Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Dreams Do Come True

It was February 10, 2007 – beautiful sunny Saturday, simply the type of winter day you know you have to spend outside.

Never-ending snow blanketed meadows akin to Sahara desert, just all in white, contrasted with clear blue sky. It was warm for this time of a year. One of the warmest days I ever remember in the mountains in February actually. We were headed up to Artist Point just in our shirts – no puffy jackets, no gloves, no hat… and the touch of the warm breeze kissing our cheeks and gently lifting our hair felt so darn good.

It was the type of winter day when you can actually enjoy lunch break without gust penetrating through every single layer of your clothes and without having your fingers going numb. And needless to say there was much to be enjoyed here in the middle of this winter wonderland, surrounded by peaks of mesmerizing beauty.

Then I saw The Mountain. Despite the fact it is second most active volcano in Washington State, it stood there so unbelievably peaceful. I could not take my eyes off it. I spend most of my life hiking in the mountains but never experienced a moment that would even come close to what I felt when I first saw Baker. The beauty of the mountain left me completely breathless. There was an instant attraction, an instant desire to climb it.

July 18, 2009

It’s another sunny day in the mountains. There’s this indescribable little shiver flowing though my body. Partially, I think, my body screams under the weight of 40 lb pack full of gear I’m carrying up the slope, partially my ecstatic mind is trying to find a way of how to deal with the enormous amount of excitement I’m experiencing. In less than 24 hours we’re going to climb Mt. Baker.

The summer had started in the lower part of the mountains. The trail is surrounded by wildflowers as it leads us gently uphill through the forest. Bees buzz around. Creek bubbles nearby. The atmosphere remains unchanged when we enter open meadows higher up. Blueberry bushes line the trail here. They’re loaded with tiny green berries. It’ll be worth it to return in couple months when they’re ripe.

Lastly the route approaches the volcano through Railroad Grade. The scenery has completely different feel here. The landscape is harsher, mostly consisting of bare rock. Winter still prevails in this area. We’re crossing first snow patch. Solid snow coverage comes shortly afterwards.

The more elevation we gain today, the less we have left for tomorrow. With that in mind we continued past several other teams already camped on exposed rock sites. Our perfect site waits for us at 6200 ft.
It’s been a while since I actually spend a night in the mountains. With the same anticipation I have for tomorrow’s climb, I’m looking forward to the golden glow of sunset touching the peaks and also the magical moment when the sun rises from behind horizon in the wee morning hour just as I remember it from the days of my childhood when I used to spend many summer nights outdoors.

And the mountains don’t disappoint today. The sunset is magical. It fills the valleys below with placid orange hues and the summit area of Mt. Baker above us briefly brightens under the rays of the fading sun. I can’t remember last time I felt more relaxed and in peace.

I’m calling it a night about an hour later. The wind blasts down the mountain now, hitting our tent. It does not bother me though. On the contrary its steady sound helps me to drift into the sweet world of dreams.

July 19, 2009

The alarm clock rings at 2:00 a.m. The wind is gone. It’s rather calm. Milky Way stretches across the sky sprinkled with thousands of stars. It’s so much more different to witness night sky here in the mountains, not spoiled with artificial light of street lamps. I’m enjoying my freeze dried granola breakfast while searching for the Big Dipper and other constellations. Life is good.

City of Bellingham is fast asleep in the valley below us. It’s quite a different story up here. Soft breeze carries quiet voices of other rope teams getting ready for the summit push. Headlamps appear and disappear in the darkness. The day had started for us climbers.

Geared up and ready to stretch our legs on the slope by 3:00 a.m. We’re crossing snow field by our camp site and connecting to route on Easton Glacier. This is my very first glacier climb. Surprisingly I’m not nervous. Not even after we come across a first crevasse we have to step over. For few seconds I’m thinking “What if there are huge scary ones higher up?” But the serenity of the morning quickly dissolves such thoughts and lets me enjoy the journey.

At first the grade is shallow. Our pace is good, despite frequent short breaks we take as we zigzag along the route accompanied by several other teams. Silhouettes of surrounding peaks reveal more details as darkness slowly lifts chased away by the powerful beauty of the sunrise. The morning light is soft, soothing for the soul.

The crater comes in a view. Steam rising out of it is noticeable against the sun lit rock. Strong smell of sulfur fills the air giving it a stench of rotting eggs. We’re leaving the route for a 10-minute break at the crater rim. It’s a neat experience to witness volcano, alive and rumbling, from such a close distance.

