Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mt Baker - Return to North Cascades

About a month ago I stood on the summit of Middle Sister and looked North to see the faint outline of Mt. Adams.  Two weeks later on the top of Mt. Adams I peered North again, this time to see Mt. Baker in the distance.  It seemed only right to drive north, just short of the Canadian border, to ascend up the slopes of Mt. Baker.  We assembled in Glacier, Washington with Mazamas climb leader Whit Fellers.  This was my first climb of the season where I was not the Assistant Climb Leader.  I was looking forward to being just a team member, even though I would have to take turns carrying the rope.  As a University of Washington alum I was pleased to see that the colors of our ropes were purple and yellow.

Mt. Baker is the second most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states, so once we left the trail we roped up.  Only when we arrived at our campsite at Black Buttes Ridge did we unclip from our rope.  While others went to nearby rock outcropping to fill up water bottles I dug out a eating area in the snow.  Later we assembled for dinner.  Above us was the summit, towering over the vast fields of broken ice.  With out stomachs full we reviewed crevasse rescue and then retired for the night.

Our slumber was interrupted by the crash of icefall in the distance.  We stepped out of tents  to clear skies and the moonlight shining off of the snow, which did not last for long.  As we gained elevation wisps of dark clouds started to encircle the summit.  A lenticular cloud was forming there.  These flying saucer like clouds are often a suggestion of precipitation within 48 hours.  They can form fast and I have heard that one does not want to be caught in one on a mountain summit.  We continued to ascend and monitor, placing extra wands to mark our trail.  These would help us navigate back to base camp should the mountain be shrouded in a whiteout.

When I first saw that cloud forming, I thought there was a good chance that we would not reach the summit, so I decided to observe how our leader assessed and handled the situation.  That would help shift my focus from the summit to learning from the experience.  It seems that the patron saint of mountain climbers was looking after us during this trip.  First the Forest Service had completed a new bridge across Grouse Creek just before we started.   Then hours before we arrived at our base camp they had installed two privies at our base camp.  Then the lenticular cloud broke up, so we continued upwards, past the crevasses and ice fall.  The toughest part was the slog up the Roman Wall.  Upon the crater the clouds cleared up and we could see the summit in the distance.  Soon we were on top and it was windy.  I was surrounded by memories of biking in the San Juan Islands, camping in British Columbia, and climbing in the North Cascades.

The snow was getting softer so it was time to descend.  As we returned to Black Buttes more climbers were arriving.  Not long after we took down our tents others were pitched in the same place.  I was really impressed when our climb leader asked us for feedback.  The chance to discuss how the climb went made it even more meaningful.

More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Full House on Mears Street

Recently I was blessed with the visit of my sister Tanya and nephew Oscar.  They took the train from Seattle to Portland, which was a thrill for Oscar.

Only hours later my cousin Eric and wife Karen and their daughters Julianna and Sophia pulled into my driveway.
It was great to spend time with everybody.  The big thrill for me was to watch Julianna and Oscar riding bikes and trikes in my backyard.  I knew there was a good reason to have a large concrete patio.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summer Reading: The Sea Runners

I have completed reading Ivan Doig's novel The Sea Runners.  I must admit that part of my interest in this author is that he is fellow University of Washington graduate.  However, I was also drawn to this book because it is a tale of the Pacific Northwest.  Ever since reading Timothy Egan's The Good Rain I have been interested in how the land shapes us as individuals. 

Doig's novel is about four Swedish men who have signed up to be indentured servants at the Russian settlement in what is today's Stika, Alaska.  Their status is not much greater than slaves.  One of them organizes the theft of a canoe and they escape as the Russians are nursing hangovers from the Christmas celebration.  Their goal is to canoe south all of the way to the Astoria, Oregon.  Doing so they braved the wind, rain, ocean currents, starvation, natives and each other.

While the journey has its dangerous moments, it seemed that the greatest obstacle each had to overcome was the strenuous day to day living.  I think the author did a good job of creating four different men with different motivations and show how they coped with the day to day life.  As someone of Swedish descent, I also enjoyed getting insights into the people from my homeland at that period of time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mount Adams

This weekend I joined climb leader Lori Freeman and nine other climbers to explore the South slopes of Mt. Adams.  When we left the trailhead at Cold Springs Campground Saturday morning, little did we know that about one mile south an unexpected surprise was simmering.

While the South Side of Mount Adams is not a technical climb, sudden whiteouts, altitude sickness, and a safe glissade down are major concerns.  Our group got some great practice ascending a steep snow slope by climbing in balance with an ice axe.  As we hiked upward we were treated to views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood.  I found it comforting to see Hood to the south, a familiar landmark looking after us.  We settled at a great camp just below the Lunchcounter, that offered plenty of tent sites, running water, and good access to the climb route.  After dinner and a pre-climb meeting, we were treated to a very nice sunset.

After a quick review of Ice Axe self arrest, we started our ascent about 5:20am.   The weather was favorable for our summit day.  Looking south we could see Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top.  We could also see a column of smoke rising.  As we ascended the fire grew.  It was not long until we saw air tankers dropping fire retardant.

When we reached 11000 feet we were at the top of the false summit.  In the distance was the true summit, about another 1200 feet higher.  This was also new territory for me.  I'm sure I was not the only one wondering how they would fair at a higher elevation than Hood.  As we ascended the final distance I noticed a slight headache, which I shared with the group.  We arrived at the summit about 11:10am.  In the distance were the Goat Rocks, Mt. Rainier, the North Cascade, and Mt. Baker. 

We reviewed proper glissading technique and then I took over and led the descent.  We had avoided an earlier departure time to allow a descent when the sun had softened the snow for a safe glissade.  While the snow was soft, there were a couple of hard bumps, which I still feel and I type this report.

We were concerned whether the Cold Springs fire had cut off our way home.  At this there was little we could but return to base camp, pack up, and head out.  We found out that the cars were fine and that we could leave with a the Forest Service escorting us past the dicey parts.  We were quite impressed with how well the Forest Service was organized.

This climb was a milestone in my development as a climb leader, as it was my third Assistant Climb Leader experience in Leadership Development.  However, by no means is it the end of my apprenticeship.  Not only do I have more assists scheduled this summer, education is a lifelong endeavor.