Friday, August 16, 2013

Mt. Rainier Climb 7/4/2013 - 7/7/2013

The weather is good, the conditions are good, we have decent amount of time on hands. A perfect combination of elements for our Mt. Rainier attempt. This is the second time we are giving it a try. Two years ago we had perfect conditions while climbing the DC route; however one member of our 5 man rope team got sick and another felt completely exhausted when we reached elevation of 12,700 ft and for the safety of the entire group we decided to abandon the expedition and return to base camp.

This time we work with much smaller team. Dave and I leave Seattle on the Thursday afternoon, and drive to White River Campground. From there we hike to Glacier Basin where we meet with Darren who arrived first thing in the morning to secure our permits.

We spend the first night at Glacier Basin Camp. We do not see or hear the bear who kept campers company the night before, and enjoyed a good night sleep.

From Glacier Basin the path gets steeper. We climb up Inter Glacier, which is still in good shape with only one big crevasse opened and several smaller ones on the sides. Many people cruise the slope without roping, we choose to rope up both for safety and rope travel practice.

After learning the traditional traverse onto Emmons Glacier is exposed and not easy going, we opt for the alternative and head few feet past Camp Curtis from where an easy short scramble connects us with the path leading to Camp Shurman. The camp is now just a short distance away. It is nice to arrive early enough to have time to prepare for the climb, enjoy dinner and still catch few hours of sleep.

Midnight comes up fast, quick breakfast, and off we are on our way to the top of Mt. Rainier. The route is like a highway, we see beams of headlamps ahead of us and many follow.

To our liking, the route is rather straightforward. Several climbers we met mentioned it was much more crevassed than it usually is at this time of the year but we only end up climbing over one crevasse. Well, there is little bit of jumping involved too but otherwise we find the route in a good shape.

The summit is completely windless when we arrive, later a slight breeze picks up. It is cold up there but not the miserable kind when the frost bites you no matter how many layers you have on. Keeping pleasantly warm in our down jackets, we enjoy the 360 degree views. One party camps in the summit area. They are little bit off the summit so we do not have a chance to talk to them. Sunrise must be nice from here. Carrying overnight pack all the way up no so much.

With the nice firm snow at the top the descent, at first, goes much smoother than we expect.  It becomes more tiring once we reach softer snow and have to be careful about slipping. The sun is at full force at that time, the heat is exhausting.

It is nice to have one more night at Shurman. It would be brutal, long day, if we tried to walk out today.  Instead we chat with the ranger and his wife for a while and then decide to take a little nap - that lasts until 7:00 a.m the next morning.

On our way out we meet several groups equipped for a summit attempt. If the good weather persists many more will come and seek the challenge of Rainier. For us this quest is over but  the summer is just starting and plenty of other destinations await.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sahale Camp - Review

Sahale Camp, North Cascades, WA

A luxury camping with grand views awaits those who endure the endless switchbacks leading to Cascade Pass, a popular day hiking destination, and whose legs will likely burn as they gain elevation along the scenic Sahale Arm trail.
2 large sites where one can comfortably pitch a tent are available, and there are about 3-4 additional sites suitable for bivis.

Water Source: Be prepared to melt snow. Earlier in the season there might small snowmelt streams along Sahale Arm.
Fires: Not allowed
Facilities: Composting toilet (with a scenic view)
Permits: Overnight permit is required. It can be obtained on first come first served basis from Marblemount Ranger Station. Come early, this popular camp fills fast.

Round Trip: 5.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,940 ft

Camp Mystery - Review

Camp Mystery, Olympics, WA

This camp lies along the trail to Marmot Pass, approximately 4.5 miles from the trailhead, and makes a good base for those who wish to venture further past Marmott Pass to Tubal Cain Mine or those who choose to climb Buckhorn Mountain.
The camp is located in a shelter of alpine trees. Most of the sites are spread directly along the trail, for more privacy come early to secure one of the more secluded sites.

Water Source: Creek running directly next to the sites.
Fires: Not allowed
Facilities: None
Permits: Not Required. Sites available on first come first served basis
Round Trip: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 3000 ft

Notes: There are several sites with spectacular views available on the knoll at the South end of the Marmot Pass. Camp Mystery however is the last water source, and  if you wish camp higher to enjoy the views you will have to carry all your water. (Or come early in the season when melting snow is an option).
The area is open to dogs, be prepared to see many of them along the trail and in the camp.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sahale Camp 6/29/13 - 6/30/13

It’s early on Saturday morning and we are on our way to North Cascades, planning to finally take Eldorado off our list. The forecast for the weekend looks promising, 20% chance of occasional showers and thunderstorms on Saturday but otherwise sunny the whole weekend.

