Sunday, March 28, 2010

Birthday Hike - 03.27.10

Because Jennifer didn't have a whole lot of days in a row off, we just decided to spend the weekend together for my 40th. This included a mellow hike on my birthday. Partially because we were celebrating my friend Steve's 36th birthday the night before and because we were just slow to get up. The idea was to hike to Malakwa Lake from the Denny Creek Trail Head. I had never hiked in this valley previously, and wanted to scout the way to peaks I may attempt from that approach. I was also going to be able to "test out" my new lightweight wool t-shirt.

Due to the late start we set a turnaround time of 3pm. There were a large group of day hikers with jeans on that left the parking lot before us, and we let them get a bit ahead of us before we started off. The trail was wet and free of snow. The temps down in the valley below the highway were chilly as we headed off. We hiked a while before stripping down to our base layers. I was surprised to see how many large western red cedars there were in the forest as well. Some were easily 5-6' in diameter at the base and even more surprising was that they all appeared full height (>100') sheltered from high winds low in the valley.

As we hiked, snow patches appeared, icy and dirty with an apparent fresh layer of snow on top. Right before we got to Denny Creek where the bridge is out, the snow was almost continuous. After crossing the creek, we headed up a fully snowed slope to regain the trail on the other side. Above this point, we would only have brief moments of bare ground in the trees and the rest of the trail was under a fair amount of snow. To my surprise, there were no avalanche warnings at the trail head. This section of trail is on/below avalanche slope and the exposure is not trivial. A person could easily be swept off the cliffs into the creek below by a fast moving slide. There was plenty of evidence of recent wet slides, but none had actually reached the trail. Fortunately the snow was soft and we didn't have any issues with footing. We stopped briefly to look at the falls, and then continued into the woods.

From there, the snow was more firm, and above 3000' in elevation it was clear there was some (~4") newer snow on top. The temps were above freezing and we got wet as snow melted from the tree tops as we navigated the many switchbacks up. After the switchbacks, the trail leveled out and we hiked some more. I thought we may have already hit the saddle that would drop us down to Malakwa Lake, but as we proceeded this hope proved untrue. A short distance from our high point was where the previous high point of the day had been set. We trudged another 300m or so breaking trail until we opted to respect our turn around time. We sat on our packs and ate and turned around to head back.

In the woods, we heard some avalanches. I ran to see if I could see where they came from but I could not. When we got back to the open slopes, it did not appear that any of the debris was fresh and we sort of assumed that perhaps the slides happened from our high point and echoed in a fashion to make them sound like they were in front of us. The rest of the hike out was uneventful. Although amazing to see the lack of preparation in some hikers that are going to a snowy area. (Running shorts/shoes, Chacos...)

Pics are here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Leavenworth Rock - 03.20-24.10

With a few of the students off from school, I decided to make an extended weekend and get some climbing in. Five of us would leave Seattle on Saturday and climb throughout the weekend. Steen would leave, and we would be joined by Sam, Andrew and Tony on Monday. Andrew and Tony would only stay the day, and Sam and Adam left on Tuesday after climbing which left only Sal, Kaeli and myself to climb on Wednesday.

Saturday I was billing as the fun day, and then there would be instruction from Sunday through Tuesday with another fun day on Wednesday. When driving out, Kaeli and Sal suggested they would like to follow trad lines on Saturday to get some practice at looking at gear etc. So after we set up camp at Bridge Creek, we decided on Domestic Dome as our first stop of the day.

I led up B.S. which I still feel is stiffer than its 5.6 rating. (Perhaps why it is called B.S.?) I then watched as everyone other than Sal had difficulty making the crux clean. Once at the top of B.S., I led Kaeli and Steen up Underachiever and Adam led Sal up Connie's Crack. Underachiever was a pretty fun route with some cracks and flakes leading to a 5.8 slab finish. Unfortunately someone stole the second bolt off the slab and I used easier ground to avoid the run out. Once at the top we attempted to hike up to the Rare Earth area. This proved harder than it should and I cursed the maps in the guidebook for making it look easy. After two hours or so of wandering around, we decided to head back to Domestic Dome and do the opposite routes that we had done earlier. To our dismay, a single rope rappel did not make it from the Underachiever anchors to the base. Adam and I were successful at changing it to a double rope from halfway down although our stance was not great and we had no anchor. Once we were back at the base, Adam and Sal top-roped Underachiever while I led Kaeli and Steen up Connie's Crack.

