Saturday, August 16, 2003

Mt Robson - Conclusion

Mt. Robson, B.C.
12,973 Feet
Kane Route
August 7 - 16, 2003

Three o’clock a.m. the alarm goes off. We all bolt upright and crowd around the tent door to look outside. Cloudy. Fuck. We can barely see the bergschrund. No f&*#ing way. How can the mountain do this to us? The disappointment hangs over our heads as thickly and oppressively as the clouds that prevent us from climbing. But we decide to rope up and go climb a short ways up just to experience being on the Kain Face. And who knows, maybe by the time we get there, the clouds will clear up.

So we head for the Face at 4am. We reach the base and the clouds remain stubborn as usual. We start up, but begin to notice an icy layer a few inches beneath the surface of the snow as we walk, so a hundred feet or so below the bergshrund, Todd starts to dig a quick avy pit with his ice axe. As he runs the handle of the axe across the back of the block of snow, a five-inch slab slides forward. He didn’t even have a chance to impact the top of the block because it slid so easily. He picked it up and it was a heavy, solid chunk of snow with a hard, icy layer on the bottom. The wind and new snow had formed a very nasty wind slab. Avalanche danger was high. Turning around was the obvious and proper decision to make, even though it was officially our last effort. Turning around right then meant we had given it everything and come up short. This was the anticlimactic ending we considered but didn't consider realistically. How would it feel to spend seven days trying to climb a sub-14,000 foot mountain in the middle of August and not make it? We were about to find out, because the avy danger was out of our comfort zone. At the time that decision was easy, although it's more and more difficult to remember that in retrospect.

But somehow we couldn't bear to head straight back to camp, so we stop on a snowy knoll above The Dome and brew up some coffee and watch the sun rise. As we sit there and watch one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen, the disbelief at how horrible the conditions remained for our entire duration on the mountain begins to sink in. The number of weapons this mountain has in its repertoire to bar access to its upper slopes is truly unbelievable. How vehemently this mountain denied us. It feels personal. It feels like there are dues one must pay to reach the peak. It feels like one must sacrifice a piece of your soul to the mountain before it will grant you its summit. Indeed, the lead guide of the group we are sharing the mountain with is here for his fifth time and has yet to reach the top. The cruel reality is that our story is not unique. Somehow I suppose that’s supposed to make it easier to accept, but as we sit there surrounded by immeasurable, almost incomprehensible beauty, anguish grows inside me.

We return to camp and pack up. The guided group watches silently as we prepare to leave. I can sense how palpable our disappointment must be to them. As we say goodbye, I give the mountain the finger, as it’s the only way I can think to summarize my feelings at the moment. Normally, I would consider it very bad luck, foolish even, to make such an irreverent gesture to a mountain when you are not yet beyond the reach of its wrath. But I truly felt that the mountain would feel this juvenile act was so insignificant that it would not even bother with a response. At most it would just chuckle smugly to itself as it watched another dejected party walk away.

Descending through The Mousetrap was quicker than ascending as we were able to reverse our route. But it was significantly warmer and softer. In fact there was fresh debris covering our tracks where we had passed under the large serac. We got down as quickly as we could. We descended the Robson Glacier, passed by Extinguisher Tower, our home for two nights, and made it all the way to the Berg Lake Shelter by about 2pm. We spent a couple hours drying out our gear and eating food while relating our story to a family out for their annual backpacking trip. Our disappointment seeps its way into our tone and sensing it, the nice woman from North Dakota says, “But you guys had a fun time, right?” Later another guy talks to us about it and comments, “Well, looks like you guys tried really hard!” Hearing these innocent perspectives on what we truly had accomplished made the bitter pill that much easier to swallow. The reply to both those comments is of course an emphatic “Yes!”

But as we sit at our camp at Marmot Campground, we watch in disbelief as the last few remaining clouds in the sky dissipate revealing the first perfectly clear skies we have seen since we arrived at the park a week ago. "Five inch wind-slab. Five inch wind-slab." We repeat the phrase over and over in our minds like a mantra, trying to hold onto the knowledge of why we turned around, which was a surprisingly elusive memory considering it ocurred just that morning. Sitting there watching the crystal clear sky settle in over the summit, we try hard to feel happy for the guided group because we know that they will probably summit tomorrow. We know they will probably go up despite the avalanche danger. And they will probably be fine and get up and down safely. But it’s so hard to feel happy for them. We discuss it over and over again trying to process everything, thoughts straying off into ridiculous little delusions such as, “Maybe we really did summit, but we just don’t remember it. Wouldn't that suck?” A sprinkling of insanity pushed its way into our conversation, and we did little to stop it.

Friday morning we wake up and there still isn’t a cloud in the sky. We are in reasonably good moods as we get ready to go. Somehow it almost seems funny, like this has all just been a practical joke. Perfectly clear on the day we arrive; perfectly clear on the day we leave; but terrible the whole way in between. That's funny, right? But as the hike out drags on and on and the miles tick by and we recall our optimism as we pass the familiar scenery we hiked through a week ago, the reality starts sinking in again, and our moods sink with it. The last few miles we’re each in our own self-absorbed world of desperately trying to exorcise the negativity. We reach the car and things feel okay again. We all call our significant others, each delivering the report in our own private way, then drive to Valemount and get a hotel, shower and go to a restaurant for some dinner. Our conversations are short and distracted as we have a hard time concentrating on anything but what to do about this mountain. How will we get over Robson. It feels like the nagging sense of an incomplete project has grafted itself permanently onto our consciousness. But as we drive home on Saturday, the further away we get, the easier it becomes to stop thinking about it. The excitement of getting home, seeing loved ones and telling people about our story revives our spirits.

After a long day of driving, we arrive back home. Immediately I find out that two people I am very close to had family members die while I was away. This puts into sharp relief just how truly trivial the fact that we didn’t reach the highest point on a mountain really is. The point is that we had an amazing time, we experienced the personality of a truly heinous mountain in all its glorious malevolence, and will get to share all the adventures with people we care about. Robson lived up to every inch of its reputation, yet we made it home safe and sound, with nothing but a little self-pity to get over. That's a hell of a trip -- the type you never forget, and I'm tremendously grateful to be sitting here writing this. The big question is: will I go back. Maybe if I can afford the helicopter ride in to the glacier.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Mt Robson - The Dome

Mt. Robson, B.C.
12,973 Feet
Kane Route
August 7 - 16, 2003

Monday morning we woke up at 5 and packed up camp. We decided to head up to the Robson Cirque, and if a route through The Mousetrap became obvious we would continue up. Otherwise we would set up camp in the Cirque, a large bowl just east of The Dome and The Mousetrap. Heading up the upper Robson Glacier at 7am, it was apparent the temperatures had dropped overnight. The glacier ice was bullet-proof, and even all the little rivulets had frozen. The glacier-melt stream where we had obtained fresh water from our camp below the tower had slowed to a trickle, whereas the day before, during the storm, it was a rushing torrent. Okay, maybe not a torrent, but it was certainly running high. We roped up after half a mile or so of traveling on the glacier when the crevasses started opening up. The glacier travel slowed to a crawl at this point as finding our way through the crevasses became more and more difficult.

