"All good things come by grace. And grace comes by art, and art does not come easy." -A River Runs Through It
It had been a long time since Gimpilator and I went on a climb together. We were invited to climb Fortress and Chiwawa Mountain with some folks from nwhikers, but before that we wanted to climb Ruth Mountain. Fortunately we got more than we bargained for with great success.
On August 3rd Art drove us to Mount Vernon to meet up with Joe for the climb. The night before the trip we negotiated the gear supply of what to carry and figuring out the route. After spending over 100$ during the month of July on my mountaineering trips I was low on cash and had to go on cheap food like donuts, peanut butter sandwiches, and other goodies.
Day 1: A Beautiful Day on Ruth MountainWe left for the trailhead at about 4:30 a.m. early in the morning and got to the trailhead around 6:30 a.m. It was a beautiful clear day, with conditions 100% in our favor. The hike started out down in the valley nice and cool but with high humidity.
Along the way there were a few minor creek crossings with snow bridges covering them up which for me required a few tricky moves to get over. Behind me I could hear Joe yelling out to me, but I could not understand what he was saying because he was distant. It turns out he was trying to warn me about a bear that was 15 feet away from me that I had no clue that it was there. Near Hannegan Pass I changed from my approach shoes to my boots and left Joe's bamboo stick near the trail which I had used to climb over tricky spots and use to reduce spider webs in my face. At Hannegan Pass the sun finally rises above the mountains which from here we ascend the lower slopes of Ruth Mountain. Along the way we see many of the famous peaks in the area including Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, Hannegan Peak, and the Picket Range.
After traversing around the North Arm of Ruth Mountain we soon decide that its time to rope up considering that we could not see where the glacier starts because of the heavy snow pack this year. As usual, I got to be in lead position of the rope team which I enjoy doing. Ascending Ruth was a lot easier than I had originally thought, either its a easy summit or I been climbing a lot of mountains these days. But none the less very enjoyable with a nice ridge ending.
On the summit we enjoyed a great vista of the Western Part of the North Cascades. To the South there was much cloud build up, fortunately for us we happen to be at the right area at the right time. After spending around a half hour on the summit we had to head down for our next climb the following day.
The descent was pretty easy with some mini standing glissades and with firm snow. After passing down past Hannegan Pass we came to the spot where I left my shoes which Joe discovered that his bamboo stick had been stolen. Joe was not a happy camper, which he went running up the trail to find who ever took it. After 20 minutes of searching he finally had to call it quits. Who ever stole it, not cool of you to have done that.
On the way down the mountain my ankles were starting to hurt from all the climbing that I had been doing, plus the fact that I was wearing tennis shoes down the mountain. As we were crossing one of the creeks there was a bit of a move you had to do, as I walked over onto a rock I did not see that it was slippery. Suddenly I slipped on it and fell right into the creek. When I fell I hit my knee a bit hard which for a few seconds I was unable to move, fortunately Joe rushed to the scene and helped pull me out while I was getting a bit wet. Fortunately nothing major, although a interesting moment of the trip. We took it a little easier on the way down which before I knew it, we were back at the trail head. We then went to Gimpilator's house for the next round of adventure.
Day 2: Hiking into the Fortress MeadowsGimpilator had me stay the night at his house which I had watched the movie "180 Degrees South" which was a amazing documentary about a adventure to Patagonia. The next day we left late in the day to avoid the hot weather. It was near sunset when we started hiking the trail to Fortress basin. As we hiked up the valley it became dark with lots of mud at a few places. At the basin we met up with a few people from nwhikers near the big creek of the basin. This was the most mellow day of the trip. Before going to bed I looked out at the stars, amazed to see to many and how I could see where I was without a flash light.
Day 3: Climbing Fortress and ChiwawaIn the morning I woke up to a pounding noise right next to me, I look over and see a deer running in a field of meadows. Then I see 30 or so mosquitoes on the bivy sack I was sleeping in. Fortunately non of them were able to bite me, but it was a little intimidating knowing once I get up I would have to deal with a bunch of them. We all woke up around the same time, which we started the usual breakfast making. I could finally see that we were in a beautiful meadow with many deer running around in the flowers.
