Spring and summer climbing season of 2017 has focused particularly on 2 skillsets: carryover and mental fortitude. The fact that our climbs have been centered around these 2 aspects is not an accident; it was intentional training in preparation for our summer project: Kautz Glacier. Most people climb Mt Rainier with a base camp on the popular Emmons or DC Routes. These routes are more or less like a maintained trail going up a glacier. Any danger is mitigated by guides upholding a track steering climbers away for trouble. The only real issue to contend with on these standard routes is altitude. The Kautz is different. This route has two technical alpine ice walls, no tracks, yawning crevasses to navigate, extremely steep slopes and, of course, altitude. It is commonly done carryover style with a descent of the DC route since descending Kautz is time consuming and often dangerous. Additionally, this year the recommended start of the route was Comet Falls TH at 3,600 feet due to the mangled mess of crevasses on the lower Nisqually. Normally the start of the route is from Paradise at 5420 ft.

I picked up our permit on a sweltering Thursday evening. The air was thick with smoke from the wildfires torching British Columbia and the mountain was just barely visible through the haze. I hoped that we would be well above the smoke layer on the climb. I did a combination of wandering around Paradise, reading and attempting to sleep while I waited for Damien to drive in from Seattle. Five hours later after totally missing each other several times in the parking lot, Damien and I finally reunited. Leaving Damien’s car at Paradise, we piled our gear into my SUV and drove to the Comet Falls TH hoping to get an acceptable amount of sleep before venturing out for the approach.

At 2:30am we swung our heavy packs onto our backs and followed the beam of our headlamps down up the Comet Falls Trail. Our alpine start reasons were triple fold: we had to gain 5800 feet, we wanted to arrive at camp early so we could nap all afternoon and once the sun came up it was supposed be another day of unbearable heat. The trail gained relatively slowly until arriving at Comet Falls. The falls seemed to glow in the moonlight and we paused to admire them before continuing up the now steep switchbacks to Van Trump Park.

The soft early morning light illuminated glorious wildflower meadows of Van Trump Park as we broke out of the trees and entered the alpine zone. Behind us the Tatoosh Range looked like a pastel drawing, softly cloaked in a haze of smoke far below. Ahead of. us looking rather intimidating, was Mount Rainier unobstructed with smoke and radiating with its pure immensity. We could see Camp Hazard and the upper ice wall from our vantage point… everything looked so far away! We followed the trail through the sprawling meadow venturing passed the sign reading “end of maintained trail”. The trail never felt unmaintained, however, until we reached a rocky ridge. Damien chose to scramble through the talus while I opted to stay on the snow just beside the rocks. To my delight, my trail runners seemed to have great traction! We continued up the steep terrain for several hundred feet until the rocks ended and a vast snowfield laid in front of us. It was an easy grade at first, but then in reared up sharply.  The full strength of the sun’s rays was beginning to bare down on us as we begrudgingly began the final 1000 foot ascent in the scorching heat and softening softening snow.

We reached the Castle at 11am. The Castle is the lowest section of Turtle Snowfield at 9400 feet. However, it’s has running water and nice built up bivy/tent sites on the rock island. There was a single tent that had been collapsed in one of these sites. There was also a team of three at the end of the Island getting ready to ascend to Camp Hazard at 11,600 feet. We read in our beta that Camp Hazard is aptly named and not suggested as a camp. It is right beneath the Kautz Ice Cliff and it’s not unheard of for chunks of ice to comes hurling through camp.

We set up our modest camp overlooking the Muir Snowfield, Camp Muir, The Nisqually Glacier and Tatoosh Range. We had an ultra-light tarp at 8oz, summer sleeping bags and z-pads. The rest of the afternoon was spent attempting to escape the sun very unsuccessfully while we napped. We had dinner in the early evening wondering when the climbers would return to their tent. They showed up at 6:30 exhausted from the Kautz and the tedious descent of the ice walls. The packed up and moved their camp further down. The sun finally dipped below the horizon and the cool evening air we’d been waiting for finally arrived. Time to catch a few short hours of quality sleep before our next alpine start!

It seemed like I had only been asleep for 15 minutes when my alarm jolted me awake at 11:30pm. Damien and I broke down camp and began stuffing our packs for the carryover. Of course, Damien boiled some water for coffee as well. By 12:30am we began our very long walk uphill using only the moon as a source of light; tt was so bright we didn’t need to switch on our headlamps. The frozen snow softly crunched beneath our crampons as we journeyed up Turtle Snowfield. Other than that, it was silent and pristine. The slope grew steeper as we continued up and we switched from poles to ice axes. The sun cups made the ascent seem like walking up steep stairs at times and with my short, little legs this grew tiresome. Still we plodded on.

At 11,300 feet, we reached Camp Hazard. There is running water here as well and some rock bivy sites. Of course, hanging directly above was the Kautz Icecliff looking very precarious. At the edge of the camp we tied into our 37-meter rope. From here we descended 300 feet down the other side of Camp Hazard through a precarious ice fall zone, moving quickly to mitigate the danger. I have heard of folks rapping from Camp Hazard into this icefall chute, but it was a very easy downclimbed. Finally, we were out of the danger zone and at the base of the first ice wall. The wall at this point in the season was still all snow, but it was frozen solid in the darkness. It featured very large sun-cups and, at the sharp grade, it resembled a massive wall of very steep and tall steps. Damien led up. The features were interesting through I was forced to clamber up some of the steps with my knees since they were so tall! It felt like a stair master 10 Billion! No protection was placed as we simual-climbed since the snow wouldn’t effectively take screws and it was too solid to bang in a picket. I’m not sure we would have placed anything even if we could. There were some narrow crevasses easily seen and stepped over.

The grade eased and, as the run rose, we crossed more sun-cup terrain to the second ice wall. This wall appears more daunting and large at a distance that it truly is once you get up close. There is a narrow line of grey ice right through the center. Damien did not wait for a belay and began climbing up the W2/3 alpine ice. He placed 3 screws before building an anchor with our final 2. This belay would not have been necessary if we had some additional screws (we had 5 total), but its worth the extra weight. As I ascended the grey ice I was struck by how poorly the picks of my sumtecs were sticking. It was horrific! Luckily, I was wearing mono-point crampons and they seemed to be sticking well. Thus, I climbed relying very heavily on feet. Lots of dinner plating action too! Damien also was having issues with his picks, although his swings are stronger and thus he could make it work better. Therefore, we decided that he would lead the second section. When the rope grew tight I removed the anchor and continued up following Damien to the top of the ice wall and into the most impressive world of penitents I have ever seen.

Penitents, or spires of glacial snow, that can range in size from a foot high to over your head engulfed us above the grey ice.  They were big, mostly around shoulder height. We wove our way through the formations doing our best to keep the rope from getting snagged. Nestled within these spires were, of course, crevasses. There was no trail. There was nothing to show us the way. This was true mountaineering and it was the first time we had to rely 100% on ourselves to problem solve. And there were a lot of navigation problems! The crevasses were long and sweeping. Sometimes we could step or jump over. More often we had to traverse the edges and find a way around them which took time. The penitents seemed to form fences around the crevasses though creating a nifty border as we walked along the edges. During our route-finding extravaganza, we switched leads due to all the wandering.

Finally, I found myself on the edge of the most massive crevasse I have ever encountered. At first it looked like I could go around it to the left, but it soon became clear that the penitents concealed part of the crevasse and it stretched out clear across the glacier. We turned and went the other way walking toward the rock formation called Wapowety Cleaver. We had to follow the cleaver to its terminus anyway at the Nisqually Glacier. Hopefully, near the rock we could cross the monstrous crevasse.

Somewhere along the line we switched leads again and made a, to our displeasure, descending traverse along the edge in search of passage. After dropping about 200 feet we saw that the crevasse curved just before it reached the rock so we had no direct access to the cleaver. However, there seemed to be a bridge/cave in, that we could cross. Carefully, we picked our way across the bridge and made it to the other side.

We continued upward on the glacier alongside the cleaver. As we ascended the penitents grew shorter before finally morphing into sun-cups. Near the top of the cleaver we stepped onto the rock to avoid a crevasse. Once back on the snow we continued to the end of the Wapowety and discovered some bivys in the rock at 13,100~ feet.  We took this opportunity to take a long break. The terrain ahead looked easier, but now we would start to feel the effects of altitude. Damien and I looked up again from the rocks and marveled at how far the summit still seemed to be! Far below us we could see the faint images of distant mountain ssubmerged in a thick, grey sheet of smoke. We were high above the smog, but breathing would still be difficult.

Rehydrated and fed, we stood and pondered the obstacle blocking us from entry onto the upper Nisqually. We were faced with another enormous crevasse stemming out of impressive, towering seracs on our left. We would need to move quickly through here, but how should be cross the crevasse? Damien walked along the edge (again going down) and stumbled upon a bridge. It was not a walk across bridge though. It was a taller, knife-edge bridge. To cross we would need to do an exposed ice climbing style traverse along the side of the bridge over hundreds of feet of air.  With no way to place and anchor I prepared to arrest if the bridge collapsed as Damien began to cross. He placed a picket midway through. Once the ice axe traverse eased into a normal bridge for the last 3-4 feet he crawled to spread his weight as things looked thin. Then it was my turn. It was overwhelmingly thrilling to me on that bridge aa look down into the blue abyss that is a bottomless crevasse. I was clinging on a snow bridge in the middle of a sea of nothing. The crossing was not hard, just exceedingly airy. I did not crawl the final section, I leaped instead.

The ice climbing bridge marked the end of spicy crevasse crossings. From there we continued upward on a very long walk aiming for the tiny bit of rock high above marking the edge of the crater. At altitude, each step became increasing taxing and my body began to panic in its struggle for oxygen. I recognized this symptom for 3 years ago on Rainier and knew it was normal. I sat down a let a few tears flow. When I can’t breathe my body reacts by crying sometimes. It’s very strange, but after a few minutes I feel somewhat relieved and can continue up the endless snow and ice. None of this is from fear, emotion or pain. I guess it’s by body’s way of releasing the physical stress. No idea. I always feel like  nothing had even happened when I get up.

We came across crevasses. These were easy to step over or go around. There was one that required crossing a bridge/collapsed ice, but it wasn’t sketch. Damien did opt to crawl the last few thin feet again. I ran.

