"Failure is not an option. Everyone has to succeed." -Arnold Schwarzenegger
"A fight is not won by one punch or kick. Either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard." -Bruce Lee
Who Came: Joanna, Matt Lemke, Michael Lewis, Rex, Holly, and myself
Time: 6 and 1/2 Hours
Elevation Gain: 3,300 Feet
Distance: 8 miles Round Trip
This was the hardest trip I have done in a long time, even more so than Snowking or Mount Maude. In today's adventure I pushed myself to the limits. The idea came about on Bullion Peak and was said to be a low avalanche danger mountain. Glad that part was true. Before I went to bed on December 26 I saw Matt wanted to join on a trip so I invited him along. In the morning we piled up at our house into the car which was now crowded with people and dogs. As I went to drink my hot chocolate the dogs bumped me which slightly spilled. Joanna looks over at me and says "If you spill one drop of that drink your going to be toast!". Whoops, well what she doesn't know saves me trouble. I silently clean it up. As we drove towards Steven's Pass Matt received news that he had to be back some what early, this put a bit of a spin with the trip. Now the ascent would have to be made in speedier time. After passing over Stevens Pass we parked off the side of the road for the trip and began the walk on the rail road tracks. It was interesting to notice that the train it self was not that loud, but the hissing rails give it out which we run off the track and watch the hundreds of carts go by.
The Train Going by
Walking the Train Tracks
After walking East for a mile and a half we turn into the woods to get the East Ridge. Matt starts off breaking trail for us which was decent of him. As we go further up the slope I then take a turn at leading at the more steeper part of the slope. For some reason I find a joy in breaking trail on steeper slopes, I hate breaking trail on flat stuff, but terrain mades the job worth while. At about 11 a.m. we finally get onto the East Ridge where views finally started to break out, although cloud cover made views some what limited.
From here we put on our snowshoes, for a few moments my hands got really cold. "Darn I knew I should not have brought the crummy gloves" I uttered as I coldly put on my snowshoes. My main gloves were wet from the previous day and could not fit into my mitten shell, while the pair I brought was supposedly mountaineering quality (certainly not water proof) but gets cold super easy. So I went to Joanna's technique she showed me on Mount Cleveland which was to use my spare wool socks as inner gloves and then use the shell mittens. Unfortunately finger flexibility was extremely low as a result so I could hardly even buckle traps with it. Travel now was not too bad, especially with Joanna breaking trail.
Michael and Rex heading up
To save myself time I decided to grab snow and put in my mouth as water which at first seemed like a little thing, but later it became necessary. The mountain atmosphere was quite good for a cloudy day, the great feeling I have when seeing snow covered mountains with gentile snow falling from the sky. Matt was starting to fall behind as the snow got deeper, he's in really good shape but lack of snowshoes played a roll, it later played a roll with myself. It was now time for me to take the lead to break trail, we were starting to run out of time, but the trees ahead were teasing making us seem close to the summit. As I traveled there was a little bit of winds, and a little while later when I took a step my snowshoes fell off. "Blazes this is not good" I thought to myself. I had to make a choice, either leave it behind or put it back on. I dreaded the idea of putting it back on, the straps usually freeze over and are a pain to put on. This is one main reason I don't like tub snowshoes, not only do the straps freeze over but most of my trips they fall off of me at least once. I thought of how painful it would be on my hands to have my gloves off with the winds, and how I would have to melt the ice off of them and how horrible it would feel. The snow did not seem that bad I thought, so I ditched it. Bad move, although either option is not friendly, this was a bad move.
Looking towards Rock Mountain
As I walked with one snowshoe on and one off I was sick of the imbalance of it, besides I wasn't sinking in that bad. So I decided to ditch the other snowshoe. I heard from Michael that we were really low on time, now it was time to step up to the plate and start really pushing myself to try to get the summit. Although it was difficult to break trail with plowing in a bit deep I was able to manage, I was still breaking trail. As we went on higher the snow had become deeper and I lost my position for trail breaking. In fact the trail that Michael and Joanna broke did not help much for me and sinking in, I was as good as breaking trail myself in deep snow. As I went on up I became quite tired by this point but I kept telling myself "You know that if you don't rush your self you will not make it!".
Matt and Michael taking a break
Middle Chiwaukum through the Clouds
Then things got even worse for me, I fell in deep snow steps, mini tree wells, and was getting thirsty. With each scoop of snow it was like ice cream because it was that nice to have. My face by now was getting very cold, and my hands were going numb again because I swapped to the other gloves, I needed my ice axe to help me out with some balancing.
Things started to feel horrendous for me, I started to become dizzy, hungry, and very spacey. Sometimes I would look over at the sun through the clouds which looked very nice. I would snap out of the daze and say "Josh! You have a job to do!". Seeing Joanna and Michael having not that hard of a time it got to me a little. Every step started to feel very difficult, even when resting and catching my breath (for a short time) I felt like I was working hard when I was standing. Every motion now felt that it mattered, the struggle was on and I was now in this all the way.
Joanna breaking trail
Every time we passed trees on the next section I felt like I was constantly being teased. I genuinely believed we would not make the summit, I tried with all that I could to go up, but it just seemed like there was no way. Time was running out, and I figured I was just going on just to see how close I can come. When I thought it could not get any worse with difficulty matters I started to get cramps. Every moment my heart was loud and heavy as well as my breath. I was tired to the point where I didn't even take much of photos, I took one last one of Joanna and Michael. All interest in photography was lost past this point (until the end of the trip).
The Sun Poking through the Clouds
Michael and Joanna near the Summit
I saw the ridge on the left moving up to the top of the trees, this very well could be the summit. If it wasn't we would have to turn around. I yelled for Michael in wondering if that was the summit, he could not hear me. I felt it was so important to know if it was or not, because if it was not there would be no sense in me making myself more dizzy than I already was. By the time I got near the summit Michael was already heading down, by now I was alone. Even the last few feet were hard and I did slowly. When I was on top I yelled in excitement (no jumping, was way too tired). Then I collapsed and had to rest for a moment. I crammed as much food as possible as fast as possible but without choking. My hands were numb, they had been very cold for a long time so I had to beat them together to get them to work properly again.
I put on my mitten socks and mitten shells which I was so happy to feel my hands again, I laughed that I made it but sighed because it was not over. It was like what happened on Middle Chiwaukum, going down I had to race down alone (although partners were probably 400 feet ahead or so the whole time, but when I stopped I could not hear them nor see them). There snowshoe tracks covered most of the deep steps I made making for some hidden sink in spots and difficult travel. Going down was almost as hard as going up on the upper part of the ridge. At times I would fall into a snow hole, take a minute to roll out of it laying there spacing out. Then I would dash on down. At other times I would trip over a snow hole and land nearly on my face (catching myself with my hands but still nearly face on the snow). I knew that everyone was racing down the mountain so there was no time for any hesitation. I kept going for a while more until later on I reached the group.
From here I drank some water and we got to the glissade slope which was a lovely change, going from super tiring to fun traveling. We lost elevation fast although I had to stop at one point due to a bad cramp. Then Holly had some fun biting us as we went down (tradition of hers).
Michael laying down on the tracks
What did I learn? Keep your snowshoes on you, even if it does not look that bad. (This helped on my later trip on Stetattle Ridge)