After packing up all our gear we were instantly met with one of the more interesting parts of the trip. Crossing the Creek. Lucky for us Gimpilator had brought his flip flops which I used to cross the creek. Then Gimpilator would attach it to a ski poll and throw it back over for the other partners. Unfortunately as one of our partners were crossing they dropped one of there boots which was already starting to drift away. I immediately walked in after it catching it just in time.
Hiking the rest of the meadow was a easy walk through swampy like lands. From here we then started ascending up Fortress Mountain while aiming for the gully. Before the gully we had a bit of a scramble section that we had to climb over, I eventually had to bail off of it due to the crack being too muddy.
From here we traversed over and to our surprise were right at the gully. I went straight up the snow slope while everyone else took the moat route.
After the moat we came up into the basin which we climbed up a few thousand feet of minor switch backing and traveling on snow.
As we got towards the East Ridge one of our partners was not feeling so great about the idea of the steep snow, so they stayed back on a rock and waited for us as we climbed on. After a few hundred feet of semi steep snow climbing we were now one the east ridge.
We had to take it slow here due to steep and exposed slopes as well as loose rock. The ridge got quite interesting in a few spots, although manageable if one is careful. I agree with Gimpilator's opinion that the ridge was class 3 with a move or 2 of class 4. Near the end I was amazed at how the summit ending was so snowy, yet still traversable. So we all carefully traversed it, which there was one move one of our partners did not feel comfortable doing, but with Gimpilator's encouragement they managed to make it to the summit.
This was perhaps the best view of Glacier Peak I have ever had. In the distance we could see clouds coming in which were coming at us at a rapid pace. After being on the summit for around 20 minutes we started the descent.
Going down was easier than I had expected, we made it down to our partner in decent time. From here we traversed down towards the Chiwawa Mountain col. As we get near the bottom we realize that Gimpilator was waiting behind with someone else because they did not feel comfortable with semi icy slopes.
So in a sense this was the beginning of our group splitting into two separate groups. From here I take lead breaking in steps up the snow slopes of Chiwawa. Rather than going at a monotonous casual pace up the mountain, I decided to try something new. My technique was to climb up 30-50 feet at a rapid pace, and then take a break until everyone caught up. It was a more thrilling way to climb a mountain. As we climb up we started to wonder if Gimpilator was going to attempt this. To our surprise a while later we saw him running up the mountain which we now knew he would too make it.
Silence on the Mountain
After getting off the snow I looked up and could see that a group of climbers were now near by us. We climbed on for another minute until suddenly one of the climbers above lost his footing. He immediately planted in his ice axe which seemed to do nothing. Sailing down the mountain he gained speed very rapidly, which by now everyone was watching. As I watched I slowly walked towards the direction in which he was falling. He slammed into the rocks which flipped him over onto his back and he rolled over and then was falling once again. Almost as if helpless he was flying down the mountain in full motion. My heart was pumping at this moment, we were all held in suspense. I then dashed for the spot that he was about to land into to help at least lower the impact. I made a grab for him which of course I was not able to stop him but I believe I managed to help slow him down. He then slid past me which I wish there was more I could do. Fortunately he fell onto a less sloped rock pile near by and managed to completely stop his fall. Immediately people were rushing to him, which my friend Gimpilator was one of the first people who spoke to him. "I'm certified in first aid responder, what is your name" which he went through a series of questions. Amazingly he had no serious injuries, mostly a few scrapes and such on his arm. He was wearing a helmet with a long sleeve shirt and pants which seemed kinda thick. One of my partners than had a word with me "Josh! That was stupid of you to have done that. You put your self at risk and could have gotten hurt." The words of criticism did not change my mind one bit. When someone is in trouble, especially when they are helpless and there is something I can do, I will not stand around and wait for anything bad to happen. Now obviously I didn't jump completely in the way, but I knew I could help, which I have no regrets to what I did that day. In the past I've had situations where my mom was falling down a ice field below Headlee Pass, and I jumped in the way which stopped her from continuing to fall down.