Day 2: Instruction at Mountie's Dome
Sunday started a bit darker and cooler than the previous day as we headed to Mountie's Dome to practice gear placement and mock lead. Kaeli and Sal did great and near the end of the day started their real leads. Steen got some practice in as well, while Adam and I got our practice of climbing in boots and trail runners. We also had a two manned pink tricam removal session. We had light showers throughout the day, but the sun came out for when the real leading started.

Day 3: Instruction at Roto Wall
Sam met us at the campground and then we had a short drive to Roto Wall to start climbing. Sal and Kaeli finished their leads and went on to climb the 5.6 on the slab. Sam worked on gear before eventually getting in his mock and true leads. Andrew and Tony arrived a bit late and did ground work before eventually getting in a few mock leads of their own. Once everyone was finished, we headed to Alphabet Rock to top rope Dogleg Crack and Hind Quarters. Since Adam and I had climbed Dogleg the previous week, we only climbed Hind Quarters. I was bummed that I slipped early on the route but successfully climbed the crux.

Day 4: Climb!
Our intention for the day was to climb R&D and then head to Ground Hog's Day to complete that. However, with five people, it makes for slower and more difficult climbing. We got a fairly late start for R&D, and were doing the Cocaine Connection variation. For a Tuesday, there was a surprising amount of people looking to do the route. One party stopped by while Adam and Sam were on route and decided they did not want to pass us. Kaeli, Sal and I had a party on our tail from below the chimney, and when we got back to the base, there were two parties on route and another team heading to the start. Lots of traffic for a Tuesday in March.

Sam and Adam swung leads on the climb while I played monkey in the middle and Sal and Kaeli swung leads around me. I did lead the second pitch of Cocaine Connection, but it was mostly a traverse as the rope drag of two 10mm ropes became too much for me. Due to my short pitch and other difficulties, we ended up doing the climb in six pitches. This was good, as it gave both Kaeli and Sal more opportunity to swing leads, and place gear. Everyone did great, but it was late in the day when we topped out. Adam stated he was going home with Sam, and Sal, Kaeli and I headed to the campground.

Day 5: Castle Rock
If Adam had stayed, the idea was to be the two of us swinging leads with the students on Midway and Sabre. Since it just three of us, I was monkey in the middle again as we climbed Sabre instead of Midway since it seemed a bit cold when we arrived. I had my shoe tear through on a crack jam near the bottom of the first pitch, which led me not to trust it too much for the rest of the climb. I also got a curved nut off the route too. The climb took a long time, and we called it quits after our "summit".

Overall it was a fun time. I did not get too much leading in, but that is what happens when you volunteer sometimes. I also didn't take too many pictures as I was concentrating on the instruction etc. The climbing was fun, but I was getting a little tired by the last few days. Hard to keep up inspiration during that time period when climbing routes I have already climbed. One way I found was to climb in approach shoes or boots for a different challenge.

My pics are here.
Sal's pics are here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Leavenworth - 03.17.10

Adam and I went out to practice crack climbing in Leavenworth. The original idea was to climb Givler's Crack and do laps on the first part of the second pitch. However, we decided not to do the longer walk and split our time between Gibson's Crack and Dogleg Crack. We got a late start and poked around the canyon a bit before starting as we wanted the sun to warm things up a bit.

I had climbed Gibson's a few years ago, but followed Ian. This time around I wanted to lead it. But I started at the lower start and had placed two pieces in the upper section before I was half way up. Since the crack is fairly uniform in width, I got concerned that I wouldn't have gear to place higher up and bailed off. We set up a top rope and did a few laps each with the obvious crux at the top of the route. My first time through the crux was not pretty and the second time was just fine. I lamented to Adam how this sure gave me a lot of trouble being only a 5.5. I told him I have no problems on the 5.7 Givler's. Which I guess means it was good that we came out and did this as I would rather work on climbs that are giving me difficulty.

Gibson's Crack

After a short break for lunch, we drove over to Dogleg Crack. We hiked around and set up a top rope. I had tried to lead this route last season, but backed off when I found the gear to be almost as difficult as the climbing. I went first, and sort of remembered the moves through the crux, but couldn't seem to sequence them. I lowered off without getting passed it because I was tiring and hanging in the Bod harness was not so comfortable.