It seemed like an eternity, but we finally crested the dusty, rocky crater rim at 3:30 pm. Breathing heavy we set our packs down and eagerly got off our feet. A member of the Glacier Cave Explorers came over to greet us. The explorers are a group of scientists who are studying glacial caves on Mt Rainier and other volcanos. They had a basecamp in the summit crater. He chatted with us about Kautz and pointed to where we could find the descent route down the DC. Descending… that did not sound appealing.

We still needed to visit Columbia Crest, the true summit along the rim, but our conversation kept turning to something else… should be just camp on the rim? We were tired and the thought of going down to Camp Muir did not sound all too great, especially in the heat of the day. This was an amazing opportunity. There was little wind, descent temps, there would be a full moon and we had overnight gear. The only trouble might be the altitude headaches we had gotten in the past after spending too much time above 13k. However, after 45 minutes we only  light headaches at best. The decision was made: we would camp on the summit.

We began to follow the Crater Rim looking for a protected area. As it turns out we stumbled upon the entrance to one of the glacial caves. The entrance was protected by snow walls and had a gravel floor. From the mouth of the cave steam released in plumes, but there were no fumes to alarm us. Perfect. We went to work setting up our tarp and melting snow for water. Some scientists came over to make sure we weren’t causing trouble with the cave. They told us there was a giant lake under the ice and assured us that the steam was not poisonous. We took some vitamin I and laid our weary bodies down for an hour before rising to make dinner. Then we swiftly fell back asleep setting our alarm for 7:30 so we could head off Columbia Crest to watch the sunset.

Seeing the sunrise on the summit of Rainier is a common experience for many climbers of the volcano. However, not many people have the chance to experience a Columbia Crest Sunset. We followed the rim which was mostly rock and dust as the light began to dim. It was about a half mile walk from our camp. From the snowy, penitent decorated hump that is Columbia Crest we stood in the same place where Damien proposed to me just over a year ago. The shadow of the massive mountain made a dark silhouette in the smoky horizon and a bright moon glowed just above distant Mt Adams poking out of the grey haze. Just behind Point Success the sun began to sink painting the sky with pastel hues of blue, pink and purple. The glaciers reflected pink and yellow and the wind was just a whisper on the largest volcano in Washington. We stood entranced watching the sun dip below the horizon and melting away into the smoke in brilliant display of fiery yellows and orange. We were alone of the summit fully enveloped in the supremacy of the mountain. It was an honor and a privilege to view that sunset and experience the mountain in way few others do.

Feeling serene, Damien and I continued along the rim passing some steaming ground. When we touched the earth, it radiated with searing heat, evidence that this volcano is very much alive. We signed the summit register and descended into the trench, or trail through the center of the crater. Here the penitents were above my head, though they grew shorter as we journeyed to the other side toward our camp. In the fluorescent moonlight, we huddled into our 30 degree sleeping bags and fell almost instantly into a deep sleep.

The alarm rang signaling our third alpine start at 12:30am. Under the starry sky we broke down camp and began the process of packing our bags one final time. Ahead of us laid the grueling descent of Disappointment Cleaver Route. Normally, elevation loss clocks out at 8991 feet. However, this year the DC was not following its normal route on the mountain. Due to some breakups on the glacier, the DC route strays from its normal track. At the top of Disappointment Cleaver, the path descends 600 feet before regaining the lost elevation and making some sweeping traverse switchbacks to join up with the Emmons Route. This meant our elevation loss would be 9591 ft. and we would have to go up 600 feet too! The distance to Camp Muir at 10,188 feet is currently 3.8 miles.

Damien and I crossed the crater and roped up at the edge of the glacier. As per our usual routine, I led down the mountain. A deep trail was cut into the towering penitents as we journeyed down in a silent, windless night. After Kautz, the DC/Emmons felt like a simple hiking trail that happened to be very steep. About 200 feet down we encountered a hand line which assisted in descending a steep section and crossing a hanging crevasse. It was strange to suddenly have help! At 13,800 feet, we reached the junction where Emmons and DC spit. We turned right following the flagging that conveniently read “Camp Muir”. However, rangers have reported climbers ending up at camp Sherman by accident! That was not a mistake we wanted to make!

We encountered the first team heading up at 13000 feet. They were well ahead of the hoards and part of the cave expedition. About 20 minutes layer we began to run into the rest of the teams heading up. Some of the guided groups were easily 20 people large. We stepped aside and let them pass us. The private teams seemed to all be in one cluster. They all offered to let us pass, eager for an excuse to catch their breathe. As suddenly as all the headlamps had appeared, they all vanished behind us. Now we stood at the base of the 600 foot ascent to the top of Disappointment Cleaver. I made quick work of the first few hundred feet, but then I abruptly hit a wall. I could feel my body protesting upward motion. My stomach suddenly felt tight and it churned aggressively, begging me for food (I was nearly out). My muscles did not want to take another step. I gritted my teeth and trudged on, though my pace slowed considerably.

We crossed a single ladder over a crevasse, but the clever never did get any closer. My feet felt heavy. The walk seemed infinite. I needed to eat, but I wanted to get to the rock. After and eternity, we arrived at the top of the cleaver. Normally the rock section is not far away, but this year the trail stayed on the snow until only 700 feet above Ingraham. This was great because the volcano crud is horrible to descend, bad because that meant my break was further away.

Finally, we stepped on volcanic rock. I collapsed and summoned the energy to dig out my food and water. I almost immediately felt rejuvenated. We admired the now illuminated world of ice reflecting tones of pink, orange and yellow as the rays from the sun finally touched the glacier. Rainier is truly enchanted no matter where you are on the mountain. Smoke still lingered below, but it was thinner than the days before. Little Tacoma stood just off to our left looking very small in the shadow of Rainier.

Refreshed we stood and continued the thankfully short descent of the cleaver and back onto the glacier ice. It was a quick saunter to Ingraham Flats Camp where there were surprisingly few tents. Back on volcanic crud we descended Cathedral Gap to Cowlitz Glacier. Camp Muir laid not to far off on the opposite side the glacial expanse. I hurried toward it stepping over a few tame crevasses.

Camp Muir was quiet this early in the morning as most dayhikers don’t make it up until afternoon. We dropped our packs on the gravel and began the tedious process of un-roping and packing up our technical climbing gear. Some climbers planning on making the ascent the following night came over confused as to how we had gotten down so early. Easy: we summited yesterday afternoon! We lingered at Muir and took a quick nap to rest our knees for the second half of the descent. At 9:30 we were walking again.

We did a combination of glissades and walking down the snowfield to Pebble Creek. Unfortunately, the snow was softening fast, so I couldn’t glissade as much as I would have liked. At Pebble Creek, we switched our mountaineering boots for trail runners and entered the world of visitors wearing jeans and other forms of cotton. It’s always strange returning to civilization after an intense climb.

Damien paused just after we passed the last switchback to Panorama Point. He gestured to the guided group sitting just off the trail behind us listening to their leader describe the history of the mountain. “That’s Melissa Arnot!”

We pressed on, each step jolting our bodies a little be more. The trail turned to pavement and we learned very quickly that trail runners are only good in the dirt. They stick to pavement and shock the body with impact. This was the most painful part of the entire descent. Even worse that the 600 feet up! It wasn’t a long stretch though and we finally emerged out of the meadows and into the Paradise Parking lot 2.5 hours after departing Camp Muir. At that point, I had one thing on my mind: lunch!
It hard to accurately describe the experience of Euphoria after climbing Kautz. It was the ultimate type 2 fun adventure and the most difficult glacier climb I have done. On the climb up I could not understand why I had wanted to attempt such a committing, endless and technical route. Right after I finished lunch at Paradise Inn I felt like I couldn’t get back into the mountains fast enough to do it all again! Amazing climbs have an odd way of playing tricks on your memory. The pain all seems to melt away and you’re just left recalling how freaking awesome it all was. Maybe it is the intensity one feels on a committing, high altitude climbs that that I find so addicting. The senses become heightened to an extreme extent and everything is felt more acutely. It’s like seeing everything in laser focus. Each crystal of snow, each crack in the ice, each (aching) muscle in my body… everything is experienced with such passion and strength.  Maybe that is why I seem to be drawn to peaks over 13k. I long for the intensity and focus these mountains bring to my life.

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.

Let me start out by saying that Mount Torment is very aptly named! Climbing the Torment Forbidden Traverse has been on our agendas for several years. Over spring & early summer we did several carryover routes and long rock climbs in preparation for TFT, a climb that requires every alpine skill to be called on at some point. We felt as ready as we could be for the climb with the exception that there seemed to be a lack of very detailed beta on Torment. The South Ridge (5.4) had okay beta (though not very comprehensive). The SE Face had no beta that we could find, but was considered class 4. In the end we decided to do the South Ridge because it is the route that was most often used in TFT descriptions and there was some information on it.

We made excellent time up the steep trail to Boston Basin. The last time I had been on the rough trek up was approaching my very first technical climb: Sahale. I had vivid memories of the trail going straight up though dust and rock for 300 feet and my recollection did not disappoint. The creek crossings were not too bad and only the 2nd to last crossing as you enter the basin required us to remove our shoes. Once in Boston Basin we went left and traversed cross country toward Torment Basin. We ended up stumbling onto a good trail along the way which sped up our pace. The trail thins though after Forbidden Camp which is at 6,200 feet and finally terminates on the edge of some slabs with a waterfall. We filtered here and then climbed the side of the falls on class 2/3 rock and onto the Torment Basin Snowfield. We walked to a rock island that seemed to be at the edge of the Taboo Glacier and began to rope up. It was noon at this point and we felt like we were doing descent on time. We figured we would get to the ridge by 5pm at the latest.

