Monday, May 28, 2007

Mt Baker Training

Mt Baker, WA
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.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mt St Helens - Mothers Day

Mt St Helens
8,365 feet
Worm Flows Ski
Mothers Day, May 13, 2007

the Pantengliopolis House of Phat debut production: St Helens Mothers' Day 2007

It's been three years since the last Mt. St. Helens Mothers Day ski. The mountain had been closed for a couple years due to volcanic activity before they finally reopened it last summer, so we had a pretty nice-sized group of people ready to get back down there this year and everyone dusted off their old skiing dresses. I had to buy a new one because I took my old one back to Goodwill. Fortunately Kirsten and I happened across a very nice tropical print sun dress for $10 at Walgreens that fit the bill just fine. It even matched my skis and ski boots... I think.

Everyone trickled into the parking lot Saturday evening and after some debate about what time to get up in the morning, we settled on trying to head out by 7:30. Forecast wasn't great and indeed as we headed out it was cloudy and threatening to rain. The trail was dry for the first half mile or so and then when we hit snow and as we started climbing up toward treeline, tiny snow flakes started falling. Climbing up St Helens on Mothers Day is always quite a site. It's something to behold when people who aren't in dresses on a mountain look out of place. And it's quite hilarious to watch Murray get hit on by middle-aged men with moustaches.

About a thousand feet below the rim we climbed out of the clouds and had clear blue skies. We reached the crater rim after about 5 hours. The new crater additions that St Helens is building were pretty cool to see, and Rainier, Adams and Hood were all clearly visible. Chad topped out after a struggle for the last couple thousand feet, looking forlorn due to some intestinal problems. But after everyone took pictures and had a few drinks of beer, it was time for the glorious ski down.

To really get in the spirit, Marcus took his pants off from underneath his rather short dress. We started down on an aspect that was facing a little too much to the west and hadn't quite corned up. We did one group ski for a few hundred feet, then Marcus, perhaps with a little too much ski and too much alacrity for the conditions, washed out his tails and went for a slide on his side. The abrasian from the frozen snow gave him a nice bloddy 6 inch raspberry on his side. After giving him a little first aid (Tim's spare Goretex pants), we scooted back around to the south a bit and found the properly cured corn we were looking for. The skiing the rest of the way was fantastic, topped off by a little natural quarter pipe that people hit and caught some sick air off of. At the bottom the snow got a little gluey, but it was good enough that we didn't want to stop -- even when snow ran out, we'd walk across dirt in our skis to get to the next short patch of snow. Alas, eventually we came to the end of any continuous snow at all and had to walk the rest of the way back to the car.

It was great to be back at St Helens again. We had all missed her while she was closed for renovations.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Washington Pass

Highway 20, WA
Un-Cutthroat Pass and Birthday Tour
May 5 - 6, 2007

This weekend Marcus & Anastasia and Kirsten & I drove up to Washington Pass. The pass had just opened a little over a week ago so we were looking forward to some good early season conditions. We met up with Andy and Mica (and Tundra) at the pass late in the morning on Saturday and decided to try the Cutthroat Pass tour as an out-and-back from Rainy Pass. We skinned through firm snow and odd frozen chicken heads in the trees as we traversed below the flanks of Cutthroat Peak looking for the drainage to the pass. We couldn't get a good view up one of the prominent drainages we came to but decided to follow some other skiers tracks up it anyway.

That turned out to be a bit of a navigational mistake. We had a strange feeling about the tracks as we followed them further and further up the valley and then as they climbed up a ridge. Something about the way they kept side-stepping didn't seem right. Eventually we came to a high-point on the ridge where we could get clear views and we thought we were just around the corner from the pass. Cutthroat Peak seemed to be in the wrong place, however, so we took a bearing on it and discovered we had followed the other skiers to an uknown ridge spur off the west side of Cutthroat. Instead of back-tracking and trying to recover the route to Cutthroat Pass, we decided to cut our losses and get some skiing in. The south-facing slope down into the valley was good skiing on well-done corn. Once down into the valley we quickly skinned up to the top of a short slope on a north-facing aspect and found a thin layer of super nice unaffected old powder on a firm base.

We followed the drainage straight down to the road instead of traversing in order to shorten our time exposed to the frozen mank in the trees. From there we skinned back up the along the highway on top of the plowed snow wall. Back at camp, we grilled sausage sandwiches and had some beer, then after some deer shenanigans -- one young deer who wouldn't leave our campsite and another who interrupted our game of tag with Tundra -- and a visit from our camp neighbor, Jonathan (, we turned in.

Sunday we got up early and did the modified Birthday Tour. Much less of an adventure here. The only surprises were that the south-facing snow from Blue Lake Col was a lot better than we expected and the north-facing snow from the notch above the hairpin was way worse than we expected. The south slope hadn't been baked yet, so it was nicely corned-up. The north snow was sticky, gooey, glop. Felt like my skis were suction cups. The folks with the skinnier skis seemed to have an easier time, and Marcus utilized the power of speed to break through the shmoo-barrier. From there, it was back to Highway 20 and the road home, with a stop at Good Food in Marblemount along the way.