Sunday, November 9, 2008

I-90 Waterfalls

Kirsten and I went for a couple short hikes with her parents, Jay and Janet. We hit two popular waterfall hikes, Snoqualmie Falls and Twin Falls. It was a lot of fun and really pretty. We managed to stay mostly dry even with occasional showers and spray from the high-running falls.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nepal Video!

I compressed and uploaded the short Nepal video I made for DVD. I crammed 18 days down into 7 minutes, so if you want the short & sweet version of the trip, along with a taste of the sights and sounds we experienced, this is for you!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ghorepani 10/11/08

The hike to Ghorepani ("horse water") was grueling. We pretty much gained back all the altitude we lost from Jomsom. We started off very slowly at 7am with Thakur and Joseph, but after climbing to the first pass, we went ahead on our own. It was still very cloudy out with absolutely no views of the mountains, but the valley we traversed from the pas was quiet scenic, helping assuage some of our disappointment with the weather so far. We were traveling solely on foot trail now, with no donkeys or jeeps, only the occasional cow. There were beautiful stone steps built into the trail to aid all the steep sections. Around noon we reached the Serendipity lodge in the village of Sikha, and had lunch. While we were eating we chatted with a couple from Amsterdam, and then it started raining.

Joseph & Thakur caught up to us as we finished lunch. We headed up in the rain with our Goretex on, but got way too hot, so we shedded the rain layer and just hiked up in our t-shirts. Aside from a dog that followed us for half an hour, we were by ourselves most of the way up. The trail was really steep, and after slowly slogging up, we made it to Ghorepani at 3:30.

Thakur told us to stay at a lodge called the Snow Land, but when we got into the village we were confused by a place we found called the Snow View and checked in there. We were a little surprised he recommended it because it was pretty grungy, but we shrugged our shoulders and wandered into the village. While in the village we found a board with a map of all the hotels and noticed another place called Snow Land up the hill. We went up and checked it out and concluded this must have been the correct lodge because it was a fair bit nicer, so we booked two rooms -- one with a bathroom and one without. We decided to take the room without the bathroom because it was at the end of the hall we figured it would be quieter. We went back to the Snow View and gathered up our backpacks and returned the key for our room. They gave us a bit of the stink eye, but did not seem surprised. It seemed apparent that people make that mistake often.

The sun was peeking through the clouds a bit, so we sat on the steps in town and shard a cinnamon roll and waited for Thakur & Joseph. The air started to get chilly again, so we went up to the lodge and had tea and waited. Around 5 it started to rain again, and then just a few minutes later they showed up. They were very relieved to finally be there and grateful that we had a room ready for them. Almost as soon as they walked through the door it started to absolutely dump outside. We ordered up a large pot of masala tea for Joseph (his favorite). While we were waiting for them, the Belgian couple that we met at Kagbeni showed up for tea, and we had a pleasant chat with them while they waited out the squall.

After dinner, we made plans to head up to Poon Hill at 4:45 in the morning if the sky was clear. Poon Hill is a popular viewing point just up from Ghorepani, with views of two 8,000 meter peaks, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. We were not optimistic at all, however, having been short-changed on the weather the entire trip since we left Muktinath. We hit the sack at 8 that evening, completely knackered from the long day.

At 4:30 we woke up and skeptically peeked out our window, but to our amazement we saw stars! We scrambled out of bed and got ready and set out at 4:45. Joseph and Thakur had already left, but we passed them about halfway up. We reached the top of Poon Hill at 5:30, just as the sun was sending it's first rays of dim light over the horizon. Our minds were absolutely blown by the view as light slowly began to illuminate them. Dhaulagiri, Annapurna 1 and Annapurna 2, Hiunchuli and Machapachre were perfectly clear, massive frozen peaks so close and vivid you could see the snow flutings and massive rock faces in vivid detail.

Not coincidentally, the folks from the Snow View had set up a coffee stand on top of the hill. While we were admiring the view, sipping over-sugared, over-creamed, and watered-down coffee, Aliza and Asaf showed up! We had not seen them since Kagbeni, but it took them two days to go from Tatopani to Ghorepani, so we caught up to them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

10/10 Tatopani

The environment is really changing now. We have dropped about 8,000 feet from our high point at Muktinath, and gone from very dry, arid highlands to humid jungle. The hike yesterday was all on road, but today we got off the road and onto some real, live trail for a few hours. In the morning, we come to an intersection in the road, where the old trail crosses a stream on a footbridge, while a new section of road stays on the west side of the river. A local at the village situated at the intersection told Thakur that the new road was washed out badly and passage was very dangerous. Thakur suggested that we cross the footbridge and take the old trail. It was very slow going up and down the old, decaying path through dense forest, past depressed villages that no longer get trekker traffic. We learned later that a pilgrim had been killed on the new road, and that some people were having to crawl through the washouts, so despite the extra effort and time the old trail took, we felt Thakur made a good choice. A few things that stand out vividly about taking the old trail was the deafening racket of the crickets or cicadas, and the contrasting, and much more pleasant, sound of donkey bells.

We reached Tatopani, which means "hot water," late in the afternoon and managed to get a room with a bathroom at the Trekkers Lodge. It was unbelievably humid there -- we were well and truly in the jungle now. And accordingly, we took our very first showers of the trek! We forgot that this place is called Tatopani because it has natural hot springs, though, and missed our chance to get a nice, warm soak in. At dinner, I had a nice big place of dal bhat to fuel up for the big climb up to Ghorepani tomorrow. We were amused by a praying mantis landing on my back, but Thakur also broke some sobering news to us: he heard a plane crashed during a landing attempt up at Lukla, which is the entrance to the Everest trek, and all 16 passengers were killed. Made us feel justified for being terrified on the air approach to Jomsom, and awfully relieved that nothing bad happened.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

10/9 Kalopani

The hike the next day to Kalopani, which means "black water," was relaxed and short relative to the prior two days. The highlight was coming across a ceremonial slaughtering of sheep in the middle of a village. We watched as they brought out sheep, sprinkled with an orange powder -- saffron I think. One villager would hold the sheep's head down by a rope tied around it's neck while another villager used a machete-looking blade to chop off its head. Thakur explained that it is a big honor to be the one chosen to do the slaughter, and it is considered good luck to behead the sheep with one strike. He also explained that eating meat was a very rare treat for the villagers, and the whole village would share the meat from the slaughtered sheep during a big feast.

