Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mount Shuksan

It was 11:30 pm at the Alfy's pizza in Sedro Woolley, Washington. I was one of four people standing outside in the parking lot. We had barely made it here in time to order take out, so our discussion of the days events had to take place outdoors. Originally we had planned on spending the night at a higher elevation, but circumstances had changed our plans.

The plan was to hike into base camp at 6100 feet on Friday, cross the Sulphide Glacier and ascend via the Southeast Rib on Saturday, and hike out on Sunday after a night of rest. The venue was Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades National Park. Two years ago I had summited Mt Baker and looked down on this peak. I was so impressed that I resolved to return.

Mount Shuksan as seen from the summit of Mount Baker

The hike in was glorious, despite the bugs and downfallen trees. As we hiked along Shannon Ridge we marveled at the views of Mount Baker. It got even better once we passed through the pass at 5400 feet as more the grandeur of the North Cascades came into view. It was a shame that someone more familiar with the peaks of the area was not amongst us.

Approaching base camp

We pitched our tents on the snow at a elevation of 6100 feet. There was glacier melt trickling down, so we did not have to melt water. The setting was incredible, looking North was the summit pyramid and an impressive set of crevasses. In all other directions the mountain peaks seemed to go on forever. After a pre climb meeting and discussion about crevasse rescue we retired to our tents.

View of the summit pyramid from base camp

The weather seemed mild as we roped up in the morning. Staying on the west side of the glacier, we did not have to cross any major cresvasses. Instead of ascending the summit pyramid via the popular Central gully, we ascended by the Southeast Rib route. I had read that this route had better rock and less chance of party induced rockfall. As I lead up this route I was quite pleased to have the chance to put the skills that I had learned in last years Advanced Rock class to use.

About 300 feet short of the summit I started to feel some light drizzle. While the others ascended by the rope that I had secured I scouted the route out a little. The rock was starting to get wet. At that point I decided that we needed to head down. I felt at peace with my decision. Then the others reported hearing a high resolution buzzing. One lady took off her helmet and her hair was standing straight up! The air was electrically charged, lightning was not far off. We quickly set up a rappel and descended down into the Central Gully. By the time we had roped up for glacier travel the clouds were moving in and we were hit by blowing rain.

Our descent down the glacier had been orderly, but we had been hammered by the wind and rain. Back at base camp we found that one of the tents had been blown away, only to be rescued by another climber. So much for our restful night at base camp. We packed up our wet gear for a long hike back to the trailhead.

As I look back I cannot help to think of all of the blessings of this climb. One from our team really enjoyed learning about the nuts and bolts of glacier navigation. Others got to overcome a challenging portion of the rock climb. The weather had turned on us quickly. It is difficult to say whether there were signs that we could have recognized earlier. However we did heed the warnings and worked together as a team to safely return to the trailhead. This climb was a great learning opportunity for all.

You can find more photos of this climb at this link.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Remembering Renwick 'Ed' Dayton

I got a rare treat as I drove North up Highway 101 on Saturday. It was so clear that I could see Mount Baker, nearly centered on the blue green waters of the Hood Canal. Many times in clear and cloudy have I driven along here, but I could never recall a day where I could see this giant of the North Cascades from here.

I was not here on a lark nor did I have any hiking or climbing scheduled for the weekend. Rather I was going to Camp Parsons to say goodbye to Ed Dayton, who was tragically killed in an automobile /motorcycle accident.

Ed was on the Camp Parsons Staff when I was a Scout, before I joined the staff. He was one of those guys that I looked up to as a Scout. When I was backpacking with the Camp Parsons High Adventure program it was Ed that picked us up at the trail head.

After I had worked on the Parsons Staff I frequently saw Ed at the work parties. One could not help to admire his smile and firm handshake. He always looked happy to see me. And it was always a treat to witness his sense of humor. So it was a shock read that he was gone.

So many of us gathered at Campfire Point to celebrate his life. It seemed fitting and proper that we were sitting on the very benches that Ed helped build. I grieved that I had lost a role model, that camp had lost a great supporter, and that we had lost a friend.

John Moen recording stories about Ed

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unicorn Peak

Driving from Portland to Mount Rainier National Park was an act of faith Friday evening. My windshield wipers were often on full as the rain fell. The weather forecast called for party sunny skies on Saturday. Many times I have been driving to the trailhead in the rain, questioning my sanity, but betting that the weather would improve. I had also gambled that I would be able to find a campsite at Rainier's Cougar Rock campsite on the busy 4th of July weekend. As usual, things fell into place.

The occasion was a Mazamas climb of Unicorn Peak, which is found in Rainier National Park's Tatoosh Range. Unicorn Peak did not suffer the same fate as my Brothers or Hood climbs in that it was only rescheduled. The other two had been canceled outright due to lousy weather and unsafe avalanche conditions. That was last month, today I focused on assembling my team and seeing if Unicorn Peak would allow us safe passage.

Upon arrival at the trailhead there was a lone car with Oregon plates parked, turned out it was two friends from the Mazamas out on their own climb. As the day passed our two teams worked together on several occasions. It was a very satisfying part of the climb for me.
I had scheduled this climb because I thought it would be a great climb for beginners and I would have the chance to practice the skills that I learned last year from Advanced Rock. I also wanted to face the rappel again, as six years ago I took a pendulum swing there that gave me a good scare.

Approach the crux of the climb: the snow moat.

The weather was cooperative, although we were sopped in the clouds for two thirds of the climb. We made good progress past Snow Lake and up the first gully. Upon reaching the Unicorn Saddle we had to negotiate a snow moat as the bridge from the snow to the rock had melted out. Working with the other party we were able to find safe passage across.

Climbing up the summit block.

At the summit block I placed a fixed line that the others tied into to protect them as they ascended. I was the last one to descend off of the summit pinnacle. I found it rewarding to return here and see how my climbing skills have improved over the years.

Rappel off of the summit block. This time I was ready for the pendulum. Photo by Andy Prahl.

As we descended the clouds opened up and we were treated to stellar views of Mount Rainier.

You can find some more photos at this link. For another perspective on this climb, check out another trip report from this climb here.