"Getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory" -Ed Viesters
"I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can." -John Muir
"This is just what I needed!" -Sebastian Rosa
"Two Thumbs Way Up! I can never live the adventure of a life time just once!" -Personal Statement
This was an extraordinary adventure, perhaps one of the greatest weeks of my life. Although I had many summit attempts, I certainly was living out the true spirit of mountaineering. Mountaineering to me is about adventure, companionship, and having the time of your life. Every new person I met during this extravaganza was from SummitPost, which I'm always impressed at how the internet has made finding partners much easier than it used to be.
Day 1: Checking out Crater Mountain
We originally made plans to climb Mount Hardy, but the South Face appeared to have some bush whacking involved which my partners were not to keen about. So instead as an alternative plan we went back West for Crater Mountain. The trail started out nice and easy, although it felt a bit like a jungle from the humid forest environment. After a few miles of hiking we came across a creek crossing which had a bit of a waterfall to the side of it. Joanna did not feel comfortable taking Holly across the creek, so we came up with an alternative plan which was to bush whack up the slope and find a safer crossing.
After going up about 500 feet we still did not find any decent crossings, so we decided to go up to the water source and cross there. I decided it would be best to follow a small creek up, which to my luck it surprisingly brought us to a lesser brushy area.
From here we traversed around to the right of the mountain. I had only briefly looked at a map of the mountain, which I suppose my navigation skills have gotten better at finding the way up. At the top we could see Jack Mountain, as well as many other North Cascade Peaks.
We wondered whether we should find the trail or take the way we originally came. Considering we would run into the same problem as when we came in we came back the same way we came in. At the trailhead we decided it would be a good place to camp at and enjoy the stars while I cooked hot chocolate for my brother Michael.
Day 2: Driveway ButteIn the early morning we could hear it raining outside which we all decided to sleep in late considering that we would not want to climb anything big if the weather was bad. Fortunately weather forecasts for the eastern Cascades were looking decent, so we went over Washington Pass for Driveway Butte. The weather here was perfect, light passing clouds casting cool shadows over the mountains. The beginning of Driveway Butte has all sorts of wild flowers covering the mountain side. To the South we could see the Gardeners as well as Silver Star Peak as well as a few others.
A ways up we traveled through a burnt forest which in this area of the mountain there were no more flowers. Unlike most adventures, our turn around time was based on when the store in Mazama closed which was 7 p.m. The walk to the summit of Driveway Butte was relaxing, although with good views. We went down the mountain in decent time, while making it to Mazama just before the store closed. From here we went back West for Stetattle Ridge the next day.
Day 3: Heading Back to Stetattle RidgeWe woke up early this time for Stetattle Ridge which has at least 6,000 feet of elevation gain which meant we were in for a full days work. The trail this time was much friendlier, hardly any fallen over trees and a few flowers on the way.
As we curved on the mountain we had to cut off the trail and onto the ridge. Unlike the past two times I been here it was now summer which we had to bush whacking through, I now understand why most do this one during winter time.
After going through a bit of bush wracking the ridge opened up and we came onto familiar grounds. Joanna did not like what she saw at the crux because it was melted out and was a class 3 rock scramble, fortunately we managed a way around it to the left in the woods to get around it and back onto the ridge. From here we walked out for a ways on the ridge to get some of the best views of the area.
At around 4 p.m. we finally decided it was best to start heading back. After getting off of the upper ridge we got a bit lost on the way down, which we had to carefully descend in the woods. "I'll bet we'll get out of this mess in a few minutes" I announced excitedly because I heard water noises below. "Alright, if we get out of this within the next couple of minutes I'll buy you guys ice cream!" I heard. Sure enough we found the trail, and they kept there word. This was a very good deal I thought as I enjoyed the fireworks on the car ride home.
Day 4: Heading up to South TwinOn the Night of July 4th I knew that if I wanted this line of adventure to continue on, I had to contact Eric as soon as possible. I gave him a call, he said him and Sebastian were climbing South Twin and Mount Shuksan. Immediately I was on the trip as well, which even though it was the night of forth July which most people around were lighting off fire works, I had a trip to prepare for. After packing up my gear I managed to get a few hours of sleep, which Eric picked me up in the morning to meet up with Sebastian (aka Sebas). I found Sebas to be an interesting character, when looking at our route on a map he would grab a piece of grass to use as a pointer and say "See zis Ridge, we will be taking zis guy here". Both Eric and Sebas were easy going, and were great company. After figuring out all the plans we left Bellingham and on to South Twin. We decided to go for the East Side of South Twin up to Wiseman Lake for our route.