We ate lunch at Larjung, which was the village we had planned to stop at for this night in our original plan, but it would have been a very short day, and it was a pretty run down village, so Thakur suggested we continue to Kalopani. We reached Kalopani at 2 o'clock and were amazed at how nice it was, especially our hotel, the Kalopani Guest House. I would be happy to live in a house as nice as this place, especially with the tiled bathroom. We had dinner in the hotel (Q = fried rice, me = thupka, or noodle soup), then took a walk through town where we ran across another guy from California. He had recently graduated from Univ. of Washington, and was planning to move to Colorado to be a ski instructor.

It was pretty cloudy and drizzly for most of the day, but in the evening it started to clear up a bit and we got our first cloud-veiled glimpses of Annapurna. I didn't sleep well that night because my cold was getting worse, while Kirsten's seemed to be getting a little better. I woke up in a feverish sweat and took off the comforter, but of course then I was cold the rest of the night. In the morning I woke up feeling pretty cruddy and took a Sudafed, which didn't seem to help much, and now we only have one left so hopefully we're both better soon! After a nice, hearty oat porridge with milk and honey breakfast, we set out for Tatopani.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Muktinath, Marpha 10/5 - 10/6

The landscape of the Lower Mustang is incredible — arid brown hills divided up by glacier fed rivers lined with crops and old settlements and surrounded by steep, snow-capped peaks. We took it slow on the hike up to Muktinath because we were ascending from 9,000 feet to 12,500 feet after being at a mere 2,500 feet 24 hours earlier. Thakur set a particularly slow pace, and Kirsten and I found it a little too slow compared to what we’re used to, but we enjoyed the casual pace and soaked in the scenery as we walked past farms and stopped occasionally to look out at old ruins across the valley or watch women make Tibetan scarves on their looms.

With about 500 feet to go, Kirsten and I decided to go on ahead, so we asked Thakur what lodge he wanted to stay at. Kirsten was still fighting her cold, so it was particularly rough on her, so we went at a brisk but not uncomfortable pace and made it to Muktinath about half an hour ahead of Joseph & Thakur. However, the extra effort we expended took its toll, and while Thakur felt fine when he arrived, we both were pretty exhausted. Our room in Muktinath at the North Pole was a little rougher than in Kagbeni. Muktinath is the first village below Thorung La, the 17,000 foot pass that trekkers doing the complete Annapurna Circuit most cross. Apparently we didn’t beat all the traffic coming down from Thorung La because we ended up in a room right next to the smelly common bathroom.

After checking into our room, we took a walk up to Muktinath Temple, and passed several souvenir stands where the women proprietors had learned a funny phrase: “Look, look. No buy, just look. Very cheap. Evening prices!” We came back from the temple, and met up again with Joseph & Thakur and checked out the new Tibetan Buddhist temple behind our lodge. We hung out there for a while and admired the colorful structure. The sky was a deep blue all around with the exception of a solitary dark cloud right behind the temple.

There is power all the way up here, indeed we walked next to power lines most of the way to Muktinath, but there was a typical blackout at dinner time even up here. We had a nice dinner and chatted with the server who was very friendly and hard-working. Kirsten had her favorite meal so far, a delicious fried rice dish. The next morning we started the long walk down to Marpha. On the way through Jarkot we bought a bunch of scarves for souvenirs. Interestingly, the lower we got the mroe expensive they got. They were offering them for NR 100 near Muktinath Temple last night (the “evening price”), but we got them for 200 at one stand, and had to bargain hard to get them down to 225 at the next one. Still, at about $3, that’s still quite a deal.

The trail down deviated from the road for a short stretch and wound through some rocky cliffs, before descending back down to the road between Kagbeni and Jomsom. It was pretty cold, so we wore the new scarves. We reached Eckle-Bhat between Jomsom and Kagbeni around noon and had lunch. While we waited for them to cook our dal bat, a small boy came up to the table and started playing with our cameras. I flipped out the view-finder on my camera so he could watch his face in the monitor as he took the pictures. He figured out how to use the camera pretty quickly, which was kind of amazing. While we were eating, the wind picked up considerably and the tea hosue was a comfy refuge. When at last we headed back out, it was really howling, blowing plumes of dust and sand across the river bed.

The weather looked like it was deteriorating with menacing clouds blowing through the valley, so Kirsten and I decided to sprint ahead to get to Marpha before the weather broke, and to secure good lodging. We got our instructions from Thakur and headed off. At one point we rounded a corner above the river and were almost knocked backwards by the wind. We wrapped our faces in our scarves to keep the dust out of our mouths. After finding our way through Jomsom and rejoining the trail on the other side, we reached Marpha at 4 o’clock after about 7 hours and 16 miles of hiking and got two rooms at the Paradise. The rooms were pretty grungy and did not have attached bathrooms, a bit of a surprise because L.P. said Marpha is supposed to have some of the best lodging on the trek.

We went down the street to check out the next lodge that Thakur recommended, the Mount Villa, and they had just one double with a bathroom. We decided to take it, even though it was just okay. It was nice to have an attached bathroom, but the toilet seat was broken and you had to turn on the leaky water supply to fill the tank every time you flushed. They also had a triple room, which we thought Joseph & Thakur could take if they wanted to stay at the same lodge as us. We took back one of the keys to the Paradise and kept the other set so Joseph was sure to have a room. We left a note for them, then walked around the village. Marpha is another village with a quaint medieval feel like Kagbeni. It had narrow flagstone streets. Under the flagstones water was running through the town.Joseph and Thakur showed up about an hour after we did, but Joseph decided to find another place with a private bathroom. Thakur didn’t want to stay in the triple room at our lodge because guides get reduced rates on food and lodging if they stay in the guides’ room instead of a tourist room. We had to eat separately from them because the lodges charge really low rates on the room but make all their money on the food, so they expect you to eat your meals there if you stay there.

