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!

Damien and I left Washington at about 9:00pm on Friday and drove through the night to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt Hood. After spending a rather uncomfortable few hours trying to sleep folded up in the front seats of the car we began the approach. Our packs were extra heavy since we were lugging mountaineering boots up along with the rest of our gear. Our plan was to skin to Illumination Saddle. Then we would nap for the rest of the day in preparation for a nigh time start of the Leuthold Couloir. The freezing level was going to be 12,000ft once the sun came up. We wanted to be past the Hourglass and its infamous falling rim ice before the sun came up.

We followed the ski resort groomer trail a long the lower Chairlift to Silcox hut before Timberline opened it’s lifts to inbound skiers. We then continued up along the Palmer Chairlift which was not in service. It didn’t even have an chairs on the cables! Going seemed very slow by the time we neared the top. Lack of sleep and string sunshine to blame. And of course just as we reached the top of the lift at 8500ft a snow cat comes up and drops off 10 inbound skiers. Slightly disheartening after spending 4 hours trudging up hill to reach the same spot. But oh so worth the effort.

From the top of Palmer we began the mile long traverse left aiming toward Illumination Rock. The Illumination Saddle camp into view as we grew closer, but the traverse seemed endless with the heavy packs. Eventually we arrived at the saddle and set up camp out of the wind below the two saddle ridges. Towers of rim ice rock created magnificant castle-like ice sculptures around us. Rim had a way of making everything look like a fairytale. We were able to peak over the saddle and see the bottom of the couloir as well just before X rated Yocum Ridge. There were footprints to follow which woudl help in the dark and the crevasses did not look like they would present an issue.

Two other parties showed up at the ridge later that afternoon. One pair of backcountry skiers brought a front country Coleman tent that was mostly mesh with a tiny rain fly. They also had full sized beach towels, inbound ski cloths and some huge plastic lunchboxes. Nothing was ultra light or made for camping on a snowy volcano. The other group of three were skiers with proper backcountry gear. However, they were not climbing to the summit.

We slept hard, turning in at about 6:30pm and waking up once to see the sunset. At 2:15am we groggily slithered our of our sleeping bag and began the climb preparations. We began moving at 3:30am. Damien led us down the saddle and over the glacier to the base of the Leuthold Couloir. t would be fairly obviously even without the footprints. This took about 30 minutes. The Couloir is very wide in the beginning with snow from 50-60 degrees. One of two placed were a bit soft, but the bulk of the route was firm. There was some fine rim ice raining down on us, but nothing to cause alarm. Damien placed three pickets, but said afterward that he really only need one or two. I agree. The forth picket he placed at the beginning of the traverse toward the hourglass along with his ice axe as an anchor. He belayed me in from there and we swung leads.

The hourglass is infamous because it acts as a narrow funnel for all the rim ice falling off the rock towers the surround the chute. Sometimes golf ball or larger rim falls from the towards and zooms down the hourglass and with it being such a narrow space there is little room to take shelter. This is why we wanted to climb it in the dark when it was coldest. Even so, as I neared the entrance to the hourglass traversing left i could hear the rim rain loudly falling down the chute. I placed a picket near the wall just before entering the chute. I took a few tried for me to find a place to out it. beneath the snow was pure blue ice. It would have taken a screw. I found that staying on the far right side of the hourglass kept me our of the line of fire from most of the falling debris. A few pea sized pieces of ice hit me face and some bigger chunks hit my helmet, but nothing significant. Abut halfway through the hourglass I moved left as the protection on the right dwindled. Here here was a short 6-8 foot ramp where I actually had to swing my ice tools like i was climbing water ice. It was solid and fun though. The rest of the time we drove in our shafts or daggered the tools.

The Hourglass widened and present two chute options. I crossed over at took the far right chute. This part of the climb was like an endless hill that slowly sloped away so that you felt like no matter how high you climbed the ridge top never got closer. We were out of the line of fire from debris though and the sun was rising painting the sky with beautiful colors. The shadow of Mt Hood appeared on the valley far below us. Purely breathtaking.

