For a while there it seemed like the season never ended. Then I disappeared to California and last year’s below-average snowpack (and a generally different climate than the PNW) made summer touring basically impossible. I picked up a mountain bike and started climbing more frequently. Between the two, I didn’t seem to mind the lack of snowboarding. In fact, while the snow has been falling since the beginning of October, just this last weekend did I finally manage to get out.
The first day out, you are going to be a little rusty. Whereas last year I could pack in my sleep, I found myself scouring my closet for gear, laying it all out all over the place. Packing, then repacking, then repacking again. How did I used to pack this thing? Skins, right! The process went on for longer than it should. But eventually I had everything and was ready to go.
I forgot how to layer. Sorry, I didn’t forget how to layer, but I was rusty at paying attention to when to wear what. I started off with my heavy jacket on, regretting the decision immediately, but too stubborn to stop and take it off. Eventually I did, but being able to predict what to wear while hiking is just one more thing that I seemed to have forgotten.
But I wasn’t the only one that was rusty. We all were. The rust shows itself in different places for everyone, but the one that stood out was communication.
We headed up to Heliotrope Ridge, along with what seemed like the entire backcountry ski community. Seriously, it was a zoo out there. Not to be deterred by the crowds or the flat light, we managed to find our own stashes of fresh snow. Not to mention, the whole experience was a whole heck of a lot better to the crazy wind gusts we found last year, preventing us from ever reaching the ridge. The marginal snow on the hike in was a little disconcerting. Once we got above treeline, the snow got immensely better. By the time we were nearing the ridge, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the snow we were finding. It was deeper and lighter than I was expecting.
I’ll admit, the snow was starting to get a little sun and wind affected. It was still awesome to ride, but there was definitely a crust starting to form. As this next weather system moves in, I’m a little concerned that we are going to bury a weak layer pretty deep in the snowpack. Hopefully it consolidates well, but it’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
So, after kicking off the season with some sweet pow turns on the upper ridge, we made a decision to continue down the fall line instead of hooking right, following the general route that we’d skinned up. The lure of more fresh tracks and fewer crowds was appealing. Totally worth it. We found easily another 1500′ of fresh snow and we were the only ones out there. Soon, we kind of understood why. We hit the treeline and realized we were about three gullies away from the trail we wanted to get to. We had two options, stay low and cut through the trees and through at least one exposed stream crossing, with potential for more. Or, we could hike up around the cliff band we were now sitting under and pick our way back to the trail from above the cliffs.
Our group was split on what to do and we weren’t communicating our rationales for either option well. In a tense moment, we ended up splitting up. Ultimately both routes probably would have been fine. We weren’t in any immediate danger, but splitting up was the wrong thing to do. Eventually, we reconvened and all committed to going up over the cliff band together. Sure, it was a bit more hiking than we’d anticipated, but we did it together. The upshot, we managed to squeeze out a few more quality turns.
Making decisions is a big part of traveling in the backcountry. That’s part of the fun of it. You have options and freedom to choose where you want to go. We were a little rusty, but we all came back, reminded of the importance that good communication can have.
Hopefully this weekend it wont take me three tries to get my pack loaded the way I like it.
I threw life on there as a last-minute decision because, as I reflect on this post, my goals don’t intrinsically shift every time the snow starts falling however much it might outwardly appear so. Goals have been on my mind a lot lately. Perhaps it’s the transition of seasons, or simply the fact that I decided to take this last weekended off from getting out and doing anything. (Everyone needs to take a few day’s off every once in a while.)
Ultimately though, there are some bigger forces leading me to focus on goal planning. This being my last quarter of school (hooray!), there are some big changes happening and goal planning is a more subtle and polite way of saying, “what the fuck am I going to do with my life.”
For the first time in many, many, many, years I do not have a seasons pass to any mountain. Just a couple of years ago, I was riding every day and the proud owner of multiple season passes. This should not be confused with my desire to ride less. It is partially a financial decision, partially a result of not knowing where I will land for the winter, and partially a shift in focus for where I want to ride. Still, it is a strange feeling. I almost feel naked without it.
