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!

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