Finally we reached the long slope leading up to the Robson Cirque and we switch-backed our way up it. As we went up, we watched a helicopter fly into Reargard meadows. It appeared to be dropping off a guided group and picking up another one. Cheaters. They only effectively cut out 18 miles of the climb. We arrived at the edge of the bowl around 10:30 and we were greeted by some of the largest crevasses I have ever seen. Some were about 20 to 30 feet wide and a couple hundred feet long. It was simply nutty. Almost as soon as we crested the clouds cleared up a little and we could see a fairly obvious line through The Mousetrap, so we made the decision to keep going.

The ice and snow in The Mousetrap was reasonably firm lower down, and we made good time getting through it. Before we knew it, we were about half-way through. However we were at a point where we weren’t sure if it would go based on our visual inspection from the cirque, and sure enough, Todd ran into a huge, gaping crevasse. There was debris built up inside it from crumbled seracs that Todd thought would provide access to the other side of the crevasse by climbing down into the crevasse, crossing the debris, then climbing back up the other side of the crevasse. Something to think about. We decided to explore other options. We circled back around to the left and found a place where the top of a serac was drooping a bit. We thought we might be able to climb to the top of the serac, then hopefully gain access to the broad bench that runs the width of The Mousetrap at the top. However it was a shot in the dark as to whether the span between the serac and the bench was continuous enough to allow passage. Around this time Maria spotted a tunnel-like space between two seracs that appeared to provide access to the other side of the crevasse we had been stopped at. At this point, we had been hanging around for about half an hour on chunks of snow debris that had fallen off of the serac we were presently standing under. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was becoming extremely anxious to get out of there because the afternoon sun was getting warmer and the danger of chunks of ice crumbling off the serac was growing by the minute. I really, really, did not want a serac to crush me, and I had this paranoid feeling that the serac wanted to.

We decided to check out Maria’s route as it would probably be the easiest way to turn back from if it didn't go. However it involved traversing around a steep, exposed corner of a large serac. It was at this point that our reliance on Todd’s technical experience with ice climbing became evident. Maria asked me to call Todd over to lead it. Todd graciously took the reigns and led around the corner with the large crevasse looming below him. When he got around the corner, Todd yelled “Holy shit!” It was at this point that Maria and I marveled at Todd’s ambiguous exclamations. “What does ‘holy shit’ mean?” I yelled back. “Is that good or bad?” Todd replied back in a slightly less uncertain manner, “Maria, you’re a genius.” We assumed that meant he had gained the other side of the crevasse, so we continued around.

We were so relieved to be out from under the seracs and on the other side of the crevasse, and with excitement and renewed spirits we started up through the upper portion of the Mousetrap. But, in what was becoming very characteristic behavior for this mountain, the clouds decided to join us in our revelry by thickening up and spitting cold, stinging hail in our faces for half an hour. Those were some good times. However we managed to find old footprints which we were able to follow, wandering through the many remaining, large crevasses. We crossed several thin and/or narrow snow bridges, finally reaching the relative safety of the broad, minimally crevassed slopes of the last few hundred feet below The Dome.

Maria took over the lead as Todd had exhausted himself leading us through The Mousetrap. Around 3pm we topped out on The Dome at 10,100 feet. We had ascended into a whiteout and had about a rope-length of visibility. Maria called down to us asking for our opinion on going left or right to find a place to camp. While she was shouting, the clouds thinned a little and I saw a snow wall about 100 feet away to our right. Someone had built a nice snow wall around a large tent platform, big enough for about four tents. We rejoiced at our good fortune, for it was vacant. We ambled over to it and set up our tent in a corner. That night there was more lightening, the visibility remained poor, and snow began to fall, so we didn’t even bother setting our alarms – we knew there was no way we were going to the summit in the morning.

We woke up Tuesday morning to about 4 inches of new snowfall. We wondered about the fate of the team from Denver. We saw them up at the col watching us go up The Mousetrap the day before, so we could only assume they tried the ridge traverse, but backed off. There was another team of three we saw show up in the cirque Monday. The never made it to The Dome either. That meant that out of 15 non-guided climbers (including us), we were the only three to reach The Dome.

The clouds were still very thick Tuesday morning and afternoon, so it was to our great surprise when the guided group we saw fly in the day before showed up in our camp. There were nine of them and we were very annoyed that they were disrupting our solitude. We were even more annoyed at the superiority complex displayed by the three guides. That evening the sky cleared up enough to reveal the bottom half of the Kain Face, and they announced proudly that they were going to go try and find a way across the bergschrund which cut nearly all the way across the bottom third of the Face. Earlier we were able to see the top of the Face for brief periods and we noticed a particularly large cornice hanging out over the left side. But it was cloudy again now, and so we told the lead guide about it and his reply was, “No, there aren’t any cornices on the left side.” Todd politely insisted that there was in fact a rather large one and the guide gave in slightly and conceded that “Well, if there are cornices, they’re small ones and I’m not worried about them.” We could do nothing but shrug our shoulders and wish him good luck. Apparently appearing omniscient in the eyes of their clients is more important than assuring the safety of the group. I didn’t figure it would be of any interest to the guide to hear about the crack that had formed on the underside of the cornice.

One benefit of having the guides there, however, was they had new weather reports. The forecast for Wednesday in Jasper was for it to be clear and sunny. Jasper is an hour east of Robson. This meant, well, absolutely nothing. Robson fits perfectly the description of a mountain that creates its own weather. So many times we witnessed blue skies surrounding the mountain, but one thick, dark cloud clinging stubbornly to the upper mountain, barring access to the summit for days. Nevertheless, hearing the forecast renewed our optimism that we might get a chance to climb. Sure enough the clouds cleared a bit more Tuesday evening and we could see all of the Kain Face. We analyzed it through Todd’s wicked cool pirate scope and there appeared to be a strip down the middle that had an icier consistency than the rest of the Face. However there were still large patches of snow all over it, which caused us some concern. It seemed that snow precariously plastered onto a 50-degree slope had the potential to be a little sketchy for climbing.

