Saturday, August 21, 2010

Six days

One of my favorite things to do for Alpine Ascents is teach the 6-day course, a basic introduction to mountaineering skills. It's fun, entertaining, and rewarding - people with a range of skills, from none to perhaps some rock climbing background, show up on the first morning with a backpack full of gear, and by the end of 6 days they have learned how to use it. Not enough to start running up mountains by one's self, perhaps, but enough to know how to use an ice axe, which side of the crampons are up, and how to get out of a crevasse should they end up in one in ideal circumstances. Those are the basics - all the rest comes from experience.

And this time, near-perfect weather. What more can you ask for - a beautiful setting in which to hang out with ten excited, engaged, intelligent people from all over the country? Done. The views from up there are great - you're not so high that the lower peaks are distant and indistinguishable, but rather closeby and intriguing. The upper camp, termed the "honeymoon suite", looks directly across at the North Twin Sister, which Dave and I climbed a couple weeks ago. Not too shabby.

We start with the basics - various foot techniques for walking on snow, proper crampon placement, ice axe arrest (face buried in the snow, using axe and feet to stop a fall) on flatter ground for practice - then move on to finer skills. How long the rope should be between climbers, lots of different knots, belaying and rappelling on steeper slopes... These skills culminate in learning how to rescue oneself or a teammate from a crevasse, putting together all of the critical thinking and various skills learned over the past few days. Oh, and summitting the mountain, which is the more immediate goal.

I've personally never fallen in a crevasse. I've punched a foot through a snowbridge, snow that builds up to cover the crevasse and then slowly melts away in the summer. These cracks in the snow and ice of the glacier can be wide or narrow, deep or shallow, and hanging on one end of the rope or holding a fallen teammate on the other end can be equally harrowing experiences. If and when it happens, you need to know what to do, so we practice. And the practice is pretty cool - how often do you get to hang in a big crack in the ice and feel safe and secure? While the summit is an important part of the trip, this is often the highlight of the trip for students.

Playing on glaciers for 6 days with fun, motivated people for 6 days - I'll take it. (Thanks to everybody who wants to learn and keeps me doing this stuff!) They say that good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement, so good luck folks - be safe!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where does the summer go??

Wow. One or two trips, a personal climb, another three trips, and all of a sudden it's three weeks later. Summer is too short, or perhaps too long, given how much I try to pack into it. Three months is a long time to be chronically sleep-deprived...

The Cascades got a ridiculous amount of snow this winter and spring, so all of the glaciers and snow slopes are still in excellent shape. This means that crevasses and ice that would normally make routes longer (having to go around them) or more technical (it's harder to climb a given angle of ice than of snow) are still covered in snow. It makes our guiding days a little shorter and a little easier; right now we have conditions that are more typical of late June/early July than of August. It's nice.

I got to climb the Kautz route (new for me) on Mt Rainer for Alpine Ascents, do a couple more laps on the Disappointment Cleaver, the standard route, and take some climbers up Mt Baker. In between, with some of that precious time off, Dave and I took a day to climb the south face of the North Twin Sister, close by Bellingham. It's a fun, relatively easy climb in a beautiful setting, and we didn't see anyone else the entire day. Perfect weather, beautiful climb, easy climbing partner - these things all help recover mentally from so much taking care of other people while guiding. Nice.

Also crammed into these three weeks was the RAMROD, Ride Around Mt Rainier in One Day, a 150-mile, 10,000' elevation gain road ride organized by a local cycling club. I remember hearing about this early in my Washington life, and thinking that this was something for people with an entirely different idea of fun than I. How was it? Fantastic. Apparently climbing is good cross-training for cycling. Tiring, yes, but I wasn't dying to get off the bike by the end, and the route goes through some really beautiful areas, both in and out of the national park. The best part? I started up a Rainier climb the next day with little more than tired muscles. Ha!

So that's a glimpse of summer in the Cascades. So much to do. Such limited time in the sunshine. It's a good thing it starts to rain again sometime in September/October, or we wouldn't be able to keep up with our bodies! Sleep is good...