I got an invitation from Rick to do Mt. St. Helens on Thursday, 27 January. The weather was perfect: light winds and highs around 40 were predicted. NWAC said Avy danger was low. Game on.
I turned out to be my own biggest obstacle: I got 3 hours of sleep before the climb, and I’d only gotten 6 hours the night before. I met Rick and Asia at the MMC at 3 AM. We made a stop at the Arco in Woodland for gas and coffee; then it was off toward Marble Mountain Sno-Park, the jumping-off point for most winter and spring ascents of MSH. On the way, we encountered an Elk hanging out in the middle of the road that looked like the heavyweight champion of the neighborhood. He casually trotted out of our way, as though he was a border guard deciding to let us pass.
Slurping the last of my coffee, I got out of the car and shivered in the dark, chilly morning. It was about 5:00 AM. We changed from comfy shoes to climbing boots and gaiters, and got packs ready to shoulder. We’d brought snowshoes, but on Rick’s hunch about the conditions, we left them in the trunk. We stepped onto the trail at about 5:20.
The first mile made me wish I’d brought the snowshoes. On the ski trail in the dense forest, it was crusty on top, soft underneath. The crust was just weak enough to make one plunge through just when you’d gotten used to tiptoeing across the crust. My body was doing the “What the heck are you doing at this ungodly hour” routine: queasy stomach, headache, general weariness. Some ibuprofen took care of the headache. I had no pills to compensate for the lack of sleep.
Not long after we broke out of the dense trees, the night started to fade, and fire began to spread across the southeastern horizon. The sunrise was uplifting, and I found new energy.
MSH teems with people in May, but we had little company on this morning. A guy and his dog had started out around the same time we had, and we passed each other numerous times on the way up and down. The dog often trotted alongside us when we were in the lead.
Along the way, we saw the remains a massive avalanche that had swept down the gully just to the right of the climbing route. It took us a full hour from when we passed the debris field to reach the area where the avalanche had started. Numerous fractures in the snowpack around the start of the avalanche attested to a recent period of instability. The snow appeared to have consolidated very well since then. Above treeline, we were climbing most of the time on a thick, icy crust, so hard that it was usually impossible to drive the spike of the ice ax through it. When I occasionally managed to, it went down easily a few inches before hitting another bulletproof crust.
As we neared the crater rim, I was astonished by the sight of “tornadoes” of spindrift swirling up above the rim every few seconds. In fact, right at the crater rim was the only place it was really windy all day. We reached the rim at 10:30, and spent about 5 minutes there; just enough to snap some photos and enjoy the spectacular view. Rainier sparkled off to the north, and the crater, streaks of snow and ice clinging to its steep walls, was just as impressive as I remembered it from the first time I’d climbed it.
It was a great climb, and good company. Thanks, Rick and Asia!
Mazama climb of Unicorn Peak
27 June 2010
Leader: Eileen Kiely / Asst. Leader: Greg Willmarth
Unicorn Peak is part of a jagged line of mountains, the Tatoosh, that lie just to the south of mighty Rainier. Unicorn has everything that makes up a great alpine climb in the Cascades: a nice hike through the forest, a snow ascent to a rocky summit block, and a short pitch of low 5th-class rock to gain the summit – and all the while, you’re surrounded by stunning views. The centerpiece of the view is, of course Rainier itself. The great Mountain, however, is often shy about showing itself. Unpredictable spring weather means it can be there one minute, and shrouded in clouds the next. Our group happened to do Unicorn on such a day. We were lucky to catch some glimpses of the Mountain as clouds rolled through, but there were so many other beautiful views around us that we never lacked a reason to be awestruck.
Eileen, Greg, Alex and Betsy stayed in the park the night before the climb. Diana, Leanne and I decided to drive up that morning, which meant starting very early. We met in a far-flung corner of a Safeway parking lot at 4:00 AM, and made the 3 1/2 hour drive, seeing distant Rainier under clear skies from the highway at sunrise.
We met the rest of the team at 8:00, and set out on a trail that was still mostly covered by snow. After reaching a small lake, we ascended a series of three moderate snow slopes. We had brought crampons, but the snow was soft, and we never needed them.
Once gaining the ridge to summit pinnacle, it was a short traverse to the base, where another party was climbing the pinnacle. They let Eileen climb on their fixed line, which allowed her to carry our team’s ropes to the top without having to set protection. With our rope anchored to the top, we prusiked up, one by one. It was a fun climb. There was some exposed scrambling on chunky rock with a couple of big ledges, and a short vertical section on the upper half of the pinnacle with some thrills and tricky footing (especially in mountaineering boots).
The view from the summit was spectacular, even though Rainier was hidden by clouds. By the time we reached the top, the cloud ceiling had lifted enough so that we could see the entire surrounding area, something I never got to see the last time I climbed in the Tatoosh.
On the descent, rather than slogging down those three snow slopes, we glissaded down them, which was a lot of fun. A short hike through the snow brought us back to the cars. Most of us left for Portland at this point, but not Eileen and Greg, for whom Unicorn had been just a warm-up climb. The next day, they were starting an ascent of Rainier, which Eileen is leading.