Yet our hope to attain the summit of Eldorado is diminished before we even can set a foot on the mountain. There are no more overnight permits available for that region we are told at Marblemount Ranger Station. Instead we opt for neighboring Sahale Camp with the possibility to climb the glacier towards Sahale Peak. Understandingly we are disappointed but in reality it is not a bad exchange. Sahale camp was voted as one of the 10 best spots to camp in America by Backpacker magazine, and was always my #1 place to spend a night at.

To get there we have to endure the countless switchbacks leading to Cascade Pass and a 10-minute long rain shower. The rain subsides just as we reach the pass but dark clouds rolling above our heads threaten to precipitate more. At that point we enviously look towards sunny Eldorado Peak, but soon the weather clears for us too and we do not see a drop of rain for the rest of the weekend.

While the valley below Cascade Pass is still solidly snow covered, only several snow patches remain on the trail to Sahale Arm, some longer, on a steeper terrain and to be crossed with caution, others do not pose much of a problem.

The two best sites are already taken when we arrive, the one we get has good view but is more of a one person bivi site than a tent site, so we end up pitching our tent on the snow.

We do a little bit of exploring after dinner. There are couple more visible sites, both even smaller than ours, and with less views. Composting toilet is located on the far end. Clouds are coming in, obscuring the views in a very interesting way. We enjoy the evening in a company of our camping neighbor in site 1 watching the clouds, chatting about other interesting places to backpack to and his adventures with packing goats.

Usually I sleep pretty well outdoors but for some reason I wake up multiple times during the night, and at 1:40 a.m. voices from outside our tent get me awake one more time. It seems like people walking by searching for a campsite. They pass our tent and few minutes later I can hear them returning, their headlamps on. I expect to see another tent when we wake up in the morning but there is none and we never learn who those people were, why they arrived so late, or where they went.

On Sunday morning we venture towards Sahale Peak. We do not have aspiration to climb it, class 4 rock is not something either of us is comfortable with, so as planned we reached the base of the summit pyramid and then return to our camp. The glacier is in a decent shape, with couple of easily spotted bergschrunds, and a short section of recent avalanche debris from a slide caused by a skier on Saturday.

Just as usually the weekend flies by and much sooner than we like it, it is time to think about heading home. Our descent is long, and just as we were about to call it uneventful, a black bear emerges on a slope in front of us. It makes its way up a snowy field towards Cascade Pass, glancing at us once or twice, not bothered by our presence, before it disappears into treed area close to the trail.

Yay for another great weekend outdoors!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Angels Landing, Zion NP, Utah - 6/11/2013

Being quite afraid of heights I’m really not sure what possessed me to even think about doing this hike but somewhere I manage to pull enough courage to set my foot on the trail, and holding firmly to the chains, make it all the way to the top. My heart beat fastens few times, but my legs surprisingly never get wobbly, and I even do not get dizzy at the top so that I can actually enjoy the views.

For those not familiar with this hike in Zion NP, the trail is initially flat as it crosses the valley around Virgin River. The leisurely walk does not last too long, after about 10 minutes the switchbacks come and lead hikers steeply up to area called Refrigeration Canyon. Those who do not start early enough to beat the heat can find a brief refuge from the sun here and much welcome breeze.

Another set of switchbacks starts shortly afterwards, ever steeper than the lower ones; however the trail is still paved in this portion of the hike, and taking it easy, we see people of all ages and many with questionable conditioning successfully completing this part.

Scouts Lookout atop the switchbacks makes a decent viewpoint and a good turnaround point for those in less than good shape or those who are not much of thrill seekers. The last half mile is a narrow, exposed ridge with sheer drop offs of each side. Most of the ridge is aided by metal chains but some steps still can be rather intimidating.

The views from the top are pretty amazing and if the conditions are good (rock dry, not super windy)
going down is, to my surprise, much easier than I feared it would to be while we were heading up.

RT: 5 miles
El. Gain: 1448 ft

The Narrows, Zion NP, UT - 6/10/2013

I am thrilled to secure the very last two permits for The Narrows in Zion National Park. Initially we were hoping for a backpacking trip to allow ourselves enough time for photos, but arranging the whole trip on a very short notice, we are quite lucky to get at least the day permits for the hike.  We have never done any canyoneering or river hiking before and we are excited to explore this totally different world. 

The adventure starts early on that Monday morning when a shuttle takes us from Springdale to Chamberlain’s Ranch, and from there we are on our own to follow Virgin River downstream all the way back to the park. 