The most dreaded part of the route is just ahead of us. The Roman Wall - relentlessly steep, leg burning, pace killer slope…. Are we ready for the challenge? It turns out not to be nearly as hard or frightening as we expected. Under today’s good conditions and with steps firmly kicked in, we slowly, yet rather easily gain the slope.

A paradise opens ahead of us. White plateau to roam around, overlooking what seems to be the whole entire world. The only thing we have left to do is to cross the field and climb the last few feet to the summit. There’s nothing between us and the sky. It really feels like we’re on the top of the world. It feels nearly surreal to be here.

So I’m standing here; looking down to Artist Point where couple of years ago this dream began, feeling stronger than ever. It was not an easy journey for me. I had to overcome quite a few obstacles from total absence of climbing skills, to my husband who believes that everybody who climbs glaciated mountains certainly has a dead wish and thought I was absolutely out of my mind when I first mentioned the idea.

A smile crosses my face. Once again I feel this indescribable little shiver flowing though my body as I’m thinking of all the other goals I have set for myself for near future. Climbing this mountain is not the end, it’s merely a beginning. Nothing is impossible. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training for Mt. Baker Climb 7/11/2009

Burroughs Mountain is without question one of my favorite areas in Mt. Rainier NP. Ever since the first time I followed the trail to Second Burroughs few years ago, engulfed in fog with no views of Rainier whatsoever, there was something about this rocky, windswept route that stayed deeply etched in my heart.

Perhaps it was the feel of being able to escape far away from the rushed city life that this trail conveys so beautifully despite the fact the parking loot is only 3 miles away, perhaps it was beauty of tiny wildflowers scattered among the stone, trying to survive in this harsh environment, or perhaps it was something completely different that made me feel so strongly about this place but from the very first moment I knew I will return here often.

When our Mt. Baker climb got postponed due forecasted T-storms, we hardly could find better alternative destination for the day.

We started from Sunrise Trailhead at around 10:00 a.m. The sun was out, air carried scent of blooming wildflowers, and Rainier, majestically sited in front of us, watched over every step we took.

It did not take long before the trail led us between first and second Burroughs. From there we followed the rocky winding path as it rolled down some 400 ft, passed intersection with Glacier Basin trail, and than regained all the elevation on approach to the third Burroughs.

We arrived just in time for lunch. And what better lunch spot could we find than one that provides first class seats to a view of a giant volcano;so beautiful, so powerful, so mesmerizing.

From this spot we could clearly follow the Emmons Glacier climbing Route from Camp Shurman to the top, and looking really closely, we could even spot few climbers on their way down which reminded us of the purpose of today’s outing, which was to do some self arrest practice and glacier crevasse rescue training, including Z-Pulley.

We must have had a good time practising. Before we knew it, 7 hours flew by. The sun started to set and filled the air with a magical golden glow. The park got quiet as most of the visitors were gone for the day. The resident mountain goats roamed the meadows, enjoying the solitude as much as we did. Amazing day outside!

Monday, July 13, 2009

In a hope of views... Pilchuck 7/5/2009

It was a sunny 3 day weekend and it would be a shame to waste it. I'm usually a fan of early starts; however after a crazy firework show out street puts on every year for 4th of July, I decided for a shorter trail close by which would allow us to start later.

With a promise of possible views I opted for Mt. Pilchuck. I can't remember last time I had a view from up there – every time I attempted the mountain in past couple years, it was misty, socked in and we only could see few feet around the trail.

As always on a day like this (and even the more crappy days), Mt. Pilchuck trail was packed with variety of people, many of them rather obviously not having a clue what they're doing. It never cease to amaze me how many people you meet up there in jeans, tennis shoes, carrying not much more than tiny water bottle.

We started hiking around 1:00 p.m. and kept a nice slower but steady pace with few water stops and few more photo stops.

There is still decent amount of snow at the upper part of the trail and the snow melt created variety of waterfalls and little streams along the way, many of which flown down the actual trail. I was very thankful for my Gore Tex boots as we hiked up the wet trail sometimes feeling we're hiking right in the middle of a creek.

We encountered snow coverage about half way up the trail. Few people seemed to turn here but many continued to the lookout. There was a nice well defined path there yesterday to follow; otherwise some areas could be tricky for route finding, especially for those who are not familiar with the area. There were few shorter melted sections at the upper part of the trail but snow continued nearly to the summit.