Diana, Leanne and I were treated to a shock when we pulled in to the Safeway parking lot a 9:45, almost 18 hours after we had left together from there. As we approached the spot where Diana and I had parked our cars, we saw a large white tent in its place. As Diana and I contemplated the possibility that our cars had been towed, Leanne drove around to the other side of the tent, where we saw a surreal sight: There, inside the tent, were our cars, just as we had left them, with boxes of fireworks stacked around them. Unbeknownst to us, that exact section of parking lot had been reserved by a fireworks stand. We were met by a friendly man who seemed to see the humor in the situation as much as we did, though he explained that his boss had told him to call the towing company if the owners didn’t come to claim the cars by 10:00… meaning we were saved from that fate by a margin of 15 minutes.
Another weekend, another adventure.
Several weeks ago, Tom alerted friends that he would be watching the weather for the chance to head up to Mt. Ellinor, in the southern Olympic Range, near Hoodsport, WA. It’s an easy, nontechnical spring snow climb with just a short steep section and a very nice glissade on the descent. Oh, and, the views are out of this world. The weather is notoriously fickle in the Olympics, rewarding those with both patience and flexible schedules. When the forecast started to shape up, Tom seized the opportunity, and 8 of us left Portland at 5:45 AM on Friday, March 19.
Watch the video to hear the rest of the story.
NOTE: This is a 70 MB video; it may take a while to load if you have a slow connection.
Created in iMovie – Compressed with Sorenson Squeeze
Castle, Pinnacle, Plummer
August 15, 2009 – Mazama Climb 172
Leader: Dick Bronder – Assistant: Chris Kruell
The Tatoosh Range comprises a series of rugged peaks that sit right to the south of the mighty Rainier; consequently, there are no better views of Rainier than from the top of one of the Tatoosh peaks. Plummer is a walk up, Pinnacle is a 3rd/4th-class scramble, and Castle has some easy 5th class.
Being a newly minted wet-behind-the-ears rock climber, I was eager to get some practice on these peaks, and hopefully be rewarded with great views. Coming into Rainier National Park on Friday evening, it didn’t look promising. Thick fog obliterated all views of the Mountain and the surrounding area. We took a spot in the Cougar Rock campground and settled into the chilly evening.
All around us, we could hear the merry sounds of children playing and campfires crackling. I was soon wishing I’d brought some firewood! It was funny to be surrounded by car campers and RVs, while some in our party pitched mountaineering tents built to withstand 80 mph winds.
We rose at 4 and were at the trailhead by five. My breakfast consisted of an enormous cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting I’d bought at a gas station the night before. I regretted this decision for the next hour. Our party ascended through the thick fog, and we wondered if we would see the Mountain at all. Just before the top of Plummer, our first peak, the fog sank just enough for a stunning view to appear. For the rest of the day, the fog rose and sank so that our views were intermittent.
The climbing on Pinnacle and Castle was both fun and, at least for me, challenging, both technically and mentally. I’m still learning to be comfortable standing on tiny ledges with my butt hanging over thin air. I’m getting better.
Coming down was an adventure of its own. We did a straight-down-the-mountain bushwhack until we found a faint user trail that often required a “veggie belay,” i.e. hanging onto a branch or root while lowering oneself to a secure spot. Just as the path petered out, Dick spotted the main trail through the brush up ahead. In ten minutes, we were back at the cars, mingling with the tourists who would not see the Mountain that day.
Huge plates of food and hot blackberry pie at the Copper Creek Inn made a fitting end to a great day of climbing!
Sahale Summit, August 5-6, 2009
I always love to join in on Tom Davidson’s wild adventures, so when I got the invitation to do something in the North Cascades, a place I’d never been, I jumped at the chance. So after a long drive up on the previous evening, on 5 August five of us took an incredible hike up to Glacier Camp at the foot of Sahale Glacier, set up camp, bagged the rocky, scrambley summit of Sahale Peak before sunset, then hiked out the next day.
We ended up having perfect weather, which is never a given in the North Cascades; in fact, the forecast looked pretty iffy just before we left. On the morning of our hike-out, clouds rolled in, obscuring the views around the elevation of Cascade Pass and below. Several people we talked to who had recently been up the N. Cascades were disappointed to hear how boring our weather had been: no rain, no wind, no lightning strikes within a stone’s throw of us, etc.
I guess that just means we’ll have to go back.
I climbed Mt. Adams on August 1-2, 2009 with a Mazama group led by Monty Smith and assisted by Leora Gregory.
Mt. Adams is one of the easier major summits in the Pacific Northwest. For the south side route, the main requirement is the strength and endurance to take a very steep walk up to over 12,000 feet.
But this weekend, we were not joining the crowds on the south side route. Heading just to the east of Suksdorf Ridge, which the south side route follows up the mountain, we came instead to the base of the Mazama Glacier.
The Mazama Glacier was heavily crevassed from the summer snowmelt. Ordinarily, the route presents few challenges, though glacier travel precautions, such as traveling in rope teams, are always mandatory. When we did it, the upper part of the glacier was solid ice and gaping crevasses had to be crossed at every turn. In the afternoon, meltwater rushed across the glacier, carving small channels in the ice before spilling into the crevasses. It was a very cool glacier tour.