Taboo Glacier is benign, though there were a few open cracks. We walked up to a shelf near the ridge connecting Torment and Forbidden and then contoured left toward the hidden notch. To access the rock leading up to the notch we had to climb a steep snow finger which was thin in places and hollow where the moat came into play. I belayed Damien up so he could keep climbing once he got onto the rock. The upper part of the snow finger cracked and shifted when he was on it, but no further complications. The rock is not the greatest in the gully leading up to the notch. We did okay with mountaineering boots since was class 4. At the Notch which was surrounded by large walls of snow (basically we were inside a moat), we changed to climbing shoes and examined the first pitch. All we knew was to go up on the right. Damien led out on a slightly overhung 5.4 rock. When I followed I quickly discovered that carryovers on rock are not the same as carryovers on ice. On snow and ice, you have a bit more of a say on your foot and tool placements. Rock dictates your moves and thus the pack becomes more cumbersome. Once easy moves become an ordeal. High steps for example are a tiresome process! Our packs could not have been more than 25lbs as we had cut out tons of weight when packing, but it was enough to be a nuance. Nevertheless, we got used to it relatively quickly.

The first pitch was short and Damien belayed me from a rap anchor in a somewhat gravely area at the bottom of a gnarly looking gully on the right and a dihedral on the left.  The beta said to take the gully on the left, but that looked to be more of an open book than a gully. Damien started up the dirty gully after some discussion as it could have been considered on the left depending on how you were facing. He quickly realized it didn’t go (lots of falling rock). Instead he moved over to the left dihedral and found great climbing to the upper ledge. After pitch 2 we simual-climbed. I understand now why the beta lacks detail. It’s hard to describe. The route meanders up and sideways across the mountain with no real landmarks for quite some time. I have no idea how many pitches there are and nor does anyone else I think. It is class 4/5 with descent protection, but on crappy rock. A lot of blocks were detached and care had to be taken with every step. There are rap stations everywhere which serve as an indicator that you are on route.

We finally rounded a corner at the small ledge with a fixed nut where the summit is finally visible. Here the route goes down about 50 feet to another sandy ledge. We belayed this section out. Then we continued to simual-climb up heather ledges and loose rock to the top of the wide notch in front of us. When crossed over the notch onto the other side of the mountain were promptly greeted by a blast of harsh, frigid wind that. Almost immediately we began to feel hypothermic. However, there was no flat place to stop so we kept moving. On this side of Torment we got our first view of the ridge leading to Forbidden. We knew this was a very serious ridge and fully expected it to be gnarly, but it still seemed more jagged than we anticipated. After traversing through a section that felt like a House of Card (loose blocks) Damien belayed me to a flattish place near the summit.  We put on all our layers and Damien belayed me toward the top.

Clouds were rolling in low now and the temperature kept dropping. We stood at a crossroads. It was 6pm. Climbing Torment had taken much longer than expected. The route was much lengthier than predicted and route-finding had a hung us up multiple times. The way down to the next notch to access the ridge looked pretty sketch and exposed. Doable, but not desirable. Once on the ridge we would have to take the first bivy option as it was too late to start climbing the ridge. We probably would not have time to climb Forbidden the next day. The ridge which already looked menacing was made worst by the incoming weather. Additionally, once on the ridge there would be no way out other than to climb to the base of Forbidden. It was unknown territory to us and the beta was, again, not exceedingly detailed. This was Option A.

Descending Torment was Option B. Throughout the day were had commented multiple times how happy we were that we wouldn’t have to descend Torment on TFT.  This would be an arduous task of route finding though a maze of downclimbing traverses and rappels. Easily this task would take 5+ hours and we didn’t fancy repeating the loose, dirty route. But it was a guaranteed way to exit. Of course, there was the dilemma of us not having 5+ hours of daylight left. Descending Torment would have to be completed the next day and we’d have to sleep on the route on one of the sandy ledges we had passed. There was no water or snow on those ledges, but we were conveniently standing next to two small snow patches near the summit. We could fill our hydration packs and then descend to the bivy ledge.

Damien and I discussed these two options at length. The decision felt critical and we would find out just how crucial the following morning. In the end, we decided that taking our chances on the ridge with no escape and with questionable weather was something we just couldn’t justify. We descended a few feet to one of the snow patches and began the tedious task of melting and filtering water on downhill, steep terrain.  With five liters of water we began the tedious traverse back to the notch through the House of Cards. From there we did one rap and then downclimbed back to the bivy ledge.

When we arrived at the ledge thick clouds engulfed the entire mountain, the wind picked up and temperatures plummeted. Luckily, the ledge was situated in such a way that it somehow avoided being hit by the strong updrafts created within the towering walls of Torment.  As darkness swiftly fell, Damien placed two cams on either side of the wall behind the bivy ledge and strung a cordelette anchor between the two anchor points. We clipped into the cord and stayed that way for the entire duration of our stay. The ledge was narrow and the mountain fell away from the edge at a severe, vertical 1000+ foot drop. It was similar to a big wall setup. We unloaded our gear, put it a on convenient rock shelf and clipped everything in as well. We did not have proper bivy sacks, but we did have light weight sleeping bag covers. We set those up and snugged into our bags while we heated water for dinner in the darkness on the wall. This was AWESOME! We had the most amazing camp over 1000 feet off the deck with the clouds swirling around us! We couldn’t stop smiling. We hadn’t been able to get to the ridge, but the experience was still turning out to be absolutely incredible! We felt like expedition alpinist. This was our first time ever sleeping a route on the mountain itself and the sensation was intoxicating.

A mouse scampered up beside me while I was waiting for my beef stroganoff to become edible. I had to shoo it away several times before it finally disappeared down a tiny hole between the rocks. We were afraid that mice would bother us all night, but no other critters visited us. After dinner, we turned in for the night. Damien decided to sleep half propped up on the rock wall. I slept laying down forming a T formation with him. I’m not used to the confines of a one person sleeping bag and coupled with my PA whacking me in the face every time I rolled over I wouldn’t say I had a completely peaceful night. Plus, the cold woke me up a few times. Nevertheless, I’d say we had a great night on the wall considering the situation.

We woke up at 5am to find that it was too cold to begin the descent as we would barely stay out of our sleeping bags for more than five minutes and Torment was still blanketed in thick, swirling clouds. This all had not been in the forecast and at that moment we knew that our decision to descend Torment had been the right one. If we had been on the ridge things could have easily turned epic. Survivable, but certainly not an experience to seek out. We waited an hour. Then another. Conditions were not improving. Looked at the time-stamps on my photos from the day before it looked like the sun hit the mountain at about 8:30. Maybe then it would warm up and some mist would burn off. We decided that we would start packing by 9:30 regardless.

Damien led up to the fixed nut at 10:00am. The temperature was still cold, but not hypothermia inducing anymore and the clouds, though still low and encompassing, were not as thick. The descent was a series of downclimbing traverses to rappels. We assumed that all the rappel stations would bring us back to the notch we started in (no beta on descending Torment). However, we discovered to our dismay that rap stations were everywhere and they did all go to the notch. In fact, we found ourselves about 150-200 feet too low on the opposite side of the mountain of the Taboo Glacier. Below we could see more rap slings. It appears that folks have descended all the way down to the other side of the mountain in an attempt to bail. The moat was huge on that side and walking round the mountain to get back to Taboo Glacier was a big question mark. We resigned to climbing back up to the rap station above. I’m not sure how to describe how to stay on course other than to really pay attention to the route on the way up. More tedious downclimbing led to the correct rappel station. This was followed by a series of 3-4 additional raps down into the notch. Here we changed out of our climbing shoes and back into boots for the final rappel onto the glacier.

On the final rappel while leaning over to straighten out the rope I banged my knee on perfectly arrow shaped rock. The impact hurt like hell, but the pain dissipated quick and with no tear in my pants or visible blood I continued on rappel. Crossing back onto the snow finger proved tricky since the finger was hollower over the moat. As I down climbed the finger I noticed some red spots in the snow. That’s odd, I thought, then remembered my knee. Sure enough, there was plenty of blood soaking through my pants. I did a quick evaluation. Everything seemed to be working fine and there was still no pain, so I continued down to the glacier. Damien rappelled behind me and stayed on rappel until the bottom of the finger. I wasn’t sure if the rope ends reached which is why I had gotten out of the system. Staying on rappel was the better way to go. It had taken 6.5 hours to descend Torment.

We tied into the rope for glacier travel and walk through the sloppy snow to the rock island. Clouds still hung low in the sky concealing the peaks in Torment and Boston Basins. Everywhere else of was, of course, clear!

I took a moment to finally examine my injured knee when we untied and prepared for the walk out. The result of the impact as a deep cut. I assessed the damage and decided that standard first aid was all that was necessary. After cleaning and bandaging the wound I was good to go.

We booked it on the hike out and arrived back at the car at 9:08pm. I was kind of bummed because I knew it was too late to get ice cream at Cascade Farms. Aside for that slight hindrance, Damien and I both felt incredibly psyched. Already all the pain and “torment” of the climb had melted away and all that was left was thrill of the memory and a distinct need to get back into the alpine as soon as possible.

This summer our project was originally to master the art of the carryover. I think that goal was completed late spring. Instead I think our mission this season has morphed into mastering the complicated art of mental fortitude. So many times this summer we have been pushed to our mental limit on routes not often done where beta is scarce. We’ve had to make critical decisions based our own knowledge gained from previous alpine experience. We had to rely on ourselves, not on books or trip reports. We’ve had to learn to contend with not having all the answers and with countless question marks. In the process, we have been building resiliency of the mind and the ability to think and endure through the many complicated decisions one faces in the alpine environment.

 

 

This weekend varied from the norm for Damien and I in that we ventured into the wilderness with a team of seven. The trip was an official Mountaineers Climb led by Damien. We do our best to, at least once a season (weather has gotten in the way in past few years), take out a team that includes basic students that we feel are up to a sufferfest challenge. These year our objective was Mount Hinman via the Hinman Glacier. The climb doesn’t have much beta. Although the info we found made it clear that it wasn’t technically challenging. There was even a way to bypass the glacier altogether. The difficulty laid in the approach and the amount of time we decided to a lot for it (2 days instead of 3). Different beta seems to show different mileages, but regardless it was pretty clear that it would be LONG. In the end, the teams’ multiple GPS devices calculated 20 miles total on the summit day.  We knew that to complete what would clearly be a somewhat painful journey, especially on on the last day, we needed a team of positive people who could laugh in the face of fatigue. We assembled what turned out to be the dream team: Ivan, Jose, Jorge, Kara and Rich. Kara and Rich are basic students and this was there very first mountaineering trip. They’re determination and positive energy was remarkable.

