Sunday, August 26, 2001

Tatoosh Traverse

From: Riensche, Nathan (US - Seattle)
Sent: Monday, August 27, 2001 11:47 AM
Subject: TR: Tatoosh Range Traverse, 8/26/2001

What: The Tatoosh Range is the first range of peaks south of Mt. Rainier, just inside Mt. Rainier
National Park. Our goal was to summitt seven of the peaks in one day -- a goal for "aggressive,
overachieving types" according to the guide book. It is considered a scramble, no class five rock

Who: Mike and Sean, two of my usual climbing partners, and Mike's friend, Gary, who was visiting from Wales. There was a bit of concern about Gary because he was not in stellar shape.

Prelude: We drove out to Rainier National Park Saturday evening, arriving at Cougar Rock Campground at 9:30. We called too late for reservations, so we drove out there counting on no shows or at least being able to find a spot to crash at the trailhead. By a stroke of luck, there was an RV spot open and the Ranger was getting ready to start opening up the no shows. So we got the RV spot. There was a half moon in the south and we could see the top couple thousand feet of Rainier basking in the moonlight; the mountain's glaciers seeming to glow in the night sky. It was an inspiring vision, as if Rainier were a guardian watching over us, and it made me think of Mt. Everest's Tibetan name, Chomolungma, which means, "Goddess Mother of the Earth," and how that seemed like such an appropriate name for Rainier at the moment.

The Adventure: We dropped Mike's car off at the Longmire parking lot, at the west end of the traverse, and drove Sean's car up to Reflections Lake at the east end. We hit the Pinnacle Peak trailhead at 8:55 AM. The first mile and a half was well maintained trail up to the saddle (elev 5,920 ft) between Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak. The maintained trail ended there, and from this point on it was navigation skills and boot paths. We scrambled up Pinnacle Peak (elev 6,562 ft), reaching the summitt at 10:00 AM and feeling good, with the exception of Gary, who was already a bit knackered. The scramble up Pinnacle was quite fun. There was a bit of loose rock and some potential exposure upon reaching the summitt ridge in the form of a thousand foot drop straight down the north face, although ascending directly up the ridge was not an option so we were never in any danger. We returned to the saddle at 10:35 AM and continued up to the summitt of Plummer Peak (elev 6,370 ft) at 11:00 AM.

We went back down and traversed the ridge over to Denman Peak (elev ~5,800 ft?). With some light, fun scrambling and nearly zero exposure, we summitted Denman at 11:45 AM. Denman was the least spectacular peak on our list, looking more like a bump along the Tatoosh ridge than an actual peak. We were very optimistic at this point, having bagged 3 of the 7 peaks in less than 3 hours.

Then when we reached the bottom of the saddle between Denman and Lane Peak, the first bad sign materialized in the form of a 2-inch diameter blister on Gary's heel. We slapped some moleskin on it, and like a trooper, he carried on with not a word of complaint.

Lane Peak (elev ~6,200 ft?), presented us with our first technical challenge. The routes up the first 3 peaks were pretty obvious, but we saw a few options on Lane, and the guide book warned that it has a lot of loose rock. Sean and Gary chose to ascend a couloir up the south face, while Mike and I choose to go up the eastern ridge. Very quickly we realized the eastern ridge would be a highly technical scramble, and we were pretty excited about it. Mike went up first and about 15 feet up, he prepared to shift his weight around a suitcase sized rock that he was hanging onto with his left hand and left foot. Suddenly the rock blew, nearly barn-dooring on his right hand and foot, he managed to stay on while the rock crashed down below causing a thunderous rock slide about 500 feet down the mountainside. Luckily I was to the right of Mike, so the rock missed me by about 10 feet.

We, especially Mike, were pretty spooked by this, and without hesitation, backed off and found another route up the ridge. Even this was borderline to a class 5 climb, and while the rock was more solid, there was definitely the occasional loose one that instilled a bit of fear in us. We finally reached the summitt at 12:55 PM. We lost a bit of time ascending Lane, but we were still in pretty good shape having bagged 4 peaks in 4 hours. It was a beautiful, clear day, and we had lunch at the top and marveled at the view of Rainier, which was its usual beautiful, enormous self to the north, and Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Hood to the south.

After lunch, we were anxious to get off that pile of loose, chossy rock, which we unaffectionately
nicknamed "Chossy Peak." We wisely descended via Sean and Gary's route, and upon reaching the base, bitterly gave the peak the finger.

The next peak was Wahpenayo (elev 6,231 ft). To get there was a long traverse across massive scree slopes and slippery grass slopes, all at a steep angle of course. The guidebook said to cross the ridge between Wahpenayo and an unnamed peak. Well, there were 2 unnamed peaks between Lane and Wahpenayo, and subsequently we discovered that there was another one to the west of Wahpenayo. We first crossed the ridge before reaching the unnamed peaks, attempting to traverse along the north side of the ridge, but after an hour of miserable scree, brush, and mosquitos, we determined that this route was impossible. To top it off, Gary had a couple additions to his blister collection and he was running on fumes. He was having trouble keeping his balance on decent terrain, every step looked agonizing, and he frequently fell on tougher terrain.

At 2:30 PM, after much debate, we decided that 2 of us could finish the traverse on our own, but Gary and someone else would have to go back, as we were about half way and the route back was certain, but we still were very uncertain about the route forward. Sean volunteered to assist Gary back, while Mike and I went on.

