Attempting a Dream

May 21, 2013 | Posted in Mountaineering, Splitboarding | By

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?

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Six Weeks

January 23, 2013 | Posted in Snowboarding | By

I went to my physical therapist last Friday. Strategically one day shy of the magic 6 weeks that bones typically take to heal. The intent was to make sure that I was actually healed and to get a final “okay” to go snowboarding. Well, to be fair both the doctor and the physical therapist both had given me the “okay” to snowboard, but with a strong caution to take it easy.

I didn’t really trust myself to take it easy, so against my strongest desire, I went for a 20-mile bike ride instead. Waiting until this week to strap into my snowboard for the first time in six weeks.

The visit with the physical therapist was somewhat superficial. By the time I set foot in her office I had already made plans to go snowboarding the following morning. She knew it too. She gave me a stern look of disapproval and left it at that. I promised to continue doing my exercises (something I had started to slack on) and the rest of our time was focused on getting rid of the bruise/numbness on my left hip with what equates to a 45 minutes butt massage.

You might think to yourself, “that sounds like a mighty fine way to start your Friday morning,” and I am here to confidently assert that it is, as a matter of fact, not a nice way to start your day. Ever. I am adding it to my list of things I probably wouldn’t experience had I not broken my back. It falls somewhere right behind ambulance ride, getting strapped to a backboard, and CT scan of practically my whole body.

I am getting somewhat distracted. This crazy weather we have been having in the PNW came at an inopportune time. For the first couple of weeks while I was out, it dumped. About two weeks ago the snow stopped. We were left with cold air and a high pressure ridge that kept the sun out and the cold air in place. For a couple days, this is great for riding. But soon a warm front moved in on top of the cold air, making the city cold and foggy, while the mountains – still sunny – warmed up, wreaking havoc on the snow.

So, come Saturday, I was determined to ride, but I wanted to find some soft snow (I am trying to take it easy after all). My crazy logic put touring in the backcountry higher on the list of safe activities than a day riding at a resort.  I had two options. Find mellow north-facing slopes that are well shaded and hope that the warm air and sun hadn’t completely destroyed the fresh snow. Or, we could find some south-facing slopes and hope that they had turned to corn. Neither option sounded particularly thrilling, so we decided to gamble and stick to the North faces.

We headed down to the Tatoosh range, where I knew there was some fun mellow north-facing terrain. The approach was promising. While we did find some impressively large surface hoar, the snow was nice and soft in the shade. In fact, there was nearly 6 inches of snow on top of an unbreakable crust. It was enough snow to have a good day.

Unfortunately, the higher we climbed in elevation, the air warmed considerably, and the snowpack degraded. Eventually we found ourselves on rolling hills that were glistening in the sun. There were pockets of snow that had survived, but most saw the sun at one point or another and were now glistening sheets of ice.

A solo skier with ski crampons passed us, laughing as we struggled miserably to make progress up the hill. It was more difficult than it really needed to be. Eventually we all made it to the ridge.

We ended up relaxing for about an hour. The sun was shining, it was warm, and, what I would consider the reason what Tatoosh is so fun, Rainier is right in your face. Not to mention, Adams, St Helens, and Hood visible behind us. I think I may plan an overnight trip down there. The view is just incredible. Most of us had spent the week trapped in the fog, so the sun was a welcome sight. Sitting on the top of the ridge was a much missed and welcome feeling. The six weeks I was out blew by quickly, but I was ready to be back.

Eventually, we finished our beers and had our fill of vitamin D. I stood on the ridge with my board strapped on. I realized this was the longest stretch I had been away from my snowboard for at least a year. Six weeks to the day was not so bad.

Behind me was a south facing meadow with a handful of tracks in it. We’d seen a couple skiers drop in and the corn looked great. We made up our minds to stay north and hope we could follow the shade the whole way down. I held my breath and dropped in. I rolled onto my heel edged, praying that the snow was soft. My edge held well – better than I’d expected. I opened up a little and took off down the hill.

A friend described the Tatoosh range as a putt-putt golf course. I can’t think of a better analogy. Rolling hills with a couple of points that we had to stop and navigate around. Always a safe way down though. Mostly, it was carefree riding.  We did find a couple zones worth coming back for. A hip with a long steep landing, a ridge with a cornice drop, and a narrow chute begging to be aired into. Not to mention the ridges in the distance, all easily accessible in a day and of course the three prominent couloirs on Lane peak. So much to do, I am sure glad this funky weather is nearly over.
Some people have sun lamps, I have the mountains. 

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The Road Trip: Making Plans

October 11, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

I hate plans. I am terrible at making them. I am terrible at following them. So, I try my best to avoid planning whenever possible. Knowing that I was expecting the trip to last roughly 10 days, I decided it couldn’t hurt to at least attempt to formulate a plan.  So, I sat down and worked out an elaborate plan. It involved rallying out to Yellowstone, then cruising up to Flathead Lake, working for a couple of days, then exploring Glacier for a few days before returning home.