We rallied at the Necklace Valley TH at 7:30am on Saturday. The first 5 miles of the trail is relatively flat and forested following the East Fork Foss River. We did, however, cope with stinging nettle thickly growing into the trail for some stretches. I have never run into the vegetation before, but will say that they are aptly named. There were mosquitos as well, though not many.

At mile five we crossed the river on a bridge and then over a long log bridge over a stream. Upon reaching the other side there is a short talus scramble marked by cairns before the dirt tread reappears and heads relentlessly up. Very Very much up! We could not figure out how long this wooded uphill section was. It felt like four miles to the lake, but the sign at the trailhead said it was 2. Our watches varied. Regardless we did eventually emerge tired and sweaty from the forest to the glistening waters of Jade Lake. The trail traverses along the left side of the lake shore. A good portion is submerged under the overflowing lake. Shoe removal was required, but rather refreshing in the afternoon heat. Once we reached dry trail again the team took a long break lounging in the sun and filtering water. The mosquitos increased here, but we released plumes of deet and it worked well. Damien and I indulged in a brief swim in the frigid blue water. I can’t describe how awake I felt after that!

We reluctantly departed Jade Lake and followed a less worn, narrow trail to the head of the valley. We passed several other lakes apparently, but the trail does not go to the shoreline of these. However, there was plenty of running water everywhere. At the end of the valley is 1200 foot pass call La Bohn Gap. We regrouped here and discussed out route options to scale the snow covered pass. It was much steeper than anticipated, especially toward the top. We opted to follow the snow just beside the talus on the left until it ended. Then we would move slightly right and ascend near the center rock island, keeping a far distance though to avoid the moat. Jose broke the track and we made steady upward progress. We started out without crampons, but at the top of the talus we put them on. The grade on the upper portion was about 50 degrees and very exposed over the large rock island and a slightly smaller one as well directly below us. We proceeded with caution and made it to the upper basin without a hitch.

We climbed over to the upper left bench of the basin and arrived at La Bohn Lakes about .25 miles away at 4:30pm. The area was mostly snow covered with several exposed heather patches perfect for camp. We all set up our sleeping systems and filtered water in the melted turquoise portion of one of the smaller lakes. It was difficult to focus on camp chores with the amphitheater of peaks that surrounded us. Truly a magical and secluded wilderness setting for basecamp.

After taking some time to get ourselves situated we re-grouped for dinner and to discuss the morning itinerary. We knew that it would be a 15-17 hour day and thus agreed (after some good natured grumbling) that we would be moving at 3:30am. We examined the portion of the route within view that we would climb by headlamp. It sat just right of the larger La Bohn Lake. After a short snowfield we would need to climb some blocky talus and rock just right of a small waterfall to gain an intermediate small snow slope. Then we were move left, scramble over a 10 foot headwall onto the next snow slope and heather benches until we reached the highest area in our field of vision. By then it would be light.

We all turned in before sunset, but even when darkness fell sleep did not come easy. The moon was so bright it never truly got dark. Heck we could barely see the stars in the moonlight! Our alarms rang at 2:45am.  It was shockingly chilly! The coffee crew boiled water (that is to say everyone but me) and we ate breakfast recounting our nighttime sleep experiences. “No one ever turned the lights out!” Jose said.

At 3:30am we promptly made our way to the blocky talus and began to climb. It is mostly secure climbing. However, some chunks of stone were wobblers and there were several more exposed technical sections that required contemplation, but never above class 3. We put on our crampons at the top of the steep talus slope (marked by a carin) and continued upward. There were 2 gullys that went up the 10 foot headwall guarded by a  small moat easily crossed. The students impressed us by climbing the headwall in crampons (first time) without any hesitation and listening carefully to our coaching.

The team moved to the upper slope and traversed left just 100-200 under the ridgeline crossing some talus bands and checking our GPS. We roped up into 2 teams at 6500 feet well before the glacier, but the traverse was about to get exposed. Split into 2 rope teams, we plodded along enjoying spectacular sunrise views of Sloan, Rainier, Glacier and Baring until we were below a section of the ridge that had a rocky high point. First we thought this was the summit and we made a beeline to the gap in the ridge below the rock pile. It turned out that this was one of many false summits, but it was the way to access the glacier. We crossed to the other side of the ridge and stepped onto Hinman Glacier (no crevasses). We traversed right (backtracking but on the opposite side the ridge). We then regained the ridge several yards from the true summit near some craggy, knife edge looking rocks (Damien placed a picket near the top where it got steeper). Here we un-roped and followed the mellow snow on the ridge to the rocky summit (class 2-).

It was rather windy on the summit so after some photos we took shelter in a moat near the craggy rock ridge for a snack before the journey back to camp. On the way back just after crossing on the other side the ridge we stopped to watch a entrancing performance as streams of clouds blew in fast moving ribbons over the ridge. None of us had ever seen anything like it. Retracing our steps was pretty straight forward and we were back at our tents at 9:45am. We took some time to chill, eat and nap before breaking down camp and departed at 11am for the long haul out.

Descending La Bohn Gap was a bit sketch at this hour. The sun had warmed only the top layer so it was not yet soft enough to plunge step. Yet it was not stiff enough for secure crampon pointing. We descended very slowly some of us using yesterday’s switchbacks and other front pointing face into the slope. The exposure and lack of experience on steep terrain got a little under Kara’s skin, but she never froze up or refused to go down like we’ve seen students do in the past. She listened to the instructors and with determination she made it down the gap. We were all impressed yet again.

From there was an endless march out. Ivan and I kept remarking of long it was from Jade Lake back to the flatter part of trail. We didn’t recollect it being so steep or so infinite! The group congregated at the creek where the flat section of trail began to filter water one last time and then spread out for the final trudge out. It was 5:00 and we had 5 miles to go. Jose decided he wanted to get back by 6 and took off. Damien followed not far behind. Jorge shouldered his pack not to be left out and swiftly disappeared into the trees. We would later find out that the three of them engaged in trail running with fully loaded packs making it back to the TH before the rest of us by 50-70 minutes. Ivan, Kara and Rich took of the rear leaving me to hike in the middle of the pack since, apparently, I have a middle speed gait. The 5 mile final slog through stinging nettle and forest was indeed endless, but I did enjoy the time to myself. It seemed like forever, but soon after the hoots of a barred owl echoed through the trees I emerged into the parking lot to see Jose sleeping in his trunk. Kara, Rich and Ivan appeared ten minutes later at about 7pm. It was the 16 hour, 20 mile sufferfest day we predicted. But I cannot describe how awesome the suffering especially with such an amazing group of mountain people!

 

This was one of those trips that didn’t exactly pan out as intended, but still ended up being incredibly awesome (that is if you enjoy a good sufferfest). The original intention was to climb as many of the Lemah summits as possible (there are 5 total) and then traverse to the next mountain over and climb Chikamin. There is a small bit of information on the tallest Lemah called “Main Lemah” or “Lemah Three”. The remaining 4 minor summits have beta that amounts to one sentence for each in the Beckey guide and a blurry, un-detailed distance photo with dotted lines in the same book. Chikamin has more beta, but the only info regarding approaching the climb from Chikamin Lake was a drawing and the same blurry photo. Information on traversing from the Lemahs to Chikamin Lake also amounted to the same vague drawing and blurry photo. In conclusion, we had minimal beta on our objectives and route. We knew going in to expect the unexpected.

Day 1:

Our goal for day one was to complete the approach to the Lemahs and camp on the slope directly beneath Lemah 5. We did have pretty good beta on the approach luckily. We began at the Pete Lake TH and walked 4 gentle miles to Pete Lake. while contending with mosquitoes for the first hour. Deet seemed to keep them mostly at bay. From the Lake we continued on until we reached the primitive/bridge river crossing junction to Spectacle Lake. From here we turned left and trekked another mile before crossing the first bridge. The second bridge (Lemah Creek Bridge) has been washed out, but there was no need to cross. At this landmark we departed the trail and followed a faint boot track through the forest up the creek. This track went from faint to non-existent when we reached mossy rock benches. The idea is to just follow the creek more or less until reaching beautiful Lemah Meadows. We were very tempted indeed to just set up camp in this gorgeous, secluded oasis. A blanket of fragrant green grass engulfed a large open area with a deep, refreshing creek winding through it. Just ahead all five of the Lemah’s jagged summits rose into the skyline.

Though we did take a break here to soak our feet in the cool creek and enjoy the view we managed to tear ourselves away and press on. Damien and I headed across the meadow aiming for the obvious snow couloir on the right side of the Lemahs. Of course this was not to be a simple walk through a meadow. We had to contend with about ½ mile of bush whacking through dense willows and then navigated snow covered talus where under-snow creeks carved hollow tunnels just waiting to collapse. By the time we reached the snow finger we felt a bit beat up. Determined, we continued up the snow slopes with towering rock walls rearing above us on either side. It felt like a snow couloir canyon and streaming down the walls were countless waterfalls! There were some massive boulder islands in the couloir guarded by moats up to 30 feet deep. I had never seen anything like it. About halfway up we paused to rest on a small island of vegetated ground and rock that we were able to access since a significant moat was strangely absent. We still had about 1500 feet more to climb to get of the base of the Lemahs and it was getting late. Conveniently, there was a small flat area on the island  and we decided that this would be camp 1.  It was a spectacular place to spend the evening and more importantly the rock island provided protection from the fall line of any canyon debris.

 

Day 2:

We continued up the couloir at sunrise which gradually grew steeper as we ascended. About 200 feet from the top of the couloir we veered off to the left just to where the towering rock wall dissipated so we could cross onto the Lemah Snowfields. However, there was still a short rock wall to scramble with a small, but noteworthy waterfall. Of course the climbable part of this rock wall was currently submerged under the waterfall which made for a rather interesting mix climb. Usually with my crampons and axe I climb frozen waterfalls and not running ones!  We took a short break on a heather bench before continuing into the snowfield beneath the Lemahs. We examined the route up Lemah 5. Basically, the idea with to climb to the notch between Lemah 4 and 5 and then ascend the ridge. The way to the notch was about a 50 degree snow slope with some slabs melted out. These slabs were guarded by significant moats 20-30 feet deep and about 3 feet wide. If you fell on the snow above then and didn’t catch the fall in time you’d be swallowed. We decided we could avoid being directly over all but one of these moats and opted to go for it with caution. Damien and I left our overnight gear in a depression in the snow and began to climb. We did not use a rope since it was only 50 degrees. A second axe might have been nice for security, but we did ok with just one. We kicked in extra deep over the moat run-out. Luckily at notch we were able to access the rock ridge since the moat was small enough to navigate.  However, we found that the ridge led to a false summit. In order to get to the true summit we had to cross another snow field to the next tall summit spire. This was guarded by a formidable 30 foot deep x 3 feet wide moat. No access. At least we had great views from the middle false summit.