At dinner, we met a “trustafarian,” as Kirsten referred to him, from Santa Monica who is living in India teaching enlightenment or something. He was pretty amusing — at one point he talking about how little he brought for the trek, just a few clothes and his guitar, and how it’s so amazing how simply you can live if you just let go, then five minutes later he was talking about how great it was to have movies on his Ipod to keep him entertained during downtime on the trek. Earlier, at Joseph and Thakur’s lodge, we met another interesting person – a woman from New York who lives in Bangkok who was heading into the Mustang and seemed a little ill-prepared, but made up for it with her abundantly cynical view of world politics.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Flight to Jomsom; Kagbeni 10/4

We’re in Muktinath, at 3800 meters (12,500 feet) in the Himalayas! That of course means we survived the flight to Jomsom, although at times that was in doubt. The flight yesterday finally left a little after noon — about 4 hours behind schedule. We boarded the plane with Joseph, a Sri-Lankan Brit, and Thakur, his Nepali friend & guide, and Aliza and Asaf, a couple from Israel (Aliza is actually from New York but moved to Israel), who we met in the airport. They told us to sit on the right side of the plane to get the mountain views. The airplane was a small twin-prop plane with about 8 rows of two seats. I sat behind Kirsten on the right side, and as the pilots cranked up the engines the flight attendant performed her sole task for the flight: to pass out a piece of candy (for the pressure change) and cotton (to stuff in our ears for the noise).

The winds pick up heavily in the valley between 10 and 11, which is why they usually try and get all the flights in before then. We assumed the wind must not be too bad because they had not postponed our flight. Boy were we wrong. It was all smooth flying until the final terrifying few minutes when we turned up the valley between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. As soon as we rounded the corner, we could feel the plane getting pushed around, up & down, side-to-side; it even felt like it was fishtailing. After several minutes of this, and feeling a little gripped, we went into a steep descent toward Jomsom. I was looking out our window at the town going by when suddenly our noise is pitching up, I look forward because my stomach just sunk to my feet, and I see nothing but blue out the pilots’ window. As I’m pondering this, we start banking into a hard turn, and we can see the side of the mountains out the left (downward-facing) side of the plane! All while the plan is still getting bounced around by the wind. I was disoriented; my heart was pounding; legs are shakey; and Kirsten and I are gripping each other’s hands over the seat back. The only thing that gave me some encouragement was I could see the pilots hands working the controls in the cockpit, and he appeared completely unphased, and so I realized this must be the usual approach to the landing strip. After pulling out of this maneuver, which felt like a barrel roll, we leveled out and came in for a smooth, easy landing in Jomsom at 9,000 feet. We discussed it afterwords, and Kirsten had maintained her orientation better than me. She explained that we had basically flown past the airport and pulled a tight U-turn up against the side of the mountains in order to land in the opposite direction. She described that it seemed as though we could almost reach out and touch the mountains we were so close, and just one bad pocket of air away from slamming into them.

Well we staggered off the plane and as we stepped down on the tarmac we were greeted with a stunning view of Nilgiri North, our first real view of a Himalayan giant, and at 23,000 feet its summit was 14,000 feet above us, yet situated a mere 5 miles away! We were in the Himalayas, and this put a big ‘ol exclamation point on it. My legs were still shakey, and we all most have looked pretty funny, walking away from the plane, everyone’s heads cranked up gawking stupidly at the mountain as we wandered somewhat aimlessly in the general direction of the airplane’s propellers. Airport security had to direct us in a wide berth away from the propellers and toward the airport baggage pickup where we couldn’t do harm to ourselves.

After collecting our backpacks and checking in our ACAP permits with airport security, we stopped at a small gear store to try and find a headlamp for Kirsten. All they had were some uber cheap LED flashlights. They barely worked, but it was better than nothing, and Kirsten only paid NR 200 for it. We met the other four folks for lunch at Nil Giri View Hotel in Jomsom. Kirsten and I had dal bat for the first time on the trip. We had put it off as long as we could, figuring we would be eating a lot of it on the trek. Joseph and Thakur invited us to walk with them because they had the same trekking itinerary as us, for the first 7 days anyway. Then Aliza and Asaf tip-toed around the subject of having company on the way to Kagbeni because even though they had a porter (but no guide) their parents were terrified that they were doing the trek on their own, and they had promised them they would try to join up with other folks. Their parents actually rented a satellite phone for them to check in with! So after checking in at the ACAP checkpoint and again at the police checkpost, the six of us embarked on the trek. First stop: Kagbeni.

The hike to Kagbeni was pretty short, flat and straightforward. We followed right along the Gandaki Khola (River), sometimes short-cutting across the dry flood beds, and occasionally stepping off the trail to let a jeep or donkey go by. It wasn’t so much a trail as a dirt road, and we were surprised by this, but it was nice to finally be out in our familiar element – hiking in the mountains. The wind was pretty strong, but it was at our backs so it didn’t cause us much discomfort, however we noticed all the people passing us the other direction were covering their faces with scarves or bandanas. We reached Kagbeni around 5:30, just as the sun was starting to set. Kagbeni is a medieval Tibetan village, with cobblestone streets and stone buildings with firewood-stacked roofs. We got a room in the New Asian hotel with the other folks and met them shortly thereafter for dinner. Our room had its own bathroom and lights! A most pleasant surprise, especially the lights because Kirsten’s new flashlight was not a star performer. At dinner we had dal bat again with Tibetan flat bread. We stayed up ’til 8 chatting with everyone, including a nice couple from Belgium that were doing the entire circuit. We had a good night’s sleep, although Kirsten’s cold was getting worse, and after breakfast (Tsampa porridge for me and oat porridge for Kirsten), we bid farewell to Asaf and Aliza, then set out for the big hike to Muktinath at 8.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kathmandu: Swayambhunath, Durbar Palace; Bus to Pokhara 10/2 – 10/3

We’re sitting at the Pokhara airport. Our flight is delayed for a couple hours because of clouds. The last two days have been as exhausting as the first two. Thursday in Kathmandu we got up and had a very nice breakfast on the roof of Helena’s, then did a little shopping. I bought an aluminum water bottle (the one thing I forgot to bring was my Nalgene bottle), and Kirsten got a neat shoulder bag for toting stuff around town so we didn’t have to carry a backpack. At the end of the morning, we walked down to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, where the city’s kings used to rule from (durbar means “palace”).

