The PreambleA badly botched html job that I never bothered to fix made this report pretty un-readable when we swithced to SP2. Then, I still never bothered to fix it. :-)
I'm finally cleaning things up (was easier to delete & re-post).
This was my third mountain trip back in 2002, and was one of my best trip experiences ever.
The StoryGetting Ready:
I arrived at Kyle’s place shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Friday May 31, 2002. Kyle & Ryan were sorting through food and gear. I hear Kyle say, “Ryan can you give Eileen a screw?” After I stopped laughing out loud, I thought to myself, “I barely know this Ryan guy and already Kyle’s asking him to service me. This is going to be some weekend!” It turns out Kyle was referring to an ice screw, which was probably more appropriate under the circumstances. I graciously accepted the screw and a couple pieces of webbing and added them to my gear, which already included several loaner items from Adrian and Pete. Thanks, guys!
Hittin’ the Road:
By 9:30 we had run out of gear to sort, so we packed up my Tercel wagon and were on our way. “Do you know how to get there?” asked Kyle. “More or less” I replied. After a number of navigational deviations on my part (there are a lot of border crossings between Vancouver and Sumas, and it’s more fun without a road map!), we eventually knew how to get to where we were going and decided to stop for lunch in Glacier.
Parking the Car:
Once lunch was over, we took the RIGHT turn on 39 off 542 just past Glacier after having missed it on our first try. Eventually, we came across several parked cars whose drivers had encountered snow on the road, and, like them, we were forced to stop. After changing footwear and a bit more sorting, the big question came: “do we bring the snowshoes?” Rochelle and ex-benevolent dictator Kevin had graciously lent us snowshoes (thank you!) due to reports of very soft snow conditions. With weight being the deciding factor, we opted to take a gamble and leave the snowshoes in the car after treating them to a lovely, though somewhat extended drive. At 2:39 p.m. we were off.
We trudged and trudged up the road. Eventually we hit a sign notifying us that we were entering the area where permits were required to park. Hmmmmmm… We trudged some more and came across an abandoned skidoo on the side of the road. We joked about how funny it would be if it were Pat’s, which had been stolen near Baker earlier. Finally, we encountered the trailhead. At 3:43, we took off along the Heliotrope Ridge Trail after signing the trail register, which showed two parties ahead of us who were also going to attempt to summit via the Coleman Upper-Deming Route.
The experience was completely different from when I had been there the previous August with Terry and Adrian. In August, there is no snow from the trailhead all the way to the campsites. We parked right at the trailhead, and were spared the trudge up the road. Despite the shorter distance, I remember finding the hike up to camp in August completely grueling. My feet were sore, my back hurt, whine, whine, etc., etc. This time, what a difference! Snow is a wonderful thing, plus all my recent mountain hiking helped too. In August there were numerous creek crossings that we had to wade through. This time, snow bridges covered the creeks making crossing a breeze.
The Creek Bed:
When we came across a big creek crossing (I think it was the creek that I slipped in on the way back down last August), snow covered much of the creek, there were numerous sets of tracks that headed up the creek bed, and there was no sign of a visible trail on the other side. We followed the creek bed up, which was much nicer than winding through the trees.
We emerged at the top and were able to cut across directly to where we were going to camp on the edge of the glacier.
By 6:15 p.m. or so, we had found the perfect campsite and the hike in was easy!!!! (Complete opposite of last time.) The weather was fabulous, and there was only one other tent within visual range from where we were. We had rocks to sort our gear on and cook dinner on. We had snow to set the tent up on and use to boil water. We had a view of the summit to the South East, the sunset to the West (duh!), and some fabulous crevasses on the glacier to the East. Life was looking good!
We set up camp, cooked dinner, took photos, watched the sunset, and sorted all the gear we possibly could for the next day. I was a very happy girl. By 9:30 we had run out of gear to sort, and the sun had set. We decided to try to get a little bit of sleep, and set our alarms for 12:30 a.m. for an early start on the summit bid.
After pretending to sleep for three hours while cozily nestled in our sleeping bags, the alarm went off. Although no one was sleeping, no one was particularly eager to bolt out of the tent right away. I think by about 12:45 or so movement had begun, and well before 2:00 a.m. we were geared up and trudging up the mountain.
Initial Route Finding:
It was decided that I would lead, followed by Ryan, then Kyle. The snow was crisp and clear. The headlamps of the one group ahead of us could be seen from time to time, so we knew they were already moving. There was no visible trail yet this season, just fairly clean snow with the odd set of individual tracks heading one way or another up the mountain. We could identify the tracks left by the group ahead of us, but paid more attention to the mountain as a whole, looking for the best line and being mindful of crevasses.