We had to descend most of the route facing the slope which was tedious and painstakingly mind-numbing. We returned to our gear and reloaded our packs. After some discussion we decided to make Lemah Main the priority and began to traverse the snowfield. We opted not to rope up on the glacier since crevasses were not is issue until late season. We noted the route up Lemah 4 as we passed beneath it. It was guarded by unpassable moats. It took us some time to get the route of Lemah 3 (main) into view. We traversed slopes under the towers and then beneath steep slabby buttresses and under Lemah 2 until we could climb back up and around to the top of the buttress to view the way up. This was the worst looking route yet. Thin snow on top of slabby rock, huge moats, waterfall traps. Yikes. Feeling a bit defeated we reflected on how to proceed with the trip. Clearly, we had come too early to climb any of the Lemahs. Lemah 1 was in front of us abruptly jutting out of a craggy ridge wall guarding the way to Chikamin Lake. As previously mentioned, we had a drawing of this ridge and blurry photo. It was difficult to tell where we were supposed to go up to access the top of the ridge and there was a big question mark as to what the descent to the lake would be like or if it was possible. If we chose wrong it could easily cost us 2 hours. We studied the poor beta we had and compared it to the landscape, then made our best guess.

We traversed what remained of the the snowfield and then down to some turquoise glacial tarns where the wind suddenly picked up. It was a gorgeously rugged landscape and we couldn’t help but pause for a moment to enjoy it all. Jagged rock towers, untouched snow, crystal blue pools and majestic Cascade Views. It’s a good thing we stopped to admire everything, because our brains were about to be subjected to mental overload.

We ascended the 40 degree snow toward the ridge crest until it petered out to talus and rock. The anticipation was disconcerting. We had no idea what we would find. Was this what it felt like to do a first ascent? We topped out on the ridge crest. About 700 feet below us was a small pond and to the right we knew was Chikamin Lake. Luckily, we had topped out on a broad bench on the ridge. But several meters below us was a cliff blocking access to a snow finger… a snow finger that led down to a maze of snow fingers and benches which randomly may or may not cliff out. Still we thought getting to this snow finger might be the first step to getting down. We traversed along the lake side of the ridge on a heather bench. This bench hit an unpassable wall and cliffed out below us. We turned back and backtracked to where we had first popped up on the ridge top.  No beta. Just a topo map now and what we saw in front of us. It looked like the slopes down to the lake grew gentler on the far right side of the ridge (we could not see it from our vantage point). The only way to gain what might be gentler slopes down would be to climb along the rocky top of the ridge. With no other option we began to scramble the ridge which grew more exposed and technical as we traveled. At its worse it was exposed class 4. We bypassed the class 5 high point by moving just below it on some very loose, blocky rock with no room for error hoping that when we got around the corner we would finally be able to see an escape route. Our brains were fried at that point. Would it go? Would we have to find another way? Were we trapped on the ridge? Down climbing to where we had started would be extremely sketch. I have a new respect for first ascensionists. Having the mental aptitude to withstand constantly not knowing if a route will go takes massive fortitude.

We were exceedingly relieved to discover gentle talus, scree and snow slopes down the Chikamin Lake once we rounded the corner. We picked our way down to the lake feeling a massive weight lifted from our shoulders. At least a figurative weight; our packs were still pretty heavy. Mentally drained we set up camp 2 on the breezy shore of Chikamin Lake in the shadow of Chikamin Peak. Aside from cliff faces on the snow slopes, Chikamin Peak appeared to be climbable. Of course the question remained as to if the summit block was guarded by a moat. We would go for it in the morning.

Day 3:

Breezes turned to severe wind overnight and we woke in the morning for find ourselves engulfed in heavy mist with minimal visibility. We were on the crest and thick clouds were being blown in heavy shrouds over us. However, we could see clear skies on all the surrounding mountains and valleys in the tiny pockets of visibility granted us. We waited three hours hoping the mist would burn off or lift. A few times it seemed like it would, but the cloak always returned. We were nervous about climbing Chikamin in low visibility with the cliff faces we had seen the previous evening. It seemed unwise especially when our brains were still shot from yesterday’s epic. We made the agonizing decision to abandon Chikamin and press on through more question mark terrain after concluding the low clouds would probably hang around for several more hours if not the rest of the day. We knew we already had at least 6 hours of travel ahead to reach Spectacle Lake.

There is a faint trail from Chikamin Lake back to the PCT. But is is a vague trail in the summer through a maze of benches, ledges and cliffs topped off with a steep ascent to another ridge crest to gain the PCT. Add early season steep snow slopes and, you guessed it, more sketch moats to this and you’re basically back to route finding and hoping the way you choose will go. However, this experience wasn’t nearly as taxing as the previous day. We managed to navigate down to Glacier Lake after climbing into and out of a moat, traversing 30 degree slopes and navigating through a partially snow covered boulder field full of traps. From there we crossed a high plateau and faced the wall guarding access to the PCT. Again, we got lucky and chose the correct route up to the top of the ridge on steep snow finally gaining the PCT or patches of it anyway. At that elevation it was mostly snow covered.

It didn’t matter that the PCT was partially concealed though. After what we had experienced this route- finding was peanuts to us. We easily made our way to Park Lakes and then began the long descent down to Spectacle Lake. Of course as we lost elevation the bare parts of the trail increased until we were walking on mostly dry switchbacks.

It was strange to camp on Spectacle Lake and hear voices of nearby backpackers. We didn’t like it even though the lake wasn’t crowded. I think it was the first time since last fall that we camped in the near vicinity of other parties! We’re used to solitude. We had to shelter from the mosquitoes in the evening. A stark reminder that summer climbing season has officially begun and we were more likely to run into people and insects on our trips moving forward.

 

Day 4:

This was by far the least eventful day as it was completely spent on a maintained trail. We departed the lake at 5:30 hoping to beat the heat and the mosquitoes on the 11 mile trek to the Pete Lake TH. We managed to beat the insects and sun until the final 5 miles. Suddenly the buzzing, biting, vermin were waging war on us and battling them with chemical warfare (aka: deet) was doing nothing. All we could do to escape was walk as fast as possible without stopping which thus caused us to get overheated. It was pretty torturous and we dove into the car when we finally reached the TH to escape. This concluded our epic alpine adventure which we realized had been a gigantic loop around Spectacle Lake! Maybe it wasn’t the trip we intended. However, although not full of summits, it certainly wasn’t void of knowledge gained, epic adventure and raw beauty. I could have done without the mosquitoes though!

The technique Damien and I are refining this year is the fine art of the “carryover”. We have several projects coming up that will involve this technique (weather gods willing). Our mission on this trip was begin the process of refining this strategy. We climbed Shasta at 14,168 feet last May using the Standard Avalanche Gulch Route. Luckily we caught the route just before the Memorial Day masses and avoided crowds. This year our goal was the ascend the much more technical Casaval Ridge and then descend via Avalanche Gulch. Since we would not return to the ridge, this would necessitate carrying all 45lbs of our gear over the top of the mountain. This is not a requirement for climbing Casaval, but it is what we wanted to accomplish.

Luckily, we did not have to park a mile down the road like folks that would arrive later on Saturday would have to do at the Bunny Flat TH. We ended up pulling in from the long, 580 mile drive at 3am. I took a minute to grab our permits and pay of $25 fee per person. Then we drifted off to a deep sleep in our car until about 7am. We were on the well packed down trail at 8am along with a ton of other folks, most heading the Helen Lake camp for the Avalanche Gulch Route.

We broke away from the well packed trail at about 7500 feet and headed left into the trees and heading in the general direction of Casaval Ridge which is a rather obvious, gnarly looking ridge on the left. We paused by Horse Camp, which is owned my the Sierra Club. The hut was almost completely buried in snow and the well was several meters down. Last year the hut was melted out! We pressed on half following tracks and half making own own trail through the trees traversing up until we finally reached the tow of Casaval Ridge. From here the general idea is to simply head upward. We managed to join up with a good bootpack at about 8500 feet. The flat area above by the first set of gendarmes seems very close, but it is about 1500feet from the bottom of the toe. Upon finally reaching this flat area with a few short towers and melted out rock bivy sites (9500 ft) we were greeted with a marvelous view of the next slope we had to ascend. We found that in general that each steep section of Casaval was followed by a short flattish section. We again head upward and gained the ridge proper. The ridge is wide and flat here and is called Giddy Giddy Gulch. At 9800 feet is is where most folks camp for Casaval. We continued up the next steep slope to high camp which is known to be windy, hence it unpopularity.

Once reaching high camp on the flat bench at 10300 feet we gratefully dropped out packs. We dug a bivvy spot near the crest of the ridge, but offset to avoid the big cornice. From camp we had a great view of the first crux of the route at 10,400 feet. A traverse just beneath Gothic looking, volcanic pinnacles on an exposed 50-60 degree slope. We studied the route the best we could from our vantage point (it was a pretty great view of the ridge actually) and made some mental notes. The wind did pick up a bit as evening camp we were cozy and wind free in our deep bivvy hole and windbreak. Two teams passed through, but both decided turn back and camp lower, so we had the bench to ourselves.