Mike and I decided that we would cross back to the south side of the ridge, then traverse up to the gap between the first unnamed peak and the second unnamed peak, which we think actually might just be a subsidiary peak of Wahpenayo, and cross back over the ridge to the north side. After more miserable, painful, frustrating, demoralizing scree and grass slopes, we made it to the gap, and descended down around the second peak, crossing more of the same terrain, plus a 50 foot long snow block that actually was a relief to our feet and joints. We made it up a couloir on the northwest ridge after more God-forsaken scree, and after more scanning, analyzing, map and compass-reading, were left clueless. We didn't know exactly where we were in relation to Wahpenayo's summitt; we could see the saddle between Wahpenayo and the 5th peak, Chutla Peak, but had no confidence that we could get there; the route up the ridge we were on looked pretty technical and mossy to boot; the route down and around the northwest ridge over to the western ridge looked completely demoralizing; and we were demoralized and nearly tanked by the route getting to where we were.

Finally, at 4:45 PM, after nearly 4 hours of trying to navigate a way up Wahpenayo, we made the decision to turn around. This meant crossing the same horrible terrain we had crossed on the way over, and perhaps it was fatigue and dehydration, but I allowed myself to nearly lose all hope at this point.

I had all these scenarios running through my mind like what if we had to bivy for the night. We had no camping gear with us, just raincoats and an extra pair of socks. After an exhausting ascent back up the north face, we made it back up to the gap, then slid on our butts all the way down all the talus and grass down to the basin, where there was actually a trail of sorts heading back in the general direction of Pinnacle Peak.

The inherent problem with our plan was that Sean and Gary were 2 hours ahead of us, and upon reaching the trailhead, they would take the car back down to Longmire to meet us at the other end. That meant, because they knew nothing of our turning around, that we would reach the trailhead with no vehicle waiting for us. Except for one thing, we knew that Gary was in such a bad state, that we might actually have a chance of catching up with them. We hauled ass. Every step was agony at this point. When going up, every muscle in my legs had that horrible heavy, burning sensation of fatigue, and my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. When going down, the ligaments in my knees screamed with pain and my feet felt like they were on fire. The trail frequently disappeared, and we would be left following animals paths through more miserable terrain. When we reached the vicinity of Denman, I ran out of water. I have never emptied my 3 liter hydration pack before. Mike was getting low as well, so we had to ration
the fluids.

Finally, dirty, exhausted, scratched up, dehydrated, heartrates at about 150 bps, and overheated, we reached the Pinnacle Peak Trail. We only had a mile and a half to catch up with them, and at this point, I was completely skeptical of any chance of catching them. I don't know what inner forces were at work within Mike to cause him to do this, but he began running down the trail. I followed about 20 feet behind him the whole way. It was actually kind of a nice change, despite the overwhelming desire to just stop because of the misery I was feeling. We just kind of floated down the trail, getting odd looks from people we passed along the way (the first people we had seen since about 10:30 AM). Finally after running a 10 minute mile and a half, we reached the trailhead at 6:30 PM.

I threw my hands in the air, and if I had the strength, I would have yelled something along the lines of, "Auugghgh!!!!" or "Yeahhhhh!!" as we saw Sean and Gary standing next to the car getting ready to go. They beat us by only 5 minutes. They were just planning to linger around long enough to eat a snack, then head down to Longmire. You can imagine the looks of shock on their faces when they saw us. You can imagine the overwhelming relief Mike and I felt. You can imagine how good the burgers at the Highlander restaurant and bar tasted on the way down. You can imagine how exhausted and sore I am today. You can imagine how ridiculous getting stressed out by a job seems to me. Finally, you can imagine how potent the taste of vengeance is in my mouth, especially after re-examining the maps and finding what must be the true route up Wahpenayo. We'll be back (although maybe we'll skip Lane (aka "Chossy") Peak.


Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Mount Si

Mount Si
4,167 feet
Evening Hike

One of my climbing partners, Sean, and I arrived at the Mt. Si trailhead at 6:00 pm last night
and started up the trail at 6:10. After huffing and puffing a bit through the first mile while
we warmed up and tried to catch our second wind, we cruised up the remaining 3 miles to the top
of the trail. Then we ascended the hundred or so foot scramble up to the summit, arriving at
8:10. It was a fairly nice hike up the trail. It is 3,650 feet of elevation gain over 4 miles
through alternating new and old growth forest. We caught a few nice glimpses through the trees
of the setting sun bathing the forest below with a bright, gold glow. The scramble up the
haystack was very nice as well. I'm not very familiar with scramble grades, but it felt like
it was fairly technical. A scramble is defined as terrain which requires use of all fours, and
this almost felt like a low grade rock climb in some places. Anyway, there was some very nice
exposure near the top where the route circles around to the north side with quite a drop below
your feet.

We were the only ones up at the summit (quite a feat for Mt. Si), and we sat up there for 20
minutes and watched the sun going down over the Seattle skyline some 30 miles away. After our
perspiration was good and frozen from the cold wind at the top, we donned our headlamps and
headed back down. There was enough sunlight left to make the scramble descent fairly easy
going, but as soon as we got under the tree canopy, it was lights out. After stumbling,
tripping and slipping the 4 miles down the trail, we arrived back at the car at 10:30. Yes, our
descent took precisely as long as our ascent (2 hours on the dot), but considering our wimpy
knees and the rough terrain we had to negotiate with just our headlamps, that wasn't bad time.
In fact I was quite happy with the fact that it didn't take longer to descend. Interesting
sidenote: about half-way down we actually passed a pair of hikers on their way up!

We barely made it to the North Bend McDonalds before it closed, just in time for a Big n' Tasty
meal. And boy was it big & tasty.

All in all, good, fun, quick trip. And if you don't mind hiking in the dark, it is actually
possible to do Mt. Si and still experience a little solitude.