It got hazy later in the day and the best views were gone before we reached the lookout but still the scenery along the trail was very interesting and we saw enough from the top to leave us satisfied.

Descend through the snow was rather slippery and slower going but not trecherous. Back at the car at 5:30 p.m. It was a good day in the mountains.

Stats: 6 miles RT, 2400 ft elevation gain

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mt. Adams Climb 6/28/2009

Mount Adams is potentially active stratovolcano and standing 12,281 ft (3,743 m) tall, it is also the second highest mountain of Washington State. The massive of this impressive mountain is formed by several overlaping cones that together form an 18-mile (29 km) diameter base.

After we climbed neighboring St. Helens last year, Adams with its non technical route was the natural choice for this year. Most people attempting to summit take 2 days for the climb, camping at Lunch Counter at about 9500 ft; however we decided to conquer the mountain in just 1 day.

The drive down was long but fortunately very pleasurable, especially after we left the grey I-5 corridor and continued on smaller highway along Columbia River where greenery and blooming pink flowers lines the road and slopes around us.

During a mandatory stop at the Ranger Station in small town of Trout Lake, we learned that over 400 climbing permits were sold this weekend already, the Cold Springs campground at the trailhead is packed, and there is no solitude to be expected on the mountain.

So we quickly grabbed our permits and blue bags and drove off to see if we can get spots at Morrison Creek Campground located just about 3 miles from the trailhead which was our backup plan anyway since we kinda sorta knew if won’t be easy to get the rock star trailhead campsites. We found Morrison Creek semi-taken and easily fit the 9 of us in.

Few of us spend the evening training for upcoming Baker climb which is technical and knowledge of crevasse rescue is essential. While we played with Z-Pulley assembly and simulating fall into a crevasse by tying a rope to a horizontal post of a shed nearby, the other members of the trip chilled out by fire where we later on joined them. It was close to 10:30 p.m. when we finally drifted into our sleeping bags.

It was not too much fun when my alarm clock went off at 3:00 a.m. but knowing we all are in the same boat, I got up and joined the rest of our climbing team at the breakfast table. Everything went according to our plan – we left the campground at 4:00 a.m. and started our climb at 4:45 a.m.

It was amazing to see the mountains awakening into a new day when the first rays of sun rose from the horizon and filled the air with soft warm light.

The route took us above tree line fast. Soon we started making our way up through talus and scree slopes. With elevation gained glimpses of surrounding volcanoes came in view. First Mt. Hood, then Mt. St. Helens and the spectacular views stayed with us the whole way.

At around 9:30 a.m. we arrived to Lunch Counter, the place where most people spend the night before their climb. Here the snow started. We took few minutes to gear up and with help of our cramp-ons and ice axes started to earn our way up the relentlessly steep slope. Step after step the slope seemed to be getting steeper and our pace was slowing down equally to that. It’s always good to exchange few words with fellow climbers, especially on a steep slope in elevation, so we took couple breaks to do just that. There were plenty of climbers around who just like us appreciated the few moments to pause and catch their breath.

The excitement really started to show once we got closer to Pikers Peak, the false summit. We knew it’s only about 600 more feet from there and all imagined this nice little walk up to the true summit. Then the mountain threw us a surprise… As soon as we peeked over Pikers Peak, we stood frozen by a sight of a giant mass of a mountain in front of us. It was the most intimidating 600 ft I’ve ever seen in my life.

Once again step by step we proceeded up hill. The wind picked up and it started to get chilly but not to the point it would be bothersome. Exhausted but extremely happy we reached the summit at 12:30 p.m.

It was a very interesting experience. It didn’t feel like a top of a high volcano – it reminded me more of a very busy marketplace. We took our summit shots, looked around and then the chilly wind chased us down.

The great thing about climbing Mt. Adams at this time of the year is that there is still enough snow for glissading down and we took our full advantage of it. All together we descended about 3000 feet this sliding down with the longest slide being 10 minutes long. How much more fun can one have in the mountains!

It was easier to take the summer route down which was under snow nearly to the last mile, making for an easier descend than going down the talus field we used on our way up plus this route provided few more sliding opportunities.

We arrived back at the car at 5:00 p.m. – tired but at this point not all that exhausted anymore and excited to have summited.

One volcano of the list – now we only have 3 left in WA state!