Sunday, July 28, 2002

Mt Shuksan

Mt Shuksan
(elev 9,127 ft)
Sulphide Glacier
July 27-28, 2002

Deb and I headed out toward Shuksan Friday evening, and after solving the puzzle of the climber registration at the Burlington ranger station, we ate dinner and headed up to the trailhead.

On the way up the forest service roads we came across a solitary omen of peace and balance: a 32 ounce bottle of V8 sitting in the middle of the road. We tried not to let it distract our sharp mental state, but it was too much. The questions it begged were so profound and thought provoking, we had to ponder them. Why would someone leave 32 oz of V8 in the middle of a road? More importantly, who the hell buys 32 oz of V8? I suppose the latter question implicitly answers the former, but still, it's bewildering to think that in these harsh economic times someone would dwindle away precious dollars on such filthy swill. I've tried to drink V8 at key developmental stages of my life, only to find that I'm naseously disgusted after the first 3 or 4 oz. But even I have the sense to only buy one of those puney 8 oz cans knowing that the odds are good my reaction will be the same dizzying, mindnumbing, cataract generating, webbed-foot growing, putrid experience as the last time. This begs another mind-boggling question: who is the marketing genius that decided trying to sell V8 in 32 oz. bottles was a good idea? I mean, they have to know that people are going to figure it out within the first 8-10 oz. if not sooner. Well, I guess that makes sense then. Anyway, V8's officers must be sitting in their heavily leveraged offices watching the clock tick down to the time when the entire population figures out that V8 is a disgusting, vile substance and should be banished to the top shelf in the grocery store where even the most unsuspecting victims will god-willing not see the crack-pot health drink and somehow be brought into temptation to purchase it by the attractive label and copious amounts of food coloring. The only good use I can conceive of for the goop is to let it cure and petrify into a salt lick for the local dairy industry. Perhaps this is what the mysterious leaver of the V8 bottle was thinking. In any case, to prevent contamination of the local fauna, we reluctantly picked up the toxic sludge and carried it with us in Deb's 4Runner.

Mental state down the tubes, we were in no condition to offer any help to our next distraction: a couple of guys who apparently tried to drive their jacked up pikup truk off the road a little and done got themselves stuk. Without chains for towing, we were stuk for a way to get them out of their current predicament, and after ensuring they had enough clothes and blankets (and 40 oz'ers) to spend the night, should it come to that, we headed up the last of the road.

We arrived up at the trailhead at 2500 feet, and after tip-toeing around and whispering, trying not to wake up the other climbers that weren't there, we went to sleep in the back of the 4Runner, and graciously donated our warm, thick blood to the local mosquito reproduction effort.

We got up not-so-early Saturday and began the long hike up to base camp. It was an uneventful hike through the overgrown trail in the late morning cloudy gloom. We encountered a few people on their way down, who commented on their summit despite the poor conditions. We were unphased by this because the last weather report we got from NOAA indicated the weather would make a turn for the better late Saturday.

After a few hours we reached the notch where you hit constant snow and begin a long traverse over to the ridge on the west flank of the Sulphide Glacier. We stopped for lunch and within a few minutes a group of Mountaineers showed up. Then a group of Mazamas. We decided to speed out of there in case the camping options weren't abundant.

At 5400 feet, we found the first camp site in a rock outcropping on the ledge. We stopped to marvel at the neatly flattened out tent sites and the compost toilet, then noted that the clouds weren't clearing up. Indeed, as would become a familiar theme througout the trip, visibility was about 100 feet. We decided to continue up to the next camp site at 6500 feet. We followed a bearing based on where we thought the site would be on the map for about another hour, and after gaining the top of a steep slope, we realized we had overshot the camp site and were now at 7,000 feet and at the top of the ridge. Our remorse at wasting 500 feet of energy lasted about half a second. The clouds parted for us and we were immediately and fully drawn into the stunning views of Baker directly ahead and our target just over the rise to the north.

We enjoyed a hearty meal of pasta noodles with the chef's special Alfredo/Parmeson sauce mixture -- we enjoyed it that is until it cooled off and congeled into a jello-like slop that triggered an involuntary gagging reflex milliseconds after entering the mouth. The contentment at having a mostly full stomach was relatively bittersweet. Nonetheless we marveled at the terrific sunset and the amazing way the clouds blew vertically up the west side of the ridge and up and over our heads.

Going to bed we were completely naive to the fact that that was the last time we would see the sun until Monday.