Adam gave it a go and was able to struggle his way through the crux before going into an awkward lieback before the climb eases a bit. He hit his high point moments later on the thinner finger crack section and I lowered him because he was pumped. I got back on and struggled and hung through the crux before completing the rest of the pitch with a little fall at the dog leg.

Adam on Dogleg Crack

We were both pretty tired but decided to climb Hind Quarters next to Dogleg. At the crux, our top rope was pulling us too far away from the route to finish, so Adam played with the finger crack a little bit before lowering off. I gave Hind Quarters a go and found myself to be quite tired but at the crux bailed back onto Dogleg to finish. I made my way up for the last time to clean the anchor and walk back down.

It was a strange day as I expected to have a positively easy time on Gibson's Crack and not struggle as badly on Dogleg Crack. I think my previous effort with Lori on Dogleg Crack was aided by taping my hands. I hate to admit that it made that much of a difference, but I really beat up my hands yesterday and struggled more than previously. So it appears to be an obvious connection.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cabin Creek - 03.14.10

With the recent snowfall, Jennifer and I decided to get out to Cabin Creek for another round of Nordic Skiing. They supposedly got 8" of new snow and the trails were to be groomed on Saturday, so I expected decent conditions.

When we got on the road, it was very icy and things were not looking good for enjoyment. Once on the trail, it didn't get any softer. I fell in the one of the first downhills trying not to fall in the ditch on the side of the trail. Snowplowing was difficult on the icy snow. There wasn't always a track which made matters worse.

As we went on the temps rose and things softened up a bit. Sections of trail in the sun were soft with a few spots that looked like they would melt bare by the end of the day. The track went from icy to mush with the darkness of earth showing through it. After my second fall, we spent a fair amount of time in sunnier areas and enjoying the skiing. Although I contemplated the fun in going for a second lap.

Near the end of the course, I fell hard on an icy (crampon use recommended) downhill. I banged my hip hard and told Jennifer I would not continue on a second lap. So once through with the course, we headed back to the car and home.

I'm guessing that was the last Nordic Skiing we will do this season unless some magical snowfall occurs. The conditions were not great, and without more snow, there would be bare patches by the end of the day causing greater frustration. We had a good run this season, and now I'll start preparing for Spring skiing in the mountains.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Snoqualmie Mountain - 03.07.10

Sammy and I planned a day of climbing something for Sunday and we didn't want it to be too intense. After throwing around a few ideas we settled on Snoqualmie Mountain. I have never been up it, and Sammy had when there was no snow, so it would be a new experience for both of us.

We arrived in the Alpental parking lot a little after 7am and were discussing our route options. Sammy was originally thinking to come up the Commonwealth Basin and then access Snoqualmie from Cave Ridge. We had both done that approach for winter ascents of Guye Peak. The guidebooks tell a tale of going up the trail to Cave Ridge from the Alpental Parking lot. I suggested we try something new and if it went, the distance was a whole lot shorter than circumnavigating Guye Peak.

From the parking lot we picked a high spot below a tree band that we would go up and assess the conditions to see if we could continue upward. We figured on twenty minutes to that point and potentially leaving us with enough time to come down and try the other route if this one did not go.

We entered the snow at the "Transceiver Training Area" and started to head up. Within five minutes it seemed like we were half way to the trees. Then the slope got steeper. Sammy and I stayed in some tree where we were following steps and we felt the snow was a little better. It was still before 8am and the sun was not hitting the slopes and the snow was hard and icy. We wondered why we brought snow shoes and contemplated stashing them. I said it would be a guarantee that we would be in waist deep snow later if we cached them now, so we kept them on our packs. This was Sammy's first time on steep snow this season and he was not feeling great about the snow climbing and lagged behind me a bit. I broke out of our stretch of trees and waited for him at a final tree in a more level area before we were to make the push to the trees above to see if the route went.

At this point, Sammy was having reservations about climbing the steep snow. But we agreed to go to the trees to see if the climbing became less difficult. Since we were on more level terrain, we donned crampons at this time. That decision gave both of us a little confidence boost to make the trees.