It was glorious to be out more or less alone on the glacier. Navigating around very manageable crevasses was fun. There were numerous opportunities to have taken shots of each other stepping over small crevasses, and walking alongside larger ones. “Maybe the way down”, I thought. This was the first time I had the opportunity to be at the front of a rope team. It was wonderful, and I loved every minute of it.
The Challenge Begins:
I’m not sure what altitude we were at, but it was still well before sunrise on the North side of the mountain. I had begun to feel quite sluggish, and a teensy bit light headed. Kyle made some reference to dealing with altitude, at which point I confessed, whether it was altitude or not, I was not feeling too great. I later found out that Ryan wasn’t feeling well either. We all agreed to continue at a slow steady pace as we still had plenty of time on our hands, and we weren’t stressed about setting any speed records. This was comforting, and I continued to enjoy the beauty of the glacier as we plodded along.
From Mediocre to Bad:
As we continued, I started to feel worse. My breathing and heart rate were fine. The hike wasn’t strenuous, and we were taking it really easy. I had been drinking lots of water, so I knew hydration wasn’t an issue. I didn’t have a headache or anything, I felt more like my body was fighting toxins. Maybe it was something I had eaten the night before. I hadn’t been able to eat much since we started the climb even though I knew I should be re-fueling. I tried to force a power gel down. Solid food was out of the question at this point. I was actually feeling quite hung-over. A little nauseous… a little queasy… upset stomach… not much fun. Here we were, perfect conditions, perfect weather, all the right gear, well trained and physically fit. It would suck if the only reason we didn’t summit was because I got sick!!!!! I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for Kyle & Ryan missing the summit.
From Bad to Worse:
As we were getting close to the saddle between Colfax Peak and the summit, we stopped to rest again. This time, I threw my pack on the ground and lay on top of it in the fetal position. I felt like I had been doing tequila shooters rather than trying to sleep the night before. After about two minutes, I got the chills and started to shake ferociously. Wahhhhhhhhhh!
The guys were great. Ryan came up behind me, propped me up with his arms and legs around me for body heat. Kyle pulled a sleeping bag out of his pack and covered me up. I appreciatively welcomed this care from my teammates as I shivered and groaned in a little ball completely, wrapped up between Ryan and Kyle’s sleeping bag. This was definitely not one of my prouder moments.
We had a lengthy discussion about my condition. I am very aware of the seriousness of AMS, HAPE & HACE. My heart, head and lungs felt perfectly fine. It was my digestive system and whatever system decides whether you feel nauseous or not. I was in good spirits, communicative, coherent, and very positive, just pissed off at my body for reacting this way. It’s a fine art to know when to grin and bear it and when it’s time to call it quits. As the weather conditions were glorious, the summit was practically in view, I felt in absolutely zero physical danger, at the very least, I thought the boys should continue without me, in the event that I became unable to summit. I could wait wherever I made it to for them to come back. Alas, they would have nothing of that plan.
The Blue Bag:
For whatever reason, I had brought the blue bag with me that I had never used on the Rainier Trip. All I can say is, “Thank God I did!” They’re easy to use, convenient, and effective. It was no problem at all, and I did feel significantly better afterwards. For anyone who doesn’t know what a blue bag is: let’s just say that all solid waste must be removed from the mountain.
Feeling not cured, but temporarily a bit better, the three of us continued. At this point I felt no need to ever come back to Mount Baker again. In fact I was questioning whether I ever wanted to go mountaineering again. (Much like one swears they will never drink again when praying to the porcelain God “Beulah” after a rough night of partying). We traversed the saddle between Colfax and the summit, and made our way up to the final pitch before the top.
What a Team:
By now, time was no longer on our side. The slow pace and lengthy stops had taken up the better part of the morning, and noon wasn’t far away. I’m all about what’s best for the team, and at this point, the quickest way for us to make it to the summit as a team, was to split some of my gear between Kyle and Ryan to lighten my pack. The guys were great again, as they each took on some of my gear and we continued up, with me still in the lead. Right before this gear exchange, one of the two groups ahead of us had just descended the Roman Wall and took a photo of the three of us.
The Roman Wall:
I’m not even sure if that’s its proper name, but it’s West of the “Roman Nose”. The last few hundred metres up were just that. Up! The challenge wasn’t that it was any steeper than faces I’d encountered on other outings; it was that it was comprised of solid ice covered with a thin layer of snow. Had we been able to kick steps, it would have been easy to climb, but you can’t kick steps into ice. I had discovered earlier that my feet didn’t like what my boots did to them while walking straight up a steep icy slope. Combined with the risk of slipping, I decided to do diagonal switchbacks to get us up this last bit. It was a long tedious process. The other group ahead of us came down at this point, and now groups from behind us were passing us. That said - no one we saw had fun on this bit of the mountain, so I didn’t feel too bad.