The walk through the streets of Kathmandu was madness because it was so crowded with people, but no one was trying to sell us anything, so in that sense it was a little more relaxing, and it was amazing to see the ancient Hindu and Buddhist shrines and stupas in various states of decay randomly located throughout the old neighborhoods. Durbar Square is very old and shows it. We weren’t compelled to stay long, a little turned off by the commercial sadhus (holy men) wandering around looking for tourists to charge for blessing them with tikas (a red paste spot marked on the forehead) or taking their picture. However, we did find a nice place to sit at a terraced temple where we watched life go by through the square and appreciated the Newari pagoda temple architecture. According to LP, it was a Nepali arcitecht who exported the pagoda design to Kublai Khan in the late 13th century that inspired the eastern Asian pagoda.

After Durbar Square we walked back to the hotel and inquired about a room for the night, but they are completely booked through October. They did make a reservation for us with their contact at Hotel Tradition, however. Suddenly keen to the problem of finding lodging when we return to Kathmandu in a couple weeks, we spent the next few hours going around to hotels. All of the really highly recommended ones in Lonely Planet (LP) were booked through October, but we got rooms for the 16th and 17th at Hotel Utse, which is a really nice Tibetan hotel a block or two down a side street in Thamel.

We also ran back and forth to the KGH to check on our permits etc about three or four times, stopping for a light lunch of nan and Sprite at Le Bistro’s rooftop cafe, where my watch thermometer read 95 degrees. Finally, around 3:30, the agency guy showed up with them. We had our permits and bus & plane tickets, so the path to Jomsom was all laid out for us. Now we just had to survive all the in-country travel with no equipment, logitistics, or weather problems. At 4 o’clock we had a little time left in the day so we grabbed a taxi and went to Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple, one of two famous Buddhist temples in Kathmandu that we wanted to visit. We tried to negotiate a 200 Nepali Rupie (NR) fare with the driver, but he was stubbornly firm on 250. Then he “offered” to wait for us at the temple for an hour and drive us back for another NR 500. He tried to convince us that because of the festival it would be hard to get a taxi back. When we arrived at the temple, there were plenty of taxis there, so we declined the offer. After the long, steep stair climb, we spent about half an hour at the temple. We walked around the stupa and spun the prayer wheels. Took pictures of all the monkeys milling about, walked through a Buddhist shrine, and watched a monk scrape parasites off of a puppy. When we returned to the bottom of the temple, we instantly found a taxi fare back to Thamel for NR 200.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In Kathmandu! 9/29 – 10/1

First night in Kathmandu; our plans have already changed. We arrived in the middle of the Dasain festival, which is the biggest and most important Nepali festival of the year, and the city is extra crowded. The visa line at the airport took about an hour and a half to get through, then after taking a taxi to the Kathmandu Guest House, we walked to the place where the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) is supposed to be and found an empty office with a sign saying that it had moved, but with no indication of where to. It was now after 3 o’clock and we were fairly certain we could not get all the permits, bus and plan tickets before the end of the day, so we returned to the hotel and spoke with their travel agent about getting assistance.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dorado Needle