We woke up at 3am Wenesday morning and looked outside the tent. Whiteout. No chance of summiting. Unsurprised, we went back to sleep. According to the new forecast the guides received, it turned out the good weather was to be delayed a day. Todd, Maria and I discussed our options. According to our plan, this was supposed to have been our last chance of summiting. We had one more dinner with us for Wednesday night, so we could either descend this morning and have an extra dinner, or hang around until Thursday morning. If we summitted Thursday, then we would have to go without dinner Thursday night, but we had come this far and waited this long, and the prospect of having a hunger for food for a brief period of time seemed like a trivial concern compared to our hunger for the summit. In fact, not reaching the summit wouldn't be as disappointing if we could just get on the Kain Face. We all wanted desperately just to be on it. It had been looming over us for 48 hours. Taunting us. Intimidating us. Daring us. “Go ahead, climb me.” Will it be safe? Will it be easier than it looks? Will we get up there and have the time of our lives, or will we get up there and be scared out of our minds? We had to know. We decided to give the weather one more chance and risk missing a meal, so we stayed an extra night.

Wednesday evening the sky cleared up more than it had in days. We could almost see the summit. Our excitement mounted and we put the finishing touches on our summit packs. We discussed in detail the kind of conditions we might find and how we would handle different situations. We plotted, schemed and analyzed with confidence that we would climb. That night, I slept with Kirsten's bandana clutched tightly in my hand. The anticipation of the inevitable good weather we would be greeted with when we awoke, and the inescapable reality, it seemed, that we would be on the Kain Face in a few hours, pulsed with intensity through my body. But coating my visions of being on the Face and the upper mountain was a desire to be home again. Get home safe, man, that's all you have to do.

Saturday, August 9, 2003

Mt Robson - Extinguisher Tower

Mt. Robson, B.C.
12,973 Feet
Kane Route
August 7 - 16, 2003

We went into the Ranger Station and spoke with the climbing ranger, Hugo. He told us it had been really warm lately and everything was soft and wet up on the glacier. Only one team had summitted so far this year, and many others had turned around. He also told us that a 22-year-old man had attempted to solo the mountain and was now 72 hours past due. This was bad news that tainted our mood slightly as we prepared to head in to the mountain.
After dividing up all the group gear and packing up our backpacks, we headed up the trail at around 1pm. We estimated that each of our packs weighed between 60 and 70 pounds – I was very glad Kirsten let me borrow her beefy Dana Design pack because there’s no way my light framed Dana would have held up under that kind of load. We ran into a party of six from Ottawa who was on their way down from attempting the Kain Face and we tried to get beta from them, but they didn’t make it past Extinguisher Tower. They got rained on pretty consistently and they said they heard seracs falling in The Mousetrap all the time, even at night. This was disconcerting news because The Mousetrap needs to freeze at night in order for it to be relatively safe, and they were telling us it was not cooling off at night at all.

We had 10 miles to hike in to Emperor Falls Campground and most of the trail was flat and very well maintained. We hit a steep section between Whitehorn CG and Emperor Falls that took a serious toll on our bodies – thighs, hips, backs... all sore. We arrived in camp Friday evening around 6 and enjoyed nearly perfect, clear views of the west ridge (the Emperor Ridge (V, 5.6)), and a bit of the Emperor Face (VI, 5.9, A2 -- seriously) – one of the most formidable alpine faces in the world, having only three ascents to date, all via different routes.
After fighting off chipmunks and eating some potato soup, we slept well and got up early Saturday morning to head up to Exinguisher Tower. The weather was again beautiful, with only a few more clouds in the sky. We stopped at the Berg Lake Shelter; chatted with some folks; sat on the last plastic toilet we would see for the next 6 days; and stashed a day’s worth of food in the shelter for our hike back down. We had traveled 14 miles and only had 4 to go to Extinguisher Tower.

We hit the Robson Glacier around 1pm Saturday, roped up and within minutes of setting foot on the glacier, the blue skies closed up with clouds, and about an hour later it began to rain on us. Shortly after, we started hearing thunderclaps. Although we couldn’t see any lighting, it was still quite nerve-wracking to be out on the middle of a glacier with metal crampons and ice-axes connecting our bodies to the ice. If it did get close, we were sitting ducks. Fortunately, after about an hour the rain and thunder went away. But now our first apparent technical challenge arose. Sitting between us and Extinguisher Tower was a large, jumbled mess of seracs that we weren't terribly excited about climbing through. We decided to scout out the possibility of exiting the glacier to the left before the seracs, and fortunately the glacier sloped gently away, all the way to the ground on the left side. There’s even enough glacier left in 2003 to get you across the stream easily.

The slow slog up the loose scree of the moraine went for another quarter mile or so up to the base of Extinguisher Tower at 6,600 feet. There we met a party of three from Denver. We set up camp and BS’d with the Denver guys for a while. They seemed extremely confident in their knowledge of the mountain, which was interesting to us because the route they were describing sounded nothing like what we had planned. So we pulled out our route description and diagram. They were shocked to see that they had erroneously been planning to climb up the wrong side of The Dome, which from all the visual evidence we could gather, looked like a suicide mission.

Saturday night a larger storm hit. Lightning flashes lit up the tent and thunderclaps sounded like a fleet of 747's overhead. Sunday morning the weather was still looking bad, so we decided to stay at Extinguisher Tower for another day and hope it cleared up, and also rest our legs a bit before tackling The Mousetrap. A storm hit in the early afternoon and lasted about 6 hours. Rain, lightning, the whole bit. The Denver team had left that morning, but we weren’t sure whether they were going to try The Mousetrap, their false version of The Mousetrap, or the Robson-Resplendent Col. We spent the day resting and took a reconnaissance hike to scout out The Mousetrap. We discovered that the Ottawans we chatted with on the trail several days ago could not have even seen The Mousetrap from their camp, much less discern whether the sound of seracs falling was coming from The Mousetrap or one of the many other icefalls in the area. The sky began to clear up a bit Sunday night, and it felt like the temperature was finally starting to cool off, but we were still concerned about the temperature in The Mousetrap and about the fact we were unable to spot a sure route through it on our reconnaissance hike, not even with Todd’s wicked cool pirate monocular. The other option for gaining The Dome was to go to the col and traverse the ridge. This option looked much, much steeper, longer, and more difficult than it did in any of the pictures we looked at back home, and we pretty much ruled it completely out.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Mt Robson - Intro

Mt. Robson, B.C.
12,973 Feet
Kane Route
August 7 - 16, 2003

I was ecstatic when Todd called me up at work sometime back in May and invited me to join him and Maria to climb Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. I had read things here and there about it, and I was already a little caught in its spell. It seemed like a mountain that was years away from me though. So even when Todd disclosed to me that it only has a 10 - 20% success rate, lower than Everest or Denali, I still accepted the invitation enthusiastically. At the time the climb was three months away, and it’s reputation for bad weather seemed like a mere inconvenience, not a legitimate threat to our chances of summiting. Surely in the middle of August the weather had to be more cooperative. We would spend the next three months eagerly anticipating the trip. Planning, reserving campsites, analyzing route descriptions, compiling information from sources ranging from back issues of Climbing magazine to trip reports from the web. We would attempt the Kain Face, Alpine Grade IV. There are more easily accessed routes on the Mountain, but none of them involve the classic and relatively moderate technical nature of this route.

The route involves hiking 16 miles of trail to the foot of the Robson Glacier. Traveling 2 miles up the Glacier to Extinguisher Tower, a choss pile that stands about 500 feet high and constantly sheds rock down onto the Glacier. Camp there, then get up early in the morning and travel across 2 more miles of glacier to an icefall to the east of The Dome, called the Mousetrap. Climb straight up through the heart of the Mousetrap to The Dome, a large, snow-covered mound at 10,000 feet that is situated directly below the Kain Face. Camp on The Dome and wait for good weather. If you are lucky, then climb the Kain Face, a 45 to 50 degree, 1500 foot tall ice face, then the east ridge to the summit.

We decided to give ourselves seven days to complete the climb and hike out. Seven days seemed like a very safe amount of time. Any bad weather systems that moved in would in all likelihood dissipate within a couple days, opening up the summit to us within our timeframe. It would be August, after all, a month which has become famous for its good weather in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere of this planet.

We drove into Valemount, BC around 9pm Thursday night. So far the trip had gone well, with the exception of a shortcut that involved dirt roads and horses. We drove through the yellowish-gray haze of the nearby forest fires and made a rather depressing food and gas stop at a small town called Clearwater (which is immediately preceded by Black Pool, incidentally). Clearwater was out of power due to the forest fires, and half of it was shut down (the half that couldn’t obtain power from backup generators). There was something third-world-country-ish about it. Between Clearwater and Valemount, we made 3 more stops in an effort to obtain cured meat for the trail. Cured meat, you may be aware, does not require refrigeration, making it a convenient source of protein and fat while hiking. So it was to our shock and amusement when an employee of one store announced that they lost all their cured meat when the power went out. Todd considered advising him as to cured meat’s physical properties which allow it to not be "lost" when power goes out, and therefore it’s economic value when power does go out, but he perhaps unfairly but ultimately correctly assumed that it would be lost on him. Finally, in Valemount we found some Canadian made Lanjaeger. Let it be known, this is horrible, horrible stuff. Stay away from it. It's just not worth it.

We camped in Valemount for the night, and woke up early and drove another hour to Robson Park. There was a bit of a haze in the air, but otherwise it was a pretty clear sky, and as we drove around a bend in Highway 16, we caught our first site of Mt. Robson. We were viewing its south side, and it was utterly breathtaking. Such a beautiful, rugged, and captivating mountain.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Baker In a Day

Mt. Baker
Coleman-Demming Route In A Day

July 19-20, 2003
Elev: 10,778 feet

text: Todd Lee and Nate Riensche

Maria, Kirsten, Nate and Todd left Seattle on Saturday, July 19th, to try to climb the Coleman Headwall on Mt. Baker. The plan was to camp at ~7,100 feet that night, then leave for the summit at 2:00 AM the next day. When we got to the ranger station at Glacier 11:00 AM, the weather was (still) very warm and the route reports were unpromising. Warm ice is bad, warm seracs are bad, plus the reports of sluff avalanches led to the usual endless talking and debating about what to do. The options ranged from carrying all of our gear (second tools, ice screws, second rope, etc) up to camp and seeing how it looks, to just climbing the Coleman-Demming route, to going rock climbing, to climbing alternative mountains, to just getting some beers. We all had a bit too much coffee that morning combined with too little sleep (Maria had to get up early to pack, Q and Nate stayed up all night watching movies, and Todd got up early to pit fruit -- ya, we know, who cares) to actually have a rational thought process.

The clock was ticking, so we came up with a plan. The Plan: climb Baker in a day. The question was how to do it. We debated leaving at 9pm, at 1pm, at 5pm, at 4am, at 2am -- you name it, we discussed it. Of course, we discussed it without the benefit of the usual clarity that one hopes to formulate one's plans with. But for reasons that are unclear to this day, we decided on the following. Looking back, I can only assume we were bored and didn't feel like waiting around for several hours in the heat with the bugs and bees.

Phase 1: Dump as much gear as we could mentally handle from our packs. This was basically executed by assembling summit packs plus some survival gear as each individual deemed necessary. Nate and Q decided to bring one sleeping bag between them. Maria brought a bivy bag. Todd brought a thin foam pad and an emergency foil bag. We also brought two canister stoves to melt snow and cook potato soup. Kirsten noted the irony that we were essentially planning for an emergency bivy.

Phase 2: Leave the TH (elev. 3,700 feet) at 1:00 PM utilizing our midweight and moderate-pace technique, and climb to the summit before the sun goes down.

Phase 3: Descend from the summit and choose from one of the following a. Go all the way back to the TH and drive home at around 2:00 AM. b. Go all the way back to the TH and sleep in the car then drive home. c. Descend as far as we can, then try to sleep a while before continuing to the TH. d. Improvise as necessary. Deep in our hearts, we all knew this was the likely scenario.

A lot of folks climb Baker in a day. The usual plan is to leave the TH at 4:00 AM. There's an inescapable logic to this; you can do most of the climb in the day light. We can now confirm this inescapable logic. We left the TH with fairly light packs and very much enjoyed the hike up to the 7,100 foot camp below the Black Buttes. The trail and stream crossing were in good shape. After navigating many crevasses in the surprisingly open glacier, we arrived there at about 4:30 PM. We melted snow and ate snacks. At this point we were all wondering how our night would play out, yet our curiousity as to our fate seemed more intriguing if we forged ahead without too much thought. We were, after all, just doing the Coleman-Demming, and any added drama would just take up more of the slack created by not doing the Coleman Headwall. Brilliant, really.

There were a lot of other climbers at the camp and we got more than one strange look as we left. There was a nice trail leading around the crevasses to the saddle. The weather had been great all day and there was little wind. At the saddle though, the wind really picked up and the sun was falling toward the horizon. It was about 7:30 and we really had just one goal at this point: make it to the summit and back to the saddle before it was dark. The climb up the pumice ridge was mostly on dirt trail until we were below the Roman Wall. We were very fortunate to have soft snow so we could kick steps straight up the wall to the summit without crampons. Despite our exhaustion and the effects of altitude after having gained over 6,000 feet of elevation by foot in the last 7 hours by the time we reached the base of the Roman Wall, we still made great time because of the steps Todd was kicking. We gained the last 1,100 feet before the summit flat in 45 minutes. Going up the Wall we had great visibility and wonderful views of the setting sun as it cast a golden glow on Rainier, Glacier, and Puget Sound. As we neared the top, Q and Todd both experienced a bizarre phenomenon. It wasn't until much later during the car ride home (sorry if that gives away the ending) that they hesitantly admitted they had seen hundreds of small, dead bees scattered on the ice surface. Did these bees become lost and confused, or was it a suicidal ritual?

We reached the summit flat at about 8:40, dropped our packs and staggered over to the true summit (elev. 10,778 feet) at 9:00. It was quite beautiful in all directions. Unfortunately, couldn't spend much time on top. Nate tried to eat a Clif bar, but took two bites and nearly lost it. He put it in his pocket and saved it for later. After plunge-stepping down the Roman Wall, we descended the pumice ridge and glissaded down to the saddle at 10:00 just as the last glimpses of light faded away. We then descended to the 7,100 foot camp and arrived there by headlamp at 11:00 PM.

We didn't need to review our Phase 3 list of options when we arrived at the camp. The only thing we needed more than food was sleep. Maria dropped her pack and cruised over to the top of the ridge to look for bivy sites, but watching her headlamp bob up and down as she made her way over there made the rest of us feel all the more tired. Before she got back Todd had rolled out his foam pad and crawled into his foil emergency bag. Q and Nate could only sit on their packs and stare blankly at their plastic boots and wonder silently. When Maria returned she found all three of her partners unwilling or unable to move, so she crawled into her bivy bag and laid on top of her pack. Q and Nate laid on top of their packs, the rope and their sit pads, and fought over the sleeping bag. There's not much to say here, but that it was cold, and very painful to look at all of the tents and imagine the thick, warm, sleeping bags inside. We all slept in varying degrees from midnight until 3:00 AM, fighting difficulties like Clif bars in pockets that jab you in the ribs. Occassionally other parties would walk past headed for the summit. We all fantasized about them nudging us and whispering, "Hey, why don't you guys crash in our tent while we're climbing." Instead all that was heard were comments such as, "Ooo, that's a rough night."

At about 3:00, Maria asked Todd if he would get up with her to do jumping jacks. That led to firing the stoves up and cooking dinner. A long hour later we were all eating a 3-liter pot full of potato soup with 2 spoons and one sort-of duck taped spoon from McDonalds. Potato soup at 4 in the morning does strange and wonderful things to a person's bowels. Clouds had moved in during the night and socked in the upper mountain, and we watched as several parties turned around. Thus we congratulated ourselves on our "wise" decision to summit the night before.

At about 5:30, with a great sense of levity at having survived the worst of the climb, we packed up camp (ha ha), roped up, and headed down. We arrived at the car around 8:30, ate a greasy breakfast at Frosty's in Glacier, then with a tremendous sense of satisfaction we drove home.

Sunday, July 6, 2003

Mt Stuart, WA
9,415 feet
West Ridge; 5.4-5.6
July 4-6, 2003

text: Andrew Toyota
photos: Nate Riensche and Andrew Toyota

For the 4th of July weekend, Murray, Andrew G, Nate, and I decide to try the West Ridge of Stuart. A seemingly impenetrable granite mountain that left me mystified, humbled and sleep deprived 3 days prior. As much fun as it was to play the where-did-I-go-wrong game in my head, I am determined to try again. And like Stacy conveyed, I too am struck by the power of the mountain but still made a silent vow to Stuart that … “I’ll be back.”

So we begin devising a plan that allows us the best chance to summit. We deliberate on the route and what to bring. I setup a teleconference. We send over 50 e-mails. Andrew G. buys approach shoes from REI the night before. Murray and Nate cut down their spoon handles. In short, we are nuts. Since our plan involves a carryover for three days, we want to go light … it’s a fascinating game of “how heavy is your pack?” We all agree that Murray has the lightest pack. We vacillate between conservative preparation and blissful optimism. Nate and I even make copies of Ingalls and Sherpa, in case we have extra time. When Murray asks how we’re going to tag Sherpa from the summit, Nate replies “prepare to be amazed.”

Friday, July 4, 2003

Waking up at 5am on a perfectly good holiday weekend, I suddenly realize just how stupid my Terminator quote is. By 8:30am, we arrive at Esmeralda Basin Trailhead (4240’). No small feat as I’ve somehow managed to get us turned around just driving down Teanaway Road. Not a good sign … Nate tries not to wince. I make a mental note to pay closer attention next time Randy E. drives instead of daydreaming about ultralite gear. By 9am, we’re almost sprinting up the trail. By 10am, we reach Long’s Pass (6300’). Why, look at us! We’re quite proud of how far we’ve come in an hour. But Stuart’s complex network of gullies and ribs promise even more to come. Dropping 1500’ down to the Ingall Creek trail is a major bummer. Plodding up the first continuous gully, our three day packs seem a tad heavier.

By 1pm, we reach the blocky boulder start and fill up on water from the snow melt. Scrambling up the exquisite granite boulders is sheer heaven. I’m a kid again!

The valley drops far away as we kick steps up the steep snow. But our packs are definitely beginning to feel heavier. By 4pm, we reach the head of the gulley and our first decision. Do we veer right to the crack that Stacy and I climbed or left towards a blank looking slab? We decide left. As I lead out, I remind myself that Fred Beckey characterizes this route as “5.4, grade II, 6 hours from meadows.” By the end of my lead, I’ve cursed this Beckey fellow several times over. It seems like one can simply add “… my ass!” to any of his route descriptions. Around 7pm, we arrive at protected ledges near Long John’s Tower (8400’) and setup camp. After 7,000’ of elevation gain for the day, everyone is wiped. Seeing fireworks in the distance is an unexpected treat but we’re all soon fast asleep.

Saturday, July 5, 2003

Around 2am, a mouse nestles on my head for warmth. Not accustomed to rodents resting on my person, I remain awake to see if the lil’ fella returns. Lyrics from a Black Eyed Peas song filters through my head (say this is what Maria was talking about!) But thankfully, sleep returns and by 7am I awake to see thick, white clouds swirling above us. Oh no, not again. We patiently wait out the conditions and eat breakfast. Although we still can’t see the summit, we’re ready to venture into the clouds, if necessary.

Murray breaks our revelry by announcing that he has to go #2. We wait. Murray returns with a broad grin and proclaims success. I realize that my morning movement is also upon me. The guys wait. I return greatly relieved. Nate and Andrew G. look at each other and decide that well, maybe they should try too. It’s not till later that we realize that we’re taking turns as if there’s only one bathroom. By 9am, we’re heading for the scissor like formation on the skyline. Upon reaching a slightly exposed traverse, we rope up and pass through without a hitch. Our teamwork is really starting to gel.

Less than 3 hours later, our teamwork has gone straight to hell. Upon reaching the West Ridge Notch (9000’), our team of four proceeds to scramble up four separate routes. Each confident that his path is the fastest to reach the all-too-familiar bivy spot that Stacy, Randy, Maria and myself christened the prior weekend. While I’m busy patting myself on the back for getting everyone to this spot, I suddenly realize that I still don’t know exactly where I am. We burn an hour looking for the South Side Bypass variation and leading up crappy black-lichened rock. We’re running out of options. It’s like one of those frustrating Nintendo games where you’ve got to figure out how to escape the maze to save the magical kingdom. Only thing is you really are in a maze and there’s nothing magical about sleeping in exactly the same bivy site in less than 5 days. Andrew G. looks back and spots the slightly rising traverse that we’ve been searching for - marked by two stacked boulders. We decree it “God’s cairn”, hoping that in doing so the Big Guy will help us out. Our other big guy, Nate, suddenly gets a bright idea that maybe we should try the exposed 4th class traverse to the north side. So, he leads out with Murray following. Murray thinks the exposure is so enjoyable that he stops often to take it all in.

And just like that we spot the downward bearing ledge before the summit pyramid. But truthfully, there are so many downward bearing ledges that we’re simply searching for footprints by other lost climbers.

Nate and I are switching leads now with increasing proficiency. We had planned to climb at as two teams of two, with everyone swinging leads, but as the day drew on and we got more and more anxious about getting to the summit and down to the bivy site at a decent time we decided to just climb as one team of four, with the thirds and fourths simul-climbing at times. Because of this, it was essential for everyone to climb very efficiently and very well and to work together smoothly, which we all did. Andrew G., wanting to contribute more upon reaching a belay, asks if there’s anything that he can do. Then as the sunshine begins to warm him, he subsequently states “you know, I think I’m just going to relax.”

I lead up more “easy rock” swearing like a sailor. Murray cruises the crux and innocently inquires what move I was so concerned about. The bastard has changed into his rock shoes. In fact, they all have. I curse my go-light fanaticism.

Nate leads past a wobbly boulder and several strenuous 5th class moves. I lead next and get a pair of exquisite hand cracks that leads us right to the summit. By 4:30pm, we’re all joyfully yodeling from the top of Mt. Stuart. It’s taken over 18 hours. Our obvious pride and relief are temporarily shattered while chatting with the climber who summits after us. We learn that he’s soloed Stuart before and considers the West Ridge to be a good beginner climb. While we’re chewing on that statement, he belays his girlfriend up and casually mentions that this is her first alpine climb … ever. Our celebration becomes a little more subdued. By 6pm, we descend down the Cascadian Couloir in search for our next bivy. As we’re hiking down, I can’t keep myself from grinning. In fact, we all are. The euphoria is contagious. We marvel at our good fortune of remarkable weather. More than that, I know that without Randy, Stacy and Maria’s efforts, we could still be looking for the route up.

After Murray leads us to a great bivy area nestled amongst the ridgeline, we settle down to consume the last of our provisions. A scintillating game of that pot-isn’t-on-straight ensues. Nate wins as his fuel canister catches aflame first. Murray contemplates how to cook ramen and ponders the meaning of the aluminum packet – evidently his Caribbean upbringing didn’t tolerate ramen. Nate suffers the trip’s worst injury when his hand slips while pulling up his sock and he jams his thumb into a rock. Oooweeeee, he exclaims and cries for his Kirsten. This causes Andrew G.’s baby blues to well up and he starts rattling off his newfound priorities: 1) Jen 2) Climbing 3) Med school. A list that we later learn undergoes minor revisions whenever Jen mentions the word “camping” rather than “climbing.”

Sunday, July 6, 2003

By 8am, we break camp and jaunt down the Cascadian Couloir towards Long’s Pass. Taking a few breaks along the way, we’re back at the car by 1pm. On the drive home, I again marvel at my good fortune. I am still floating above the clouds and consider how Mt. Stuart has influenced my perspective on life once again. Never have I entrusted my welfare so completely in another person. Never have I experienced nature on such an elemental level. I am in awe of the deeds by my climbing partners from both weekends that were accomplished with apparent ease, selflessness and determination. I am humbled and exhilarated by this discovery of newfound strength in myself and in my friends. I just love being alive.

"Short is the little time which remains to you of life. Live as on a mountain." Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier, WA
14,410 feet
June 21-22, 2003

This only counts as a pseudo-attempt at climbing Rainier. Kirsten, Becky and I had planned this weekend for several weeks, but when it arrived, it came with a "winter-like" weather system, according to the weather forecast. We didn't actually believe that if we went we would succeed in climbing, but we were supposed to meet three recent grads of the WAC basic climbing class, Kris, Paul and Erica, who had gone up to camp at Emmons Flats on Friday, so we couldn't really bail on them and go climbing in sunny Vantage.

On the way up it started to snow and when we got into camp it was extremely windy. The other guys helped us set up camp, which was a big help because we were pretty knackered from the hike up. We were had trouble with our stove and we didn't finish melting snow until about 9pm, which only left us about 4 hours of potential for sleep. At 1:00am we woke up. The wind was howling and we had to yell to the guys in the other tent to be heard. We all agreed to sleep for a couple more hours and see how it was. At 3am, we woke up again and things were the same. Bitterly cold and windy. We went back to sleep.

At 7am we woke up again and heard the other guys getting ready to go. They had decided to give it a go even though it was late, but we wimped out and packed up to head down. We advised them to turn around by noon so they could get down before the snow bridges started softening up too much. We made one more radio contact with them at around 11am when we were near the bottom of the Inter Glacier and they said they were going to turn around soon. The next day we found out they had continued all the way to the top, summitting in the early afternoon to picture perfect weather -- clear skis, no wind -- so the joke was on us!

Sunday, June 8, 2003

Forbidden Peak

Forbidden Peak, WA
Elev: 8,815 Feet
West Ridge, 5.4
June 7-8, 2003

Friday, June 6, 2003

Kirsten and I arrived at the ranger station in Marblemount at 8pm, on the way up Highway 20 to the North Cascades. We needed permits to camp in Boston Basin for our planned climb of Forbidden, but there were no permits at the after-hours registration booth. Normally they are set out by the rangers after they close up for the night, but the space marked "permits" was clearly empty. So we assumed they had all been issued, and immediately we begin contemplating our plan B, to go to the Liberty Bell group and spend the weekend there. But we considered the evidence more... let's see: 1) there were no self-issue permits, but there were also no carbon copies in the deposit slot, suggesting no one else had filled out permits after hours. 2) the climber registration sheets only showed 2 or 3 parties heading in to Boston Basin over the last two days. Something was amiss, and our amazing powers of deduction led us to believe it was possible that there were permits remaining, but that for some reason the rangers had not put them out. We decided to camp at Marble Creek on Cascade River Road and come back to the station in the morning, when it opened at 7, and inquire as to the status of the permits.

That night I set the alarm on my watch for 6am. Our plan was to get up, throw the tent in the car and drive back to the station at 6:30 to make sure we were the first ones in line, and then we would pack while we waited.

Saturday, June 7, 2003. The *&%# Approach

My watch has this feature that commands it to go off 10 minutes after the first alarm goes off if no human intervention occurs. When it went off at 6:00 Saturday morning, in my normal morning stuper I became confused and pressed the biggest button on the watch. So at 6:45 (that's 45 minutes later) I woke up with a start realizing I had completely disabled the alarm, and Kirsten and I threw the tent in the car in a panic and drove back down to the station. We saw a couple cars heading up the road as we were going down at 7:05, which seemed to be right on schedule for them to have stopped at the station, obtained the last remaining permits and headed up the road, leaving us screwed over, like a... piece of wood... with a bunch of... screws in it. [uncomfortable silence...] Right.

So we hustled into the station at 7:15 and asked the ranger if they had any Boston Basin permits left. The ranger replied nonchalantely that there were three left. I mentioned that we had stopped by the night before, subtly hinting at our annoyance, and she casually explained that she had forgot to put them out. Come on people! If we can't rely on the system, what else is there?!

Pre-climb logistics sorted out, and with a renewed sense of optimism, we drove up to the closed gate at approximately mile 21 on Cascade River Road and headed off at 9:30. Part of my agreement with Kirsten was that if I wanted to climb with her, I had to carry the rack, the rope, and most of the tent in order to save some wear and tear on her ankle, which she is still trying to rehab. Of course who wouldn't jump at the opportunity!

We left the parking lot (elev 2,400 feet) at 9:30, and right off the bat we were feeling pretty poorly. Our packs felt extremely heavy, and walking for a mile and a half up a paved road is somehow demoralizing. That and, admittedly, we weren't in peak physical condition due to our left ankle sprains we had each suffered earlier in the spring. Our renewed sense of optimism quickly dried up. It would continue to shrivel and eventually die over the next few hours. The road is closed at mile 21 because it is washed out by a pretty significant slide shortly before the 22 mile marker. We finally hit the Boston Basin trailhead (elev 3,200 feet) at about 10:15. We have yet to resolve the mystery of how two separate sources indicate that the trailhead is at 21.7 miles, when we both distinctly noticed a 22 mile marker below the trailhead going in and coming out. But whatever the answer, I bitterly hate that sign.

The trail was in great shape for the first couple miles, but with the recent high temperatures, there has been a lot of snowmelt and there were four stream crossings over the next couple miles which provided no opportunity for keeping our feet dry. And then there was the avalanche debris. Last year there was a huge avalanche that wiped out a good 500 feet or so of the trail and left thousands of trees and other debris littered all over the mountainside in its wake. When we got to the debris, there appeared to be two possible paths through it -- a high one and a low one. We incorrectly took the low one. After an hour of negotiating downed timber, punching through flattened brush and branches, and repeatedly getting hammered in the side of the head by my plastic boots that were oh-so-uncarefully strapped to my pack lid, we finally made it through. On the way back down we were able to find the better path, which brought us across the higher route. Kirsten noticed one particular fallen tree with an arrow carved into it's bark indicating the correct path, which we failed to notice on the way up.

Once through all the streams and the avalanche debris, consistent snow cover began at about 5,000 feet. I got out of my light hikers and into my plastic boots, and we trudged onward until we popped out of the trees and suddenly found ourselves staring into Boston Basin. The sky was clear and we could see all around the Basin and beyond. We followed a faint boot path around the Basin over to a somewhat flat spot at 6,400 feet below the Forbidden glacier, in an area near a small stream, but that also seemed safe from avalanche and rockfall. We arrived at camp at 3:30. It seems impossible, but it took us six full, agonizing hours to get to camp.

We noticed one team of four heading up the couloir as we were getting into camp, but otherwise saw no other signs of West Ridge parties. We made lots of water and cooked dinner while occasional slides let loose around the basin due to the hotness of the day. Kirsten's ankle was a little sore from the hike in, and we weren't convinced that we would go for the summit, but we hit the sack about 7:30 in preparation for a possible alpine start and dozed in and out of sleep the whole night to the sound of the stream falling over an outcropping of rock. I got up to go to the bathroom around 9:30 and caught some nice views of the sunset. Yes indeed.

Sunday, June 8, 2003. Summit Day.

The alarm on my watch went off at 4am and this time I overcame my ‘snoozing’ tendency and managed to not disturb it. We defeated the alpine start lack of motivation and actually got out of our bags at about 4:15, made some instant chai tea lattes, got roped up and headed up the glacier toward the couloir at 5am. Within minutes of leaving camp, we saw two parties coming up the basin behind us. The snow cover was good, and we easily avoided the few crevasses that were open. We crossed the snow bridge over the bergschrund and hit the couloir (elev ~7800 feet) at about 6am.

The couloir was in fantastic shape. The snow was firm enough that our steps held together, but still soft and sticky enough that we could actually kick steps and didn’t need crampons. The snow continued all the way up until the steep rock gully, where we scrambled up the ledges on the left for about 10 feet, then hit snow again and continued up to the notch on the west ridge, elevation ~8300 feet. When we got up to the notch, there was a man standing there by himself, just hanging out. It turns out he was with the team of four we saw in the couloir the day before, and they had bivied at the notch. The group was with the Boealps, and he was their leader, but he broke his hand when he slipped during one of the stream crossings, so the remaining three (two students and one, apparently, junior instructor) continued up the technical rock portion. It was about 7:30 at this point, and we were pretty surprised that they were just now getting started. As we were getting ready to climb, I dropped my glacier goggles case off the south side of the ridge. We watched it fall, pop open and case, goggles, and little chamois thing go bouncing down into the couloir toward Boston Basin. Dumbass.

