Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mount Adams - SW Chutes - 06.27.09

Elevation Gain: 6800'
12 miles RT
Left car: 4:30 am
Summit: 12:30 pm
Back at car: 4 pm
11.5 hours car to car

I had one weekend available before going to France, and I asked Jennifer if I could go skiing. She said yes, and I talked to Dan about a summit attempt on Mount Adams. He invited Chris along, and we had our trip. The goal would be to climb the South Route, and either descend the climbing route or the Southwest Chutes. We would make the decision once there to see what coverage was like.

We left Seattle a little after Noon on Friday and took the long way down. (Is there a short way to Mount Adams from Seattle?) We drove down to Portland and then east on I84 to Hood River before crossing the Columbia again and heading up to the mountain. On the way down we discussed how many people we thought we'd see. This question was starting to be answered when we stopped to get our permits. There were 3 other cars there with about 3 people in each, all getting permits to climb. When we arrived at the campground, we found it full with cars. There had to be over 100 cars! We had difficulty finding a spot, and then parked and got ready to sleep.

Sleeping was next to impossible. Cars rolled in all through the night trying to find a spot. A loud Vanagon pulled up and proceeded to be restarted a few times while the owners were attempting to park it level to sleep in. At one point, well after 1 am a car rolled in blasting their stereo. ("Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins) This could be heard with their doors and windows closed.

Our wake up time of 3:30 am rolled around and we started to motivate. We were finally moving by 4:30 and headed up the trail. There were plenty of others already hiking as well. Since there was no snow in the parking lot, we were booting from the start. Dan choose to wear hiking boots, while I wore my ski boots and Chris his snowboard boots. It took about 500' vertical before we met snow. It was not continuous, and quite hard, with plenty of boot tracks, so we kept on booting up.

Chris wasn't feeling well so we were not making great time, but not bad either. About 900' vertical and hour was our pace early on. We made a stop around 9000' where Chris took some Ibuprofen and put his split board on his pack as an A-Frame to better stabilize the load. The Chris. Once we passed the "lunch counter" (a large flat area with good high camps) we kept looking back, but could not make him out from the hundreds of people on the mountain. Around 10000' Dan and I stopped at a rock island to see if we could see him. He was just past the lunch counter and we presumed he would take at least a half hour to get to our location. From our previous discussion, we knew Chris was not there to summit, and Dan and I made the decision to head for the summit and meet Chris at Piker's Peak (the false summit) and the entrance to the Southwest Chutes.

Dan and I continued on. I was really affected by the altitude and was not feeling great. I slowed a bit right before the false summit. Once there, I was really not feeling great and took a brief break. Dan and I checked out the SW Chutes and saw a few skiers drop in. We didn't like the icy sounds we heard from their skis and thought we might be better descending the climbing route. After some discussion, Dan and I decided to drop our packs, put on crampons and make the final 600' push to the summit. Dan lost me almost immediately. It felt like I was dragging an anvil up the last steep section to the summit plateau. I had all of the symptoms of AMS: headache, dizziness, nausea. Dan reached the summit 15 minutes before I did. Once there, I snapped a few pics, and we headed down to meet Chris.

Back at Piker's Peak we talked about the descent. I took an Ibuprofen and we geared up. The wind had picked up and we all put on our poofy jackets. The decision was made to descend the chutes as they had softened up in the time that Dan and I went to the summit. I was still a bit dizzy, but knew that descending was the only cure and I told the guys I was going to take it easy at first. I headed over to the chutes before them and made my first turns.

The snow was fantastic! To use the skier's cliche it was sweet buttery corn. Almost immediately I felt better! Was it the skiing? Was it the drop in altitude? Who knows? I was having the greatest ski run of my life! Dan and Chris hopped over a rock band to descend the next chute to skier's right. I saw what looked like a lot of rock where they were going and stayed in the main chute. There was a mess of other skiers and boarders in the main chute, and there were occasional rest periods to wait for others to clear the next section of the run. This was fine with me as it gave me an opportunity to rest a bit and to snap a few pics. At one point, someone kicked a rock down the chute, but I think everyone avoided it safely.