"Is anybody home?" A strange voice called out. A little confused at first, I wondered if he was talking to someone else, then I remembered we were the only ones camping up there. I poked my head out of the tent and outside there was a man traveling solo. It was 7:30am. We had awakened at 5 only to be completely discouraged by the heavy cloud cover. We began to talk with the guy and he expressed his disappointment and disbelief that he was the only one attempting the summit that morning. That meant he had no tracks to follow. We bid him best of luck, godspeed, break a leg, you know the usual formalities, then decided if this fellow could attempt it solo in these conditions, we ought to at least get our arses out of bed and try.

At 9:00, we saw the man coming back down toward our tent. Figuring he could not possibly have summited and returned in 1.5 hours, we were shocked when he began to recount his trip to the summit. Noting some odd inconsistencies between his tale and what we knew of the climb, we bid him farewell, adios, vaya con dios, etc, and he left with the words, "I can't believe I summited in this shit" lingering in the air.

Visibility was about 100 feet (okay, from now on assume visibility is always about 100 feet unless I say otherwise. And very windy). The soloist's tracks were quite clear and we followed them up the glacier. After about half an hour or 45 minutes or so, his tracks ended at a pile of rocks which fit his description of the summit pyramid to a "T." We laughed devilishly and bitterly as we realized the poor fellow hadn't even made it half way to the summit. He was only at about 7800 feet. The rocks were a manky pile of choss that only rose about 20 feet above the snow. We climbed to the top of them to get an exact elevation reading and pinpoint where we were on the map. We were correct in where we calculated we were, but with the poor visibility, the terrain didn't seem correct. We spent the next two hours roaming first to the east then to the west trying to assess the situation and make sense of the inconsistencies.

The big thing that threw us was a very steep slope down about a hundred feet next to the "false summit." We eventually discovered the slope shallowed out significantly about 100 feet to the east, but again, becuase of the viz we totally missed it until about noon.

Totally psyched that we were finally back on our way, we saw the summit pyramid off in the distance after a ways and made a bee line for it. We arrived at the base of it about 12:30. Dropped our packs, crampons and ice axes, and coiled up the rope for a possible rappel. We made a funky, committing step across a moat onto the rock and scrambled some hard grades for about 20 minutes and then reached the high point on the rock. But something was very amiss.

"What's our elevation?"

"7900 feet."

"Doh!" We had barely gained back the elevation we lost when we descended onto the glacier. We had scrambled up the wrong block of rock! We were barely better than the soloist! Completely annoyed with ourselves, we climbed back down.

It was now about 1:00 and we were reaching the point where if we continued we risked hiking out in the dark. We decided that despite scrambling up 2 "false summits," or perhaps because of it, we were going to continue.

We covered a lot of ground quickly and fell into the tracks of another party (they apparently came up the Fisher Chimneys route). We navigated around a couple large crevasses, jumped across a narrow point of another one, then made it up to the base of the TRUE summit pyramid about 2:00.

We dropped our gear except the rope again and began scrambling quickly up. We trended right, gaining the east ridge and enjoyed the view of a sweet steep drop down the other side, then trended left toward the central gulley, climbed up the gulley to the west ridge just a few meters short of the summit, then climbed the ridge to the summit, arriving at 3:00. Emotionally damaged from "false summit" number 2, we were elated when we saw the summit log. No one would possibly put a summit log on another false summit would they?

"What's our elevation?"

"9100 feet!"

"Woo hoo!!!"

We truly had made it. Not an ounce of doubt in our minds this time. Although there were no views to speak of at all, we were absolutely thrilled to finally be at the top of Mt. Shuksan. One of only two parties that summited that day.

Now we just had to get back. We descended straight down the central gulley deciding that all the rap anchors we had passed on the way up wouldn't save us time with a 30 meter rope. Minutes after descending the central gulley, putting on our packs, roping up and heading off, a huge gust of wind hit us. It took our breath away momentarily it was so strong. And it blew a huge thick cloud in that cut our vis down to about 20 feet for a few seconds, igniting my panic fuse for the possibility that the proverbial shit was hitting the fan. Fortunately it eased off and vis returned to the default range.

The rest of the way back to camp went relatively smoothly. We recovered all our wands and managed to retrace our steps back despite them melting out quite a bit. We broke down camp and headed down at 6:00. It was misting when we reached the notch at 4500 feet and the rest of the way down the trail was soaking wet, as where we. The hike back drew on and on and on and on and on.

We made it back to the car just shy of 9:00, beating the darkness by just a few minutes, and avoiding having to classify the trip as a minor epic.

And yet despite all we went through, the V8 bottle had the indecency to stay where we left it forcing us to cart it back to town with us. I mean, who buys 32 ounces of V8, really?