In this photo, Ryan is below me to the right. Kyle is below him to the left. At the bottom, you can see another group approaching the base of the wall. Colfax Peak is behind them.
The Final Approach:
Once the steepness of the wall subsided, we were greeted with a huge, flat plateau. From there, a little bump was visible off in the distance. We quickly dumped and anchored our packs. There were no more crevasses or any difficult terrain from here to the summit. As we got closer to the final bump, Ryan and Kyle were walking a little bit ahead of me. It all of a sudden occurred to me that after all that we had been though, we were actually going to make the summit. I had been on Baker before and made it to Camp Muir on Rainier, but weather had always gotten in the way of the summit. I had never encountered the physical challenges that I was enduring on this trip. This would be my first big mountain summit, and despite my uncooperative body, we were actually going to do it! I was completely overwhelmed by the emotional impact of this realization (plus I was in a pretty drained state, and I still couldn’t eat solid food). As I choked back the tears, I took a photo of the guys right before the summit.
A few other people were hanging out on the summit. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, visibility was good, and we had finally made it to the top. I loved it there. If I was still feeling sick, I certainly don’t remember it any more at this point. We took several photos, enjoyed the view, and decided it was time to head back.
The Initial Descent:
From the summit to our gear was fine. Going down the Roman Wall was a bit of a challenge for me, once again due to my feet. It went a little slower than I would have liked, but once that was over, it would be smooth sailing (or so I thought). I was feeling immensely better. There were numerous bum sliding or “glissade” opportunities, which is my favourite way to descend a mountain.
After traversing the saddle between the summit and Colfax Peak, we were probably quite close to where I had my oh-so glamorous stop on the way up. By now it was well after 2:00 p.m., which meant we had been going non-stop for over twelve hours without a proper meal, and I had barely been able to eat anything at all during this time. Being prepared for anything, we had brought up a stove and a pot and decided to stop to cook a meal. Kyle had some soup and some rice, so we put on water to boil and were going to throw the soup and rice together in the same pot. I was feeling much better and was thrilled with this recovery. Things were going along swimmingly. When it came time to stir the rice, we realized that we had brought everything up that we needed, except utensils. We had nothing to stir the rice with or to eat with. It was time to get creative… Being too tired and hungry to be that creative, we all unanimously agreed that our ice axes would make fine utensils.
We woofed down the food, packed everything back up, and set off for the home stretch.
Descent to Camp:
The beginning was great! I was feeling completely recovered, which was fabulous. We reversed our order, and Kyle led with big steps at a quick clip. I was easily able to keep up by semi-jogging behind him and Ryan. Cardio had never been the problem on this climb. We were flying and making great time! As we got lower, and the day got later, snow conditions became a factor. Being the largest, Kyle started to post hole first. Then Ryan. For a bit, I was able to steer clear of their tracks and stay on top behind them. That was sweet! Then it came my turn to sink…
Kyle is close to 6’6” with very long legs. I am just over 5’1” with very short legs. He was in a hurry, taking one step to my every three, sinking to his knees with every step. Ryan was able to stretch himself to match Kyle’s tracks, so he kept up seemingly with no problems. I on the other hand, was physically incapable of stretching my little legs that far, so was forced to make my own tracks, sinking to my thighs with each of my three steps to their one at a breakneck pace. Talk about a grueling workout! I felt like a small dog on a leash tied to a motorcycle driving really fast. Damn, it would have been nice to have those snowshoes that were resting comfortably in my car!
Every once in a while, they’d turn around and ask me how I was doing. Knowing that we had to get back down, once I’d stopped panting like a madwoman, I’d say, “this sucks, but let’s keep going”. This was definitely one of those grin and bear it times.
We arrived at camp at around 6:00 p.m. and it was precipitating. Still roped, I bent over my ice axe, and half gasping, half sobbing, began to recompose myself. At least we were at camp. Now we had to decide if we would take a rest here and do our final descent in the dark, or pack up and press on right away while it was still light. I needed a minute to lie down. Feeling utterly shattered after all that I’d been through; I got in the tent and proceeded to change into dry clothes. I curled up in my sleeping bag while Kyle & Ryan packed up everything that was outside the tent.
It would have been tempting to stay another night. We had enough supplies, the rest would have been nice, and the guarantee of daylight the whole way would have helped. However, we knew that Kyle had to work the next day, and we had promised to get him home that night, no matter how late.
As I lay in the tent, amazingly enough, for the second time this trip, I went from feeling like I was going to die, to feeling quite fine. My recovery rate was extremely encouraging. I began to pack too so we could make it down in daylight.
