Friday, May 29, 2009

Too good, too bad...

The weather has been preposterously nice for the past three weeks, but that doesn't mean all is well.  No storms, no sideways snow and buried tents, but my first summit climb was stopped cold by a serious (though injury-free) crevasse fall, and the second by the shifting snow and no-visibility of high winds on the upper mountain.

But the sun does bring out the silliest in us after a hard, cold winter.  We're thinking about publishing a calendar of Alpine guides...

The chopper finally flew, poop from the outhouses down the mountain in big barrels, supplies for the season up.  Nice to have good weather and a heli crew up where we couldn't see the next building last week.

So up to high camp, and up the mountain, and then 10 of us walked across a snowbridge that collapsed under our 11th team member, jerking one guide back several feet and eventually leaving our climber dangling unhurt but shaken about 15 feet into a wide crack!  A large section of the bridge had fallen in, but once he realized he was fine and we'd get him out soon, he was singing and taking pictures down there!  Back on the surface, the weather was too warm to continue up after such a delay, so we headed back down.

Second trip, another two beautiful days getting up to high camp.  Lounging in the sun, enjoying the unexpected warmth in May, a typically tempestuous month.  Summit morning, some high clouds started to block the starlight, then strong winds collecting snow over cracks and obscuring a safe route turned us back.  On our way down we walked out of the lenticular cloud that now sat atop the mountain and headed down in sun but continued strong winds.

Ah, well.  I won't mind leaving the mountain for a month and waiting for things to settle out, the summer route to be established.  The weather is almost too good, very unusual for this time of year, and is making us wonder when the hammer will come down.  Better run off to Alaska for a while...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Start of the season

Headed up to teach an 8-day course on Mt Rainier, one designed to cover skills required for going on a guided Denali climb.  As usual, the mountain decided to do a pretty good impression of Denali weather.  Fortunately, we were able to utilize the stone-hut public shelter to get dry and warm and do lectures.

On one of the first sunny weekends of the summer, tons of people were out at Mt Rainier, hiking around on the snow in various dress shoes, jeans, sunhats, and other inappropriate mountain gear.  So close to the trailhead you get all kinds, many of whom had never seen people like us hauling extra gear on sleds.  People-watching goes both ways, apparently.

Our first night was nice - great view from low camp, perfectly still winds, everyone excited to be on the mountain.  The next day, we decided to move to Camp Muir to avoid the incoming weather in the form of rain - getting high would make it snow, much less uncomfortable.

Ah, the incoming weather.  Four days of sideways snow (is this sounding familiar?), winds of 50 miles an hour or more, trying to make life pleasant in our limited sheltered space.  At the height of the storm, the last night, our climbers were shoveling around the clock trying to save the tents and themselves.  Well, that's how it can get on Denali...

The weather finally broke into two beautiful days, and we put all the rope travel and crevasse theory into practice by running through crevasse rescue techniques on the Kaulitz glacier.  Most people find going into an actual crevasse to be one of the highlights of the trip.  I mean, really, how often do you get to safely do that??

Best of all, we used our sleds to speed our descent on the last day - funny to watch a whole rodeo of mountain sledders heading down the slope!  Beats walking down any day...

Now headed up for two summit climbs before getting ready for Denali, and the weather is actually supposed to be decent for much of the time.  Here's to good climbing!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Back in the whirlwind...

Came back to Seattle and had a week off, and I'm not really sure where it went.  Getting over jetlag (perfectly 12 1/2 hours off!), catching up with friends after four months away, a bit of exercise and trying to organize all of my gear... suddenly a week is gone and it's time to work again.

I headed down to Bend, OR, historically home of beautiful spring weather in the nearby climbing area of Smith Rock, for a three-day recertification.  Every two years our Wilderness First Responder first aid has to be renewed, involving discussions of frostbite, fractures, altitude, and anything else you could have trouble with in the backcountry.  I got to pretend to have asthma, a spontaneous pneumothorax, and a broken shoulder for practice over those three days.  And it wasn't nice weather - it snowed on us all three days!

Back to Seattle for guide training/orientation with Alpine Ascents.  We headed up to El Dorado, had two days of decent weather, then four straight days of full-on storm.  Sideways snow, drifts building up around the tents - it was fun.  On the last morning, two tents collapsed as we packed up and headed down, glad to be leaving the mountains for now.

Today was nice in Seattle, thankfully.  I'm not quite sure I'm excited to be heading back up into the snow tomorrow, but it's time to start working.  My rib muscles are feeling good, almost entirely healed, and I'm looking forward to the season.  Back in a week!