8,440 Feet
NW Ridge, Grade III, 5.4
August 2-3, 2008

The hike up to Dorado Needle started off a little damp. The forecast was for clouds on Saturday, but clearing by Sunday. Nonetheless, as it sprinkled and spat on us as we packed our bags at the trailhead at 2100 feet, our confidence in the forecast waned a bit. The log crossing over the North Fork Cascade River has improved since the last time we crossed it, about 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the hike up the Eldorado Creek Trail is still steep, and on this day, it was wet and a bit loose. Fortunately, our gear has become considerably lighter in the last 6 years, and I suppose our mental endurance for these sorts of slogs has increased. The hike up through the trees to the boulder field went by fairly quickly, then it was time to pick our way up through a couple thousand feet of talus-strewn slopes. Fortunately, we were able to piece together most of the trail-like tread along the fringes of the fields. Unfortunately, about half-way up, it started to rain with some enthusiasm. We stopped to don our rain gear and had a little talk about whether anyone wanted to cut our losses and turn around on the off chance we would never get out of the clouds. I think any of us could have been pushed over the edge, but we decided to push on a little longer to see if the squall abated.
The rain did stop shortly after that, and we ended up making it to the bivy sites at about 7500 feet at the base of the east ridge of Eldorado about 8 hours after we started. A search of the area to locate two good bivy sites near each other was fruitless, so we ended up cramming our ID tents next to each other in one site after clearing it and smoothing out some bumps in the ground. Around us, as we made dinner and prepared for sleep, the cloud deck rose and fell below our elevation enough to occasionally give us views into the Forbidden cirque.
We woke up at 5am and Kirsten poked her head outside and immediately saw the glow of the sunrise illuminating a clear sky above the surrounding peaks and ridges. Energized by the knowledge that the climb would continue, we ate breakfast and packed up our gear, finally roping up and leaving camp at 7am. We cut a diagnal traverse across the Inspiration Glacier, occasionally looking behind us at climbers ascending the East Ridge of Eldorado, and thankful that no one was heading where we were, to Dorado Needle. When we reached the saddle at 8100 feet between the Inspiration and McAllister Glaciers, we stopped for a minute to take in the incredible views from between the Tepeh Towers, then descended the McAllister before the final steep, 500 foot climb up to the base of Dorado Needle, arriving at 9.
Knowing that climbers just a week earlier had reported a somewhat sketchy moat crossing to get on the route, we were a little anxious to see what it looked like when we got there. The pile of snow that had fallen into the moat, creating a bridge across was still there, so we roped up and off I went. Right off the bat there was a fairly steep move, so I reluctantly took off my mountaineering boots and put on my rock shoes. The move went easy with rock shoes on, and the rest of the way up to the ridge crest and the first belay was problem-free. After bringing Kirsten up, I climbed up a small chimney, then traversed across the knife-edge slab over to the next belay. When Kirsten reached the slab, she took a few minutes to talk herself into it, then chevalled across easily. The first move off the second belay up a step in the ridge required some reaching and stemming across, but thanks to my extra long limbs, it wasn't a problem. Next up was another traverse across an exposed, blank slab. I saw a ledge below it on the right and dropped down to the ledge and found a nice hand crack to get up above the slab on the other end. From there it was easy scrambling up to the summit block, arriving around 10:45.
Kirsten followed up and we snapped a few picks while waiting for Becky & Pete. After a while we saw Becky climbing back across the slab and yelled down to ask what was going on. Her hands and feet had become numb from sitting in the shade and being exposed to the frigid wind, and when she reached the stemmy, reachy move off the second belay, she lost confidence and backed off. Because Pete wasn't particularly concerned about summiting today, Kirsten downclimbed to Becky at the rap anchor, swapped ropes, and I belayed Becky up to me at the summit. After all of us had safely downclimbed back to the rap anchor, and Becky had accomplished the feat of crossing the blank knife-edge slab four times, we rappeled off the route. The rope tried to get stuck between a couple blocks on a bend in the route when I pulled it from the first rappel, but fortunately it freed up after giving it some strong tugs.
We arrived back at camp at about 3 o'clock and packed up with our minds focused on the Good Foods' 9 o'clock closing time. We left at 4:15, and the descent went smoothly, arriving back at the cars after 8:15. Quicly we changed into cotton clothes and threw our gear in the car, careful not to leave any open bags on the ground lest some Cascade River Road mice stow away in our gear, as happened to Becky & Pete over 4th of July. Unfortunately we didn't make it back to Marblemount until 10 or 15 minutes after 9 and Good Food was in fact closed. Our next hope for decent food was in Arlington, but when we arrived we found Taco Time was closed, so our last resort was McDonalds. It was interesting to discover that no matter how many calories we burned during the weekend, McDonalds was still unsatisfying. But as we finished the drive home, arriving at 11:30, we tried to ignore the foreign lump of processed meat in our stomachs and remember the good climb on a fun little peak in the glorious North Cascades.
Some notes about the climb: this is a really fun little climb. The rock is solid, the gear placements are good, the climbing is fun, and the setting on the McAllister Glacier is spectacular. The only drawback is the approach, which is pretty rough for an ascent of just this one peak. Ideally, it could be combined with other peaks, which was our original plan (Eldorado). However, the hike from camp to the route took longer than expected (about 2 hours), so we didn't have enough time. As far as gear, we brought several small cams -- red and green Aliens, red and black Metolius, the #.75, 1, and 2 Camalots, plus selection of nuts. I placed everything except the .75 and #2 Camalots, and there were lots of horns to sling. Basically this route feels a lot like a miniature version of the West Ridge of Forbidden.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mt Baker

Mt. Baker, WA
10,778 Feet
Squak-Easton Glacier
June 29, 2008

Kirsten, Pete and I had an inauspicious start to our Easton attempt. We tried to sneak in a better night's sleep than we would get sleeping on the forest service road by stopping at a campsite halfway up Baker Lake Road, only to be kept up all night by folks aimin' to get wasted accompanied by a 90's soundtrack of Candlebox and Live. Nonetheless we stuck to our 3:30 wake up time, drove to about 1/4 mile from the trailhead and started walking at 5. Feeling rather like zombies, we climbed straight up through the trees as per the Squak Glacier route, eventually hitting the glacier and catching our second wind. A cool breeze was blowing most of the morning making the climbing pleasant.

At around 8,000' we did a short traverse over to the cattle path on the Easton. Around this same point, the snow began to soften quite a bit, and laying a skin track in the deep, slippery corn turned into fairly hard work. The breeze also ceased, making our engines burn a little hotter. The route crosses a few big crevasses, but most of the bridges are substantial except one which may start to deteriorate in the next couple weeks. At the Caldera, we racked the skis on our packs and booted up the Roman Headwall in the trough left behind by the many climbers that morning. We topped out at noon.

The snow on the headwall was better than we expected, although it was warming up enough to generate the occasional foot-in-diameter cinnamon rolls. At the Caldera, we ran into Amar, Hannah et al on the their way up. Nice meeting you guys. The rest of the ski down the glacier was quite nice, ranging from deep corn up high to faster, shallower corn lower down. We stayed on the Easton trail for the entire descent, and stopped for a short foot and food break on the rocks at 6600 feet. After dropping down off the snout of the glacier and down the valley, Amar suggested staying far skiers left as you descend through the trees. This effectively avoids any of the stream crossings. After meandering through Schreibers Meadows, we linked patches of ditch snow along the road to within sight of our car at 3 o'clock. It's great when a day turns out so well after starting so roughly.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sarvant Traverse

Mt Rainier National Park
Summerland-Cowlitz Chimneys-Owyhigh Lakes Traverse
June 15, 2008