Slowly the ridge-top began to stop growing further away. We expected there to be a lot of wind at the ridge crest when we topped it, but it wasn’t more than 10-15 mph. Gorgeous views abounded on either side, but ahead of us on the right the final 800ft of climbing reared up before us. After a brief break on the narrow ridge we climbed around the broad steep slope leading to the catwalk to a flat area where we could see the steep rocky cliffs falling away from the summit. We started up the final ascent here on 40-50 degree snow with a fair amount of rim ice coating it. It went quickly and we found ourselves on the final catwalk to the summit.

There was good trail stamped out on the knife edge walk to the summit. It was all i could do to walk and not run to the top. I was just so excited about my first volcano of the year! The summit was a bit crowded with folks who camp up the South Side, but it emptied out to no one soon after our arrival. Not a breathe of wind touch us and the perfectly clear day afforded us with views of Helens, Adams, Rainier, Three Sisters and Jefferson. I don’t think there was a single cloud in the sky. It’s hard to leave a summit with those conditions and we stayed for about an hour.

Folks are using Pearly Gates this year on the South Side for the final summit push. However, we opted to take Old Chute down instead. It is much wider than Pearly Gates and since so many folks were climbing up it we didn’t want to get involved in a bottleneck. There was a pretty good stairs stamped into the snow going down old chute though we did have to face inward for the bottom part due to the steepness. From there we basically followed the sidewalk that is the South Route to the base of Crater Rock. From Crater Rock we traversed below it aiming to Illumination Rock being careful to gradually descent to our small yellow dot of a tent and not go below it. The entire descent from the summit to camp took about 1.5 hours.

Damien happily walked around camp in shorts and down booties as we made water and chilled before making out final descent back to Timberline. Lots of folks passed through as we napped in the tent. None were climbers though. There were snowshoes left behind from another team we knew who started the climber about three hours behind us. We broke camp after two hours and enjoyed a leisurely ski back down to Timberline. Skiing among inbound recreationalists felt a bit strange with our giant packs. We weren’t half as agile as them on the slopes. It was still an wonderful ski down in good corn snow. First technical volcano of the year! VIEW VIDEO


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Damien and I snagging last minute reservations to climb Mt Rainier via the Emmons Glacier Route. Damien climbed the mountain last year on the DC route… I had never climbed it. We figured since we already climbed 3 volcanos this year we might as well go for another. The weather was predicted to the clear and sunny… perhaps a bit overly sunny, but we figured travel by night would mitigate most of the sunshine issues. Our training was up to par. We took aspirin for two weeks to thin our our blood a bit to deal with elevation and climbed to Camp Muir the weekend before. Now we just needed to actually start climbing!

Damien and I got out of work early on Thursday to pick up our permits. The ranger at the White River Ranger station warned of very thin snow bridges and gaping crevasses in the corridor. Plus a questionable “snow chockstone” bridge over the upper bergschrund. To top it off some of the route was pure ice due to the lack of snow. Self arresting would be impossible in some areas and a few screws were recommended. We kicked ourselves for a bit. We had talked about taking a  few screws and then decided against it. We decided to drive back to Everett to get our screws… then we came back and slept in the car. We got up at 2am… the ranger’s intimidating talk started to get to us and we began to wonder if climbing the Emmons was a safe idea after all. We discussed everything for about an hour and decided to do something else for the weekend… but when we got home we felt horrible about bailing so we drove back to the park and headed down the trail at 12:30pm Friday. We no longer find the drive to White River enjoyable.

The Glacier Basin trail begins in the White River Campground (4500ft) and gradually ascended through mostly shady forest to Glacier Basin in 3.1 miles. There is running water along the way and Glacier Basin Camo has access to the silty White River on a side trail. The basin is completely melted out which I’ve been told in very unusual. The unmaintained trail from here is very easy to follow, but gets rougher as it follows the white River from the grassy basin to the moraines of the InterGlacier. We put on our harnesses and crampons at the base of the ice slope, but figured we’d rope up higher up on the big ice field.  Access onto the glacier is made treacherous due to running water running swiftly under the ice and snowpack which is thin in some places. There are large areas of exposed steep ice and self arresting would be futile. Rockfall from the surrounding cliffs is frequent so stay out of the fall line. We roped up about 600ft up the slope before the first crevasses. By then it was 6:00pm.

