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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The Road Trip: The End

November 11, 2012 | Posted in Uncategorized | By

With all but 13 miles left between my car, Ethan and me, the trip seemed to be nearing an end. Piegan Pass was not as popular a trail as either Gunsight or Swiftcurrent, so we were not overly optimistic with what was in store. Still, we were in Glacier, and the park hadn’t disappointed us yet, so our expectations were probably a little high.

We yet again got a brisk early morning start. Though we weren’t hiking too far, there was still the matter of catching a ride the few miles between the end of the trail and where my car was parked, driving back to camp and packing up, then rallying back to Ethan’s grandparents house on flathead. All of this, happening on the last day the Going to the Sun Road was open, so we were orchestrating all of this on a limited timeline (we weren’t exactly sure when the road closed, but we didn’t want to find out the hard way).

It was a chilly but calm and clear morning. We spent it meandering through the woods and hiking around the lakes that were one of the main draws of the Many Glacier area of the park. There were boats on some of the larger lakes that, during the middle of the day, ran tourists from the fancy lodge deep into the park without all of the hassle of having to walk more than a half mile.

Luckily, we made it past the lakes before the boats started running, allowing for some incredible photo opportunities. The sunrise over the calm water is what made this hike incredible, along with the sheer sense of calmness that came with it. We may have been tired and sore, but our spirits were high and the trail was already bringing us more than we had envisioned.

Our mood shifted quickly. A sign, written on an empty PBR case, informed us that a bridge was out, but if we were okay with backtracking, there was a way around. Well, we didn’t much feel like backtracking and decided to forge on ahead and we would ford the river, considering it at best a minor inconvenience.

At the crossing, we ran into the crew assembling a new bride and applauded them for their quality signage. It was a formidable crossing, but not unmanageable. Had it been a couple hours later, once the sun had a chance to warm the air, it might have actually been enjoyable. I stripped off my shoes, rolled up my pants and made my way across. Not bad at all. Ethan had elected to head downstream, eying what looking like a possible crossing without the need to get a little wet. I was about to start putting my shoes back on when I hear Ethan yelling at me.

Turns out, he had dropped a pair of sunglasses in the fast moving water. They were not his sunglasses. A series of misfortunate events led to him borrowing the sunglasses for the hike and let’s just say the person he was borrowing them from, has a strong fashion sense.

I went to help look, ultimately crossing the frigid water twice more, while Ethan waded around, crouched over trying to feel the glasses on the bottom of the river in a desperate hope of finding the lost glasses. When Ethan finally accepted that they were gone, and finally crossed the river himself, he was a little rattled, and managed to make another donation to the water gods, this time in the form of a much-valued, yet widely under appreciated sock.

A simple river crossing had turned into a disaster. We (mostly Ethan) were cold, wet and discouraged. The only thing we could do was push on. Eventually we stopped in a sunny clearing to take inventory, warm up, and MacGyver a sock out of the supplies we had with us. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Spirits were low, but improving. We broke out of the trees and began to climb. The elevation helped warm us, and the views brought back some of the energy. As we pressed on, we were passed by a couple of trail runners, one of whom was wearing nothing more than a flimsy pair of sandals on his feet. A stark contrast from our need for boots with thick soles and ankle support, and socks!

We pressed on and made good time to Piegan Pass, catching up the trail runners who passed us not long before. The view, yet again surprised me, for it was unique from the two prior hikes, with massive mountain walls lining the West side of the pass and open meadows filling in the basin and climbing up the more-gradual east side.

After scrambling up a boulder field to get a better view and stop for a bite to eat, we began the relatively short hike out to the road. A quick traverse down the south side of the pass and we were back into the forest, with not much left to see on our last hike in Glacier. Hiking in silence, I let my mind wander to all of the incredible things we had seen in our short stint in Glacier.
When we made it to the road, it was an awesome feeling. Though our journey wasn’t over, we had accomplished what we set out to do – an ambitious plan that took us through numerous areas of Glacier National Park. While there is always more to be explored, I felt like I was able to leave satisfied that I had made the most of my time in Glacier.

As planned, we quickly caught a right with a park employee headed over the pass, who gladly dropped us at our car. We made it back to camp, packed up (threw everything in the car, to be dealt with later), and made it back to Ethan’s grandparents house in time for a delicious spaghetti feast.

The following morning, we sorted through my car, which was quickly transforming into a disaster zone and hit the road.  The last and final leg of the grand road trip (yes, I had company for the return trip!) had us winding through the stunningly beautiful hills of Montana, up over the mountains make up the entirety of the 45 minutes that it takes to cross Idaho, and squarely into the barren wasteland that makes up eastern Washington.

Finally, the journey came to an end with a final push through the dense smoke from forest fires and straining my eyes as I navigated the newly installed speed cameras that dot the highway over Snoqualmie Pass.
Ten days, nearly 2000 miles, 8 nights of camping in sun, rain, lightning, and snow, and some of the most incredible hiking I have done, the road trip was over.

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