Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Mary and I had been talking about this mountain, highest non-volcanic peak in Washington, for a while, and she had been there previously with a friend who convinced them not to bring the right equipment.  It's located on the eastern side of the Cascades, and we decided to go the long way,  22 miles through an area called Spider Gap which I'd heard was beautiful, instead of the "short" way up Lake Chelan and through Holden Village.

Forecast: Hot and sunny.  Sweet!  We crossed over Spider Gap early the second day to some amazing clouds pouring over the mountains to the east.  Beautiful meadows down below, amazing alpine lakes, and dramatic peaks for a backdrop.  Hmm.  Wonder what those clouds are going to do...

On the third day we bushwhacked around the head of the lake and up the classic Cascade configuration of scree field, rocky cliff, start of glacier, crevasse navigation, and dicey transition to rock.  We'd heard many things about the rock - loose, hard, easy... In the end, it was a great 4th class scramble (ie no ropes needed, but don't fall) up fun features to the sharp ridge and summit.

Unfortunately, the vista that greeted us as we gained the ridge included a big thunderstorm not too far away and headed, yes, directly for us!  We don't get thunderstorms much here, hardly at all, but the unusually hot weather was breeding cells in the east that were moving west.  
After a few minutes on the summit trying to convince us both that it wasn't headed straight toward us, we got off there as quickly as possible - I had never had a near thunderstorm experience, and was entirely OK with that!

The rain started as I headed down the first rappel, light and sound coming closer and closer together as the storm moved in.  I was at the next station getting the rope sorted out when that characteristic buzzing started (more like a series of tiny pops between the metal in my helmet) and saw and heard the strike at exactly the same time.  Looking up 150' of rope to where Mary was still perched on the ridge, just 40' below the summit, I yelled up, "Are you OK??"  She was, though we're both pretty convinced it hit the summit, just meters from where she was.  Wow.

She came down and we continued rappelling as the rain eventually stopped and the storm moved on.  Another cell just side-swiped us, dropping a little rain but no big strikes.  Whew!  We took our time down the rest of the route, making our way back to camp in the dark.

The walk out gave us more of the afternoon-rainshower experience as we passed many dayhikers from nearby Holden on our hike out the long way.  My favorite image: five cotton-clad hikers smooshed in next to a tree trunk, doing their best to hide from the downpour and stay warm before making a 6-mile dash for it.  I donned my garbage bag-cum-rain skirt and we walked on...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Back in the saddle

Two weeks, four climbs, and my faith has been restored in guiding.  Back in Seattle and the Cascade mountains for the summer, I finally had some good trips and am ready to go.

The nice things about the DC route are that we don't have to carry much equipment (read: light packs!), there are lots of people to see and talk with on the mountain - our guides, other guides, rangers, enthusiastic independent climbers - and with a little work the route is short and sweet.  Throw in some in-shape, prepared and interesting climbers, and climbing Mt Rainier is fun again!

The weather is beautiful in Seattle, even hot, and it's peach and cherry season.  Cotton dresses and amazing fruit - what more can a gal ask for??  

Monday, July 6, 2009

First summit of the season!

Had to take some time off and climb on my own with friends Mary and Erin.  And anyone who knows us individually, let alone collectively, could probably guess that this would not be a very serious affair...

The ladies' climb somehow ended up incorporating the ridiculousness of plastic tiaras, and the Independence Day holiday necessitated flags and pinwheels as well for camp decoration.  My theory: You don't see too many all-women climbing parties, for whatever social reasons.  If other climbers see us climbing with such silly accoutrements, they must realize we aren't too concerned about our chances of making the summit, and are comfortable in this mostly-male environment.  Plus it's a good conversation starter.  *grin*

The Emmons route on Mt Rainier is less travelled than the other common route, the Disappointment Cleaver (the one I'll be on the rest of the summer) for two reasons.  One, you can't see the trodden path leading all the way to camp from the most popular visitor center in the park - it's a hidden path leading through the trees to a camp you can't see until you're there.  And two, it's longer, with more elevation gain - over 10,000' from trailhead to summit.

We hiked up 5,000' to Camp Schurman on the first day, then took the next day, July 4, off to talk with the rangers, sleep, enjoy the view, and watch the fireworks twinkling down below once dusk fell.  You can see the balloons of sparkle from Seattle and the casino in Auburn, and countless little fountains of light from countless small towns and private homes.  It was windy, but we occasionally dashed out from the ranger hut to check it out, then bundle back in where it was warm.

And we almost didn't make it out of the hut.  Warm and cozy and full of people to talk to, we almost just stayed and hung out in the tin-and-stone ranger cabin - summit schmummit.  But Mary rallied us, we went and made our "breakfast" oatmeal, and set out into the wind for our climb.  Seven hours later, as the sun rose higher over the Cascades and Puget Sound, we wandered onto the summit and had some kind stranger take our (slightly ridiculous) picture.  Yay!  Cold - let's get down!

Back to Schurman, four-hour nap, and a long slide down the snow slopes to the three-mile hike back to the car.  Stinky (it's amazing how smelly you can get in three days) and tired, I slept in the car while Mary and Erin stayed up for the drive back (thanks!!).  Good to be out with friends...