Heading for Home:
We began back the same way we came, traversing across until we came to the top of the creek bed. Ryan had taken GPS readings on the way up, and we were tracing our route back just fine. During the day, the sun had done it’s job on the snow, after which, it had been raining, snowing, hailing, or whatever, hence the earlier use of the term precipitating. Any tracks from the previous day were pretty much wiped out. We knew the way back, so we proceeded down the creek bed that we had come up.
The Creek Bed – Part Two:
Initially, everything was fine. As we got closer to the spot where Ryan’s GPS was telling us we should be finding the entrance to the trail, it became a little more difficult. With no tracks to lead us there, we began looking for the trail. We looked, and looked, and looked. We walked up, we walked down, we checked & re-checked the GPS, and we went over our map. For whatever reason, we simply could not make out where the entrance to the trail was. All sources and logic would indicate that it had to be there somewhere. Even if we had taken the wrong route down, the trail still would have intersected that route!!!
After a considerable amount of time was spent looking for the trail, for about the fifth or sixth time that day, we were forced to make a major team decision. We had to figure out how to best get off the mountain.
It was decided that seeing as we knew exactly where we were, and we knew exactly where the trailhead where we started from the day before was, we would set Kyle’s compass to the proper bearing and enter the woods. We had less than two kilometres to cover. Ryan’s GPS confirmed that we were making progress towards our destination. Precisely following the needle of the compass, we traipsed through trees, up hills and down, thankful once again for the snow on the ground. It was actually rather fun being off the trail. Made it feel like more of an adventure! We still had no idea where the “real” trail was, but we were unquestionably on the right track, even if it was our own track. Before long, it got dark, so we had to put our headlamps on. We continued on through the trees in the dark making our way towards the trailhead.
It was now 10:00 p.m. We had been on the go for twenty-one hours, with only a three-hour pretend sleep since the day before. Our bodies had covered a lot of challenging terrain, and we had effectively been awake for about forty hours. We were still on track with our compass bearing, but the compass was starting to take us on a route that descended sharply to the right. Ryan went ahead down the slope to check things out. The slope was very steep and we had no idea how far it continued. While we were on undulating terrain, we had a lot of safety factors on our side. A steep slope threw a new set of variables into the equation.
We were tired, carrying heavy packs in the dark, and were at risk of someone loosing their footing on this slope. Also, if it came to having to spend the night in the woods, there was nowhere to set up the tent on the slope. Given that we had all put forth a valiant effort thus far, and Kyle’s employer would most likely rather have him miss work than foolishly risk his life on a mountain, we unanimously decided to walk back up to the top of the slope and set up camp there until daylight.
Thrilled to be not feeling like crap for a change, I went about setting up the tent, and getting everything ready for us to get some much needed rest. By the time we were in our sleeping bags we had long lost count of how many hours we had been on the go, and how many hours we had been without sleep. It had been plenty. Never the less, I was happy with our adventure, and was feeling pretty good about everything except the fact that Kyle was going to miss work. We all crashed in no time, and slept like logs.
I was completely sound asleep when I awoke to Ryan’s voice. “Hey, guys! Listen!” It was after 7:00 a.m. and we had slept for over eight hours. As we strained our ears, we could hear voices. Huh? Ryan got up to look around in the daylight. We were literally metres from the actual trail, which was just off to the left, not right, as we would have gone. Wooooooo hooooooo! Thank goodness we stopped last night. The trail would offer a much easier route to the same destination. We packed up and followed the trail all the way out. It was an easy walk. Once out, we walked back towards the car. That snowmobile was still there! We joked some more, took a photo, and made it to the car. Kyle had completely missed work, so we took advantage of the morning and drove across the border to the nearest family breakfast place, and stopped for a big feed in the civilized world. From there, we drove Kyle home, then I drove Ryan home, and that was the end of our adventure.
I spent the afternoon cleaning my gear, getting my photos, and by that evening, everything was completely back to normal. I felt no physical impact from the ordeal and all of a sudden, felt ready to get back out there anytime. Despite the fact that I had several “moments” during the climb, the fact that I recovered so quickly and went on to do more, cured me of any doubts in my mountaineering capabilities. Besides, I never did get those crevasse photos!
Through it all, I must say, couldn’t have asked for better teammates. Kyle and Ryan were awesome!
On a whim, I shot Pat an e-mail telling him about the snowmobile we had seen on the road. I didn’t hear back from him right away, and pretty much forgot about it. The next week I received an interesting e-mail from him. Pat had been out of town on business, but did get my note. He was back in the Baker area that weekend with some friends, so he decided to go check it out. It turns out it was his skidoo with only minor damage to it, and they were able to bring it back home!
Tales of Mount Baker
(…Or how to stretch a simple climb into an extended adventure)
(…Or Skidoo Crime Stoppers are us)