Sunday, September 26, 2010

End of summer

Sometimes summer lingers in the Cascades. There's a good rain at the beginning of September when everyone resigns themselves to going to school, work, and the returning darkness, but then it continues to be sunny through much of September and a little of October, letting those of us who can continue to play.

Sometimes it doesn't.

Word is a La Nina winter is coming, which in the northwest means more precipitation and colder temperatures than normal. Read: a good snow year. To those hoping to climb Mt Rainier in September, however, it means little hope of success this year. As of the end of this trip, no one had summited the mountain in 10 days, and it doesn't look likely in the next few.

Last week a bunch of snow fell over the course of a storm or two, and the mountain now looks ready for winter, fully cloaked in snow. This means snow angels are possible, but avalanches are as well; up to four feet of fresh snow are sitting on top of a smooth crust with the potential to slide. Not a big deal on a small slope, but on a big one, with a crevasse not too far below, it is a risk to be weighed carefully, especially when leading clients on the mountain. On my most recent trip (and last of my season), it was raining and blowing 90 miles an hour at Camp Muir at 6am. We left camp going down, not up.

But there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing (well, sort of). The fall rains aren't the end of outdoor recreation, just a shift. Dave and I went for a drizzly hike up a grunt of a peak near Bellingham, and instead of flowers and mountain views, were rewarded with blueberries, a bear sighting, and plenty of solitude. What more can you ask for? When your hands get cold from picking berries, you can just hunker down and do it like the bears do...

That's the end of my Cascade season, and I'm ready for a little more stable weather. Next up, it's time to head to Nepal for Alpine's Everest Base Camp trek again. No Island Peak climb this time, just walking in more beautiful mountain terrain.

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