The bottom of the chute I took got narrow and steep with a rocky snow finish. I needed to make a few quick turns and then ski out to the right to join Dan and Chris. Once on flatter terrain I finally got to remove my jackets and gloves for the rest of the ski out. The next section below the chutes is what we called "the mine field." There were rocks all over the snow. Most about the size of a softball. They had all melted into the snow to some degree with some creating large holes that you had to jump over or turn quickly around because they were not obvious until you were on top of them.

After the mine field, there was a short steeper mogul slope. It was probably the trickiest section to ski as the moguls were icy hard and had steep sides. The best you could do was follow other's tracks before you and add a little side slipping in. Dan, Chris and I continued to follow another party out who had great knowledge of the route. We were able to ski for quite some distance. There was a brief rock step that I had to come out for and then a little more skiing for me. Then the snow was too patchy and the trees too tight for me to continue safely without damaging my equipment. I de-skied and continued to walk down. Dan and Chris stayed in and managed to ride to the 6300' level. Which gave us all around 5000' of vertical ski run.

Once at the 6300' level we were at the "round the mountain" trail. From there it is was a matter of traversing back to the climbing trail and heading back to the car. Dan and Chris switched into hiking boots/shoes and I continued in my ski boots. We arrived back at the car parched and chugged some water and prepared to leave.

On the way out, we saw a sign that said: "Big Tree, 1/4 mile." So we went. Wow! The largest Ponderosa Pine I have ever seen. The pic tells the stats, as does Dan and Chris standing under it. Quite a sight and worth stopping for before or after a climb of Adams.

Overall it was a great trip. We hit the route perfect both for time of day and season. The snow was perfect for the ride down and the chutes were a great descent. This was Chris' second time doing the route, and he felt the next time he would do the whole hike in hiking boots and bring a full board as both times he has done this trip neither involved skinning. Skinning was possible, and probably at times made for a quicker ascent, but the snow was icy, and it never seemed to make great sense to switch over. Many people who where skinning up were using ski crampons, and none of us even own them. Chris also said he wouldn't bring an ice ax or crampons. I'd probably bring the ax, or at least a Whippet. The hiking was mellow and there were a few steeper sections of the hike, but nothing over 30°. The boot path is well beaten in, and if it wasn't, crampons may have been nice, but not necessary.

This mountain also has a remarkable amount of people on it. We were guessing there were around 300 people climbing the South Route yesterday, but it is hard to tell. (My one pic of the snowfield shows around 70 people on it.) The crowds are unpleasant, and run the gamut of the goat rodeo. People with polypro under shorts with axes and crampons to guys with jean and army boots with no back packs. Quite a crowd. I guess it makes sense being a non-technical climb of the state's second tallest mountain. But the crowds were not fun, and it is not likely I'd want to go again unless I could go mid week.

This trip marks another goal completed that I wanted to achieve this year. (Ski of Mt. Adams.) It also once again proves that skiing rules for these long snowy descents. It also makes me turn the corner on the possible five Washington Volcanoes in one year. I only have to summit Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to make that possible. (What have I got myself into?)

My pics are here.
Dan's pics are here.
Chris' pics here.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

North Twin Sister - West Ridge - 06.19.09

Elevation Gain: 3800'
10 miles RT
Left car: 6 am
High point (5000'): 10 am
Back at car: 1 pm
7 hour round trip

We were supposed to head to Washington Pass this weekend. But when Julie made her surprise visit to Ken and Liz's wedding last Saturday, she told me she was done with climbing for now and wanted to concentrate on her bike ride.

So Ken and I started planning something for ourselves. This became a climb a Mount Constance in the Olympics. And we were pretty excited about it. As luck would have it, after 29 days in Seattle without precip, the weather was starting to look sour for the weekend. So we made a last minute decision to change the destination to North Twin Sister. A climb Ken and Sammy wanted to do earlier in the season, but didn't go due to avy danger.