"I can see why they call you Sebas!" Eric announced while the car went over a bump while driving swiftly down the road to South Sister. "This is nothing compared to the old me a few years back" Sebas replied. The drive it self was a bit exciting on its own with all the bumps and curves in the road. When we got to the trailhead Sebas said "Alright, I'll drive a bit more gentile on the ride back". But I gotta admit it was kinda fun.
Although I love my boots, they unfortunately give me blisters. I know it's not my feet because with other boots on long over night trips I don't get blisters on my heels like I do with these ones, so I finally decided to bring approach shoes. This turned out to be a great idea. Starting out the hike we immediately came to the river crossing which the bridge was washed out. Fortunately there was two very nicely placed logs to cross on, which made things a lot easier.
The trail up the forest was in relatively in good shape, although with a tree slide area. After passing a small creek we then forked left off the trail and onto the boulder field. From here it was a bit of scrambling up trying to figure out the way to Wiseman Lake. This route seemed not very well known, although fortunately Sebas had been there before. Above us were cliffs with a class 3 access point, which we carefully ascended.
As the sun set, Mount Baker and the Black Buttes were looking fabulous. We could see pinks and reds across the sky, and on the other side of the horizon the moon setting. At lake Wiseman we set up camp quickly before it got dark. We all set out for our choirs, I was the water guy, while Sebas and Eric did the cooking. After coming back with the 10 liter water jug, it was time to have dinner.
After having dinner we got warm in our sleeping bags, and Eric brought his book. Never before had I found it so interesting listening to someone read, I would hear out bursts of laughter and "Oh that's too funny!". After this we got some nice rest, unfortunately we slept in a bit too much...
Day 5: Attempting South TwinWe woke up a little after the sunrise which we cooked breakfast and got ready for the day ahead of ourselves. We started out hiking around Lake Wiseman, up a saddle and then we ended up loosing a lot of elevation to go down to the lower basin in front of South Twin. From here we roped up in case we got onto the glacier at any point.
As we ascended the slope, we realized more and more that going this late in the day was a bad idea. Above us we could see a large snow break off right along our planned pathway, Eric was not feeling too good about the idea. As we climbed higher the snow got steeper, we had to cross a bit of a narrow section in the snow field to cross onto the glacier. To my left was a moat, and to my right was a cliff which I made sure to make each step nice and solid. But we all realized that the snow had softened up significantly, and that snow/rock fall hazard was becoming more evident. So we made a group decision and decided to turn around. No hard feelings, after all we needed to get down in time to get our permit for Mount Shuksan. We quickly hiked back to camp, packed our gear and went down the mountain. Coming back down the way we came in was not quite ideal considering the class 3 scrambles with heavy back packs on, but when trying a new route down we ended up at a very steep section. So Sebas set up an anchor and we repelled down.
Besides the bush whacking to the trail it was pretty much smooth hiking to the car. From here we got to the ranger station about 5 minutes or so before they closed. In a sense we were lucky we did not get the summit.
Day 6: Getting Sketched out on Mount ShuksanOn the ride to Mount Shuksan we all were wondering what route we should take up it, for the longest time the North Face seemed like it would be the one. When we got to the "parking lot" (it was more like a grassy pull out) we had a great view of the route. Looking up at it I just couldn't help thinking "wow, this is quite the route". I was intimidated looking up at the face, not quite sure what I was up against.
After re-thinking over the plans we finally decided that it would be best to for the Fisher Chimneys because at least then we would not have to go through massive bush whacking. So we drove on over to the Mount Baker Ski area, which to our luck did not require a Northwest forest pass (I left my pass at home on accident). At the parking lot this is where we met up with Ski. From the beginning he was a entertaining guy with lots of funny things to say and amazing plans like climbing the North Ridge of Mount Baker. He convinced our group into making this a 1 day trip, which I agreed with because Eric said there was a 10% chance of rain, and many people from the Northwest know that the weather is hard to predict around here. So when you know things could get bad, you gotta make sure you avoid the bad weather as fast as possible.