Kirsten led the first scrambly pitch over to the base of the first steep section. Her pitch included this freaky 3 or 4 foot step down onto a snow slope that dropped down the north side of the ridge. I maintain to this day (all of 2 days later), that this was the scariest move on the whole route. We simul-climbed where possible, but we used the whole length of the rope (mistake), so we usually ran out of gear and had to set up belays after only 20-50 feet of simul-climbing. There are copious opportunities for slinging horns and flakes the whole way, which is a beautiful thing. The steep sections are generally where we had to actually place protection instead of slinging things. We brought a set of nuts and cams to 3 inches. I think we placed the #3 camalot once, and I was actually glad I had it at that point, but in general all the pro was about 2 inches or less. We bypassed the two steepest sections by working around the left (north) side of the ridge.

The climbing was generally pretty simple, low class 5, but the exposure is, um, how do you describe it, spectacular? Nerve-racking? Scary as hell? We wore our boots for the first two-thirds or so of the climb out of a little bit of over-confidence and a little bit of coldness, but one thing is for certain, when we switched into our rock shoes for the last portion, that sticky rubber made the climb 10 times more enjoyable! I will never forget the cool feeling of hanging onto the top of the ridge looking over it down to Boston Basin to the south of the ridge and below me at Boston Glacier to the north. Just a stunning setting, and an amazing route when you factor that in.

We reached the west summit around noon, then in a fit of ingenuity, we rappeled down to the notch between the west summit and the true, east summit. We left the rope hanging from the rappel anchor, then belayed each other up to the true summit, 8,815 feet, with the remaining portion of the rope, arriving at 12:30pm. We returned to the notch, then used the rappel setup as a toprope to get back up to the overhanging west summit. We had rappeled because it is overhanging and it seemed stupid to downclimb it considering the exposure. I had actually inspected the option of working around the west summit on the north side too, but there was a bit of snow in spots, and I had just about enough of being scared, so we went with the rappel/toprope option.

We descended via the way we came up, and as we were coming down from the west summit, a party of two, Steve and John, who were attempting to climb Forbidden in a day, were just getting up to it. We teamed up with them on the descent, sharing ropes on the rappels, and leaving gear for each other on the downclimbing portions. We ran into the Boealps group trying to bail off the route at the first big steep section below the summit – they had spent the last hour or two trying to rappel, and had gotten themselves into a bit of a jam. They were having a very bad day. We helped get them out of it in exchange for the right of way to pass them on the descent. Their secondary leader seemed in over his head without their primary leader who was still down at the notch with his broken hand; and we all questioned the decision to bring beginners up such a committing route. But that’s not my business.

The descent went fine, other then a couple difficult rappels, the last of which we definitely should have downclimbed in retrospect. It was just too low angled, and a slip would have sent the rappeling climber into a huge pendulem across the north side of the ridge. I managed to protect against this by slinging a horn for a directional, but we had to leave the gear behind. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, the penance for the mistake was graciously low: I lost 25 feet of my (new) rope. The knot in the end of the rope got stuck in a notch below us as I was trying to clean up the rappel line. The section of rock down to where it was stuck was not climbable, so I had no choice but to cut about 20 feet off the end.

Finally back down at the notch, we again teamed up with Steve and John for the descent down the couloir. We used a single rope rappel past the steep rock section at the top, then a double-rope rappel halfway down the couloir. During this second rappel, I made a most fortunate discovery: my glacier goggles sitting in the snow! Because the case opened and the goggles fell out, they were spared the fate of the case, which likely continued to slide down the couloir into the bergschrund. There was no sign of the little chamois thing though. But I was just happy to not have to worry going snow blind on the way down. We set up a running belay for the rest of the way down the couloir, then crossed the glacier and approached camp at 6:30pm.

We now had about 3 hours of daylight left, and considering it took us 6 hours to get up, we were afraid we would have to find our way through the avalanche debris and cross the streams in the dark. This was a most unwelcome scenario, and one which we wanted to avoid at all costs. So it was with the most disheartening feeling of despair I can possibly convey to you when I describe what we found when we got into camp. Marmots had feasted on my gear. They chewed through the straps on my overnight pack and they gorged themselves on the straps of my ski poles. And the most horrible discovery yet was when I found they had completely chewed through the left shoulder strap. My immediate thought was “How in the hell am I going to carry 50 or 60 pounds down 4,000 feet and 6 or 7 miles with one shoulder strap!” My second thought was “Fucking no-good, salt-craving, marmots!” My third thought was, “Maybe one of my ¾ inch slings will fit the buckle on the shoulder strap.” Thankfully, this actually worked pretty well, and I was able to rig something that made the pack bearable.

We broke down camp in a hurry, and were off at 7pm. Kirsten carried half of the rack and half of the tent, despite her ankle, and hauled some serious ass. Like a mamma bear after her cubs. We made great time on the descent and found our way through the debris, crossed the streams, which were running way higher than the previous morning, and got down the tricky portions of the trail before it got dark. Then, as darkness fell, we hit the last mile or so of flat terrain before the road. Then we hit the road. Then the real pain set in. Kirsten’s ankle had been pushed way past what it was ready for, and begin to scream like a banshee. In addition to the shoulder strap, the marmots also ate off my sternum strap, so I had no way to pull the weight in off my shoulders. My hips, thighs and shoulders had more than they could stand. At least my rope was lighter. It took us 45 minutes to slowly limp the last 1 ½ to 2 miles down the road to the car, but eventually, on the brink of tears, we made it, arriving at 10:30.

We tried to drive home, but within about 15 minutes, our 18 hour day really started to catch up to us. Kirsten had a crazy hallucination, mistaking a road sign for a guy on a bike with a snow picket. I did a U-turn when I saw a pop machine outside a closed gas station, and got a Mountain Dew. We managed to make it to Burlington at 12:30, where we checked into the first motel that was open. And thus our mini-epic on Forbidden Peak ended on a rock hard mattress in a room choked with the stagnant smell of stale cigarette smoke. And that is why we climb.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Monkey Face

Monkey Face
Smith Rock, OR
March 22, 2003

Kirsten, Becky, and I headed down to Oregon in Becky's "new" car to climb at Smith Rock. We did Monkey Face in freezing temperatures. Kirsten and Becky eschewed the etriers for their prussiks, being a little more comfortable ascending ropes with them from all the crevasse rescue practice.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Mazama Ridge

Mazama Ridge
Mt Rainier, WA
Overnight Ski Trip
Feb 15 - 17, 2003

This was my first overnight backcountry ski trip. Attendees were: Becky, Pete, Chad, Maria, Randy, Stacy, Kirsten and me. It snowed off and on the whole weekend, so we just hit the practice slopes on the east side of the ridge pretty heavily. The second night it snowed about 18 inches, making for an adventurous ski out.