I know what you might be thinking at this point. Not having a pass is not in any way, shape, or form a goal. You are right, but it does provide a frame of reference for my goals. So does this: Last year I broke my back in December. I feel kind of cheap saying that. Anyone who knows anything about the body will interject, clarifying that I fractured the tranverse processes that, in the grand scheme of things, is a relatively minor break. Back injuries have a strong association with paralysis and other really really bad side effects. When I say I broke my back, without context this is where most people’s minds jump. I’d put my injury more on the lines of a collar bone or a wrist. Sure, it sucks, but it wasn’t that bad. That being said, goal #1:
injury free healthy. No broken bones, no pulled muscles, no sick days, etc.. I am not saying, “Do not push yourself” but rather, “take care of yourself.” The best way to prevent injury and to stay healthy is to train and keep your body happy. This means staying active and listening to your body. Focus on your weaknesses before the come back to bite you. Admittedly mine is my core…too many beers and not enough exercise. If you take care of your body, a bad crash may leave you banged up and bruised, but not broken. This also means, “know when to take a day off.” I am absolutely terrible at this. My body may be screaming at me, but something fun will come up and I can’t say no. Saying no is hard, but learn to do it and you will ultimately be much happier. Besides, there will always be another adventure on another day.
This brings me to goal #2:
2. Have fun. This should really go without saying. There are so many rad things going on, it really isn’t a hard one to follow. The key is to simply to be open to it. Go with with flow and don’t dwell on things you wish you could be doing or something you missed out on. Focus on the moment and enjoy it. You’ll have days where absolutely zero riding was done, or the snow wasn’t as good as you were expecting. I haven’t ever come home from those days thinking I didn’t have fun. Laugh it off and grab a beer. If you have a fun crew, a day of riding crud can be just as enjoyable as that day you found blower waist deep pow.
3. Get out as much as possible. This goes along with #2. More days = more fun. That’s a good thing. Just remember #1…It is a tricky balance.
4. Be a little selfish. Probably not exactly what you were expecting to hear. (I never said this was going to be a list that others should model their lives after.) But I am also being entirely honest and this resounds a lot with me right now. Focus on doing what you want to do. Perhaps a better way of phrasing this would be to “Know what your priorities are, and don’t be ashamed to stick to them.” For instance, I know a lot of people getting into touring. I think that is awesome and I love to see more people getting after it. But, teaching you how to travel safely (or efficiently) is not high on my priority list. So, don’t be offended if I don’t get back to you about a trip you are planning. That being said, there are a lot of factors that go into my priorities and often I am looking for a chill day of mellow touring, so being selfish shouldn’t be confused with, “I only want to ride the gnarliest lines on the mountain.” A lot of times (especially after a big dump) my priority is to simply get out and find some fresh pow. There’s a lot to be said for days where all you do is ride some low angle trees.
5. Push myself. I want to go deeper, further, and higher. (Ha. See what I did there?) I want to hone my skills and become a stronger backcountry rider. I would absolutely love to take my WFR and AVY II. I’d also love to take a glacier travel class. Sadly, I doubt any are in the cards for this year. There is some incredible terrain out there and I want to ride it. But I want to do it safely. The best way to do that is to practice and to ride with people who can teach me. That being said, I am acutely aware of my selfish nature, and I expect others have similar views. I don’t want
6. Explore new places. Part of what I love about touring is getting out and exploring. I love the thrill of exploring new terrain. This gets back to my decision to not buy a pass this year. The resorts are familiar. On a good snow day at Stevens Pass, I had a pretty standard routine. Granted, it was an awesome routine. It just becomes familiar. I am a fan of the unfamiliar. I want to get out and see new places.
7. Go with the flow. I haven’t set a whole list of objectives or lines that I am itching to ride. Last year I did that and I maybe hit one on the whole list. I did ride TONS of incredible terrain though. So, this year, I am not setting lofty goals. I am just going with the flow. I expect to get out, have fun, and make some memorable trips, but I am going to just go with whatever comes up.
Okay, I think that is about it for goals. In retrospect, this is a hugely selfish list. So much so that I listed being selfish as one of my goals. I’m trying to wrap my head around what that means and whether that makes me an asshole or not. Ultimately I think that it depends on who you are and where you are in life. For me, I think being a little selfish is not only okay, but an ugly necessity. In fact, I may end up writing a post on just that.