While cooking dinner and have good talks, suddenly a cat came by. Never in all my mountaineering have I seen a cat already in the mountains come to me asking for attention. I gave it a good petting, washed my hands with snow, and then went on to get some rest for the morning ahead.
At 1:18 a.m. I woke up a few minutes before the alarm in anticipation, I now could not sleep and had to get ready for the climb ahead. After packing up all our gear we started out for Mount Shuksan. At first we had a pathway in the snow which soon disappeared, around Austin Pass we were slightly confused on which way to go. Fortunately I could make out Mount Shuksan's shadow and figure out exactly what valley we had to go down, after all I been here before.
We lost a good 1,000 or so feet going down the valley from the high point we were on. Finding the way to Ann lake was better than I had expected in the dark, near the lake we went through a gap section in the cornice covered ridge which was a friendly hike to. From here this is when the trip started getting more interesting.
From here we put on our crampons, harness's, and helmets. Eric offered to give Sebas the map because he considered turning around because he did not want to slow down there climb, but Sebas convinced him to continue and to keep the map. After heading over the hill we got a good view of the route ahead, for most of the night it had been clear, although now a few clouds could be seen on the horizon. Mount Shuksan had a lenticular cloud over the summit which already had us wondering if the weather would hold up.
We traversed a bit of a steep zone near the cliffs on Shuksan, I found out very quickly that the snow had not fully froze that night and was semi-loose. After down climbing a section I looked behind me which I could see a dark cloud head wall from the North to the South. Bad weather was inevitable at this point. It was a moment that was to beautiful, yet a bit frightening. To the left I could see Mount Baker glowing from the sunrise which stole my attention for a few moments.
After one last slope traverse we reached a section where we had to go straight up. It had a bit of a rock section, which they climbed first without too much difficulty. Ski made a snow bollard to use for belaying us up. To get the rope down he attached a large stick to it, the stick looked as if it was going to land on us, but fortunately went down right where he threw it. First Eric went up, then me. This was the first time that I have climbed on rock with crampons. I thought of a scene from Touching the Void which even though I was roped up, it may have been a false sense of security (who knows, perhaps it would have held well). When unclipping from the rope Eric and I did not feel comfortable on the slope we were on. Below us was the rock wall we went up with a moat at the bottom and more steep snow below that. After scrambling 20 feet on exposed loose rocks, Eric finally announced "Guys, I'm turning around. I don't feel comfortable with this kind of mountaineering". We all understood, in that very second I almost said "I'm going down with him" but then looked back up the mountain and thought "he will make it back down alright, you still have a shot at Mount Shuksan". It was right then that I was battling my guilty conscience against what I should do. What would Eastking do? For sure he would do the right thing and make sure that Eric would not go down alone. Sebas and Ski were already ahead by this point which I figured "I'll base my decision on if I can catch up to them in time". Just as I was heading up on the snow slope I had my ice axe nicely plunged in and I tripped on one of my prussik cords that I thought was tucked away. This put me in a instant panic. I caught myself, untangled my crampon from the cord, and had to take a quick rest. I had nearly fallen down the mountain which would have been very serious. It was right in this moment that I figured "It just wasn't meant to be, this is not worth risking everything for." It was right here that I had made one of my greatest mountaineering decisions of all time. For obvious reasons too!
Just because we were turning around didn't mean we were safe yet. We had some steps we had to kick to get a ways down the snow field which there was a repel ring to the left. As usual I found myself down climbing snow that was not ideal. The gloves I was wearing were not the greatest which my hands were becoming very cold. As I climbed across the slope I would bang them together only to have regained enough heat in them to have what many climbers call the screaming barfies. My hands felt horrendous by this point, but I knew I had to keep climbing, the sun had already risen and a storm was on it's way in. I knew that my ice would not save me on this slope which is why I took my time carefully kicking in steps. When I got to the repel anchor, Eric went first, and then myself. From here travel was much friendlier. It's always an amazing feeling knowing that your going to get off the mountain alive.