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Eldorado Peak

Eldorado Peak, WA
8,868 feet
July 13-14, 2002

"Big Top Murray"

I eagerly rushed out the door on Friday, with my WAC 2002 Climbing Class diploma in hand, anxious for my first glacier climb since being released into the world. Our trip organizer, Ema, sent me on a mission to acquire the climbing permit for Eldorado Peak. I had to be at the Marblemout Ranger Station by 8:00, and I left Seattle at 4:45. Things went smoothly at first until just before I reached Everett, at which point I slowed to an average speed of somewhere around 0.7 miles per hour. Over the next 10 miles, I sweated and stressed over the quickly lapsing time and the gradually rising temperature of my car. Sitting there in the sweltering heat, as the logjam of cars creaked and moaned forward, I began to question my decision to get a job, which would deprive me of these precious moments.

I eventually arrived at the station around 7:20 and obtained the necessary document. After hopelessly attempting to understand the logic behind needing a Forest Pass to park at the National Park trailhead, I bid farewell to the Park Ranger, and met Mike & Doerte at Goodell Campground.

Saturday morning we all met at the Ranger Station, where we discovered the inevitable had occured, a group of Mountaineers, equal in size to our own, was also bound for Eldorado. Desiring to avoid any conflicts with them, we reviewed the rule of conduct for encounters with Mountaineers: Leave Randy at home. Check.

We arrived at the trailhead with few problems, other than learning en route that despite hailing from the home of the autobahn, Wolfgang and Ursula never acquired the skill of driving fast on dirt forest road.

We set out on the trail at 8:45, and quickly came to our first obstacle, the log bridge across the creek. As we approached the raging river, Scott began to inform it of its legal rights should any of us incur injuries while crossing it, but, upon realizing that it was in fact a raging river and not just a rapidly flowing river, he stripped off his conservative attire to reveal leather and spikey things, pulled out a pint of Jim Beam and began singing "Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun and games..." at the top of his lungs. After Jen beat Scott's ghetto blaster to a violent death, everyone was able to relax and we headed across. Demonstrating very quickly my novicity, I managed to drop both my water bottle and my radio, nearly losing them in the creek.

Once safely across we bushwhacked for a few minutes before starting up the steep trail. We marveled at this trail so noticably absent of switchbacks. In the muggy heat I privately regreted slandering Rob in the Tooth TR, as it appeared that this act had come full circle and turned me into something resembling a wet sponge in a taffy pulling machine.

Hoping for something encouring to anticipate, we occasionally radioed ahead to Mike & Doerte about a half hour ahead of us. We would inquire about the trail description, and Doerte would sweetly repeat the phrase, "It gets steeper, but it's good trail" each time, reminding me of the way my mom would try to make me take cough syrup as a kid.

After a couple hours we reached the 1st of three talus fields. It required great concentration to negotiate the choss in my plastic boots, and consumed copious amounts of energy to keep from whacking Andy with my pack lid as he pranced across the rocks in his tenny runners.

Picking our way through the big rocks, following frequent cairns and some trail, we reached the snowline at the lower camping area around 5400 feet. Happy that after 4 hours of hiking, my plastic boots were finally going to prove useful, I gleefully removed the shells and let me feet unwind. Bastard replaced his tennis shoes with plastics. Deb hooked up to a dialysis machine to remove BAC from her bloodstream from the night before. Murray briefly removed his bandana to check on the progress of his soon-to-become-famous chrome dome tan.

The Mountaineers emerged onto the snow about an hour later, the odor of ten essentials and rigid climbing bureaucracy drifting up on the wind to us, alerting us that it was time to get moving. We proceeded upward and ascended the steep grade onto a ridge separating Roush Creek Basin from Eldorado Creek Basin. Upon reaching the ridge, the guidebook description indicated that we were to "descend on obvious gully" onto the Eldorado Glacier. We all shared a bitter laugh at the obviously collaborated effort of all guidebook authors to perpetuate the use of this deceptively useless phrase. Undoubtedly Oliver Stone is somehow involved. This phrase, which arouses enough skepticism on its own, becomes even less indicative of reality when combined with another phrase such as "marked by large boulder" especially when the entire area you are searching is composed of large boulders.

We found the gully and descended it without too much trouble, although occasional cries of "I'm such a big wanker" and "please make it stop" were heard with striking German accents.

After following the lateral moraine for a while, we roped up in preparation for the ascent up the glacier. Deb made some sort of inquiry, to which Murray offered his priceless and seemingly universal advice, "Just sit down, cross your legs, and be gentle."

We slogged up the glacier to the broad, level area at 7500 feet where we were to camp, and Mike & Doerte greeted us with Mai Tais while we posed for photos with the ship's captain. After tossing him and his worthless ship overboard, we promptly set up our tents and began melting snow and cooking dinner. At this point grave concern grew within the group as we realized that there were no Whisper Lites in the party. We held a pow wow and debated whether or not this was cause for concern. None of us had ever been on a trip where there were no Whisper Lites, and Scott proposed that we abort the climb, citing this as an obvious objective hazard.