Nearing the trees, I went ahead of Sammy to check out the situation. I had to cross a moat with a small ice bridge with the help of an alder grab and then front point up steep solid snow into the woods. I stopped below a fallen log. While I thought the terrain looked easier above the log, I did not see any easy ways around it that did not involve minimal snow on rock or other loose terrain. I relayed the information to Sammy who made the decision to descend.

Sammy downclimbed facing in while I attempted to get out of the trees without having to downclimb over the small moat I came up over. It took me a while to reach Sammy after he returned to the more level area where we had put crampons on. At this point we had probably burned too much time to attempt via the Commonwealth Basin.

Fortunately due to our time wasting, the temps were a little warmer even if the sun was now obscured by clouds. Sammy got a new dose of confidence and started to traverse the slope to our left. Before we knew it, we were following another boot path up into the trees and feeling like we might still have a chance at the summit. At a minimum we were hoping to gain Cave Ridge and get a view.

Then we followed the the boot path to ice. There was about an eight foot stretch of maybe 40° ice. I started to chop steps into it. I made some moves with my left foot on rock and my right on ice. I had to swing my ax just to get the pick in and inch. A few moves up I questioned what I was doing, and Sammy and I set about to find another option up. Sammy set out on a traverse left while I tried a section directly above us. Neither was going to go without spicy moves on thin snow over moats and wet rock with significant shrub pulling only to get onto a similar steep hard snow slope. All the while considering how we would get back down once we got around the obstacle. After checking four options around the ice patch we finally decided to head back to the car. We down climbed through the woods back out to the open slope where the sun was shining and the snow already quite soft. We removed our crampons and plunge stepped our way back to the car.

Sammy nearing our high point

Before the plunge step down, I told Sammy it was our hubris that caused our failure. While perhaps an exaggeration, we both had underestimated this climb and had full expectation of reaching the summit. This expectation of easy climbing affected me (at least) in regards to my head space when the going got difficult. Climbing when not in an ideal head space is taxing, and not why I go out.

The plunge step out

I usually say that you learn more from a no summit climb than from a climb where the summit is achieved. On the way down and in the car we discussed things we took away from this. One was that we waited too long to put crampons on. I guess we succumbed to the boiling frog issue on that one. Because we underestimated the climb and snow conditions, we did not bring second tools or steel crampons, not to mention helmets or any type of rope.

Overall we had a fun time and joked about the situation throughout. It was great attempting a climb with Sammy and now I'll have a better idea for the next time I give Snoqualmie Mountain a go.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Exit 38 - 03.06.10

Followed up an excellent day of climbing in Darrington with a not-so-excellent day at Exit 38.

Started the day at Interstate with the intention of finally checking out Off Ramp. Before climbing, we figured out the approach to Off Ramp, but noticed it did not have anchors assessable for top roping. So I decided to warm up on Eating Dust as the stump no longer exists and makes Eating Rocks a bit more difficult start than it was previously. I had no issues on the climb and set up a top rope for Steen to climb. She climbed Eating Dust and then we both climbed Eating Rocks. I brought her to the top so I could finish off with Insomniac, but I balked after clipping the first bolt and could not seem to figure out the moves. My calves were noticeably sore from the previous day and after about four attempts, we decided to rap down.

On the ground we were met by Adam, Zach and his girlfriend. They were going to climb in that area while Steen and I checked out something different. We walked over to Kiss of the Crowbar a nice 5.7 route that I had climbed a few years ago with Lindsay. I started up and found it to be runout and couldn't even locate the second bolt so I went left to climb Attack of the Butter Knives before seeing the second bolt. I then made a traverse back to clip the correct bolt and then back tracked to unclip from the off route bolt.

I was then able to proceed upward. However I was still balking. Steen asked if I wanted to come down, but I told her I was going to go for it. As I clipped the third bolt I realized it suffered from the same problem the second bolt suffered from. The bolt was poorly placed and caused the carabiner on my draw to come to rest on the rock's edge. This concerned me as I was afraid of the biner breaking in a fall. The wind was blowing and I did not feel comfortable climbing upward from that point. But I noticed there might be a bypass around the next steep section by going around it to the right. I informed Steen of what I was about to do and went around to the right. After going around and up, I was a bit above the previous bolt and did not feel comfortable trying to get back on route. I then informed Steen of my decision to attempt to walk off to the right. There was a grassy ledge system with some small shrubs that I was able to traverse until I got to walking terrain. I called "off belay" and untied to walk down to Steen.

