Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mount Si - Standard - 02.20.11

~3300' elevation gain
8+ miles RT
Left car: 1:15 pm
High Point: 3:40 pm
Back at car: 5:30 pm
4.25 hours car to car

I decided in the cold dry spell to make a quick run up Mount Si and see what the haystack looked like in winter with a coat of snow. Spent the morning in the gym, came home and ate lunch and then drove out.

I left the car making great time blasting through the first mile in under 20 minutes. I was looking at a sub ninety minute time to the haystack if I could keep it up. I continued with this pace until I came upon the frozen trail. At first, it seemed like packed frost or just frozen dirt, but as I went higher it became more snow and ice like reflecting where the sun hit it. Lots of nervous people coming down were sliding on their butts, grabbing trees, and using sticks for balance. I watched a guy take a spill and start cussing. I thought about donning crampons, but figured this was good practice (for what, I don't know.)

Compacted snow on icy trail

The left hand switchbacks deeper in the woods were worse and my pace had slowed to barely a walk. I leapfrogged with another guy who was in trail runners. He seemed to have better footing, or was just more confident than me. Nearing the end of the trail, the snow was softer and we both started moving well again. We stopped to let a group head down crawling and hugging trees. He looked at me and asked, "Trade you my legs for your heart and lungs?" I guess that's a compliment, but the pace I was going for a long time on the snow didn't require much cardio work for me at all. I could have used some shorter legs and a lower center of gravity.

Up out of the woods I left everyone else behind and headed to the haystack. Apparently I was the only one with this intention who was on the mountain at this time. I moved quickly on the snow that was less compacted over to the start of the scramble. Even with the slow going on the icy trail I arrived at the base in around one hour forty five minutes. I stopped to drop my poles and put on a helmet and a jacket as I was on the cool north side. Then I started up.

Base of the haystack

If I was going slow on the icy trail, I was hardly moving through the scramble. I made a decision to stay on the rock as much as I could. This was difficult, because not much of it was without snow or ice. With forty feet or more to the summit I made a move I didn't think I could duplicate heading down. I checked my watch, I'd have to turn around as to avoid hiking out in the dark. Things weren't going smoothly and so I pulled out my axe to add something to hold onto and picked my way down. I was glad to be back on flatter terrain. I stopped at the bench to have some snacks and call Jennifer before I started back down the trail.

Looking down from my high point

The trail was good going at first, and then in the woods a way I just didn't like how slow I was going in an effort not to fall. I stopped and put on the crampons. Wow! I blasted down the compacted snow effortlessly, passing more sliders and tree huggers. At some point the snow started looking fairly dirty and I opted to remove the crampons. About one switchback later and the continuous ice ended. There were a few more right hand turns in the woods that were slippery, including one where I skated for five feet with incident. After that it was just a matter of hoofing it back to the car.

This was a fun trip. I have never been up Si in the winter before. The trail conditions were abysmal with the compacted snow. I'm surprised people weren't being carted out of there. I am somewhat bummed about not making the top, but I am also happy I at least made an attempt of it. I think if I started up with crampons and my axe out I could have stayed on the snow/ice and made better time, as well as feeling more secure. But from the bottom the rock looked like a good option. The higher I went the more snow and ice covered the rock making it less of an option. At my high point I contemplated donning the crampons for a summit push, but realized I had burned up too much time to that point. A second tool may also have helped, but I didn't feel like lugging one up the mountain. Being alone was a contributing factor as well. I spent almost ninety minutes without seeing or hearing another person while near the haystack.

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