Unable to reach a consensus on the matter, we consulted Ema's ouijee board. We sat in a circle around it, hands reaching out to it like a hokey pokey, when if finally responded, "It's a boy." We obviously were a little confused, and Andy suggested the ouijee board was not effective above 7,000 feet. But Deb deciphered this cryptic message, applying the following reasoning: "Brad Pitt is a boy. He drove an El Camino in "The Mexican." "El Camino" sounds kind of like "Eldorado," especially if you say it with a gruff, exaggerated "Mexican accent" like Brad Pitt did in the movie." After a brief pause to absorb this, there was much rejoicing as we began to understand her wisdom and realized that this peak would fall, Whisper Lite or not. It was however, a bittersweet revelation for Murray who wept in dismay at the fact that he humped 20 oz. of white gas for no reason.

In the midst of his grief, Murray tore off his bandana, prompting an uproar laughter from everyone, including himself, at his astoundingly bizarre tan line which made him look a little like Dr. Mindbender from G.I. Joe. Or a scoop of neopolitan ice cream.

Post dinner boredom set in, which I observed leads to a few interesting things on glaciers: 1) People marvel at glacier worms; 2) They discuss the invalid points of "Vertical Limit;" and 3)They build massive snow walls. This latter behavior is especially common when the wind picks up a bit and clouds move in, as happened that evening. Despite building these walls with impressive size and swiftness, our efforts were to be thwarted by the wind, cloud moisture and mild temperatures throughout the night. By morning, just enough of the walls remained to remind us of our foolishness the night before -- kind of like waking up with a bad hangover and finding a strange phone number in your pocket. Not that I know about these things.

I awoke briefly at 5:00 Sunday morning and peeked outside the tent. I could barely see the other tents through the whiteout, so I went back to sleep. At 5:30 Andrew walked around knocking on tents crying "Leeettt's go climbing!" in the style of Pat O'Brien. I overcame my skepticism and looked outside to discover it was perfectly clear. Did it burn off that quickly? Was my perception altered by my desire to sleep longer? Was it an altitude induced hallucination? Wonder will loiter in my mind like bubbles in an IV.

It was a chilly morning and the leisurely, almost catatonic, pace of getting ready for the summit push contrasted sharply to the frenzied, anxious ritual on Baker. We headed out at about 7:00, 15-30 minutes after the Mountaineers. We were both pleased by this and a little disappointed. It would be nice following their steps, but there is also very little room at the summit, and it was easy to foresee a potential conflict between our two large groups.

We descended down onto the Inspiration Glacier then started up again on the other side, reaching a break in the small rock ridge which cuts part way through the glacier. We passed through this and veered up the glacier following the north side of the ridge. We passed several crevasses along the way, some of them relatively harmless, while others looked like they could swallow a Fiat, which of course is ridiculous because a crevasse would never do that.

We reached the summit ridge shortly after the Mounties, despite pausing for 10 minutes or so to allow them time to get off the summit. We headed up the magnificently exposed knife-edge ridge of snow, with nice views of the glacier dropping away on both sides. Soon we donned our balaclavas and switched the ice axes to battle mode, as we prepared for a gruesome conflict. Thankfully, Mike & Doerte pointed out to the Mountaineers the obvious fact that they needed to wait for us to get off the knife edge before they could descend it, prompting a lecture about kinetic energy and conservation of mass from Professor Johnson. We reached a point where it was safe to step to the north side of the ridge and created a second lane around the Mountaineers.

Around 9:00 we all gathered at the small rock outcropping just past the true summit and enjoyed summit chocolate and fantastic views of the North Cascades. Baker, Shuksan, Forbidden, Sloan and Rainier were all clearly visible from this vantage point.

We descended back to camp, packed up and headed back to the parking lot. The descent was mostly uneventful. There were a few nice glissades. Andy successfully defended his title of most daring glissade. We stumbled down the talus fields, then down the steep trail, knees and quads screeching and pulsating like bad brakes, feet hotter than my engine crawling through Everett on Friday.

Back at the parking lot several people rinsed off in the river and Murray removed his bandana. He had rolled it up to make the top edge stop at his tan line in an effort to even it out. Fortunately, the bandana had slipped up on his forehead about an inch, leaving a glorious new logo: a brilliant white stripe running horizontally through his forehead. We enjoyed a hearty laugh and embarked on the groggy drive back to Tacos Pendejos. I successfully avoided the fish burritos this time. Murray, however, did not. He tragically misunderstood my warning about the burritos malos and thought I meant the fish tacos. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, we all left gruntled and joined the rest of the city returning to Seattle via I-5 south.

A more factually correct account of the trip can be found at: