Coleman-Deming Training Trip
May 26-28, 2007
Memorial Day Weekend: our training weekend with Aaron & Johanna for our upcoming Rainier attempt. Their friends, Erik and Brandon, joined us for the first two days of the weekend. Aaron & Johanna had spent the last month training pretty hard, hiking Mt Si and Mailbox Peak every week, and buying new gear. Mountaineering gear is really expensive when you're starting from scratch, and especially if you only plan to use it a couple times, so Kirsten and I tried to help them prioritize what they really needed to buy, what they could rent, what they already had that they could get away with, and what they could borrow from us. I don't know the dollar amounts, but they still ended up spending a lot of money on gear. Probably a lot more than they were expecting.
We met Erik and Brandon at the trailhead Saturday morning... or a couple hundred yards from the trailhead where the road was blocked by a long strip of snow. During the drive up, clouds hid the mountain from our view, and because of the bad weather forecast, we were afraid we wouldn't get to see the mountain at all this weekend. Everyone loaded up their packs and started the slog up the partially snow-and-storm-debris-covered trail. The creek crossings all had relatively good snow bridges over them still, and as we reached Heliotrope Ridge we climbed up into the clouds. After four or five hours we reached the first basecamp site at 6,000 feet and dug out our camp. That evening, as we sat in our kitchen cooking dinner, the sky began to clear and we got our first views of the upper mountain.
The plan for the next day was to do training, and we were just hoping the precipitation would stay away, but during the night we were all woken up by the sound of rain and heavy wet snowflakes hitting the tents. We pushed our wake up time back and when we finally got up it was still snowing, so our four apprentices received their first lesson in cooking breakfast while it's snowing. The next lesson was glissading and self-arrest. Kirsten and I found a mellow slope fairly close by to practice on. We were hoping for something steeper, but it would have to do and certainly provided a safe introduction. Everyone had great attitudes and caught on pretty quickly, but Kirsten and I were glad we had duct-taped all the sharp parts of their axes because by the end they were gleefully flinging themselves down the glissade chutes trying to up the difficulty of their arrests.
Next lesson was ascending and descending in snow. We went through step-kicking, angled-traversing, and plunge-stepping, then we were hoping to find some ice or firm snow somewhere to practice French technique with crampons, but instead had to settle for bare boots on a big rock. After that, we practiced the very useful skill of running through the snow back to camp. That was a very short lesson. It was late afternoon and the weather was still crappy and Erik and Brandon decided it was time for them to bug out, so they packed up camp while we showed Aaron & Johanna how to tie into a rope team. We gave Aaron & Johanna the opportunity to head out early because the weather just wasn't looking good, but they impressed us with their sporting attitudes and said they wanted to have a shot at the summit. So we practiced switch-backing up a slope on the rope team for a while, then cooked dinner and made water for the summit attempt. As we were eating, suddenly the sky cleared up and we allowed a measure of hope to creep into our minds that the coming good weather was arriving early.
We went to bed around 8:00 and set the alarms for 1:00am. At one we woke up and heard the discouraging sound of snow falling on the tent again. Drat. I shined my halogen headlamp outside and could see the entire beam running from the headlamp to a point about a hundred feet away through the snow. The told me that we were in the middle of a cloud. The alarms were reset for 2:00.
At 2:00, we woke up and the clouds seemed to have lifted a little, but it was snowing just as hard. I shouted over to Aaron & Johanna's tent, "Do we need to discuss this?" and Aaron replied with a tinge of frustration, "No!" Alarms were turned off and we didn't wake again until 7 o'clock. The tents were glowing with the ambient bright light from outside and I poked my head out to find perfectly clear skies. Looks like the weather was just a few hours too late. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast basking in the sun and admiring the stunning views of Baker, then practiced some z-pulley before breaking camp and heading out.
It was too bad the weather didn't cooperate, but Aaron and Johanna were great sports, cheerfully doing all the lessons we showed them despite the bad weather, and showed great resilience with the snow-camping. Most people get pretty worn out just camping in the snow for the first time, but they stuck it out for two full nights and never complained at all.