We packed up camp the following morning in the cover or darkness and set out by headlamp to tackle the first crux. There were several teams on the route, but we were all spaced out and the route accepts multiple teams well. Besides, the 10-15ish teams on Casaval did not compare to the masses heading up Avalanche Gulch. Their headlamps looked like an LA freeway! The first crux traverse was indeed very airy and a fall would be serious. Although we had our harnesses on we did not feel the need to rope up just yet. As it turned out the rope, harnesses, carabiners and 4 pickets we had brought along ended up being training weight. We never used them. Comfort with exposure is hard to determine in beta. After this lengthy crux we found ourselves ascending  broad slope which had some rocks and provided a nice rest area to enjoy the view and now blue sky. The next crux was ascending a very long and ever steepening slope. The final section was easily 50 degrees. We then passed through a notch in a rock band where there was small flat area before the slope reared up again to 60 degrees. There were 3 guided clients here waiting to be belayed up by their guides above. The guides shouted down that we could go ahead of the clients and climb beside the rope. I pressed ahead climbing the slope on the right on the edge of the rock band. Damien decided to climb behind the clients. It a good thing he did because one client popped a crampon. Damien was kind enough to spend a fair amount of time fixing the gear which the guides were very grateful for. We continued up the slightly less steep slope over some exposed rocks to the base of the catwalk, marked by a slightly overhung rock wall on the crest of the ridge. Reports where the with the collapsed pinnacle on the second part of this already spicy section, things were rather sporty and this variation was not recommended. Carrying 45lbs packs did not make something sporty feel very appeasing so we opted to take the bypass route. We headed left of the headway and pinnacles and onto the slopes of the West Face.

This slope is steep, endless and completely in the sun. It was my least favorite section. We knew that the top if West Face/Casaval deposited the climbing on the west side of Misery Hill. We did not know if it was the lower or upper part of the hill… I cannot tell you how much we wanted it to be the upper section. But of course when we crested the top and reached the upper mountain we were greeted with a view of Misery Hill about .25 miles away and we were very much going to climb from the base.

We trudged to the base of Misery Hill aptly named since it is the final miserable and endless steep hill one has to climb to each the crater. We plodded upward though the hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered from last year. Once at the top we crossed the nearly flat crater and deposited out packs at 3900 feet with everyone else’s at the base of the final ascent. There is a good ramp leading up to the summit ridge and finally the summit throne. In fact the final ascent is ridiculously easy and short. We did it! We carried all our stuff up the mountain and not, as we hoisted our packs once again, it was time to haul them down the other side. We descended the Red Banks on Avalanche Guch and gratefully plopped down in the glissade track and took off on a giant slide down to 10600 feet. Unfortunately, many inexperienced folks climb Shasta. A climbing ranger even commented to Damien how surprised he was to see someone holding their ice axe correctly. About halfway down the four glissade tracks there was a traffic jam. Folks were either sitting in the track and taking a liasurely break or moving at about a quarter mile per hour. A requested a person sitting in my track to please move to the side if he was resting. He slide forward several yards and stopped again to rest. I again requested him to move to the side. He did the same thing. After the third time this happened I gave up and made my own track weaving in and down of the resters and slow movers until I was ahead and had a clear path to Helen Lake. Ugh, it can be frustrating sometimes descending a standard route. Last year we ran into folks who had never even used an ice axe and though just carrying it along meant they were good to go.

The snow became too soft to glissade soon after passing Helen Lake. We descended on the left side of the lake because we saw a glissade track there. But once we had to walk again we wondered how to rejoin the main route which had been on the right of the lake. Exhausted we stopped for a break and to melt some snow for water. Then we decided to cross over to the right and find a camp. We ended up finding a nice, secluded bivvy on a hill just above the main route up/down. We settled in for the night wondering how achy we’d be the next morning.

To our great surprise Damien and I didn’t feel the tiniest hint of aches and pains the next day. In fact we felt energetic and limber. The snow did not freeze overnight even at our 9000 foot camp so we did not need crampons to descend and the snow was very forgiving on our knees. Hard pack ice/snow descends always cause my joints to protest. We made it back to Bunny Flat in less than 2 hours. Carryover success!

This ended up being a Plan C trip. Originally we were going to go for Garibaldi, but solar radiation boosted avy danger to considerable on the aspect we planned to climb. So we opted for Reid Headwall on Mt Hood. Avalanche danger was predicted to be moderate and we were excited to get in a technical alpine ice climb after avalanche danger pushed us off so many summit attempts this year. At least avalanche danger was moderate right up until we pulled into the Timberline Parking lot Friday night. We checked the forecast one last time and it had been updated to considerable an hour beforehand. We had our normal discussion and it was decided that Reid Headwall would be fine if we finished the route before any major radiation from the sun hit. However, the climb is more or less a maze through towers of rim ice and route-finding delay was not entirely impossible which could leave us exposed to falling ice once the sun warmed things up. Since we had already driven the 5 hours we settled on the South Spur/Hogsback route. This is the easiest route up Mount Hood and it attracts throngs of people, most of which are inexperienced and minimal climbing knowledge to the point of endangering themselves and others around them. It is normally a conga line of folks trying to get through the bottleneck of the crux of the pearly gates to the summit. However, it seemed like the only safe option and if we were stragicgic we could avoid the circus. Besides, although not the technical Ice climb we were hoping for, it was a climb nonetheless. Plus it meant a higher camp and we really needed to start acclimating for the season.

After spending a chilly night in the car parked in the Timberline parking lot (5800 ft) we began the long approach. Luckily, this was not as arduous for us since we had our skis and skinned up. The route begin as the ski resort and follows the right most cat track up open slopes. Don’t follow the groomers near the lifts unless you want to be stopped by ski a patrol. You’ll know you’re on the right path because the catt4rack is filled up bootprints and usually some semblance of a skin track. The first 1200ft of gain brings you parallel to the Silcox Hut. From here the slope gets a bit steeper until the cat track finally terminates at the top of the highest chair lift (8600 ft). From here there are normally multiples boot paths and a skin track to follow to the crater. The general idea is to stay to the right of Crater Rock and Left of Steel Cliffs aiming for the flat basin area. There is a flattish area at about 9200 feet where most folks camp even though the crater is flatter. However, the crater is a thermal area with fumroles and other aroma releasing formations. However, Damien and I passed this lower camp opting for the less crowded high camp since the smell of sulfur isn’t as issue for us. The final ascent to the crater is pretty steep and at times our skins didn’t catch completely. However, we were pretty overjoyed that with elevation came a breeze. Lower we had been baking in the blazing sun!

We set up camp well away from Devil’s Kitchen thermals in the crater at 10,100 feet. Mt Hood is known for high winds even when it isn’t in the forecast. Therefore, we dug a good sized hole to set up our tent along with a substantial windbreak. From there we had front row seats watching the conga line climb up the Hogsback to the Pearly Gates. We wanted no part of this steady line of people and the hazards of climbing in the throngs. Therefore, our plan was to climb in the dark and reach the summit exactly at sunrise. Hopefully, we would be the first to summit and avoid the bottleneck in the Pearly Gates.

We spent the rest of the day people watching. In the evening the clouds built and we couldn’t see the mountains below. The higher elevation was clear though and we had the rare experience of people the the only people on the upper flanks of the South Side. Not a soul on the Hogsback Route. It was quiet with only the sound of the wind and the pristine evening light. Solitude in a place where you can rarely be alone.

We were moving at 4:20am carrying our skis for the descent. A team of three were coming up from the bottom of the mountain as we walked to the nearby Hogsback, but they stopped to rest in the Crater so we climbed alone. The Hogsback is a spine of windblown snow creating a ridge of sorts from Crater Rock.  The well beat down path traverses the side of the tall spine until reaching the crest where there is a flattish area before the Hogsback rears up rather steeply to the Pearly Gates and towers of rime ice. I found myself front pointing parts of this section using both ice tools.

There was a small flat area stamped put at the base of the Pearly Gates, probably the result of people waiting in line. But in the darkness there was no waiting. The Pearly Gates is a short, steep and narrow chute big enough for climbers of only move in single file up ~60 degree slope. It is borders on either side by high rock towers covered in rim ice making them look like mystical castles. This is the area is possesses a rock and ice-fall hazard making it imperative to move quickly and preferably only in the early morning hours before things warm up. I front pointed and used both tool picks through the Pearly Gates.

After the chute it is basically a long gradual climb to horizon which never seems to get closer. It look to be just a few yards away, but really you need to ascend about another 250 feet. Eventually, we did indeed crest over the South Side and stand on the summit just in time to admire the fiery colors of sunrise. The wind was wicked and gusting at probably 30 mph, but we put on our down parkas and stayed plenty warm enjoying the perfect moment of solitude. We were the first to summit that day. We watch the sky go from bright pink to fluorescence orange as the sun finally peaked over the horizon and bathed the mountain snow soft corral glow. The perfect morning and we didn’t want to leave, but we had seen the headlamp coming up the mountain when we left camp we didn’t want to get stuck in the throngs. We passed the team of three as we descended to the Pearly Gates and front pointed down the chute. Only one climber was at the base of the gates politely waiting for us to descend. However, the Hogsback was getting crowded. We had timed things perfectly.

We down-climbed to the flat area of the Hogsback and from there skied back to camp. The Summit was looking pretty cloudy and once again we were pleased at our luck. We went back to sleep or tried to. The winds picked up and whistled around the tent waking us up. When we finally started to pack up the winds were worst in the Crater than they had been on the summit. Another bit of good fortune as I imagine summit winds were 40+ at that point.

We snapped back into our skis for the long run down. This is when I really appreciate being able to ski. The slog down the mountain on foot is excruciating, but on skis the descent of 4300ft from the crater is a highlight!

Perfect weather window so why not go on a conditioner to the summit of Mt Rainier? I say conditioner because, well, attempting Rainier was to condition for the high altitude of climbing in the Teton Range in two weeks. So basically Rainier was training this time around, but we also really wanted to not just summit the crater rim this time, but to also get to the very tippy top “Columbia Crest”.

There was computer glitch in the reservation system for Mt Rainier National Park this year so all permits were walk up. At the last second Damien decided that instead of taking a 1/2 day off from work he would take a full day. He wanted to camp outside the Wilderness Office to make sure we had the best chance for getting a permit (and hopefully he would be able to get one without the entire climbing party being present). I would be available to drive over early afternoon just in case there was any issue the rangers issuing a permit to just one party member.  Damien’s Black Friday Technique of sitting outside the office in his camp chair  with his Ipad at 5am and waiting for them to open at 7:00am worked. He secured a permit for Ingraham Flats! I drove out after work to meet him and sleep! We would start our day before the next day technically began. At 10:30pm!

