Sunday, June 16, 2002

Mt Baker

Mt Baker, WA
10,785 feet
Easton Glacier
June 15-16, 2002
"A Tale of Two Socks"

Friday, June 14, Day 19 for Randy E's socks:

The first group arrived at the Mt. Baker Recreational Area to begin the hike from the trailhead (elev 3,600 ft) up to base camp (elev. 6,300 ft). Their first big surprise was discovering that the access road was still snowed in about a half mile from the trailhead, forcing them to park that far away. The next big surprise was when another group from the Bellevue Community College climbing club showed up. Their leader ordered the BCC students to begin digging snow out of the road. After some intense digging, they effectively cleared out a stretch of road up to the last small patch of bare road, getting them a crucial 50 feet closer to the trailhead.

After getting to basecamp, there was not much left to do but relax and wait for Saturday afternoon when the second group would arrive. To occupy time, Pat tactfully inquired as to the current relationship status of one of the female students, suggesting that she and a male student "come out of the closet." The other students and instructors stared blankly trying to figure out why, if the two students were gay, that this fact would give any reason for them to have anything to do with each other. The matter is still left largely unresolved, with the exception that Pat successfully confirmed that tact does not exist in his dictionary.

Other time was spent digging out a restroom in the snow, practicing Z-pulley crevasse rescue, and devising ways to sabotage each other’s packs. Later in the day, some snowmobilers dropped by and gave a few cans of Schmidt’s. Trying the best they could to return the favor appropriately, Lee and Fred offered them an antique marmot trap.

Friday night, most of the second group arrived at the parking lot. Immediately recognizing the crappy options for pitching a tent, Mike and I weaseled into Randy Gladwish's camper van with Randy "Shrek", Kari, and Andy "Fabio" G. The five of us almost fit easily, except for Mike, who had to sleep on the floor of the van with his head under the rear seating/sleeping area. Shortly afterward, the Earlywines showed up in their camper van. Mike and I went over their van to try and gain more comfortable accommodations, but Randy ("Big E") denied us, stating firmly that he doesn't allow strangers to sleep in his van.

Soon after we fell asleep, a loud bang exploded from a short distance away where some snowmobilers were camping. Shrek awoke and said, "I hope that was someone shooting a snowmobiler." I was looking out the window when a second explosion occurred, and in the bright red flash, I could see the Earlywines hanging out with the snowmobilers drinking Schmidt’s and lighting off M-80s.

Saturday, June 15, Day 20 for Randy's socks:

Saturday morning, everyone at the parking lot woke up around 7:00. Mike and I headed back down to Concrete, giving Big E a nice dusting as we drove past, and had a most satisfying breakfast at the North Cascades Inn followed by a final satisfying trip to the restroom. We arrived back at the trailhead and everyone in the Saturday group had arrived. We headed out at about 9:45

The hike up to basecamp was uneventful for the most part, other than bumping into Toby with his "other" climbing party. After what seemed like a brief jaunt through the woods, we hiked up a snow gully, got buzzed by several snowmobilers, then headed up the steep bank of the moraine and gained the Railroad Grade.

We arrived at basecamp about 1:50 and enjoyed the most impressive views, exchanged snowmobile stories with the Friday group, ate, and prepared for our alpine start at 1 AM. This involved doing the usual "day of" stuff the night before as it was pointed out to us that coherent cognitive capabilities at midnight after a few hours of sleep are a long lost memory. Basecamp was located at the top of one of the several rolling hills that composes the lateral moraine of the glacier next to a small rock outcropping, which provided a nice source of heat and a dry lounging spot. We nicknamed the rock "the beach" based primarily on Saturday's group's image approaching basecamp of several members of Friday's group basking in the sun on the rock like a pack of sea lions.

No one has been able to piece it together, but midway through the afternoon, there was a brief exchange of words between Kari & Shrek and Pat when suddenly Pat yelled "Fucking Argentina" and kicked Kari and Shrek's stove off the beach into the gully below. I can only surmise that Pat's World Cup bracket was as screwed up by Argentina's elimination as mine was.