:: Pete's post on T-A-Y

Monday, June 2, 2008

Washington Pass Skiing

Washington Pass, Hwy 20
Maple Pass and Blue Lake Col
May 31 - June 1, 2008

Photo Gallery

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kendall Chutes

Kendall Chutes
April Powder!
April 19, 2008

Viva La Nina! This weekend brought yet another unusual snow-yielding storm. Kirsten, Andy, Mica, Marcus, Anastasia, Tundra and I headed up to ski the Kendall Chutes. We skinned up to the base of Kendall Stump, then up through Kendall Peak Lakes. It was cloudy and the light was flat, but the chutes looked like they were in good shape. The left side of Main Vein had already been skied. Kirsten, Marcus, Mica and Anastasia took that one, and Andy and I found a narrow funnel between two ribs. Between the bad lighting and the crust underneath the nine inches of new snow, it was a little tricky on the steep upper parts, trying to manage the slough and see what's below you. When the slope steepness lessened things were better and we took a nice run down to the bottom. We skinned back up, then cut over to the base of The Twins and took another run back down. The sun was out and visibility was better, so we were able to open up our speed a little more and face shots became plentiful.

At the bottom of the second run, we ran into a group of TAY-ers, John, Pico, Swooz, Clem, Silas, and Bill S. They described the route they took to the chutes via the Commonwealth and offered to let us ski out with them and drop us off at our car, which was very generous! We climbed back up to the ridge and dropped down into the Commonwealth. After the fast ski out the luge track, we popped out on Alpental Road and met them over at the Summit West parking lot. It was a much nicer descent back to the car than going out via Kendall Stump. Thanks guys!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Slot + Crooker Couloirs

Snoqualmie Mtn, WA
Slot + Crooked Couloirs
6,000 Foot Powder Day -- In April!
April 5, 2008

Some late spring storms hit the Cascades dropping a bunch of snow at low elevations courtesy of La Nina last week, and we wanted to take advantage of it, so we headed up to Snoqualmie Mtn on Saturday. We had originally discussed a long tour of the north side of Snoqualmie and to the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, but the skinning up the middle portion of the mountain was so slow and tiring that we quietly changed our plans for something a little less committing.

The snow in that portion was just a few inches of unconsolidated new snow sitting on top of a firm crust. On certain aspects, the snow wouldn't stick to the crust, but our ski edges couldn't grab into the crust. We should have had our ski crampons! We remarked at the misfortune, because last spring we carried them around with us everywhere and never used them. This year we stopped bringing them because of the aforementioned fact, and now I'm sure we'll start carrying them everywhere again. At one point we tried to take the skis off and just boot up, but that crust that was so firm that our edges wouldn't bight into it, wasn't firm enough to keep our boots from punching through. Pretty much the perfect combination to make things as difficult as they can be.

When we reached the entrance to the Slot Couloir, Kirsten, Andy, and I joined another threesome while Pete, Becky, Ross, and Bob headed up to the Crooked Couloir. The entrance to the Slot was steep, but there was so much snow in it, that it was pretty straightforward compared to what I've heard about it in normal snow years. We leapfrogged down with the other threesome, wooping our way getting face shots in the reasonably light April powder! We skied all the way down into Thunder Basin and waited for the other crew to come down the Crooked.

After they arrived with tales of snorkeling through powder, we decided that it was only noon so we may as well go back up the Crooked and try and get more. We considered going out the normal exit, then climbing back up the south side of Snoqualmie on our morning skin track, but we were worried the nasty crust would slow us down too much. It took us two and a half hours to get up to the top of the Crooked, alternating between skinning and booting as conditions demanded. Near the top we noticed the snow was getting warmer and displaying slab-like characteristics. Andy and I noticed some whoomping, and Pete observed a shooting crack. The warmer snow combined with poor visibility made the ski down not quite as nice as the morning run, but it was still great skiing powder in these two great runs in our backyard that we had never skied before.

On the way out, up to the exit col, we had the last challenge of the day -- a wickedly persistent set of switchbacks where it got steep at the top. Those of us who didn't switch to booting really fine-tuned our kickturns! Did I say that was the last challenge? Of course there was the ski down back through the nasty crust we skinned up in the morning. The new snow still had that tendency to slide off of it, and we saw evidence of sloughs other skiers had kicked off that wiped some slopes clean. All in all the ski out wasn't too bad though, and really, it would take something much worse to ruin our 6,000 foot day.

Other Links
:: Pete's trip report
:: TAY Post

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ymir Yurt

Boundary Kootenays, BC
Ymir Yurts
Qua Yurt Skiing
February 15-18, 2008

Qua Yurt Terrain Map

It took a couple tries to get this trip done, and even then it almost didn't work out. The trip was originally planned for New Year's Weekend, but at the last minute, Trevor, from Ymir Yurts, emailed Andy and told him he accidentally overbooked. Hard to believe, but as it turned out Kirsten and I weren't actually supposed to be on the trip then, so when Andy rescheduled it for President's Day Weekend, and Marcus and Anastasia told us they couldn't go, we signed up. After hearing a few stories about how disorganized the outfit is, we were a little concerned about how troublesome it would be getting in and out of the yurt. On top of that, the weeks leading up to the trip brought high avalanche conditions, so we waited until the day before we were supposed to leave to finally decide that we were going. The avy report that day showed that conditions were moderating, so we figured we could safely find mellow terrain to ski. Unfortunately, Pete needed to stay home to take care of some things, so we only had a group of 5 going in.

Kirsten, Becky and I left Seattle at 4:30 PM on Thursday, about five hours after Andy & Todd. As we were driving through Ellensburg, Andy called us from the border crossing to let us know it closed at midnight. We were several hours away and figured if everything went smoothly we would make it in time. After driving through Spokane and heading north for the border, we arrived with half an hour to spare. Shortly after entering Canada we pulled into the tiny town of Ymir and found our hotel, the Ymir Palace. The manager had left the door to our room open for us, so we didn't have to check in, just found the room that was open and sacked out. Nice!