There is a beaten bootpack that leads up what seamed like an endless slope. Every time i thought we were at the top there was another slope behind it! We stepped over a few crevasses and crossed a snow bridge. Nothing was dicey. We were just very very tired at this point! Finally we arrived at the rocky area known as Camp Curtis. We picked our way over some rocky ledges and were greeted with a full view of Mount Rainier… and the long track we had to follow below to Camp Schurman (9450ft). We carefully descended the sandy rock ledges back onto the snow, now passing mammoth crevasses and Little Tacoma to the left. The path seemed to go on forever and the little hut of Camp Schurman never seemed to get closer. But we did finally reach it just as the sun began to dip below the horizon. We joined the other late comers in digging our a space for our tent on the snow left of the rock plateau the dry campsites and hut were located. The wind howled as we staked down our tent with our pickets. Folks nearby us were really struggling with their massive dome shaped tents, but getting up our BD Eldorado was fairly easy. The city light of Seattle glowed far below us against a smoky pink sky as we finally snugged up inside the tent at 10:30pm. Damien ate gummy worms for dinner… I had goldfish (whole gain of course!).

We awoke late on Saturday morning. This was our day to chill and rest before the climb. We hung around camp talking to the ranger and other climbers. I’d never been to a basecamp like this before complete with prayer flags and plastic flamingos outside the hut. We switchout our pickets and staked down out tent up our snow parachutes… had last nights dinner for breakfast. Base camp activities and a lot of sleeping. Climbers seemed to be having success with the route, though many warned of icy on top of the corridor being very cruxy. Damien and I were concerned about the heat forecast for Sunday as well and figured it would be best to start as early as possible just as the glacier began to freeze up and get down before the sun had much time to heat up the route. We decided that we would head out at about 10pm.

As the sky dimmed Damien and I donned our harnesses. We’d been studying the route all day. The corridor would be the hard part it seemed. We were the first team to break camp and head into the darkness. We passed through Emmons flats easily following a boot pack across the gentle slope. Then the real climbing began. We followed a narrow ledge beside a massive crevasse up onto the corridor. Bridges were everywhere and many were disguised as solid snow. I crossed one and only realized i was on a bridge when my ice axe punched through halfway across! We moved carefully and with purpose. The path was easy to follow… but sketch. We stopped over a crevasses with a deep lip. The going was on wither very soft snow or solid ice. Whenever Damien crossed what seemed like thin bridge I would go into arrest position if i could, but in some places it was impossible due to the ice. Getting a picket to rescue would not work here. At about 11,000 ft Damien came across a very sketch bridge. It had two footholds punches through it as though someone had fallen through and their crotch stopped them. Damien crossed to the left of it… up ahead her could see even more thin bridges in a seracs field. It didn’t look bad from down at camp… it was very different up close. We moved into what we assessed to be a safe place and stopped to examine the situation. Snow bridges around us were making funny sounds. Someone had punched through this one earlier. The day was going to get warm and through we could probably make it up just fine getting down could lead to an epic. Self arresting was not always an option. We are conservative climbers.. we bailed… and it became very clear that this was the right move in a matter of minutes a few feet below the bridge with the boot punctures the ground under Damien made a big whump sound and sunk a bit…. he was on a weak hidden bridge. We moved down the mountain surprisingly not in sadness, but feeling pretty happy with ourselves for not letting our ambition override our judgement. This is the first time I didn’t horrible about being forced to bail. For the first time it wasn’t about the summit… it was about the journey. I’ve always been obsessed with summits  and getting as many as possible. I didn’t care how I obtained that goal. Amount of mountains climbed is still important to me… but the route and journey there now holds importance as well. That is something Damien has shown me.

Climbers definitely made the summit that day, we saw them near the top when we woke up later that morning. I don’t know what it was like for them coming down. Damien said the route probably will only be in a day or two more. We’re glad we made our decision regardless of the others. It was the right one for us. We broke campo and headed down the InterGlacier. It was so warm that i ended up wearing just my tank top and wishing i could convert to shorts. I always knew this would happen eventually… i never thought it would be on Rainier. My watch read 83 degees at Camp Curtis and it was about 8:45am! Descending the InterGlacier wasn’t as bad as going up… good amount of rockfall in some areas though due to the heat.