Update: I’ve spent some quality time working on the site. The move to wordpress on the outset was smooth and painless. However, the initial euphoria wore off as I started to dig into the gritty details. (Some of you may have noticed the site when down for an hour or so when I broke the database.) While on blogger I was able to find a custom template that looked nice, I am yet to come across a default template that I really like. I’ve resorted to digging into the bowels of the theme and tweaking settings as I like. Simple things like links…who the hell thought it was a good idea to clear the formatting for links. I’m sorry, but nobody can navigate your site if most of your links appear to be plain text. Sigh. Also, round images. Why. Sure, the theme has a little bit of curves to it like in the header…but the round images were just horribly out of place. They turned a clean and crisp theme into something bubbly and wrong.
There are still a lot of improvements that I want to make. For now, I am relatively content with the look and feel of the site. I wouldn’t go as far as to remove this post quite yet though. This is sort of like a self-reminder that there are still things that I would like to change and don’t be alarmed if things still change.
Bear with me for a few days. I decided to set up a wordpress site and compile content from my portfolio and my blog all into one place. Most of the content moved over beautifully and the process was quite painless.
There were a number of reasons for this move:
- Blogger was very limiting in what I could actually do in terms of site structure.
- I wanted to add more dynamic pages and add some more content to the site, things like the (currently missing) trip reports page
- I wanted a dedicated place to post pictures, not just tied to a post.
- Unification with my Portfolio. My writing, photography, and my work are all a part of who I am and I think it is important that they are all connected. Some of you visiting my site may not look at my projects. Vice versa, some of you may come for the projects and could care less about the blog. I like to hope that you will poke around and explore both :).
As with any move or remodel, no matter how prepared you are, there will always be some unexpected (and a few expected) issues.
- Where did all the pictures go? Fear not, they are all still there. Sort of. the content is all still hosted by blogger (so I guess google?) The word press templates rely on images stored on my server in order to function properly. In the actual posts, the images should still appear, but the layout is suffering a bit due to this issue.
- I lost a few pages like the trip reports. I will recreate them, but there are over 100 posts that I need to sort through and re-categorize.
- Portfolio content looks ugly. Yeah. I know. I promise, I will fix it. I wanted to get as much content online ASAP. I am going through and cleaning up the styling as time permits.
- There may be more! If there is something broken, or something you would really like to see, leave a comment. I’ll try to address it in the next couple of weeks!
We all nodded in agreement as we stood around the fire laughing uncontrollably. Sure, the beer and whiskey helped set the mood, but it was the warmth of the fire that invited comfort. It was the fire that drew our neighbors over to join us for a few drinks and a few laughs.
The campground, a term I use loosely, at Vantage consists of a network of roads that, despite the large boulders and steep drops are travelled just as frequently by beat up Honda civics as they are by vans that have been converted into a makeshift homes. Between the network of roads and sagebrush are patches of open space, marked as campsites by the remnants of previous tenants and the hastily thrown together fire pits. It is desert camping at it’s finest. The only amenity available is the single blue port-a-potty, which inevitably has a line each morning. By the last day we were there it had out-served its capacity and campers found refuge behind a convenient large rock on the fringe of the camping area.
But we weren’t there for lavish camping with breathtaking views. We were there to celebrate Wiktor’s birthday – to climb, relax, and have a fun weekend. Perhaps even do a bit of celebrating. Having a clean toilet and running water weren’t high on the priority list.
We did however come prepared with two coolers full of beer, a guitar and a banjo, slackline, and an ample supply of firewood.
So when our neighbors stopped by, we welcomed them into the circle as if we had been friends for years. I honestly can’t remember their names, though to be fair, this story happened before any proper introductions had taken place anyways.
At some point, our friend (who’s name I’ll leave off for obvious reasons) chimes in, “do you want to hear about the time I shit my pants in the car? …with my mom?” There was a brief silence, followed by a resounding “Yes!” One of our new friends, clearly intrigued, asked, “Wait, how old were you?” as if the answer would have an impact on his decision to hear the story or not. “25” our friend responded.
I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, the story was every bit as cringingly awkward and yet as hilarious as you might imagine. The point being that is a story I might share with my friends once I am close with them. Once I know how they will react. I can think of few times when I felt compelled to share such a personal story with a complete stranger.