Almost as if the world was conspiring against me, my plans all fell apart at the last minute. My friend in Yellowstone was going to be out of town and Ethan likewise, was not going to be at his house on Flathead Lake as expected.

It was two days before I had intended on setting out and my trip was unraveling. Determined to make something happen, I got a little desperate. I pulled up Google maps and started looking around, to see where I could get to – no real destination in mind. I found myself poking around in Canada. Torn between fascination with what Canada had to offer, and dissuaded by the desire to keep things simple. The mere fact that I would have to find (yes…I keep it in a safe place and generally know whereit is, collecting dust) and carry my passport adds a layer of complexity.

There were three aspects that were appealing and ultimately helped me make a decision. First, I was able to plot a route that led me through towns with a plethora of cafes. One requirement for the trip was that I needed to get work done. Most of the work I could do offline, but I knew that I would eventually run in to issues that required Internet access. In fact, driving through Canada was about the only route I could find that allowed me to reach new destinations each day and have time to work for a few hours. Second, wow… Canada is rich in national parks. I had been to precisely none of the parks and they all looked and sounded spectacular. Third, Glacier. Most of you assume I am talking about the Glacier National Park/Waterton National Park that crosses from Montana into Canada. Did you know that Canada has another Glacier National Park? Did you also know that it sits right on top of Rogers Pass, aka a mecca for backcountry skiing?

I think it was the third fact that was most appealing… mainly because my trip now had a theme. I had been to neither Glacier National Parks, but was determined to experience both and make a completely subjective and biased opinion of which is better.

And with that, I threw my tent, backpack, a few clothes, and an assortment of food in my car and took off.

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Revisiting the Past

July 31, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

I left Maryland in the summer of 2003. I never looked back. In my family, I was probably the happiest about the move. My older sister had one year of high school left and didn’t want to leave her friends and my little sister had her soccer. We had been in Maryland for 10ish years (I forget exactly how many…) and on the east coast for even longer, so the move was not an easy decision for my parents either.  I, on the other hand, had just started a new school, never really feeling like I belonged, and as most teenagers are; I was busy trying to figure out where I fit in. A clean start in a new town sounded absolutely perfect to me.

It was probably one of the best things that happened for me. Would you believe that before the move, I had never even heard of Seattle? Now, you would be hard pressed to try to get me to leave this magnificent city. There were a lot of factors that have led me to where I am today, and that move was a big one. So returning to the east coast for my cousin’s wedding was a fun experience. It was fun to see what I remembered, and just how much I didn’t. It was also easy for me to tell that I didn’t belong there. Everyone walks around in suits and seems constantly busy. There is a stark contrast between DC and Seattle and while I was wandering around the Air and Space Museum I couldn’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had we not moved.

The city itself was only part of it. To be fair, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore DC this time as we were there for a wedding and to spend time with family. As my family is spread all across the globe, weddings are a nice way to bring everyone together for a few days. One of my goals for this trip was to go backpacking with my dad. We have never been, and as much as I credit who I have become to that move, I owe even more credit to my parents.

When we were growing up, my parents would drag all of us out into the woods. Camping, biking, hiking, rafting, skiing, waterskiing, etc. – you name it; my parents probably dragged us out to try it at least once. As a kid, I hated most of the activities my parents made us try. A bike ride on the C&O Canal was about the most painful thing we could do.

So when I started getting in to hiking and backpacking a couple years ago, my parents were baffled. I never did any of these things willingly as a kid and even when I was forced to, I would never admit that I actually enjoyed any of it. However, here I am, and I love the outdoors. I don’t know what changed, but I do know that I owe my parents for dragging me out so many times as a kid and exposing me to so much.

As a sort of constant reminder of how much my parents influenced me, a couple of years ago my dad gave me his old backpacking gear. I don’t remember him ever using it when I was growing up (it was hard enough to get us to hike, much less carry a pack), but they were artifacts of his life before us kids got in the way. So every time I go backpacking and take my dads old stove, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad with me, I am reminded of how awesome my parents are, and how they helped me become who I am today.

Sadly, I didn’t make it out backpacking with my dad this time around, but I did enjoy a nice afternoon hiking around Shenandoah National Park with my parents. The rolling green hills of the Appalachians were very different from the jagged peaks of the Cascades, and the East Coasts’ understanding of a waterfall is questionable at best, still it was nice to be out romping around the woods.

(yes, there is a waterfall in there somewhere)

All in all, my trip to the east coast was enjoyable and it was fantastic to spend time with my family (Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents included). I had fun revisiting my past though, I am very happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest.

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