Between 6:00 and 8:00 everyone made their way to their tents preparing for Pat's midnight wakeup call. I rationalized going to bed at 8:00 based on my observations of my sleep patterns, wherein I have concluded that I function best on multiples of four hours of sleep. The mistake in my reasoning was that it hinged on my falling asleep as soon as I went to bed. This, as I discovered, was a grossly inaccurate estimate on my part. I have reconstructed the following sequence of events based on phorensic evidence gathered by the Skagit County Police Dept. Times are approximate.

8:00 -- I squirm into my sleeping bag trying not to wake up my tent mate, Wolfgang, who is far from asleep. The tent is glowing bright blue because the sun is far from setting still.

8:15 -- I have begun to drift off, but in my half-asleep grogginess, I notice my right arm, which I am laying on in such a manner that my right elbow is near my left armpit, and my right hand near my left elbow, has fallen fast asleep quicker than I. I snap fully awake to adjust my position. I face into the top of my mummy bag to block out the light.

8:20 -- My hot breath gathering in the top of my bag forces an immediate change of position.

8:30 -- The 2-stroke buzzing of two snowmobiles in the distance sounds like a freight train steaming through my head. The tent is still bright blue. I wrap a shirt over my eyes.

8:40 -- All is quiet, except for the humming in my ears, making me wonder about that alien abduction dream I had the other night.

8:50 -- I hear a "bear" growling all the way from one of the tents on the opposite side of our camp.

9:00 -- It sounds like a snowmobiler has driven through our camp. The tent is still bright blue.

9:10 -- A snowmobiler yells from the glacier below. I desperately hope that he has fallen into a crevasse. Then I have a moral debate with myself over whether or not it would be ethical to opt for sleep instead of being a good Samaritan if he really had fallen in.

9:20 -- I discover that the shirt over my eyes is the same shirt I wore on the hike in, and for some reason now, instead of earlier, the stench decides to induce an involuntary convulsion from within my esophagus.

9:30 -- I feel the first signs of sleep approaching. Wolfgang begins to moan in his sleep.

9:40 -- Wolfgang is still moaning occasionally. I try to trick my mind into thinking it is a different kind of moan, but it does not help.

9:50 -- The glow of the tent has dimmed, so I remove the repulsing object from my face. I hear the flags on our wands flapping in the wind just outside our tent, but for some reason my mind is unable to conceive that it is the wind. Instead my mind convinces itself that it is marmots trying to eat through my backpack to get to the food that doesn't exist.

10:00 -- I look at my watch and become seriously annoyed with myself, completely baffled by my inability to even sleep correctly.

10:15 -- I FINALLY fall asleep!! Hooray!!

11:30 -- I wake up due to unknown causes. I go into severe panic mode knowing that I only have a little time to get more sleep before the wake up call.

11:55 -- "Leeeetttt's go CLIMBING!!" Pat bellows out. I look at my watch and curse him because I should have 5 more minutes to pitifully attempt to sleep. In a rare moment of clarity I concede that 5 more minutes of laying in my bag only amounts to 5 more minutes of frustration, so I get up.

Sunday, June 16, Day 21 for Randy's socks:

We headed out of basecamp between 1 and 1:15AM and up the glacier. The images of headlamps up ahead and behind snaking up the mountain like a glowing worm burned themselves in my memory. Passing by the huge seracs of the icefalls in the dark, our miniscule beams of light barely able to illuminate a significant portion of them, was like walking through a post-apocalypse urban ghost town. The lead team, consisting of Cherry, Dave, and George Snelling did a great job of finding efficient paths past and through the crevasses. The going was smooth and efficient. The snow was ice hard all the way up, crampons used the whole way. We made it to the Caldera around 5:00.

As we gathered at the Caldera, the first glows of sunlight began to creep over the mountain. The infamous sulfur odors from the steam vents were barely detectable. Everyone paused for a final respite before we headed for the Roman Wall, the final 30 to 35 degree slope leading to the summit plateau. Geoff, Kate, Page, and Gladwish led the way up the hard, crusty iced Wall. We all offered silent thanks to the Brits for inventing crampons as we used a variety of French techniques, finding that they all exert an equal amount of pain on the ankles and knees. Memories of the horizontal ice station at Snow 2 left us dreaming of the soft snow landing a few feet down that we enjoyed there, as opposed to the several hundred foot slide of hard, course snow that we would get to cheese grate down if we slipped here.