Long after the story, the sentiment stuck. A campfire really is a warm and friendly place. There is something about it, maybe it really is the alcohol, but stop and think about it. When was the last time you sat around a campfire and had small-talk? I can’t think of a single fire, friends and strangers alike, where the conversation was more substantive (or at least more engaging and entertaining).
So, as if you needed an excuse anyways, go camping, make a fire, relax, and enjoy yourself. I guarantee you will have a good time.
So, my bike was stolen this weekend. Taken straight out of my garage, located in my backyard. I was never concerned about theft due to the concealed location. It sucks. It was a nice road bike and to be honest, a nicer bike than I really needed for the mostly commuter riding I was doing. But nothing overly fancy and there are other, nicer bikes still sitting in the garage, right next to where mine should be parked.
Still, it was MY bike and we had been some incredible places together. Just this weekend I was reminiscing on our journey spending two days biking from Seattle to Portland, an annual event in which thousands of people participate. A feat, while a respectable bike ride, was made more memorable by it’s alcohol infused manifestation, lack of planning, and complete disregard for any form of training.
I was looking forward to many more adventures. The freedom of the bike is astounding and just the thought of having to drive to work tomorrow is depressing.
This is not just about me though. What I am feeling right now. The anger, the sadness, the despair – these are feelings that many of my friends have been through, some quite recently. Sure, you feel bad for your friends, but it is hard to fully empathize until you feel first hand, how the single swift action of a thief can disrupt your entire way of life.
So, this is for my alarming large group of friends who have had their bikes stolen. I am so incredibly sorry. I am sorry you had to come home one day to the gut wrenching realization that something was missing. And the subsequent call to the police to file an incident report. Which, from everything I have heard is entirely a formality – police do not put a high (or even a low) priority on tracking down the common bike thief. I am sorry you had to waste time figuring out if your bike was insured, and if so, for how much. I am sorry that you made the obligatory facebook post, with a picture of your bike so that all of your friends know what to look for in some fleeting hope that they may spot your bike in the hands of the thief. And I know, while you might argue that with insurance, you were able to replace the bike, it is not the same.
Having your bike stolen sucks. What sucks even more is just how many people I know who have been through this same ordeal. So, if you are lucky enough to have not got through this ordeal, take care to keep your bike safe because the odds are not in your favor.
p.s. This is my bike. It is blue and shiny, with only a few minor scuff marks and scratches on the tube. I know I have more pictures somewhere, but for now this seems to be the only one I can find. I am in San Jose, so if you come across a bike in the area, please let me know!
Biking to work is fantastic. If it is even remotely feasible, I suggest everyone do it. Seriously. For the first few days it may feel like a chore, but you will be surprised how quickly your mindset changes. Soon, you will walk out the door, grab your bike and never even notice your car parked on the side of the road. The bike ride, as you will soon realize, becomes a nice break from the busy world and offers an opportunity for your mind to wander. The bike ride becomes a relaxing way to both start and end your day and an activity that you look forward to.
But there is one slight issue. I can’t speak for others, but I have a bit of a competitive side. Riding on the road is fine. I relax, or try to with cars whizzing by, and enjoy the ride. My ride to work is short, a mere 3.5 miles and about half is on a trail. The trail is great, no cars, no traffic. My competitive side gets the best of me on the trail. There aren’t many bikers on the trail, but inevitably there is at least one. That one spandex clad biker, sporting an all too expensive road bike, out for their morning training ride.
I’ll enjoy my ride, letting my mind wander then, as I come around a bend in the trail, Mr. All-too-intense biker-dude comes into view. The competitive edge kicks “I can pass him,” I think to myself.
So, I bump up a few gears and start peddling just a little harder. Me, in my rolled up work pants sporting a backpack, him on his expensive bike and spandex. Making that pass feels good. I won the race against the person who didn’t even know he was racing. I ride the euphoria of my mild victory all the way to the cafe across from my office, where I park my bike and quickly realize I am now sweating profusely.
Opting to bike in my work clothes might not have been such a great idea after all. Maybe I too should invest in a pair of spandex.
Sometimes, life will get a little chaotic. It’s a good thing. Go with it. Unfortunately, when life gets a little crazy, things tend to slip through the cracks. And once things start to slip, it can be painfully difficult to get back on track.