As we hiked down the cloud deck came down as well which above I could see a swirling cloud. "I sure hope they turn around soon" I told Eric. We rushed down to the basin, back over Austin Pass and then down to the car. We got back to the car just in time! At first it started out as a light rain, but a few minutes later it was pouring down rain. It was a moment of irony, I had ran out of water and was very thirsty, yet I did not want to hike a mile or more to a lake because I did not want to get completely soaked if we had the possibility of staying overnight.
After sleeping for 3 hours I woke up which Eric figured they would be back at 3 p.m., I knew better that it would take much longer. I just couldn't help worrying for them. When hours more passed I spoke with someone in the parking lot which they told me that I should call search and rescue by 9 p.m. While sitting in the car I could hear an avalanche off of table mountain which assured me that the snow conditions up on Shuksan were not good. I knew that one of two things were happening.
1: One (or both) of them got injured up on the mountain from a fall, avalanche, ect.
2: They were going through some crazy mountaineering.
I had spent hours looking outside just wondering how they were, I had feelings of regret that perhaps I should have told them that a storm was coming and that conditions were not ideal. They also had minimal gear on and did not have a map. This was because when we separated Eric had the map which Sebas already was a ways up the slope by the time Eric announced his plans. At 7 p.m. a van came by which to my amazement Ski and Sebas made it down alive!
"Halfway down the White Salmon Glacier, the tracks that Sebas and I had been following suddenly disappeared into thin air. We were on a massive rock outcropping overlooking what we could only hope was where the White Salmon river drainage basin- however, in our white prison, all we could make out off that desolate cliff was a lifeless void in which we would have to descend further in.
After probing around in earnest for the our boot-track lifeline, I informed Sebas that I had some, eherm, buisness to attend to. He plodded away in that forsaken fog and I skirted the cliff for a better view to do my business with.
After finishing, I was just in the process of lashing my harness on when I heard a sound I will never forget.
Through the fog, somewhere, I heard Sebas yell "WATCH OUT!!!"
What I am now going to describe will never come close to the amount of fear that Sebas and I experienced in that next minute.
Through that desolate fog came the first of them- rock boulders, ice refrigerators and every medium in between came rushing down with the speed of ballistic missiles and the sound of a banshee. I was petrified. I couldn't react. I was exposed- I had nothing to hide behind. All of my close call in life had finally caught up with me. I clutched my ice tool tightly and faced my attacker in wonder at his power.
Finally, the gears of my mind succumbed to the adrenaline dump I was experiencing. I ambled to a snow prow that was somehow deflecting some of the ice missiles, despite its minute size. I hastily anchored myself in and watched in absolute horror as a human-sized boulder crashed down right where Sebastian was shouting down at me.
At that moment my heart sank.
He was dead.
He had to be.
ARE YOU OKAY
I yelled this right as the final volley came to a rest.
I was shaking so badly my crampons were skittering across the rock I was standing upon.
YES!! I'm OKAY.
Oh man, I was so happy to hear he had made it, I could have cried.
I sprinted across the debris field to embrace my friend. He was shaking as bad as I was!!! The devastation was awesome. Branches and brush were crushed and crumpled about him. We shared mutual stories of near death! It was all too real right then.
It took us several minutes to calm down enough to resume our search for the tracks. We had to get home." -Ski's account of the Intense Climb
"Dude! You wouldn't believe what we went though today" Sebas announced. When Ski told the story of there climb I felt as though held in suspense just being a listener of it. They said it was some of the most scary climbing they ever did. They went from one moment worrying about steep snow slopes to having avalanches come between them and many other crazy events. A few minutes later they quickly wanted out of the Mount Baker area which we all hurried over to Bellingham to enjoy some nice warm pizza! It was a great celebration to a crazy day!
Day 7: Return to Crater Mountain and BeyondI got home at 4:30 a.m. in the morning which left me enough time to back up for the next trip and get a few hours of sleep. In the morning Craig picked me up and we went over to the North Cascades. "Final Round" I whispered to myself on the car ride there. When we got to the trail head it was 2:00 p.m. The trail this time had more vegetation over grown than it did before.