Everyone on the mountain was silent by this point, when ever I spoke one of our group members said I should wait awhile before anyone would want to talk again. The group dynamics fell apart for a while, for a temporary period of the trip I was separated from everyone. As we climbed up I could see the section which he fell at, the snow looked a bit loose which had us worried. Matt, Joe and I decided that it would be best to try out the rock section to the right. This turned out to be a fun/ dangerous decision. The rock scramble started out class 3 and then went into class 4 terrain. Looking down below I realized that this was more dangerous than anything previous we had done the entire day. But it was too late to bail on the route, I hate to admit it but despite the danger I was still having fun on the route. After the rock section it was a couple hundred feet of walking on rock until we finally reached the summit of Chiwawa.
We did not stay long on the summit because it was getting late in the day and our group had completely fallen apart by this point. After walking for a little bit I managed to find Matt and Joe while one of our other partners was way down below. We carefully then scrambled down the mountain until the terrain became friendlier again.
Gimpilator and Maria were separated from us which we did not see until we got back to base camp many hours later. To speed things up on the way down I got a few nice glissades as well as some standing glissades. It was interesting to look above and see that the cloud deck boundary was literally above Fortress Mountain. The foot prints from earlier on were already melted away from the heat of the day, so we decided to go down what looked like a quick easy gully. "Looks like we will be back to camp in a little more than a hour" Matt said excitedly as we rapidly lost elevation. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
After ascending off the last snowfield the slope then suddenly got steeper until it dropped off. Looking all around I instantly realized that we were completely surrounded by cliff bands. We did not want to go all the way up so we went up a little ways and tried different gullies. This turned out to be a bit of a adventurous part of the trip. By this point we were all quite tired and the sun had already set which meant that day light was very limited. It just so happen that there was a solar flare that day, even though my partners had gps's, they were not accurate. "The gps says we are on our tracks" announced Tom knowing that we were far from our original way up.
It was starting to get dark, so we had to make a decision fast, and of course make sure it would be the right one. So ultimately we decided to go all the way back up the gully and traverse the lower portion of Fortress Mountain and go onto the edge of the south ridge. This turned out to be the way, although with a few minor complications. I then finally decided to put on my crampons as we traveled down the gully we had come up.
After down climbing the gully we were back into trees, we decided against taking off our crampons due to the muddy steep terrain we were in. As we went further down we missed the creek crossing spot, which we then followed it a ways down in the dark until we got to a safe crossing. Near the meadows there were many fallen over trees on the edge of the mountain, it's amazing how far avalanches go down in the snowy seasons. As were walking though the woods we see fresh foot prints. Camp was now close at hand, and before long we were at the creek crossing. Everyone but me crossed with there boots on, I figured Gimpilator was still in the mood for Red Mountain the next day which is why I preserved them. After a cold crossing I got to enjoy some warm food and some well deserved rest.
Day 4: Hiking up Red MountainIn the morning we packed up our gear and got ready for Red Mountain. For the next many miles it was a nice walk through the forest on trail and old road. Once we were about half way up Red Mountain Gimpilator decided for us to go straight up the side of the South Eastern slope. This turned out to be a nice and easy scramble.
We took it easy hiking up the slope, one of our partners was not pleased with all the loose rock on the mountain. Soon we were on the summit ridge.
To the summit it was a safe and sun scramble up and over along the ridge. According to Gimpilator, he considers it to be the best views of the area in comparison to what we did previously during the trip.
Soon after we made a speedy descent down the mountain. Once we got back to the road I was able to wear my approach shoes once again which was nice. We had some great talks on the way down.
It was quite nice getting to the car, finally I was able to once more get a drink of water. Once again I was pleased to have gone on more great adventures in the mountains.