By 11pm we had our packs shouldered and we were walking up the pavement from Paradise. After some star gazers yelled at us for messing up their night vision with our headlamps as we were trying to locate the trail we finally moved away from civilization and onto the dark slopes of Mount Rainier. We like to approach Rainier in the night for two reason. We like to avoid the powerful sun rays that bake the trail and snow slopes to Camp Muir by traveling after sundown. The other reason is so we can arrive to basecamp in the morning and spend the rest of the day sleeping in preparation for an extreme alpine start. We moved surprising well through the night. Normally sleep deprivation gets to me on these star-lite approaches, but for some reason it wasn’t as difficult and although my pack weight upward of 50lbs I didn’t seem to notice that either. I guess training was paying off.

The thr sky was painted with pastel colors as the  sun began to rise. We were at 9000ft by then and looking at Camp Muir ahead which never seemed to go closer no matter how much we walked. It always seems to be just right there, but it never is until you’re 100ft away! We did eventually climb up the steps to the alpine basecamp at around 7:00am. Damien immediately settled down for a nap. We han’t stopped much during the climb up. I was pretty hyper so I talked to a RMI client for a bit. Our journey for the day was not yet over though. We still had about another 1000ft to climb.

After Damien woke up we roped up and began to cross the Colwitz Glacier to Cathedral Rock. The crossing was well maintained with an obvious beating trail as usual thanks to the hard work of the guides. There was one step/jump over crevasse, but nothing more exciting than that. The snow level was up pretty high, but the rocky scamper to the top of Cathedral Rock Ridge was still rather tiring and unpleasant. I’m not the biggest fan of scrambling over loose volcano crud in crampons. I don’t think it was more than 600ft though. From the top of the ridge we continued to climb across the Ingraham Glacier. We passed areas were the glacier was broken up pretty good, but one had to step over a few thin cracks until we reached Ingraham Flats: a flat sheet of ice with no crevasses and our basecamp.

It wasn’t very crowded and we found a nice pre-dug platform secluded off to the side and away from the other private climbers and guided teams. We spent some time melting water and eating oatmeal before putting up our tent. By the time we were all done it was about 10:30am. Clearly that is bedtime! The rest of the day was spent napping, filtering water, enjoying the view and snacking. We needed to be ready for our alpine start… and when the alarm rang at 9:45pm we were ready.

We were the first team to leave camp at 10:45pm. We crossed  glacier though some broken up ice and seracs toward the Disappointment Clever. There was only one short ladder more than 3 ft across that had just been set earlier that night. In fact a whole long of route work had been done by the guides earlier and we were the first ones on the freshly shoveled revised route up. The claim was that the DC route was in the best shape its ever been in history, I think the statement is correct. We followed the tread until reaching the base of the Cleaver. We stepped onto the loose volcanic rock and unroped making it easier to scramble up the rockfall hazard of a feature. The trail up is well marked with flagging this year and pretty easy to follow, but its still not fun to climb. Luckily the route doesn’t stay on the spine of the cleaver, but goes off to the side and follows snow up for the final 300 or so feet. That was a nice surprise.

Roped up again we continued to follow the track. Unlike last year when the route traverse seeral miles to the left before going back right to gain the crater rim, this years route pretty much straight up. A good path was cut into the glacier and it zigged zagged directly up and over several huge and very steep slopes. There were 3 different places were clips were available in the snow for a running belay due to the steep grade, but I;m not sure they wee really needed. We were trailed for a bit by a soloist, but we let him pass us. Still no other teams caught up to us. We could see them below though, huge conga lines of guided teams. We took a quick break at 13,000ft, but other than that we pretty much kept moving. Even when we finally crested the Crater Rim  we didn’t pause. Damien  walked straight across the crater. Last year we had stopped climbing at the rim which is considered a summit, but not the technical high point. We had severe altitude fatigue due to breathing in cooking stove fumes in the Muir Hut (no one went outside due to the 80mph winds last year) and the smoky air for the forest fires. This year both of us felt great and getting to Columbia Crest (the true summit) was a big goal for us.

We reached the base of the final climb before sunrise, but a small glint of pink was on the horizon. We unroped and made the final climb over the pumice to the true summit with 3 soloists. We were the first team to summit that morning at about 5:00am! It was windy, about 30mph, but no unbearably so. The expansive crater was just beginning to get illuminated in the blue dawn light and the lights of Seattle twinkled in the distance. We were on top of Washington on the most perfect morning! And then Damien looked at me with an intensity I had never witnessed before. And, well, I knew immediately what was about to happen. There on the mountain that more than any other mountain in WA is a symbol of determination, fortitude, perseverance and shear beauty he proposed. I cannot imagine a more perfect moment in the mountains…and of course I said yes. well what I said was “Damien I would love to marry you” to which he clarified “so is that a yes?”

Newly engaged we retreated from the windy summit to the shelter of the large rocks near the summit register about 40ft below where the soloist we hanging out. The ground was actually warm there from the thermal activity. Columbia Crest is full of smoking fumeroles, but it surprisingly did not smell of sulfur. Huddled together we all watched as the colors of the sky grew more vivid and finally the sun peaked out over the horizon and illuminated the frozen glacial world around us.  We had arrived to the crest at the perfect time.

We stayed until the guided groups arrived and things began to get crowded. Then we roped back up, crossed the crater and began the descent. It a bit annoying trying to pass all the teams going up, but luckily I was so enamored with the view and being engaged that I didn’t bother me much. Last year we hadn’t been able to see much due to all the forest fire smoke. But this time were were able to see far and wide  as far as Jefferson in Oregon! And Little Tacoma which is as big as Mt Hood looked so tiny below us! We were back at camp at about 10:30am. Most folks descend back to Paradise the same day as their climb, but we preferred to stay on the mountain and had a permit for an extra night. We spent the rest of the day visiting with some other climbers, making up for lost calories and napping. The winds had picked up so we secured the tent more our pickets. It held up well, but it always does. No noise and not flapping from the BD Eldorado!

High winds battered the camp throughout the night. Probably 40mph gusts. Teams still began to depart camp at around 11pm. We woke up to watch their headlamp light ascending the Clever. Its always a beautiful sight. It was cold the next morning when we woke up to watch the sunrise. Another display of beautiful colors. We were reluctant to leave, but after some hesitation and procrastination we packed up camp headed back down to Paradise.

The descent was much nicer than last year. We didn’t enter a cloud of smoke this time around and were weren’t totally exhausted. In fact we both felt rather energetic! As it turned out, Mt Rainier was the easiest mountain  we’ve climbed this year. I guess we’re doing something right with our training!

 

 

Sometimes when you’ve been wanting to attempt a summit for over five years you’ll make certain concessions to make the trip woke. In this case after our 4 day trip got rained out in May Damien, Ivan and I decided we would do a Mount Olympus in a grueling 3 day instead since we were running low on PTO. We knew it would involve physical and mental endurance to the extreme.  The climb and approach are not technically difficult, but the length and pack weight would test us. It would be 44 miles total with 50+lb packs. Let the suffering begin!

On Thursday I left work early and drove to the Peninsular to pick up the permit for the climb. We needed to begin the next day before the ranger station opened due to the 17.5 miles we had to trek so this was a necessary step.  I slept in my car at The Hoh Rain forest Ranger Station waking up to greet Damien and Ivan when they arrived around 11pm. We were up and moving at 5:30am, ready tp begin our journey.

The approach is along the Hoh River Trail which is so long and flat the elevation gain of 1200 feet is hardly noticed. The trail follows the silty Hoh River within the shadows of the mossy Hoh Rainforest. It is very unlike the cascade mountain and truly a unique environment. We made pretty good time except for the fact the the trail was so lllllllllllllong and after awhile we were growing weary of looking at moss. We wanted to get into the alpine!

We passed The Olympus Ranger Station, stopping briefly at the nearby gravel bar for a longer break and snack at 9.1 miles thinking that the climbing would begin right after we reentered the rainforest from the meadow. However, we had to wait until about mile 12.5 for switchbacks to begin! By then our feet hurt from the flat hard ground and the upward motion was most welcome! It was what we had been waiting for all day!

Slowly we rose out of the rainforest. My feet were killing me and I had ro soak them again at a creek. Al of us were beat from the weight of the pack and milage we already out in. We pressed on pushing our bodies upward until we reached Elk Lake. Elk Lake is at 2670ft. We rested again here near the shelter feeling envious of all the backpackers for which this lake was their final destination. But we were climbers and the approach was not yet over. We hoisted our packs once me and once again melted into the trees.

We switch-backed upward and out of the rainforest passing a mountain goat on the side of the trail as if there to greet us as we moved into the alpine. The trees thinned as we hiked along a ledge with the earth fall steeply below us in the abyss of the basin below. We followed along this ascending ledge until abruptly we found ourselves looking down into a 150ft  gorge. We had been waiting to reach this section. A few years ago the trail got washed out by a slide. Now instead of a simple skip across a creek there was a rope and wood ladder leading down into the deep ravine. The good news was that this washout is very close to the Glacier Meadows Camp. Thew bad news was that we had to loose elevation.

I descending first to test out the ladder There was one wooding step missing, but other than that it was all surprisingly stable. When we were all down we walked to the fall wall and followed cairns up the gorge and eventually back on the trail and into the forest. It wasn’t long until we broken out of the wood and into a meadow: Glacier Meadows. We passed the Blue Glacier cutoff and a few wooden shelters. It seemed like the only camp left was the best one, all the way on the end with private across to a creek. Excellent! It was kind of cramped though and truly only meant for one tent. We made too work though. After filtering water and dinner we were visited by two large bucks. A peaceful animal and we too finally felt a peace after a long day on our feet. We turned in before dark to get whatever sleep we could… and wow did we all sleep hard!

We were walking once more at 4:45am. From camp we headed up the signed Blue Glacier Trail passing the ranger station which was really just a fancy tent platform. Soon after there is a junction. We turned left and headed up to the lateral moraine over continuously more rocky ground until we reached the upper moraine ridge and our first full view of Mount Olympus. Olympus stuck us as a mountain that should exist in a place like Iceland or Alaska. The mountain is a massif more than anything else and with icefields and seracs sprawling out for miles.  We followed the ridge until it terminated and then we plunged down the steep side of the moraine to the very blue Blue Glacier below.