At the big creek crossing we had to take off our footwear, the water was very cold, although manageable. The trail now had water running through it, which meant that it was time to ditch my approach shoes and swap to boots (Boy did I miss those shoes, my boots continue to make my blisters worse each trip). The trail got a little trickier to find by this point due to the heavy snow patches, but fortunately I knew the general direction which was just enough to be able to find the trail every 2 minutes (we would temporary lose it over and over). As we traversed around the mountain I saw my old glissade tracks from days earlier, which finding the high point by now was much easier. At the high point we decided it was the best place to put up our camp. Right after I set up the tent I took off my boots and socks to air them out, just as I was taking off my last sock I hear a "Josh! The Tent!!!". A gust of wind blew it away from us and continued to make it start flying down the mountain. Immediately I instantly got up and started running for it which 150 feet or so by our camp site it got caught on a rock. You could tell that it only had a few more seconds before it would continue to blow down the mountain which literally right next to the rock was a cliff it would have went down. I caught it just in time and grasped it as hard as I could. I then brought it back to camp.
After setting our gear inside the tent I finally felt the impact and scratches on my feet from running on rocks bare foot. Looking outside our tent we could see more clouds building up which I figured the weather would remain bad the next day. Fortunately our luck was in...
Day 8: Heading up to High Camp on JackIn the morning it was a bright sunny day with little wind on the tent. "Josh, you gotta come see this" Craig told me excitedly as I was starting to wake up. Outside I could see that we were above the clouds, Jack mountain as well as a few others were also in view. I now was excited because this meant that it was going to be a good day.
We packed up our gear and started the descent towards Jack Mountain. There was a little bit of scrambling down to get to the lake. At the lake this was a great place to filter water for what we had ahead of us. After filling up water, we traversed the lower section of Crater Mountain. At the next pass we had to go all the way down into the Jerry Lake's basin and then all the way back up another hill. Good thing mountaineering is my pleasure.
After climbing over another saddle we could finally see the whole view of Jack Mountain. We now had another 1,000 feet to go down. "Wow this mountain sure has a lot of up and down" I told Craig, he replied "And to think we have about 2,500+ for the way back!". So once again we went down into another basin which finally we were on the foot of Jack Mountain! From here it was a work out to get to Camp 2 which took another 1.5 hours or so of hiking up. At about 7,000 feet high we set up our camp, this time putting our gear in right away to make sure that the tent would not blow away.
While sitting at camp a chipmunk visitor came to our camp, which at first my thoughts were "oh how cute", but a little while later he bit into my bag of food which was limited. I was forced to scare it away which normally I hate to do with wildlife, especially one as cute as this guy. For the rest of the after noon Craig cooked up food and melted up snow using his black coat to help melt the snow in bottles on a rock because we were low on stove fuel. Looking up at Jack Mountain I was a bit intimidated by the cliff bands and the steep snow gullies further up. I heard that the rock part was class 3/4 which at first I had a hard time believing until I heard about that we could not see the gully we were going up.
After having dinner I went inside the tent to rest up, which I rubbed my noise. At first I noticed a few drops of blood coming out, and before I knew it, it was leaking like blazes. I pressed it against my knee to keep as much pressure on it. Unfortunately even that was not enough which it then soaked that spot of my pants in blood as well as my thermal pants. "Craig. Craig, do you mind sparing me some toilet paper" my voice was muffled from having to press against my knee. "I thought you just went a little while ago" Craig yelled back. "No, not for that, I have an issue on my hands". Craig came in the tent which he immediately handed me the paper which I used to prevent as much blood loss as possible. I spent about 20 minutes holding it until finally it hardened enough to sustain itself and I could make slow movements again. I then had to take my shell pants off and wash off my face with snow as well as a few other things.
Fortunately after this things became uneventful and we soon got some rest for the climb up Jack Mountain.
Day 9: Making a Attempt, and Going back Home!We woke up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning which I had oat meal and a quick snack before the climb. After walking to the snow area we put on our helmets, crampons and our ice axes. The sunrise to the Northeast was very impressive which there were reds, purples, and oranges.