View Larger Map

The weather for the Constance area was 30% chance of precip for Fri/Sat while North Twin can be done in one day and had a mostly cloudy forecast for Friday. So things looked good when we drove up Thursday evening, and we could see the route from Highway 9.

The weather was a bit more gloomy when we awoke Friday morning. There was a low cloud deck, and no sign of the sun. While we ate breakfast in the car, a wet mist coated the car. Ken and I decided to go ahead with the climb, and that it might just burn off and become sunny. We figured we'd take our time to give the sun a chance to fight the clouds. The approach route on logging roads is supposed to be confusing, but we had no issues finding the appropriate turns, which even had mile marker posts. There was a new bridge over a creek crossing and what seemed like no time, we were on the overgrown logging road section of the approach. By this time, it was not only misting, but legitimately raining. It was driving me nuts, so I put on a rain shell. Ken toughed it out and kept going.

Shortly afterward we arrived at the 4100' "trail head." This section was never a logging road, and was a steeper, narrow, muddy trail. Within a short distance, the fronts of my pants were soaked. We then reached a section of tall (old growth?) trees. The brush wasn't bad, but I made sure to knock water off the blueberry bushes before hiking past them. The treed section was short, and we were soon out on the ridge to start the technical portion of the climb. We had agreed in the woods to climb short distances at a time so retreat would be easy. Since we could not see the summit, or most of the route, we determined that navigating the snowfield down would not be a great option, and we should down climb the route.

We dropped our poles, and started on the mostly 2nd class ridge. After a short 3rd class step we were on fairly level ground again. The rain was coming down in big drops. The wind was blowing. We had cold hands from touching the rock. We were at 5000'. Just a few feet short of the first down climb into a notch. We contemplated going to the notch and then decided we had had enough. We headed back into the woods.

In the woods we met a few guys and a kid who were going to attempt the climb. They looked ill prepared for the conditions, but who am I to say? They rode motorcycles in to the highest point they could so at least they didn't have the commitment that Ken and I did hiking about 4+ miles on logging roads. Ken and I hiked out and drove back to Seattle after that.

This was an interesting trip, as Ken and I both needed to get out (and prove to myself at least) that we were not afraid of a little weather. It just didn't make a whole lot of sense climbing with no views and in the rain. We would have been sketched the whole way, and it would have taken longer. And for what? But now we know how easy navigation is on the approach. We now also think it may be worth it to bring mountain bikes for the approach as well. (Although I'm glad I didn't have one, as mountain biking in the rain would be really muddy.) We also realized that if you are not doing the glissade descent, there is no avy danger from wet slides on the route which means it can be done early in season before the snow has settled. (But from what I've heard, one of the reasons to do the route is the 1000' of glissading.)

Sorry, no pics. I left my camera in the car and Ken never took his out due to the rain.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Prusik Peak - West Ridge - 06.06-07.09

Elevation Gain: 6650'
~18 miles RT
2 Days
West Ridge: 5 hours up, 1:30 down

Scott asked me if I'd be willing to lead a climb of Prusik Peak in the Enchantments for the weekend. I told him yes, as long as we attempted some other climbs on Temple Ridge as well.

We got together a team of four for the climb and decided on a leisurely start to the trip. This was a mistake as it really cut our chances of getting in multiple climbs. We were hiking from the Snow Creek Trail Head around 10am, with the hopes of reaching the Enchantments in the early afternoon with time to complete a climb.

Our original intent was to hike in and camp somewhere near or above Snow Lakes. However, while on route we checked our beta and the maps and decided that we would have the best chance at completing three climbs if we came in from the north side up Temple Canyon. This approach was similar (and probably worse) than heading to the Enchantments via Asgard Pass. We left the Snow Creek Trail around Nada Creek and headed up. It first started with loose talus terrain with a slight boot path or drainage. Then we met a short 5th class step that we roped up for to surmount. Above that we saw a few cairns, but it was mostly scrambling to reach more level ground in the canyon. Once on more level ground it was impossible to follow any trails with the patchy snow, so we mostly hugged the creek. By around 6pm we were tired, and it made sense to start looking for camp. We were successful in finding some flatter spots near a lake around 6300'.