I apologized for the lack of my finishing and told her to pull the rope and told her I hoped Adam would be able to complete the route to get my gear. It was Noon, and we decided after telling the others that we would sit in the sun on the talus field and enjoy lunch. It was shady and cold near the base of the wall, and not much better on the route, so the less windy and more sunny talus slope provided a welcome change.

Adam two clips up on "...Crowbar"

After lunch Zach and his girlfriend left to go for a hike while I belayed Adam up Kiss of the Crowbar. He tried to rectify the same issue I was concerned with and did it with adding an additional biner on the bolt. He made his way surely to the top and set up a top rope for Steen and I to climb. While Steen was halfway up a guy came by that was an acquaintance who was hoping to get on the route. I told him I would skip the top rope and he could have it after Steen. Adam instructed me to head to Squishy Bell to see if I could set up a top rope there. I hiked up to Squishy Bell where there was already two parties on routes (which left only one anchor open.) Instead of being the person who holds movie theater seats when others are not in the theater, I dropped the rope and my jacket at the base and went back to pick up my pack. After explaining the situation to Adam, I headed back to wait for him and Steen to join me.

Steen cleaning the anchor on "Crowbar" with McClellan Butte backdrop.

By the time they joined me, I had convinced myself that I would lead Winter Rushing In to set up a top rope for November Glaze. Thankfully, I had no issues leading the route and set up the top rope. Steen followed Winter Rushing In and then all three of us top roped November Glaze. Which is a fun route that has a difficult move to reach the second bolt. After that route, we packed up and headed home.

This was a frustrating day for me as I climbed well the previous day but had some head issues attempting to lead today. Interestingly, I did not have those issues on the final lead, so I am not sure what happened. I guess some times you have off days, or off climbs. I'm going to put it behind me and look forward to the next climb.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Three O' Clock Rock - 03.05.10

Adam had been requesting a trip to Darrington after he found out I went last week. So we hoped for the next sunny/dry cycle to make a trip. Since there was at least a full day without precip we opted to go out to Three O' Clock rock on Friday to see what we could climb.

Due to some technical complications we left later than we wanted to, but I figure that only gave more time for the sun to come out and dry off any wet rock. Driving through Arlington on the way up we could see frost on some roofs that were still in the shade. (The temp was around freezing when I left my house.) I wasn't too concerned because last week there was frost on the trail on the way up and the rock was great.

After the hike up, Adam and I reached the rock around 10am. We spied the route we were intending to climb ('Til Broad Daylight) and thought it looked wet high on the first pitch (or on the second pitch depending on the topo.) We opted to warm up on "Under the Bored Walk" to get a better look at the wetness and see if we should give it a go. This was the route we had noticed had been rebolted last week. Although the anchors did not appear to be rebolted, the rest of the route was and the hangers were stamped with the ASCA letters. We split "Bored Walk" into two pitches. I led the first and Adam led the second. We then did two single rope rappels back to base. Upon rapping I got a good look at the seeps on "Daylight" and decided we should give it a go.

We scrambled up to the base of the route only to see a seep running right down the first ten feet or more. I found an alternate start to the left up a crack and headed off. Adam and I agreed we would split the first two pitches and I would lead both. Due to my detour, the first pitch used a few cams before I was able to clip a bolt or two. The climbing was fairly easy, but the first pitch is always a place where you are trying to dry out your shoe soles, so there was not a whole lot of confidence. I reached the relatively comfy belay stance and brought Adam up.

I eyed the next pitch which appeared well protected although with older SMC buttonhead bolts. This pitch is described as devious and possibly the best 5.8 pitch on the rock in "Weekend Rock." Looking at it I thought the crux would be surmounting the final overlap which seemed quite steep from the belay. I dispatched the first overlap with no issue and was soon sizing up the next one. Due to its proximity to the side of "The Great Arch" this pitch had something I don't normally see on slabs which is some exposure. In order to gain the second overlap I had to go far left to the edge of the arch before making a difficult balance move onto the next overlap. A handful of moves further and I was confronting the final overlap before the next anchor.