It is shortly after 7:30, and it is already a beautiful day. Blue sky, and sunshine, pleasant temperature of around 70 degrees for that moment which was later expected to rise above 100 F. Taking advantage of the cooler morning, we try to cover as much distance as we can in the beginning of our trip. We are on a dirt road, walking through a pasture. The scenery is pleasant, but the real beauty lays ahead of us, and we do  not have reason to procrastinate here. 

Finally we meet with Virgin River and step into its water. It is only ankle deep at first and many large rocks make it possible to make  first few crossings without getting wet. My approach shoes do not handle the wet rock well, so I soon swap them for the rented 5.10 Canyoneers and with their sticky soles, they immediately become my best friend. 

The water remains shallow for the  first several miles, during which we enjoy views of the rock walls reaching to the sky above us, and first Narrows section where the walls come closer together and we can from up close and personal admire the craftsmanship of the river carving this canyon. 

It is not as easy as one would think to make the 16 miles downstream. As the water becomes deeper, the crossings become more challenging. Our pace slows down considerably even at spots where the flow is mild. 

We emerge at the other end after 11 hours of constant ooh and aah, knowing that this is a hike we will gladly return to do again if opportunity arises.

Chitwan NP - October 2012

How long does it take to drive 90 km (60 miles)? By bus approximately six hours we are told at the Katmandu office of Hotel Park Side. Round ticket would cost little less than $10.00. We accept the offer. Just two hours earlier rep from another agency told us that all buses were full due to national holiday and the only way to get to Sauhara was to hire a private driver for $170.00.

The next morning we set out for the bus station. According to the directions it’s merely 15 minutes walk along the main road. I don’t remember seeing a bus station in that direction, neither does Dave but our hotels staff reassures us that we won’t miss it.
And it indeed would be hard to miss. The buses line both sides of the road. They are long lines without any indication when each bus leaves or where is it going. The on site helper keeps busy seeing people into the correct one. Thankful for his service, we follow him  to a bus nearby where the driver checks our tickets and leads us to appointed seats. The bus is old but seats seem quite comfortable. Air Conditioning is provided by a fan mounted on each window. No other luxuries.

The bus fills quickly. Some people are even placed on a bench in the drivers cabin. We conclude the uncomfortably looking wood bench with no personal space must be for those who could not afford full price tickets.

A whistle sets the buses in motion. They take off at once and float down the street heading out of Kathmandu. Before we bid farewell to the city, we make a stop at a gas station. Long line of busses means a long wait. Local kids run among the busses trying to sell water and snacks to the bored passengers.

In about half hour we are in motion once again. The road is in poor condition and gets worse once we are past Kathmandu’s city limits. It snakes, too narrowly and too close to a treacherous cliff, down a steep valley.

The lowlands are words apart from the cold inhospitable mountain regions Nepal is also home to. Agriculture thrives here. Slopes of the valley shine green, every space is utilized for crops of various kinds. Large banana trees line the road.

The air is hot and humid, weighted with dust of our crumbling surroundings. The road, a highway running between two major cities, is in worse shape than many forest roads in US. As we cover the distance we are searching for a single building that would not be in desperate need of repair. Our search yields no results. The luckier people own a shabby, unfinished house, for the poor home is often nothing more than a straw roof supported by 4 sticks.

Sauhara, the entrance to Chitwan NP is in better shape. It’s a tourist village and with tourists come money. We are picked up at the bus stop by a rep from our hotel and in a terrain vehicle transported to the premises where we will spend the following 3 days. Parksite Hotel. The rooms are spacious and clean. Stuff friendly as far as we can tell. Awaiting our first adventure, we strike a friendly conversation with a couple from Holland with whom we share the next 3 days. There is also a family from Canada, husband and wife with their 2 children, who relocated to Kathmandu for a year so that the husband can help local hospital. Hearing about the little victories they celebrated along their now 3-month journey gives us an unique look on the challenges life in third world countries like Nepal can rise.

Chitwan NP is known for it’s healthy population of hippo’s, deer, crocodiles, and monkeys, sightings of tigers and sloth bears were also reported. We spend the following three days trying to catch our own sight of these animals, in canoe, jeep, and on foot. Fall when the grass is tall and strong, is not the ideal time for a visit, and excursions deep into the jungle are not permitted for safety, however we are still lucky to see several hippos, deer, family of monkeys, a crocodile, and a wild boar. The opportunity to visit elephant breeding center and pet baby elephants is another highlight of this trip.