During dinner (Kudos to Bram for bringing up sausage and pasta in the box. What a champ.) we discussed what had to be done on Sunday. Since we all knew heading back out the way we came in would be difficult route finding and involve a rappel with full packs, we decided it was in our best interest to head out via Snow Lakes.

It rained during the night and we awoke at our original time with severe fog and we decided only one climb would be tackled as we went to sleep for another hour or two. Later when we awoke again, the sun was starting to come out and we could see the peaks around us. By the time we ate breakfast and packed up camp, we were in the fog again. Route finding was difficult, but we mostly kept near the creek heading in the general direction of Prusik Pass. The snow conditions did not help our situation as there was mostly continuous snow with patches of exposed rock and slabs that were wet and had numerous moats and voids. With all the moisture in the air and the wet rock about our thoughts were moving to just getting to Prusik Pass to start our descent back to the trail head.

After a few hours of wallowing, the sky parted enough for us to get a pinpoint on our location. We were above Shield Lake and below Temple Ridge. After a steep snow slope and some rock scrambling, we arrived at the base of the climb where the rock was dry, and we were ready to gear up.

By now it was noon and we were going to have to be fast and efficient to complete the route and not come out by headlamp. There was a party on route ahead of us, but they were a few pitches up and shouldn't slow us down. But since it appeared we might catch them, we decided to pitch out the first two pitches rather than simul climb them. The first pitch was fairly mellow and mostly 4th class with a few 5th class moves. Scott led off first and belayed atop a crack on a nice perch. Bram followed behind him and I led up to just under their belay location. While belaying Jay up the first pitch we experienced the clouds rolling in again this time with some hail. Fortunately it was not wetting the rock and we figured it would blow over, which it did. Then we headed out on the second pitch which had more 5th class including an interesting steep crack bit, but also a fair amount of 4th class as well.

Once at the top of the second pitch, we were at the crux of the climb, the 5.7 unprotectable slab. It looks far more imposing than it is and even has a bit of exposure. This is truly a quality pitch. There is a piton to clip at the base of the slab, and then you climb the slab using the arete as a hand hold. After a short bit you gain a flake where pro can be placed. Then it is around a corner on an airy exposed alpine traverse. (You just can't get climbing like this cragging.) Made even more dramatic by the clouds blowing in. We stopped the pitch short due to rope drag and then did a roped scramble on 4th class to the base of the summit pitch.

Jay led the summit pitch which was quality climbing on flakes and cracks including a final chimney section to reach the summit. It was difficult following this pitch as the pack kept putting me off balance and jamming into the rock. (We had ice axes and boots for the return to the base.) We did haul packs up the final chimney, so it was convenient not to climb the chimney with a pack. Once on the summit we proceeded to take a few summit photos and start rappelling as we were running late. (We had the option to bail before the 4th class, but we figured what was another hour added to our return time for the final pitch.)

Five rappels later we were at the snow and attempting to stay on the rock for the high traverse back to the base of the climb. The high traverse was fairly easy and quick back to the packs. We packed up and then proceed to head west on the ridge until we could down climb south toward Lake Vivian.

Unfortunately, we left the base of the climb after 7pm and we were hustling down the snow and slabs until we could finally reach the Snow Creek Trail near Lake Vivian. Also, once we reached the trail we accidentally headed the wrong way for a bit before realizing our error and returning to the correct direction. Initially we made good time, and reached Snow Lakes by 9pm. Headlamps came on around 9:30pm and we hustled down the trail. Jay started falling behind and Scott hung with him to keep him with the group while Bram and I forged ahead scouting difficult areas through bogs, slabs and creek crossings. When we arrived at Nada Lake we made a decision to stop to pump water once we reached the footbridge a bit further down the trail.