We walked out of the wilderness at 12:45pm to what would be the hottest day of the year in Seattle. Until next year Emmons Glacier!


I don’t think this route should be called Disappointment Peak Cleaver… it should be call the Trudging Traverse or something of that nature because all we seemed to do was traverse usually by moving in a trudge-like fashion.

We left the North Fork Sauk River TH at 3:45am. The first 5.5 miles of gradually ascending trail are wooded (and in some areas overgrown). We filled filtered water at Mackinaw Shelter and took a short break knowing that the trek was about to go from pretty much flat to very much up. Immediately after the shelter the trail switchbacks out of the forest and into the alpine gaining about 2000 feet. After the final switchback we began our first of many traverses just below the ridge among green meadows of wildflowers. The views are grand from this vantage point and afford us a look at Pilot Ridge and Mount Johnson which we had done the previous week. Below us we saw some intense tree destruction caused by avalanches. There were several little steams along the way and though warm, a soft wind took off the edge.

After what seemed like forever we finally reached the junction with the PCT. From here we continued forward to White Pass (another .5ish miles). White Pass looks like the alps in the Sound of Music, but we didn’t linger long. We took the signed trail along Foam Creek to the left and… traversed again! There were numerous water sources along this trail that seemed to go on forever (in reality it was more like 2 miles, but the warming weather and heavy packs made everything seem an eternity). We turned left off the main trail and onto the well worn climbers trail marked by a cairn in a dusty wash and ascended to the lowest saddle of White Mountain (6600ft). From here we had our first look at Glacier Peak.

The climbers trail then drops extremely steeply into a basin. A clear by narrow trails traverses the left side of  the basin and then up to a notch (the same we saw Glacier Peak peaking out from). From here the view of the mountain and endless moraines, lakes and rocky towers is incredible. We descended into the rocky moraines and babbling glacial creeks. It was too beautiful a place to pass through so we stopped here, took off our boots for awhile before moving on. There were two lower slopes choose from to from to gain the upper moraines. We followed cairns and a trail up the left rocky slope. From here we followed cairns toward White Chuck Glacier which could be seen in the distance. There are numerous camps to choose from and plenty of water in glacial lakes and creeks flowing everywhere.

We left camp at 12:20am. With a full moon we easily made our way over the White Chuck Glacier. We crossed it easily and look the left snow snow gully on the other side to the top of a col. Here it seemed as though the route disappeared over a steep drop off. But after stumbling around a bit we climbed up some rocks to the right and found the trail again. We followed a track that traversed right along a steep snow slope to completely melted out Glacier Gap (high camp). From here we followed a rough trail 100ft over a saddle and then down the other side to the foot of the Suiattle Glacier.

Finally, with all that traversing behind us (or so we thought) we walked across the flat lower glacier to the base of Disappointment Peak Cleaver which was melted, grassy and had a clear trail. We followed the trail until 8600 ft and then dropped off into the snow to rope up. Damien led across the glacier pass quickly by the rocky walls of Disappointment Peak due to the obvious rockfall hazard. We gained the right shoulder and col marking the beginning of Cool Glacier at 9,100 ft. From here we angled left and navigated between a few close knit crevasses before we began our traverse around the summit of Glacier Peak… ugh the traversing!

Finally ,we reached the final section of the climb: the dirty, sandy, dusty pumice ridge and began to climb up the steep trail. The final push is on a snow finger. The route goes up and right on the snow finger and then right at the top to gain the summit. FINALLY! The perfect way to spend the Fourth of July. We were the only team on the summit for a few minutes before the next team arrived. This team was awesome. They brought sparklers up with them… and a golf driver. One guy had a tradition of hitting a few golf balls off of summits!

We were concerned the the descent would be very long, but it were quickly and we arrived back at camp around 2:00pm. We took a 2 hour nap and then, after some discussion, decided to have dinner and traverse out way back to White Pass. I was concerned about the heat on the Foam Creek trail away from the glacier, but it turn out to be breezing and cool on the way to White Pass and the Sound of Music Camps. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset before turning in from the long day.

We hiked our final traverse the following morning and arrived at the car just as the day was beginning to warm up.

Type 2 fun? Absolutely!