Unfortunately this was the section that had multiple seeps on it. Fortunately though, they did not interfere greatly with gaining the overlap. There was also a huge bucket hold that the seeps poured into that left my hand soaking wet upon grabbing the hold. I clipped the bolt above the overlap and started to work out my moves. I thought I was going to have to grab the draw and warned Adam of this. But a few moves of my feet up slightly higher and I mimicked the move that gained me the previous slab. I made a few quick moves to establish myself on this slab and then was able to clip the next bolt. This is where I realized the water was affecting the route. My right foot was on a larger platform but this was just above the bucket I had my hand in earlier and water was running over the platform. Not a lot mind you, but enough to wet it. There appeared to be good dry rock for my left side, but I couldn't find anything for my right. So after attempting a few holds in the water I decided I did not want to be a hero and pulled on the draw to get my right foot out of the water and head up generally to the left of all the water. It was about ten or more feet to the anchor and I was able to place a small cam before reaching the not so comfortable stance. I brought Adam up and he climbed through the wetness on top rope.

When Adam got to the belay he was tying in. I said "I presume this means you want me to lead the next pitch?" To which he responded "yes." This next pitch started with some good moves before moving right to surmount yet another overlap. I moved up from the anchor and was able to get a small cam in before moving right and then I was able to clip a bolt that protected the overlap moves. It was fairly easy and then there were some moves to gain a corner where I was able to place another cam while liebacking the corner. I told Adam this was the good stuff, but it ended shortly as the crack disappeared and I was left with climbing the corner and clipping some bolts. Finger pockets appeared at the end of the corner where there was a small step up. Then a short distance up a knobby face past a couple of bolts to the anchor. While not comfortable, this stance was somewhat more comfortable than the previous and I brought Adam up.

I was concerned about time as it appeared the sun might be going behind the ridge. Once without direct sun, it gets cold on the rock and I didn't want that to happen. We had three pitches to go and my mind was a bit stressed from having led the three to this point. When Adam arrived at the belay I told him if we started the next pitch we would probably have to finish the route due to rappel anchor locations. I then told him I would lower him to the top of pitch one anchors of "The Kone" and that I would then rappel to him. After I lowered him, I rapped down while he got ready the second rope for a double rope rappel back to the base. We made quick work of the second rappel and arrived on the ground to realize it was only 2pm. So we set about to climb something shorter.

I walked to the left of "The Great Arch" and was going to eye the first pitch of "Tidbits" for Adam. It is a 5.6, but when I got there I realized there were only three bolts in about 70' of climbing, so that wasn't a good option for him to lead. I had him come by with the book, and we decided that "Magic Bus" would be our final objective of the day. It is typically climbed as two pitches, but supposedly there are more above that are now forgotten. I offered the first lead to Adam as the second pitch is supposed to be slightly harder. After some internal deliberation, he went for it, and he was on his way. During the lead he said he didn't think anything on the route was 5.8. After following it I agreed. I led the second pitch and also found it to be easier than the rating it was given. There was one tricky move at the top, but perhaps due to our height, Adam and I did not find it that difficult. Adam had left his jacket at the base and was now getting cold as we were no longer in the sun. I lowered him down to the first pitch anchors and then we did a double rope rappel from there. Once again, the route appeared to have newer bolts on the first pitch but had older hardware for the anchors and the second pitch. Perhaps someone can get more of those ASCA donations for this route. I found it to be quite a good beginner lead at Three O' Clock Rock.

After "Magic Bus" Adam and I packed up and hiked out. This was a great day with better than expected weather. We climbed approximately seven pitches. Once again, I suffered from some bad stances at the belays. It is funny when the climbing wears you out less than the belay stations.

My pics are here.

Snow Lake - 03.04.10

Jennifer wanted to get out but not our usual Nordic skiing. But she did not want anything too strenuous. The weather was supposed to be partly sunny so we decided on a snow shoe.

The decision was to go to Snow Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. The round trip is around six miles with around 2000' of elevation gain. We got a fairly casual start leaving Seattle and arriving at the Alpental parking lot around 10am.

While not needed for floatation we donned our snowshoes immediately upon stepping off the road. The crampons on the snow shoes would aid in our traction on the extremely compacted icy snow of the trail. I allowed Jennifer to set the pace and we stomped our way up the trail under cloudy skies.

Due to the warmer temps, it seemed the snow in the avalanche zones had a little corn on top, but was mostly solid. (The predicted avalanche forecast was very low.) We stuck to the trail and hoofed onward.

