Well . . . let me just say that I am sitting down to eat a burger the size of my head and French fries dipped in ranch and I am feeling no guilt at all. Recovering from an extended weekend in the cascades that saw climbs of Mt Rainier (14,410) and Mt Baker (10,778)
Tuesday July 1st
Well I returned from my fathers wedding late the previous evening and switched one bag (The nice clothes) for another that was filled with gear and weighing at least 3 times as much. After an action packed day of work . . . I was greeted by my girlfriend’s (Jen) red jeep packed to the gills and we were off to pick up Eric (Fellow nut case) and get down the road. After shoving down some food and getting fueled we got to hear the only complaint of the trip from Jen . . . . “Not this highway again” (She had just returned from a drive to northern Idaho via the same route) Eric and I instructed her to zip it and all was well from there on out. The trip was uneventful and we pulled into the Super 8 in Yakima for our last shot at sleep in a bed and a shower.
Wednesday July 2nd
We awoke, ate, and were on our way to meet Brian and Super-Dave. I met Brian down in Mexico and he is the one who got us into this whole god-awful mess to begin with. He was going to instruct us in glacial travel on Mt Baker and then lead Eric & I on our balls to the wall ascent of Mt Rainier. Brian’s eye for safety and love of the mountains is second only to his Jerry Springerese love life. Super-Dave was my climbing partner from Mexico and after recently quitting his job in Southern California he was eager to join the group. With the magic 8-ball serving as his guiding factor for the trip and many other life decisions, he had just beginning a trek across the west that was going to end in Aspen (Sounds like Dumb & Dumber to me) We all met up at the greatest place on earth . . . the REI flagship store in Seattle. For a gear head this place is heaven . . . it has a mountain bike trail in back, a rain room to test outdoor gear, a full service restaurant (for those days when getting all you need takes more time that expected. Well, $100 and a hour later (After running into ones of Jen’s friends who was doing a x-country road trip, random) we were back on the road. We had walkie talkies in the vehicles and were in the process of determining Dave & Brian’s radio name (We were Rubber Ducky) when we were passed by a minivan with the “Phillipino Love Rocket” decaled across the rear window. It was settled all radio transitions would be between the “Phillipino Love Rocket” and “Rubber Ducky”.
We arrived at the trailhead for Mount Baker around four and set about packing all of our junk into our bags that we would lug the 3200 feet up to the campsite. Brian’s bag was the size of him, and Jen’s almost pulled her over backward. A little after 5 we set out with the hike up proving to be incredible, the views of baker and the dreaded blue skies and sun. We took one wrong turn and had to do some backtracking but arrived at camp a little after 9. We quickly shifted our focus to setting the tent on the snow and starting the stoves to melt snow. The reward for our efforts included a view of the ocean to the west, Mt Rainier to the south and the gorgeous North Cascades all around us.
Thursday July 3rd
The intention of today was to learn all that there is to learn about glacial travel and crevasse rescue in under 8 hours. We started with a pleasurable breakfast and then donned our waterproof stuff to practice self-arresting with our ice axes. To self-arrest with your ice axe you need to roll correctly (To avoid hitting yourself with the pick) and in a variety of positions (On your back head up hill, On your back, head down hill, stomach head downhill, etc) In between practicing our self-arrests we also practiced proper crampon placement on the snow to minimize fatigue and maximize efficiency. After concluding with that portion of the program, we moved onto lunch and travel on rope. The objective of traveling roped to another person is to have them be able to stop your fall if you should happen to plunge into a crevasse or take a misstep climbing. We then proceeded to iron out the details of crevasse rescue. The concept behind crevasse rescue is to set up an anchor system complete with pulleys and ratchets to extract the person who has fallen in. It proved to be quite an adventure with plenty of things to consider. We rounded the day out with a glorious meal (Mountain House) looking out over the valleys below, and prepared for a 3 am departure.
Friday July 4th
Happy 4th of July! Our reward came in the form of a 1:45 am alarm . . . to think that a year ago I was still partying in San Diego . . . why didn’t I just forgo my liver and go back? I shoveled down some chocolate covered espresso beans (mmm good), put on my various layers of clothing and other gear and set out. It was a windless, cloudless, night perfect for climbing. Jen was having problems with her crampons, but after some well directed cursing (at the boots, not me) the problem was solved. About 4:30 it was light enough to forgo headlamps, soon after that we reached our first problem (a snow bridge crossing over a crevasse). There was a snow-picket in place that we used for protection as we gingerly stepped our way across the gaping hole. Soon after crossing the wind picked up and the clouds started to move in. We hiked up to the main crater there we encountered a very active steam vent that was emitting a rather unpleasant smell. Regardless it was a surreal experience to gaze down into an active thermal vent that was spewing steam high into the sky. We ate and prepared for the final push up the Roman Wall (a 40 degree wall) that leads to the subsidiary summit. Our pace began to slow and the weather worsened considerably in the hour it took us to reach the top. It was there that we looked at the clouds below us and the clouds that were beginning to encircle us and made the decision to head back down. It would have taken us another 45 minutes to traverse across to the true summit and given our situation we made the right choice.
As we descended we soon got out of the clouds and the wind. The lower we descended the nicer it got . . . the views were spectacular, with the high mountains sticking up above the clouds. Just as I was beginning to second-guess our choice . . . we hit the clouds and visibility dropped to about 50 feet. We were able to followed the guided teams tracks that had descended before us and before we knew it we were in their camp . . . the said they were preparing to leave and that they had wanded (Bamboo stick with flagging on it used for marking your route on the glacier) the route. We took the coordinates of the wands, thanked them (Most guides are really snobby, these guys were super nice) and then set out. We found the first wand no problem, but ran into trouble finding the second one. We were debating our course of action when the guided teams approached from the clouds. They stated that this was where the wand should be and that we should head off in the same direction we were going. After wandering down they (we) realized this wasn’t right (Great now the guides are lost). The good news was that it was warm and only about 10 am so we had all day if we needed. We backtracked up and then cut across finding the intended route. It was a interesting experience to be lost on a glacier (Even if only for a little while) you have no real sense of direction, no sun, mountains, or valleys, just white! We hit camp and ate a huge lunch before slowly wandering off one by one for a nice (4 hour) nap. Getting back up at 6 . . . we all gathered around for the glacial ritual of melting snow on the stove and heard the tales from Brian about his dysfunctional relationships over the past year.
Saturday July 5th
In what was anticipated to be the longest day I have ever had climbing we were awoken at 2am to driving rain and wind that was shaking the tent. I put up with it till about 3:30 and then donned what I could find that was waterproof and set out to reattach the anchors and re-secure the tent vestibule. Getting out and looking into the vestibule confirmed my fears (Our packs were sopping wet) the re-secure went without and hitch and before I knew it I was sleeping sound again. I heard the alarm sound at 5 am but also heard the driving wind and rain also. Around 6 it slowed enough to begin breaking camp and the trek across the state to Rainier. The descent down was rather boring considering it was a light drizzle and we were fogged in. Arriving at the car at 10:30 we stowed the gear, chugged a beer and were on our way.
(PLEASE RAINIER TRIP REPORT FOR THE REST OF THE REPORT)