Introduction: The Motivation from Past Failures
Cleveland Mountain has a history of people needing multiple times to reach its summit. For me it tool four times to unravel the mystery of climbing it. Since late May 2009 it has been a thorn on my side with three blown attempts not including the amount of cancelled trips I have had with this mountain. It seemed as if I never was going to get to the summit of Cleveland Mountain. This failure kept happening despite of the fact that I have been up many more difficult mountains. I used to pass it on the way to other mountains just wondering when I was going to kick the Cleveland Mountain curse.
In the past this mountain had stopped most often from either lack of knowledge on a decent route, other members not being prepared, or on my previous trip weather and timing out. In following months I did a fair amount of research on how to successful get to the summit of Cleveland. I realized that the slog road was the enemy on this peak and the three times I used it before I failed. I also realized was that early spring when all the winter snow is still there but there is a lot of light out was the best time of the year to do this mountain. And on this last trip in spite of the fact that I am 30 pounds heavier that I was on the other three trips I used a lot of these tips to help me to the summit. I also though had a really great experience climbing partner on this trip along with an extremely experienced hiker that went before us on this mountain.
Heading Up By Cutting the SwitchbacksIt was another morning after me working the audit shift. Like many of my other trips I had one person who was supposed to be on this trip who decided to no show. Great it was going to end of being the two of us trying to conquer a mountain in which groups of five or more could not make the summit. I was not feeling confident about this trip but I wanted to give it a shot anyway because it was such a beautiful day. So we took off and headed to the trailhead. When we got to the trailhead area we noticed that another truck had actually gone further. “Who was this person; and are they going to the mountain??” I thought. Cleveland Mountain is not very well known by the general public so to see that there potentially was another climber for this mountain shocked me. I instantly suspected it was Raising 3 Hikers on nwhikers.net for some reason because I know he likes to do a lot of tougher mountains solo and could not think of anyone else who would want to solo this mountain. Anyone else would have shocked me which should tell you how little this mountain is actually known about. We started our trip up the mountain and did it by taking the fire road all the way to the end of the first switchback.
At the end of this road I saw a moderately rising slope on the other side of a small creek that looked very tempting. So Mike and I decided to go up this section. Overall this section was not too bad however while going up I took a slip and broke one of my trekking poles. “Oh no, was this a bad omen”, I thought. It made an incredible metal snap that even startled my climbing partner. I was determined and one broken trekking pole was not going to stop from getting this summit. However if there was something that was going to stop it is the fact that I have put on thirty pounds on my body and I was feeling that extra thirty pounds on every move I was going up. Some of it was muscle mass in that I can bench thirteen reps of my own weight, but some of the other weight gain was from poor diet and the huge amount of blown trip and cancelled trips in the past four months. Even early on I was feeling the pain.
Once we got to the second switchback we ran into the other person’s switchbacks. We decided to follow the in his footprints. At 2100 feet we decided to put on our snowshoes and head up the mountain. Switchback after switchback we cut off and each time I was really feeling it. After every switchback I had to take a three to five minute break. But we did steadily make it up. On the final switchback we followed the road to the very end and then cut up from there. That steep snowshoe climb at this point was really hitting me hard so Mike my friend gave me his other trekking pole and it really was making a difference. At about the 4000 foot mark the person I suspected that was going up the mountain actually turned out to be true. It was R3H and he did make the summit. That meant that we had great snowshoe print all the way to the summit. With that in mind I knew that it was going to take a lot for me to turning around off this mountain. Still the trip up was tough and I continued to struggle up the mountain. At one point every time I went up I could feel my snowshoe slipping beneath me!