That’s why I am sitting here, over a month since my last post, struggling to figure out what to write. So I guess I will write about struggling to write. But it’s not about just writing – it’s about getting back into anything that you let slip when life get’s a little bit chaotic.
About a month ago I parted with my beloved home in the PNW (don’t worry, I am going back). I packed up my car and headed to San Jose for a summer internship with a very large tech company.
As a side note, I can assure you, if you find yourself in a similar situation; when looking longingly at your splitboard trying to decide if it is worth throwing in the car to take with you the answer is unequivocally no. THERE IS NO SNOW. Okay, that is an exaggeration – thin white strips speckle the peaks and if you are willing to make the 6+ mile trek at over 10,000 feet, you might be able to connect 2-3 turns. For all I know, I may find myself doing just that at some point this summer as well.
The point is, I found myself heading to anew place, with a lot of unknowns. It’s not the first time – but every time is a little different. Just getting to San Jose was a wild adventure. Fueled by newfound friends and a desire to make the absolute most of the whole experience, I was so busy enjoying life that I kind of forgot to write any of it down.
Then I arrived in San Jose, met a couple of my new awesome roommates and before I had a chance to get comfortable or unpack, I found myself at my first day of work. I quickly found that the “real” job lifestyle eats away at your day, and by the time you eat dinner and unwind from the day, it’s already time for bed. At least that is what it felt like at first. The day’s flew by and soon it was Friday afternoon.
I’d let a few things slip, but I was going to make the most of this summer and that meant exploring all that this magnificent area has to offer. Dammit, I wasn’t going to let everything slip. Re-invigorated, I made a quick inventory of what I would need, and packed my car as fast as humanly possible the second I got home from work. I made it out to Yosemite in good time.
By good time, I mean I gave up trying to find somewhere to camp around 11:30 and accepted that I was going to sleep in my car with a bottle of wine to pass the hours. Of which there weren’t many – backpacking permits in the park are an interesting endeavor that involves waking up at the crack of dawn so that you can wait in line with fellow last-minute adventurers. To think that the only thing I’d forgotten was my hiking boots was rather impressive.
The drive to Yosemite is a doable weekend – but a long one. I found myself getting back late Sunday. A new roommate had appeared at some point over the weekend and, if anything, I was less unpacked than the week before. Another week came and went. My daily routine of walking to the office had been replaced by a stuffy car ride. Long overdue for an oil change, the AC on my car conveniently stopped working just as the heat picked up. Add that to the cracked windshield and the ever-growing list of things I know I should fix but never make the time for.
At the end of the week, I was a little more prepared, having packed in the morning so that I could leave straight from work. This time, the destination was climbing near Tahoe. Another amazing weekend, another late return.
Yes, that is what I wore to work they day before. And yes, I found these rad guys on the internet. And yes, we are chilling at the top of the second pitch on Haystack (a classic 5.8 on the East Wall at Lovers Leap). Oh and yes, I lugged my damn camera up this wall, who knows why I did that.
Not only am I still unpacked at this point, but now dangerously out of clean (I use the term clean loosely here) laundry as well. So it seems completely reasonable that writing is the last thing on my mind.
That’s where you would be wrong. I have had some incredible experiences. Seen incredible places, met incredible people, and learned interesting things about the world and myself. If anything, I should be writing more, not less! I don’t go off on adventures looking for interesting topics to write about. But when you remove yourself from the distractions of everyday life, you give yourself time to dwell on your thoughts. And when you surround yourself with nature, its beauty inspires imagination. It is damn near impossible to come back from an adventure and not have some thought that I want to write down.
It started to bother me – Not writing, that is. Instead of writing, I would make mental notes and try to remind myself that I should write. But I never would.
So the fourth came around. Taking advantage of what turned out to be a paid holiday, I yet again disappeared to Tahoe. Not four days since my last time making the trek. I had no plans, other than to relax. After three full days camping, I woke up in my tent and decided it was time to get back on track.
Nearly a week later I am finally sitting down to write. And for the record, I did finally unpack, and I have done laundry. And yes, I am packing my car (still no AC) so that I can leave for Yosemite after work tomorrow afternoon.
I am bummed that it has taken me so long to get back to writing. I have stories that are worth telling. The new friends who made a lasting impression, all because of a little whiskey. The backpackers who were kind enough to let me join them – from whom I learned so much about the Jewish religion and hiking the PCT. Even the holiday of solitude, where my thoughts turned inward. All are stories worth sharing.
