I must be a spoiled fool. I can't deny that I am blessed to have a family that cares about me enough to afford me a place to live. And the opportunity to hike and climb so many amazing places every year. But it only goes so far when my ambitions are routinely drowned by reality. No job, no degree and no history of relationships... Something is missing. And instead of fixing it I keep choosing to escape. I was broke and hating life and decided to go attempt Buckner solo on Friday evening. I needed desperately to see something beautiful and to earn it the only way I knew how. I went far, over 100 miles and 10,500' in 72 hours, but didn't even get to see the mountain on the hardest trip I've done yet.
Sometimes I need to get away and put myself in a dangerous position to get over whatever matters are troubling me and remind me how trivial they really are. I don't know what kind of trouble I got myself into this time. I made the first 42 miles on Friday night. I started to feel weary by the time I got to Rockport, 18 miles in. At Marblemount I was groaning from banana seat induced groin pain. Two miles into the Cascade River Road I collapsed on my ground pad and spent an hour just breathing. After a while I got cold, shoved some cookies and water in my mouth and started moving again. A couple in a pickup helped speed my approach at about mile 3 by saving me 5 miles of biking uphill. I was already hurting by this point and it occurred to me that it might not work out. I took a short nap on the side of the road with an odd feeling that something was following me. Rustling in the bushes got me up and going before I used up too much time. The rest of the slog was eerie in the foggy dark with a dim headlamp. When I finally changed the batteries I was like, wow! That's bright! Ice forced me to ditch the bike early at mile 18. It didn't really matter though, because I was pushing the bike uphill for most of the Cascade River road.
Boston through trees
I ended up at mile marker 20 (Eldorado Peak TH) at 4:00am on Saturday just as a group of three were gearing up to climb Eldorado. They said they saw me biking the road with a monster pack on their way in at 10pm. I made small talk about climbing Eldorado and they offered me some water which I gleefully accepted. After eating ramen till I was bloated and getting in my damp -20 bag I fell asleep a little too long taking a 4 hour nap. Upon awaking there was frost on my bag. I would pay for that later. As I was putting things away another group was heading up for Eldorado in skis. Wish I was doing that-- probably more fun and easier (if I could ski anyway). I knew time was against me but weather was looking good so went for it, not really thinking about how impossible it actually would be. Johannesburg, Boston and Sahale beckoned me on but perhaps my biggest motivation for continuing was not thinking about it due to exhaustion.
I was surprised to find that the road has a few debris flows on it, one of which is pretty bad near Midas Creek between milepost 21 and 22. The mud was between 1-2 meters thick and swept a sizable portion of road. I suspect it will be a while before they can clear it. I was warned before leaving that there would be one near milepost 19 and I must say that one is very trivial compared to the ones I encountered later. Just some water logged soil and an overturned cedar that some high clearance vehicles easily bypassed.
Mud over road
Boston Sahale from creek
Sun rising over Johannesburg wall
Johannesburg from road
I really wanted to ditch my heavy pack at the trail-head but if my climb was to be successful (as in not suicidal) I needed a higher camp for my return without risking being caught ill equipped in a white-out. Reluctantly I trudged on dragging the heavy thing and following the trail. It became difficult to follow the trail at about 5,000' so I shot strait up some avalanche debris with my ice-ax until I was in line with the pass and just so happened upon the trail again. I managed to get within half a mile of Cascade Pass (the part after all the switchbacks). I was too slow, however and the storm came in while I was on steep icy snow with bad run-out, the same spot where my dad almost died. Yikes!
