot out with no breeze. That was the biggest challenge for me.

Ay 9000 ft Damien began to feel the altitude. At this point the camp seems closer than it is and there are no rock piles. I chose to mark progress with the perpendicular  ski tracks along the track. I think I sped up at this point. Altitude has never bothered me though I always notice the thinner air. I just don’t feel oxygen deprived for some reason that I cannot explain.

There were a fair amount of folks on the top. A mix of AT skiier, snowshoers and hikers. We found a bit of shade and stayed there for about an hour listening to distant avalanches before heading back down. The snowshoes were great on the descent. Otherwise it would have been a posthole nightmare. There were also some glissade tracks that we used as well.


All in all a great conditioner… if only the sun wasn’t so hot!

Damien and I set out over the weekend with the goal of finally climbing Mount Saint Helens. I’ve been meaning to climb it for 3.5 years and he 7 years! We arrived a day ahead though to camp and explore Ape Caves which is the longest lava tube in America (2.5 miles). It is a popular destination so be prepared for crowds.

The entrance to Ape Caves is well marked and reached by walking on a short path from the parking lot. There are metal stairs that lead to the middle of the cave. We turned right and walked through the easy lower cave which looks like a mine shaft. There are some cool features like the “meatball” pictured below. A light source if, of course, required for the underground trail. The lower cave dead ends and we turned back the way be came.

Back up the stairs we followed a trail to the Upper cave Entrance and stepped gingerly down a metal ladder. This section of the cave has piles of rubble and talus throughout unlike the mostly level lower cave. The piles of rock are pretty stable though and fun to navigate through. There is one area with a hand line to assist with a call five move. We ended up meeting up with the lower cave (we didn’t know the two were attached… if we’d turned left on our first entrance we would have headed up the upper cave trail). We exited up the stairs and headed back to camp.

Chris took my hiking at Castlewood Canyon State Park. In the summer it is a climbing area with crags and bounders. In the winter it is a snowshoeing/hiking snowy wonderland.

We began on the Inner Canyon trail which descends into the canyon of conglomerate rock. The snow is pretty steep on the descent, but vegetable belays and handrails can be used pretty easily. The trail is flat and passes within the walls of the canyons. I passed what seemed to be a V2 boulder problem and solved it in my head after a few half-assed attempts. Hiking boots and freezing temps weren’t in my favor! We then took the Dam trail which is very brief and leads to the ruins of an old Dam and turned right at the junction onto the Rimrock Trail. This is labeled as difficult on the map, but really its just a few switchbacks out of the canyon at a very low grade. The views from the canyon rim of the valley below were quite lovely. The snow was less packed down here due to less foot-traffic this far out, but still no snowshoes were needed. We climbed back down into the Canyon via the Creek Bottom trail and stayed left at the junctions back to the Dam Trail. then we took the Inner Canyon trail back to the car making a 6 mile lollipop loop.