We roped up, Damien in the lead, Ivan in the middle (so he couldn’t run away) and me in my normal back position. First we crossed the lower ice field which was mostly devoid of snow and flat. It was riddled with narrow crevasses and melting blue pools. We skipped over the obstacles and finally reasched the snow on the other side of the field were the elevation began to slowly rise. The goal is to climb directly up to a rounded dome like feature called “Snow Dome” corssing between rock islands as needed. As elevation is gained the grade increases, the steepest part being the final 300 feet. At the top of Snow Dome we headed left and did a rising traverse to Crystal Pass which is fall left of the impressive looking rock formation that look like 5 fingers. Crevasses were dotted throughout, but not on the boot pack. On the other side of the pass we made a sharp right and climbed up a steep bump and them straight up the slope. Here we had to leap over a larger crevasses, but it wasn’t really that sketch.  few more yard up we aimed to the right up a steep snow slope and them climbed left over a few mixed steps and onto the false summit. We unroped here on the flat, rocky surface and chilled for a bit. The summit and final rock pitch were crowded so we figured we’d just hang out and wait.

We headed over about 20 minutes later. We descended loose rock and snow to a saddle and them climbed very steeply up snow to the North Face rock route. After speaking with some rappelling climbers we opted to climb the final 80 ft using the 5.4 west route just around the corner. I would lead and Damien and Ivan would follow on two skinny ropes. We all tied in and I gathered up my tiny rack of slings, 3 cams and 4 tricams. It was supposed to be easy. The first 40 ft was class 3. Damien soloed and I Belayed Ivan up the last few feet which were a bit trickier. From a good rock ledge Damien out me on belay and I left he filem40 ft. I slug one horn and placed one green dmm cam in a crack. There really wasn’t a good place for much else. The moved for fun, especially in mountaineering boots which spiced things up a bit! The pitch ends with a big mantle next to a fat horn with about ever sling color on it. I belayed Damien and Ivan up. We then untied and scrambled the find few feet to the summit where this a geo survey marker and register.

The clouds moved in and out, but we were afforded great views from the top of the mountain we had all wanted to climb for so long. And we were the last climbers of the day with the luxury of having the while summit to ourselves. I’m not sure how long we stayed, but at some pointed we moved back to the rapp station and did a double rope rappel with two 40m ropes (could have use 1 60 or two 40s). Back at the false summit we once again roped up and I lead the same route down reaching the bottom of the Blue Glacier just at the mountain got socked in with heavy mist.

I was a little nervous about a possible thunder storm since the air was a bit heavy so we hurried up to the moraine. We weather held though and we walked back with painful and tired feet back to Glacier Meadows. My feet hurt so much form being swollen and squished into tight shoes that after i got them off i couldn;t stand for about 20 minutes. Luckily it was Damien’s turn to filter water that night.

We decided to get a very early start at 3am on Sunday to make sure we got home at the reasonable hour and to get the death march over-with. I was happy to find lots of amphibians on the trail in the dark! But even my exuberance over catching toads and salamanders could not distract me from what was going on inside my shoes. Pure agony. After Elk Lake we all agreed to walk at our own pace and meet at the Olympus Ranger Station. I pretty much hobbled into the meadow, barely able to limp. Damien told me to take off my boots and switch to crocs. I have weak ankles which is why i never wear approach shoes, but the ground was level along the river and i really couldn’t wear my boots anymore. They no longer fit my feet and i was developing blisters on my toes (the toes that were already taped fyi) and bottom of my foot.

After switching shoes I felt increasing better… well maybe not better, but I was able to ensure more. We split up again,though Ivan and I mostly walked the same pace and met 5.7 miles from the TH. Damien was playing a game with himself to see how fast he could be to he was always ahead of us more about 30 minutes. In fact he was running! Ivan and I preferred to walk. And for better or for worst we all eventually turned up at the Trail head. Ivan and I were a bit bummed that we hadn’t included the walk from the TH to the car in our calculations for mileage left to walk.

We did it. We walked 17.5 miles, 8 miles and 17.5 miles. We walked with heavy packs and sore, blistered, swollen feet. We walked a lot. We walked so much that summit day was our rest day! And it was all worth it.

 

After plans for The North Ridge of Baker fell through due to some unstable and possibly hazardous weather in the northern cascades, Damien and I decided to go south. Saturday called for some precip, but Sunday called for 100% sunny skies. On our agenda was Mt Adams via Mazama Glacier (with the Mazama Headwall Variation if we could figure it out). Adams was the last summit Damien needed to complete summits of the WA Cascade Volcanoes. And I wanted to return to the route since the last time I climbed it a crevasse forced us to move to the Lunch Counter and finish the climb on the South Spur.

It’s a very long 6 hour drive to Cold Springs TH which is also the start of The South Spur Route up Adams. A very late season snow of several inches had fallen the night making it feel more like October with green grass peeking through the white powder. We got on the trail at 11am, rather late for us. The going was easy at first as we simply followed the well traveled South Spur Route for 1.3 miles. At the Junction with Round Mountain Trail we turned right and began to make our way through the forest trying as best we could to find the trail hidden beneath both old and fresh snow. We strayed a few times, but found our way back to the track with the help of our GPS. The route finding did seem to eat up time though. Finally we crossed in the Yakima Indian Reservation. We turned off the trail and traveled cross country to our left a few yards away from the border through an opening in the forest revealing the distant moraines. This was a shortcut, as normally the route to high camp follows Round the Mountain Trail for another mile before cutting off toward the moraines. With the ground covered in snow it was very easy for us to travel diagonally to cut off some mileage.

Sunrise camp in described as a pass in notch in the moraines and there is very little detail as to where this pass is within the moraines. We identified a snow slope on the headwall of the moraines and decided to venture upward. As it turned out we chose the moraine that had a cairn on the top indicated me with on route for Sunrise Camp. However, now we had a new issue to contend with. The partly sunny skies that had graced us all day suddenly changed. Thick, low white clouds rolled in and a hail/snow fell fro, the sky. With reduced visibility we were 100% relying on a map, compass and GPS to find out way. Luckily, navigation is one of Damien’s strengths, and though tedious at times, he lead us directly to camp without getting turned around once! Some tent sites were melted and on black pumice while others were still under snow. We first set up our tent in the pumice, but when we discovered how messy that black gravel was, we moved it to the snow.

After lingering in the tent for 30 minutes the precipitation dissipated and the clouds parted. A world of black pumice and white ice surrounded us and Mt Hood glowed pink in the light of the setting sun. We had a full view of the Mazama Glacier in front of us in the fading light and wavering fog. From our perspective we could see crevasses on the left of the glacier and thus we decided our best bet was to stay more to the right as we ascended.

We woke up at 2:45am to brilliantly shinning stars and a shimmering moon. We almost didn’t need headlamps it was so bright. By the time we were roped up and moving up the glacier it was 3:38am. We made our way up the ice keeping an eye out for crevasses. Luckily the line we chose did not run into any crack until sunrise at the very top of the slope where Damien found himself with a huge bergshund blocking the way. We turned around and I led further right to the lip of two gaping crevasses. Wow, i am always awestruck when i have  the opportunity to look into the depths of the ice. The wind was blowing hard and snow swirled around us and bounced in and out of the crevasses. Everything glowed with hues of pink, orange and yellow in the morning light. It was simply stunning.

I probed the snow and managed to safety maneuver between the two crevasses and to the safety of a rocky moraine notch.  From here Damien took the lead again. We followed a broad gentle slope in another wall of snow, rock and ice. A tall steep wall. We cut around to the far right of the slope where the grade was slightly gentler…. but only slightly. From here we tediously ascended for what seemed like eons. We did finally make it to the top of the endless hill. From here we found ourselves a bit confused as to where the Mazama Headwall actually was as the beta on it was pretty scarce so we opted to carry on with the Mazama Standard route. We ascended diagonally left through bands of moraines until we joined up the circus that the South Spur. I was shocked at how many people brought their dogs and more surprised at how well the dogs were doing!

We climbed very slowly to the crest of Piker’s Peak, the false summit. It is always kind of a sinking feeling when you reach the top and  are greeting with the final slope looming high above you on the other side of the .5 mile plateau. But we pressed on, ominous as the final climb seemed from that distance. the final 800ft of climbing passed much more quickly that I recalled and once again I stood on top of Adams, the first volcano I ever climbed in WA and the final WA volcano on Damien’s list. No clouds obscured the view and we could see Rainier, Helens, Hood, Sister, Broken Top and Jeffereson. We hung out just below the summit block with other climbers and their canine companions. Damien fell fast asleep! Then we got to our feet and began the descent.

We found that our crampons were gathering snow and turning into High Heels. After some discussion during roping back up at the start of the glacier we decided it would be safer to descend without them since we were slipping everywhere. We descended the first steep hill using a roped glissade since no crevasses or evidences of hidden ones were visible. Then we once again crossed the broad slope and began to descend the final 1500ft. It was only now, in the daylight that we fully realized how many crevasses there were on the ice. We hadn’t seen them in the dark and the evening before the ski was dim enough and the mist present enough to hide of cracks. On the way up we had picked an almost perfect line up and bypassed them all mostly by shear luck! Now as I led down staying to the right i found myself barely planning passage around the endless indentations in the ice and probing carefully especially in the fresh snow. Damien made the mistake of taking a step in a area just on the outer edge of where i probed and his foot sunk in and didn’t stop.. he jumped back quickly confused. Then took another stop and it happened again before realizing what had happened. he had stepped in a narrow crevasse. Luckily, it ended up being funny and not troublesome and we completed the descent back to camp with incident.

After a brief break we packed up camp and began the walk back just as the heat of the day began to fade. It was rather pleasant walking across the moraines again. It was like walking through a totally different area since it was clear this time around and we were in great spirits. We were actually able to follow our footprints back to Bird Creek Meadows. From there the tracks faded in and our, but we did manage to stay more on trail than on the way in ironically and arrived back at the car at 7:30…a 15 hour day. We were exhausted, hungry, thirst and achy, but mostly we were ecstatic. How could we not be after a climb?

Now as for the 6 hour drive home… we were not so ecstatic about that!