The Crux and the Final Section
About twenty minutes after seeing Raising 3 Hikers we broke up to the ridgeline. Both of us noticed that he decided to head up the narrow knife like ridge. In my first trip I noticed that section was extremely hazardous due to crappy snow, ice, and rock. This section presented a lot risk so every other time I went back I took note to avoid this section. Well this time I decided it was time to actually go for it. After the other guy went up and down this section so I thought to myself maybe it isn’t that bad. In actually with the snow the way it was this section was somewhat bad but not as sketchy as I first thought it was going to be. Still that being said if we fell the wrong way off the western side we had a nice 100 foot fall where we would have bounced off a couple trees to our potential death. We quickly made our way through this tough section and soon were off what I thought was the crux of the trip.
Once we passed this section the route all the way to the final summit climb was pretty much a decent snowshoe the route up had leveled out a bit and now it seemed that the way up alternated from steeper sections followed by gentle section. But I was really feeling it in legs as I was going up so after every steep section I had to take a break just to catch by breath. Soon we were at the final secondary crux of the trip which was the steep summit cone. This section was not easy, and with the sun finally out, my snowshoes were really struggling to capture the snow. Mike though really took this into account and really cut in some good steps on the way up. I still struggle on this section and my body was now really feeling the pain from the climb. I though was way too close and I was not going to give up now. This mountain has given me nightmares for too long and it was time for me to make peace with it.
Once over the tough section we had one more climb and we were at the summit. I could finally see the snow-covered final rock. The sun now was breaking out up here and views were really shining bright up here. I finally pushed myself all of the way to summit. That’s right the summit of Cleveland. I FINALLY MADE IT AND THE MONKEY IS OFF MY BACK!!!!!! Cleveland on this day not only gave me the summit but the reason why I want to get there in the first place, absolutely amazing views. Few people will question that the view here of the east peak of Lennox is incredible not to mention the view of the town of Skykomish and of Mount Daniel, Glacier Peak and many others. It was a tough fight for this summit but it was well worth it. Thirty miles and 14500 feet later (including the three failures) I finally got what I was looking for and now I know why I went up there.
The Struggle Back DownAfter an hour break on the mountain we decided to head off the mountain. The weather was decent (40 degrees light wind and partly sunny) and to be honest if I wasn’t concerned with the trip back I might have stayed longer. But down it was time for the trip back. On the way down Mike was able to easily cut down through the snow. For me though it was looking for the safe glissade whenever I saw one. Yes they were definitely there and because I was tired and my feet were hurting I took them every time I had a chance. I was still tired though at first from the climb up and even on the trip down I would have to take a small break from time to time. The snow itself was still decent but the sun had loosened it up in spots.
Soon we were back on that tough crux wooded semi-knife ridge. It was now that I realized the amount of drop-off from the western face. This was one area I could not make a mistake or it potentially could be my last. I was though better able to handle it based on my recent trip up Low Mountain in December. Slowly we made ourselves now down the crux. That being said I was still very tired and exhausted and I knew I had to keep myself in focus if I was going to make it down this section safely. The trees on the crux really helped here and we were soon on better terrain. “Well that wasn’t bad”, I said to myself.
Next for us was the steep decent trip back to the car. This required going down mostly steep terrain in snowshoes most of the way back to the car. At this point my feet were killing me because I found out that my shoes were a little loose on me. Sounds minor but will my snowshoes going every single direction it was a really pain on my ankles. Like from above, when I saw a glissade I took it. That off course made going down a little easier and a little more fun. Plus it took the weight of my feet which really made it easier on me.
Once we got down to about 3000 feet the snowshoe came off. The snow had actually consolidated a lot and we felt it was much safe to go now the slope in our fee than in snowshoes. I also now had more control heading down the cutbacks. One by one the switchbacks kept going by and I could feel the car ride home. The snow became less and less as we lowered in elevation and I could hear the roar of the stream below and I was making my way down the mountain. At the bottom I finally hit the last switchback with the longing road. From this point it was just a mile walk on a logging road. From here we quickly made it back to the car avoiding sunset by an hour. The drama was over and nightmare was over. This was the final chapter to the Cleveland Mountain Chronicles and now the book read, “The End”.