We hooked up with Andy and Todd in the morning and met Trevor at 7:30, then drove out to the trailhead where we loaded up two wooden boxes with seats. These would be our carriages that the snowmobiles would toe us in. The ride was 25 kilometers up to Wildhorse Ridge where they dropped us off with our daypacks. We skied down into the North Clearcut where our instructions were to skin most of the way up to the Seeman-Qua Pass above the yurt, where the cat would drop off our overnight packs. We started skinning up, but there was a low cloud cover and we couldn't see much of the terrain around us, but there was one pretty obvious pass that we could see at the head of the gully, and we found skin tracks heading toward it, so off we went.

At a rather crucial point I lost the skin track, but kept heading for that pass. Shortly after, we began noticing that there were no signs of any snow vehicles or ski tracks on the slopes below that pass. I checked the map and compass and it showed that we were bearing too far south and needed to backtrack and head up in a more western direction. We all dismissed this, figuring there was some unexplainable reason why the compass was wrong. We kept skinning for a few more minutes and then finally heard the snowcat behind us. We watched the snowcat come toward us then slowly work its way away from us, heading west. This of course was the direction the compass had indicated. We tried to understand why we had doubted the compass, but it was one of those things where we were betrayed by a strong feeling of going the right way. How funny that we would let that lead us astray. But it gave us a sly slogan for the trip, "If it feels right, and looks right, the compass must be wrong."

To make a long story short, we made it to the yurt. Kirsten, Becky and I missed the message on the yurt website that said to pack light, and each had around 50 pound packs, which made the ski down from the pass to the yurt a little tricky. After making ourselves at home, we went back out and took a lap on the slope we had skinned up. The snow was pretty nice and light, about a foot of recent powder on a firm base. On the way back up we noticed that Trevor had left a package of toilet paper for us, which was a pleasant acquisition. Friday night, after doing a few things to get the yurt in shape, like getting pilot lights lit in the stove and chipping ice away from the door so it would close, Andy and Todd cooked up their prawn pasta and we took turns plugging in our mp3 players into Andy's docking station. Unfortunately the battery died within just a few hours and we all tried to remember how we used to pass time before mp3 players. Before turning in for the night, we flashed our headlamps around the yurt and noticed a fine coating of mold growing on the interior walls and on some of the mattresses. Yum.

That night, we were awakened by the sound of a critter scampering around outside by where we had hung our food. We figured it must be the inquisitive pine marten that we heard about, but when I got up to bring the food inside, I hesitated for a moment as my sleepy mind began to ponder the possibility that it might be something other than a pine marten. I tried to decide what the best way to confront the creature would be -- either a stealthy cracking of the door to give me a peek at whatever it was out there, or a sudden throwing open of the door to (hopefully) scare it away. Kirsten sensed my hesitation and asked, "Are you going to get the food?" The only words I could form were, "I'm scared." This gave everyone a good laugh. And of course, it turned out the creature was just the pine marten.

Saturday, the weather forecast was for high pressure to build over the area. But we woke up to clouds and a couple inches of new snow. Because we couldn't see any terrain, we just traversed over to the slopes south of Hidden Bowl. We climbed up to a point at about 2200 meters on the ridge, then took a lap down about 500 meters through widely spaced trees and nice, light snow. It was good enough we decided just to lap it again, and as we skinned back up the clouds started to dissipate. We took another run and by the time we were done the skies were almost entirely clear. We took lunch and climbed up higher on the ridge to a point where we had a line back to the yurt. The sun was starting to bake the south facing slopes we were on so we skied to the yurt, took another break, then went back up the saddle and took a run back down the slope we skied on Friday. As we skinned back up to the saddle, the sun started to set and painted the whole landscape a beautiful pale red.

Saturday night, Becky cooked up steak pasta and then the hilight of the trip: smores. We roasted the marshmallows over the stove and the candles, then warmed up the chocolate by holding it on a fork over a candle. It was such a treat. We were pretty knackered from the long day and went to sleep early.

Sunday morning we found crystal clear weather outside. We had scoped out the northwest shoulder of Qua Peak the day before and we wanted to go up and check it out. It looked like a nice, long 600 meter run with a consistent 30° pitch, but we had to climb along the wind-loaded, corniced north ridge to get there and halfway up it started getting tricky skirting around the cornices and trying to stay off the exposed rollovers. Instead we peered down over the east side of the ridge to the slopes on the north side of Upper Seeman Bowl. Upper Seeman Bowl itself is perched below steep, open avalanche-swept slopes extending down from the summit of Qua Peak, but around the side of the bowl to the north where we were, the slope angle was mellower and there were areas of nicely-spaced trees, so we wooped and hollered our way down about 400 meters and went back up for another. There was plenty of open slope left, but a nice looking slope above the yurt was beckoning, so we headed that way, stopped for a half run down past the saddle, then tried to work our we up the southeast ridge of South Seeman Peak. It was badly wind-effected and skinning was difficult, so we cut our losses and traversed out above the yurt and took one last run.

Sunday evening we found conditions at the yurt were getting worse. The sun was melting the snow on the roof. The meltwater was dripping on the porch and refreezing forming the beginnings of a slippery stalagmite. It was also leaking in the yurt worse and worse to the point where a puddle was creeping out from wall under our bunk bed and soaking my backpack that was stored under it. We were starting to feel ready to leave the yurt. We didn't want to leave all the nice ski terrain that we had all to ourselves, but the yurt was starting to feel a little gross. After eating most of the chili that Kirsten and I made, we occupied ourselves by playing cards and making more smores, then settled down for one last, damp night.

The weather was still beautiful on Monday morning, and we packed up our stuff and started skinning up to the saddle at 8. The ski back down to the North Clearcut with our big packs was pretty fun because the snow was good and our packs were much lighter than they were on Friday. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the clearcut, Trevor and Doug arrived on snowmobiles to haul our packs back up to Wildhorse Ridge. We were pleased by Trevor's punctuality and it seemed to us that while he may not be great at communicating his plans, he does seem to have a pretty good system worked out, and we had no problems with him at all. After skinning up to Wildhorse Ridge and meeting up with Doug and our packs, we loaded up one of the wooden box sleds and started the snowmobile ride out.