We were passed by a lone man who was much faster than us. When we were across the last avalanche slope before Source Lake he was already returning. He questioned us on where the trail was to Snow Lake and I told him to go up once you get to Source Lake. He thought the area looked to "avalanchy" and he was returning. Then he explained it was only his second time on snow shoes. After that he inquired about rounding Source Lake and returning on the other side. I told him it was possible and all he had to do is stay above the lake and reach the tracks heading back on the other side. After that he headed in the direction of Source Lake.

Shortly afterward, a loose wet slide occurred on the slope we had crossed before our conversation. It started up in the rock and made its way down to the trail. Not enough material for burial, but enough to knock you off your feet and cause trauma. This was really the only sign of instability we saw all day.

Jennifer and I continued out above Source Lake to see the lone snowshoer returning to the Snow Lake trail after making it most of the way to the other side. We figured he was spooked by the snow conditions and started uphill to the ridge above the lake. There was no defined trail going up and snowshoes became necessary for their floatation properties as I broke trail for Jennifer. After a struggle to gain higher ground it started to snow as the terrain leveled off. We took a break for lunch without ever traveling down to Snow Lake and once our break was over we started heading back. It was now snowing harder and getting colder.

Then the sun started to break out of the clouds. It was still snowing on us, but we could see the sun on some higher ground. Then we were in the sun. It stopped snowing shortly afterward and the hike out was made in sunny blue skies.

We had a nice time in the valley and it was nice to be up there without a climbing objective.

Pics are here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bryant Peak - 03.01.2010

This is more a document of my failure than a trip report. I had the goal of heading up Bryant Peak from what I believe to be the standard route today. (The gully to the east and take SE Ridge to the top.) I should have known things would not go well when I viewed Mount Rainier from the I90 bridge and realized I had left the camera at home. Oh well. I continued to Alpental.

I arrived to find only one other vehicle in the parking lot. My guess is they were headed to Chair. I loaded up and headed up the trail and noticed there was what appeared to be two sets of bare boot prints heading up the trail. The groomed section was less icy than last week, and when I left the groomed area, that was less icy as well. I was making good time. In thirty minutes I had arrived at the turn to head up to the hanging valley. This is where I started to realize the foolishness of my decision not to bring floatation.

Last week the snowshoes were great. But I incorrectly assumed that with more traffic up there and subsequent freeze/thaw cycles that I would be fine without any floatation. I was very sadly wrong. When I first left the trail it was not so bad and I was sinking in ankle depth. As I headed up I tried to stay on downhill ski tracks or faint boot tracks. It didn't make much difference. Soon every step was calf deep. By the time I was near the top I got some breaks by following a previous boot track. This track ran out and I was now going knee deep on most steps, with occasional steps going thigh deep. I persevered. I told myself it would get better once the angle eased in the bowl. This may have been the only thing I was right about. It did ease, and I picked up another boot path where I enjoyed respite from the post hole nightmare. Of course this had to end as the path went to the head of the bowl and I needed to head toward the gully that would start my climb.

The snow was deep mash potatoes. I picked a line and headed up. Being a lower angle, it was nicer than coming up from Source Lake, but I was expending energy at high rate just to move ahead. I finally came to a stop to put my pack down and investigate the slopes. There were plenty of wet slides that look like they probably happened the day before. I also saw some sloughing and heard rockfall periodically. I put my pack down and attempted to hike up into the shaded slope to dig a pit. I moved about 40m uphill (about halfway to the shadow) and it took me more than five minutes! I stood there with the gully in front of me and realized it would have to wait for another day. I figure in the conditions the snow was in, it would have taken me about two more hours to summit, and I just wasn't interested in that wallow. As it was, it took me an hour and a half from leaving the trail to reach my high point.

So I turned around and gathered my pack and plunge stepped down to the trail. While significantly easier (it took me less than 25 minutes to descend what took me 1.5 hours to ascend.) The plunge stepping was still somewhat difficult even if it did take less energy. I was sinking knee or thigh deep on every step. When I got home I read this trip report where they had snow shoes and still were sinking calf deep. The snow was actually skiable and if I had brought floatation I think things may have turned out different. Although I could not have used it during the technical portion of the climb and that would have still been a wallow.

Blue dot marks my high point.