So, let life get a little crazy. Embrace it and go with it. I promise you will have some memorable experiences if you do. And when life gets a little crazy, accept that you might drop the ball on something. But recognize that the hard part isn’t derailing your life – that’s as simple as hopping in your car on a Friday afternoon with zero plans, or drunkenly booking a plan ticket to that far away place that you always wanted to visit. It’s getting back on track that is tricky, because life doesn’t stop, or even slow down and wait for you. It can be overwhelming and easy to put off.
But make yourself get back. You will be happy once you do. I may not walk to work anymore – but I’ve managed to replace the walk with a pleasant bike ride (a fair substitute in my opinion). I still have a lot to write: nomadic pursuits, insights into earning trust, and an enriched world perspectives are just a few things I’ve delved into and hope to share in the near future, along with some rad adventures all over the place!
When I moved to Seattle, well to be frank Mt Rainier was nothing more than a mountain. Surely impressive, but mountains were yet to captivate my imagination. It was merely an impressive and iconic backdrop to the city I lived in. Over the years, climbing Mt Rainier became a fantasy. It was a place for mountain climbers that I romanticized with a childlike fascination. To stand on top of that mountain, so close to Seattle, seemed so impossibly far away. Three years ago, had you invited me to climb Rainier, my imagination would have inevitably wandered to the fantasy of standing on the top, but reality would have set in and my response would have been something along the lines of, “Are you crazy?”
It is funny how perception can change over time. It started with snowboarding. I stopped sleeping in the car and starting staring out the windows. “Look at the line on that mountain! I bet that would be fun!” Dreams. At the time, I was confined to chairlifts. But as my eyes widened, I began to appreciate the mountains. When I started backpacking, I stopped simply looking at the mountains with wide eyes and started exploring their vast riches. Alpine lakes, waterfalls, and beaten trails marked the true beginning of my shift in perception.
My fascination with mountains grew the more time I began to spend in them. I came back from Montana completely absorbed in the snow-capped rugged peaks of the Cascades. Armed with new tools, knowledge, and a driving passion, I began looking at the mountains renewed. The lines I have stared at dozens, possibly hundreds of times, are no longer unobtainable fantasies, but plausible excursions. No longer do I simply look at a line and think “Man, wouldn’t that be awesome.” Instead, I think to myself, “That would be awesome, how accessible is it? Could I get there in a day? Who could I get to go with me?”
When I first started snowboarding in the backcountry, Rainier was still a fantasy. While my world was beginning to open up, it took nearly a year (and some incredible adventures) before I realized that Rainier was no longer a dream, but a goal. Once I made that shift, staring at Rainier from the city became insufferable. That mountain was sitting there, taunting me in all of its iconic majesty.
I started hearing of other people climbing it. I was even invited once or twice and had tentatively agreed to go with someone. But for one reason or another, I never made it. I kept saying that I would go for it during the next nice weather window.
Weeks began to slip by, and that wouldn’t be so concerning if I weren’t leaving for the summer. I began to realize that I was quickly running out of time if I were going to try to climb Rainier.
When my buddy Stu texted me, to see if I was interested, I was in the middle of hiking Mt Si with my dad. This was Monday. He wanted to go on Wednesday. I had work and was already exhausted. By all means, I had plenty of excuses for why I shouldn’t climb Rainier.
I thought about it for the rest of the afternoon. I was laying in my back yard, napping after the weekend excursions with my dad and I realized that I needed to go with Stu. I needed to work and I needed to rest as well. But I had an overwhelming desire to fulfill that goal – to climb Mt Rainier and snowboard off of the summit. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would sit at work staring about the mountain, daydreaming about being up there with my friends. Work and rest would have to wait.
We were ill prepared for the trip. None of us had much (if any) glacier travel experience and we had hastily thrown together an amalgamation of gear that we deemed sufficient to summit. Stu had summited once a few years ago with a guide, but apart from some vague recollections, he didn’t have much memories of the trip. At least not that would be beneficial for us while climbing. We were predicted to have sunny and warm weather for the next few days and coupled with our excitement, our concerns dissipated.