This turned out to be the most terrifying experience of the trip. I'm not a snowmobile person at all. This is the first time I have been transported by one, but he was driving down that road like his house was on fire. He had no qualms with taking corners so fast that the snowmobile skis were coming off the ground. He assured us that the sled would keep the snowmobile from tipping, but even so, every time we went across a narrow bridge with those skis tipping up off the ground I thought we were going to get dumped into some frozen stream bed. And then there were the chunks of snow that were pelting us in the face. When we arrived back at the cars, we all staggered out of the sled like we had been at sea for 5 days and joked about how we were all secretly thinking of the best way to save ourselves if the sled went off the road. But we laughed it off and changed into street clothes and started the long drive home around noon. A quick food note: there is a great little restaurant in Metaline, WA, just south of the border, called Cathy's Cafe. If you ever find yourselves in this remote part of the state, and are in need of food, this place is delicious.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bryant Couloir

Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Bryant Couloir
January 26, 2008

We had high aspirations of doing the Chair Peak circumnavigation today. Similar to how we had high hopes of doing it about a year ago. And similar to a year ago, Kirsten stayed home because she was sick. And similar to a year ago, we bailed before making it over Bryant Col, this time because the forecasted storm was obviously approaching. The secret seems to be having Kirsten with us. We'll have to try that next time. We did make it up to Bryant Col this time, however, so I figure if for some reason I were to continue to try it without Kirsten, at the present rate of improvement, I will complete the circumnavigation in twenty more attempts. Those last 10 or so where we'd turn around more than halfway through the route would really suck though.
So this time, we skied the Bryant Couloir on our way down. We were really hoping the snow in the couloir would be protected from wind and sun effect, but alas for the most part it was wind slab and crust. Not a pleasant combination. In the constricted part of the gully, where it gets steep for a bit, we all side-slipped the whole thing in an effort not to break the crust, which was several inches thick here, and send it all sliding down the gully. Naturally, we were totally psyched about side-slipping Bryant Couloir. Not a lot of folks out there who have done that. After exiting the gully and reaching the lower slopes above Source Lake, we found better, nay, nice snow on the low-angled, lower-elevation slopes. Yet, this brief introduction to non-survival skiing was not enough to convince us to go back up for another lap, not anywhere in the basin. Nope, we went straight out, and even after stopping for barbecue at Rhodies, we still made it home by 1 o'clock, finding victory in a small thing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Skyline Ridge, WA
Backcountry Skiing
January 20, 2008

The video [22 mb download]

We did a little tour of the Skyline Ridge area today. Kirsten and I had not skied this area before and we were pleasantly surprised to find a lot of fun slopes on the northwest side running down into the valley below Lichtenberg. We worked our way around the valley, skiing three different slopes before we ran out of time. Our goal was to get back to the highway by 2 o'clock to beat the traffic on the way back to town. It was tempting to keep skiing because the snow was pretty nice, but in the end the prospect of sitting in traffic seemed worse than cutting the day short. What that tells me, I don't know, but I'm sure there's a conclusion to be drawn there. :)

Other Links:
:: Marcus post on TAY

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mt Catherine + Yodelin

Mt Catherine & Yodelin
January 5 & 6, 2008

I See The Noodles, But I Cannot Get Them: a video

Only the first weekend of January, and already it has been an incredible winter. Incredible in terms of the quentity and quality of snow that has fallen in the past month, and incredible in terms of the number of people who have suffered because of that snowfall. I believe the fatality total has reach double digits in the Pacific Northwest, making it one of the worst winters recorded here. Naturally, we decided to exercise caution this weekend with another foot or two supposed to fall.

On Saturday, we went to Mt. Catherine -- a small peak at Snoqualmie Pass with a safe approach and nice, moderate-to-low-angled tree skiing. Andy tried to bring Tundra along, but they wouldn't allow him on the cross-country trails, so Andy had to put him back in the car for the day. Tundra wasn't too happy about that. We took the Hyak lift up to the top and skied down the other side to the x-country trails and skated around to the base of Catherine. We broke trail through several inches of new snow, putting in a track that gradually ascended while traversing to the west. We reached the steeper slopes flanking Catherine and dug some test pits finding that the snow on the northern slopes were pretty stable. The top 8 inches sloughed off easily, but not in a slab, and the rest of the pack would not budge off of the crust 3 feet down without considerable effort.

After climbing the rest of the way up to the summit ridge, we took two laps through the trees. The snow was nice & fluffy, although the slough ran pretty fast and heavy on steeper slopes, and required attention. It was already getting late in the afternoon when we finished our second lap, so we headed back to Hyak and skied out. The sudden transition to the hardpack in the resort was tough to get used to after all the soft snow in the backcountry, but we managed to slide our way out. I tried out my 2006 K2 Anti Pistes for the first time in the backcountry, and they were super fun in the snow, but they seem like they might be a bit too much ski for me in the backcountry. Might have to get those fancy new Anti Pistes that are over a pound lighter per ski!

On Sunday, we went to our old faithful, Yodelin at Stevens Pass. There were quite a few other skiers out, including Ema with a couple of her friends. Someone put in a great skin track on Saturday or early Sunday. Stability was very similar to Catherine, but without the top layer sloughing. We took two laps through the trees, where the occasionaly tree bomb under the new snow kept us on our toes, then hit the clearcut for one rando rally lap through 8 inches or so of nice unaffected new snow on a firm base. Went back up one more time for our exit out the front side, hitting the road shortly after 2 to beat the Stevens traffic. Snow depth was great all the way to the parking lot -- the switchback shortcuts were in great shape. Fantastic day out. Yodelin seems to take a lot of traffic pretty well -- despite all the people, we didn't cross many tracks. More importantly, Andy made amends with Tundra and is back in his good graces.