Dreary down valley
Sky becomes unsavory
Cascade Peak and Johannesburg
Hidden Lake Peaks
I could put on crampons and maybe make it to the pass. Or I could go strait up to Sahale Arm. But then what? I wouldn't want to be summiting anything in a white-out. And definitely not at night. If I waited until Sunday it was dead certain I would be in a fish bowl. I could understand taking risks to be in a beautiful place but there's no point if I can't see anything while I'm there. So I checked the time, 3:10pm. With only 90 minutes of useable daylight I turned around. A tough decision considering what I went through to get here. My method for going back down by skipping all the snow covered switchbacks and gliding down the snow to the parking lot would probably make a ranger flip their lid but I was trying to get some fun out of my ice-ax that I dragged up there since I knew how to use it. This shaved miles from my descent getting me back to the trail head just as dusk arrived. I pitched the tent and ate some food with intention of sleeping here for the view. The wind was ferocious though and I had to get out of my sleeping bag and drag my butt down to Eldorado trail head for some decent quality rest. From the beginning I should have went for the skier's path up the head wall to the pass instead of taking the trail on the way up since it's more direct and safer (run out is much safer on skier's path). I might have made the pass and in better time. Buckner still probably wouldn't have worked out though, so maybe it's for the best.
Moon at Cascade Pass TH
I was so deflated from the whole thing I had no energy left over for other mountains so I decided to bail. I set up camp at Eldorado Trail Head, ate supper and slept in until 9am the next day. Despite a full night's rest, I knew I didn't have enough in me to go for any of the rainy day options on the way out, and I had plenty: I could have done Little Devil, Sauk, North mountain or Helen Butte just to name a few. Once The Rain started it never stopped. I had to walk out a couple miles which was a pain in plastics, even with the top laces open. Ravens squaked about as I marched on, the sole person in the valley, further elucidating the dreary, isolated Edgar Allen Poe vibe. Riding that bike all the way back was painful even with all the downhill sections and the rain had me shivering by the time I got to Marblemount.
Dreary Eldorado TH
Last look biking out
Lookout near lookout mountain
I walked into a gas station asking if there was a place in town with a cell phone signal. My phone was essentially a watch being in airplane mode the whole time. I was hoping I could get a ride home since I had very little motivation left for mountains. The attendant told me to go down the road a little ways. Regardless of whether her advice was genuine, I couldn't get service so I pressed on about a mile until the Eatery Inn. Pitifully exhausted and shivering, I stopped for a drink watching a group of deer walk through the neighborhood. Cookies and some poorly executed pushups got me warm enough to continue painfully on in the dark. Cows mooed as I moved through Corkindale and traffic was very light. I spent the night near Rockport miserably cold and wet to the sounds of fireworks, shotgun blasts and quarter-sticks of dynamite -- no doubt enthusiastic football fans. I really wished I could share their joy but to me the sport and I have little in common. I was never any good at sports and right now I was too busy trying to survive the night to celebrate a frivolous and brutal game between millionaires. All my gear was soaked through including my sleeping bag and it was a real task figuring out how to get warm. Maybe it was the cold or the exhaustion but there were times where I was thinking what a failure the whole thing was. Not just this trip, my school life or personal life; I mean, my whole life. And I kind of hoped I would go hypothermic. But my personality had split and one of me wanted to stay warm more than the other. A blue light cast by the moon kept me company throughout the drippy night.
Jackson Pollack night
A few bouts of crazy dreams, hot chocolate and some cookies improved my spirits in the morning for the ride out. I put to use the ipod I brought for motivation during the last hard miles. The rain was heavy at times and I took cover by the Sauk boat launch shelter for a few hours. I made some more ramen and tried in vain to dry out my things. I did manage to warm up which was nice. A forest service cruiser came by every hour to prowl the parking lot. He gave a friendly wave that seemed to say "don't stick around too long" so after I had captured a liter of rainwater I boogied out of there. This day was the shortest so I arrived in Darrington at 2:15pm and spent the rest of the day in the library. All in all I think I did about 105 miles. It was pretty difficult and I didn't even finish approaching my objective. I was hoping to do something sort of glorious but it ended up being kind of depressing. Yeah there were some cool sights but overall not a repeater. I think I'm done biking for a while. And totally done with trips when I know for a fact that rain is in the forecast. I just hope I can find something to get out of my funk...
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