We paused briefly now and then to take in the breathtaking views. Clouds moved into the valley below. The sunrise bathed the snow on the black buttes in pale red. The lights from the faraway cities began to drown in the blue sky.

We topped out of the Wall and were amazed at what a broad expanse the top of the mountain was. It is a large plateau, with a stretch the size of a football field between the top of the Wall and the true summit, a small mound on the east end of the plateau. We headed for the summit feeling the excitement of the home stretch. Between 6:00 and 6:30 AM all the rope teams made the summit, except for one. The strongest personal performance probably came from the one person that didn't make it. Amy made the difficult, but correct decision to turn herself around at around 9,000 feet. The first instinct was to feel disappointment for her, but the fact is that she made it higher and longer than she believed she was capable of. And stripped down to its core, that's what it's all about.

And there at the top of our small world, sitting above a sea of clouds, speckled with all the jagged, snow-capped, Cascade peaks, everything else melted away. There was nothing but this. We were nowhere but here. There was no one else but us. Everything that consumed the mind in previous days was merely static interference between channels. Just a yellow light that you drove through on the way to your next great destination. We disappeared into the beautiful finale of an amazing experience. The bonds formed, the laughs shared, and the trials endured all culminated in this perfect summit day. As amazing as it was up top, the call of other peaks looming in the distance grew stronger.

But before long, all the down and goretex was not enough to keep us on top for long. We headed down as the stiff cold morning breeze penetrated our shells. We crossed paths with Pat, Bill, and Ira crossing the plateau toward the summit, and exchanged cheerful congratulations as they headed for the summit.

As we headed down, the only thing on our minds was descending the Roman Wall. It was a little dicey ascending it, but the thought of going down that icy slope had a lot of us a little sketched. About a third of the way down, confidence in our crampons grew and it turned out to to not be quite so bad. We made it to the Caldera and stopped for a final look.

The sweep team consisting of Pat, Bill Higgins, and Ira, gave the teams ahead of them the go ahead to pull the wands marking our route. As we descended the sun's rays grew stronger and the snow got softer. We passed the high seracs, and a little later the low seracs, which looked like city blocks in the full daylight. As we did so, the blanket of clouds below was steadily creeping upward as the morning drew on.

The development that was occurring at the summit during all this of which most of us were not aware would serve to complicate things on the descent. Part of the sweep team had suffered ill effects from either dehydration or altitude or both and was in very poor condition upon reaching the summit. Because of this, the descent turned into a rather slow and delicate affair. Because the wands were pulled and the clouds had grown so thick, much of our route was invisible to the sweep team. Fortunately they were quite familiar with the route, so no real desperate circumstances presented themselves and they arrived safely into basecamp sometime around noon.

After attempting to nap on the beach for an hour or so, we broke down camp and headed back to the parking lot. It was an uneventful descent, except for one thing: the white water rodeo! The long glissade down from the railroad grade to the gully turned into a competition of stunts tricks, spins, spills, and yard sales. People doing barrel roles and 360's down the slope. Pat nearly lost his pack. Andrew G lost his hat and walked half way back up the slope to get it, and upon reaching it decided to continue all the way up and glissade down again. This time, however, he had no pack to get in his way. In a moment reminiscent of the early 80's, he practically break danced his way down the glissade chute. It was classic. And true to form, he moonwalked the rest of the way to the trailhead.

After finally reaching the parking lot around 5, everyone marveled at how not-so-brief the little jaunt through the woods was going back. We put on our most comfortable cotton and celebrated with victory beers and champagne, then headed to Tacos Feos in Burlington. I think Kari will agree with me, those were the most interesting, mysterious, egg-flavored fish burritos I've ever had.

Back safely at home, only one question remains on everyone's minds: Will Randy wash his socks before his next climb.