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...

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