I immediately was already feeling like this was becoming exciting fast. To my left was a very steep slope and a drop off beyond that, when I got onto the ice I then started to get a little scared. Normally in mountaineering when dealing with a steep icy traverse I usually kick in steps, but there is no way we would be able to climb the mountain in time if we did that. So we had to make sure every step was solid on the ice. There was no kicking in steps, the ice axe did not plant in, and there was no margin for error. I was actually thankful of the idea that when we come back that the snow would soften up here making this part much easier. I normally hate soft snow on steep slopes, especially after being on Mount Shuksan.
As we traversed the slope the snow slightly softened up which when I pounded hard enough I could get my ice axe in. This made me feel so much better, now I felt as though I could travel more safely, although sometimes I could not get it in on some spots. We decided to avoid a steep section by going to to the moat for a little bit, when pounding in the ice axe I felt like I had to be a Jack Hammer to get it in. It was hard work to pound the axe in after every movement on the slope, but it was better than not having it in.
At the moat we then traversed along side it for a while until the upper section became steep again. At this point I was ahead of Craig which I decided to go along the side one of the many mini gullies on the mountain. I was now pounding in steps hard because I was not on a ideal slope, every time I rested my knee on the slope I would make a big blood stain in the snow from all the blood the previous day that got on my thermal pants. Well at least this helped clean it off for me. Anyways as I climbed higher I could feel myself growing weaker, I had already gone too far up this to down climb it. Suddenly above me I could see ice chunks coming down right next to me from way above. I quickly looked around at all my surroundings and realized I was in a rock fall spot. I had to focus less on good footing and more on speed now. I felt as though the clock was ticking and I had to get out of this spot as soon as possible. As I neared the top of the ice gully there was a mini water fall above which froze over parts on the snow in front making it very difficult to plant in my axe. I decided when I could finally make it into the snow gully itself I quickly traversed and got onto the rocks. I was relieved that I was now out of the most dangerous part of the face. Although I was still in a rock fall hazard zone, before I was in a position which if I saw rocks tumbling I would either have to let them hit me or go sliding down the mountain in dangerously high speeds.
For much of the trip down climbing was at least as hard as climbing up hill, but now it suddenly became much easier and even a bit fun. I was getting a adrenaline rush from it, when doing it in such fast speeds it makes you feel more alive. Now I knew that if I fell I would not get injured which was a relief, although it was still steep below. Craig had short spiked crampons which he said a few times he had to catch himself. After kicking in some nice steps we eventually traversed over for a hour and off of the South Face. I then took off my crampons and helmet and dashed to camp. When I finally got to sit and relax I couldn't help but keep laughing at the thought that I had lived out such a tremendous adventure. You have to live it to know what it's like. I did not one bit regret turning around and not making the summit, after all I feel as though we lived out what true mountaineering is about.
At Jerry Lakes Craig filtered water for the rest of the way home, drinking fresh water again was very refreshing. All around I could see cloud build up which had me a bit worried, Craig said her heard thunder in the distance. As we traversed Crater Mountain we could see rain clouds to the north, and even Jack Mountain now had dark clouds hovering over it. Above Crater Mountain I could see a anvil like cloud forming, but fortunately we never got caught in any bad weather. On the way back to camp 1, we took a longer route thinking it would be a lesser slope, this turned out to be a minor mistake. Once we got to the ridge we hoped for a way around the mountain, unfortunately there were just cliffs in the way to the access to the other side. So we then had to go up and over the hill, but at least this was the last time we had to go up hill.
At the top of the hill we had one more round of glissading, and then it was time to find the trail. Our foot prints had melted out significantly to the point where even if you were looking at them you sometimes wouldn't even know it. Once we found our prints we followed them down the trail for a ways. Suddenly at one section they disappeared which had both of us wondering, after looking around in the woods for about 10 minutes we finally gave up and started heading in the general direction of where it might be. As we were going over brush and fallen over trees I started to worry about missing the trail, so I had us take a right and then down. Fortunately this was the right way, in fact it was almost perfect because when we got onto the trail we got to the spot where my approach shoes were. The rest of the way down the mountain was a nice trail back down to the car. One of the best things about ending a hike I always say is taking off your socks. My feet by this point were very blistered to the point where I was hobbling the next day. "What an adventure!" I whisper to myself as I fall asleep on the car ride home.