We laid out all of our gear in the paradise parking lot, taking up most of a parking space. We weren’t exactly traveling light. The crew was Stu, Eric, Laura, and myself; apart from me, it was a crew of Mt Baker instructors, all killing time between the end of the season and the start of their respective summer plans. Though only Stu, Eric, and I planned on summiting, we were carrying three days of gear and supplies for the four of us. The heavy pack and the warm weather made for an interesting day getting to Camp Muir.
Though we’d gotten an early start, it was dusk by the time we started setting up camp and we all decided that we should take a day to chill before attempting to summit.
The following morning, we took our time getting out of our tents, waiting for the morning sun to warm everything up before we decided to crawl out of our tents. After a drawn out breakfast of oatmeal with trailmix (a bit too heavy on the peanut MnM’s) we opted to take a lap down to the top of the Chute that drops in to the Nisqually.
The corn snow was fantastic and only a little slushy near the bottom.
On the hike up we ran into a couple of Eric’s friends from Seattle. The 6 of us chilled in the snow for a while, eating lunch and throwing snowballs at a ski pole. Ah, the joys of being easily entertained!
Our down day went by fast and made for an enjoyable way to spend a day relaxing in the sun and preparing to make the push for the summit.
After talking with the rangers and other climbers coming off of the mountain, we were growing increasingly weary of the conditions on the two routes we could take. The Ingraham direct route was well marked and, before the sun hit it, the snow bridges were holding well. However, as soon as the sun hit, the bridges were getting soft and icefall from the seracs was a huge problem. Basically, not somewhere you want to be after about 7:30 am. The other route, up Disappointment Cleaver, had it’s own issues. The unusually warm weather created an isothermal snowpack not conducive to climbing or riding. Not to mention, there was a sharp cliff at the bottom of the route, so it was unstable snow with high exposure. Oh, then there was the rock fall hazard during the day.
We stayed optimistic. Ultimately opting for an early, 2 am start, with the hopes of climbing Ingraham Direct and riding down the DC before it warmed up too much.
At 2 am, you are moving slow. I thought we were making good time, but with firm snow and an earlier-than-anticipated transition to crampons, by the time we made it to the toe of the Ingraham and roped up, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon.
We met up with another group of skiers on their way down, who were in a similar situation to us. They had started around midnight, giving us some good beta on the routes. Ultimately they bailed for reasons that would soon become apparent.
We got to the entrance to the Ingraham Direct route. It peeled off from the skin track and headed ominously straight up into the seracs. While we had heard the route was in good shape, I think we all agreed that our inexperience with glacier travel made skipping that option a no brainer. We continued on to the DC. At the base of the route, the snow was crummy. While we could have continued on, we were all now thinking about the ride down. It just didn’t seem worth subjecting ourselves to so much risk. This would be as far as we would make it.
While we were all a little bit defeated, we were not upset. As much as I wanted to reach the summit of Mt rainier, once a mere fantasy, we tried and we came close. I hadn’t fulfilled my goal of reaching the summit, but I put a large dent in achieving that goal. There will be other attempts and the knowledge I gained just from trying, will help me in the future.
When we turned back, it was still early. We made our way to a safe zone and stopped to rest. We’d been awake since 1 am and all that was left to do at this point was enjoy the sunrise and wait for the snow to soften a bit.
Eventually, we got impatient and made our way back to Camp Muir on firm snow. The ride back wasn’t exactly pleasant. Hard snow and disappointment are not exactly ideal conditions. After breaking camp, we threw our still-heavy packs on our backs and enjoyed some fabulous corn turns back to the car.
At the parking lot, we stripped our packs (an most of our clothes, did I mention it was hot?) and enjoyed the few cold beers that remained from our hidden stashes. (We presume one was found, I hope someone enjoyed those cold beers!) Driving off of the mountain I had mixed feelings. Sure I was disappointed that we didn’t reach the summit. But we gave it our best shot and it was factors outside of our control that ultimately led to us not making it. Could we have pushed it and made it to the top? Probably, but there was something satisfying about being able to make the tough decision to turn around. That was rewarding in itself.
Also, I now have some rad calf-burns. Pro-tip, if you roll up your pants, if only for a few minutes, apply sunscreen liberally. Snow-burns are quite pronounced and happen quicker than you think. Then again, who doesn’t enjoy funky tan lines?