At the footbridge we took a long break and took a bulk a Jay's gear and spread it among us so his burden could be eased for the rest of the way down. From there we started hiking again and then came up with the idea of sending Bram to the car to drop his pack and then come back up for Jay's pack. Being three miles out meant we wouldn't see a return on this result until the final half mile, but I think Jay was thankful for it. Hiking down the trail with Snow Creek Wall bathed in moonlight. We all hit the car spent around 2:30 Monday morning.

Nothing was open in Leavenworth, so we couldn't even get a snack and proceeded to drive back to Seattle. By Steven's Pass, only Jay and I were up but both fading fast. So we stopped and took a 15 minute snooze break. I may have reawaken briefly but it appears I fell asleep in the car shortly west of Steven's Pass only to come alive when we dropped Scott off at his car in Monroe. I finally arrived home after 6am and promptly went to bed.

This was an interesting trip. It felt way more strenuous than Mt. Rainier last week and left my body in worse shape. (The skiing on Friday probably did not help.) The mileage of getting into the Enchantments really seems to be the downfall for me. Heavy overnight packs with climbing gear was not helping matters. I think if we had better weather, and trail conditions we could have at least accomplished two climbs in two days. (Assuming we started earlier on Saturday.) I think most people would enjoy the Prusik, High Priest, and Temple combo in a three day trip. It was nice to climb Prusik which had a nice technical pitch for the summit that was really enjoyable climbing. The crux pitch was also a really fine alpine pitch as well.

My pics are here.
Bram's pics here.
Scott's here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mt. Pilchuck Ski - 06.05.09

Elevation Gain: 2324'
4 miles RT
Left car: 8:20am
Summit: Approx. 11am
Returned to car: 1:20pm
5 hours car to car

Eight consecutive months skiing! (Dan pointed out that was pretty good considering I had only been skiing 18 months.)

Dan was being forced to take a day off from work this week due to lack of work, or the economy. So we had planned earlier in the week to ski Mt. Pilchuck on Wednesday. But it turned out Dan had to get some work done and we postponed to Friday.

With the high temps, we weren't sure what to expect about snow firmness. When we arrived in the parking lot, nothing was left of the measured 5' of snow that the forest service stated was in the parking lot two weeks ago. (I guess two weeks of >70° temps will do that. Heck it was 89°F at our house in Seattle earlier this week.)

With the warm temps we decided it was safe to leave the crampons in the car. We started boot packing up the trail and continued to do so even when we met continuous snow. At some point it may have made sense to start skinning, but both of us felt that the boot packing was going well. This would also save us from having to get our skins wet. The hike up was uneventful, except for the cloud we were hiking in. Then, we waited a bit and the summit came into view. We did an end run east around a cliff band below the summit ridge and then came back west to gain the saddle between Mt. Pilchuck and Little Pilchuck. (Another party coming up as we descended said they tried the direct route and found it sketchy.) Once under the saddle, I left my skis at the base and we pulled out ice axes for the final steep bit to the ridge.

We then had a hard time trying to stay on snow and not fall in moats to get to the lookout. The last rock scramble was especially hard in ski/snowboard boots, and it seemed like we spent as much time on the summit ridge as we did getting to it. We went inside the lookout, took our boots off and hung out. We were the only ones there. We ate lunch and read the signs and dried out gear a bit. Then we headed down. Just off the rocks we met a lone skier and then three guys bare booting. We got back to the saddle and I plunged stepped down to my skis while Dan geared up to board that section. We then traversed a bit east where I finally strapped on my skis.

The snow was OK for skiing. The sun cups were big and bumpy, but not so much that it was difficult. The corn on top was a bit sticky, but was not deep sloppy mush like it may have been earlier in the week, or last week. We stitched together some turns then descended into the clouds where we had to pick our route through trees etc. while trying to follow our boot pack from the morning. We finally de-skied about 700' above the parking lot. There was skiable snow below that point, but with the lower angle terrain and Dan on a split board, it didn't seem warranted to put skis back on.

Overall a nice easy experience on skis which makes me want to get out and do more spring skiing. I had a nice learning experience with ski boots and scrambling. To which I realized it may make more sense to have the boots buckled all the way. (I only had the two arch buckles done.)

My pics are here.
Dan's are here.