Climbing day

I’m trying to say awake long enough to eat dinner and write this post. Yesterday was a long day, last night’s sleep was short and work today came early. My body hurts — mostly my feet, which hurt in a variety of innovative ways.

Sunday of our two-day trip started at camp at 0400. Since one of my posts drafted in the field was blank when posted last night, I’ll say again that on Saturday afternoon we found an open, partially flat avalanche runout area after walking an hour or so past climbers camp. That put us beyond a maze of wooded trail and closer to the start of the actual climbing when we started on Sunday. The area was bounded by a creek trickling sufficiently to provide drinking water and had one good tent platform already. We found and cleared a couple passable areas for our tent and Bob’s bivy. The mostly empty creek bed featured some flat-topped boulders on which to cook and filter water. We even received the aforementioned visit from a local goat.

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Our place was also a lot sunnier (and moonlit) than climbers camp and had few to no bugs. It really was a great spot.

So, back to Sunday morning: We had bumped our departure time back to 0530, but I kept my alarm set at 0400 to allow enough time to use our one stove to make tea and eggs for me and coffee and tofu for Emily. I forgot to explain to Emily the amount of time required to get from tent to climb, so we actually left closer to 0600.

The route description in the Climbing Guide is a little poor here, as elsewhere on this route. We were camped around 3600′, but on what the description calls a lower “large avalanche debris field.” From there, we did ascend across the ridge adjoining our field to a gully filled with boulders. The gully opened into an open slope (Helicopter Meadows to the SAR team), as promised, and we bore right (I believe around 4500′, with 3500′ in the guidebook being a typo) at the top beneath a thumb of the headwall.

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Here it is obvious that one hugs the bottom of the headwall, passing below the Hourglass, which looks small and harmless but collects rockfall from the entire route above. It is not so obvious from the top, and the cliffs to the descending climber’s left look from above like a shortcut to the open slope. We paused briefly at Lunch Rock, and Bob had to chase off a goat that headed straight at him. From there, if was a short walk further uphill before we gained the couloir above the Hourglass.

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Things started to look up when the couloir turned out to be at least partially passable on snow. We tried skirting the first patch of snow on the rocks to its right, but the way was minimal and the snow to the left icy. We gave up on that, to my delight, dropped down to clip in to crampons, then danced up the center of the hard snow.

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A brief rock step, then more snow. The couloir took a lot of our time in this way, with each step of rock requiring a decision about whether to exit and climb around it on rock, leave crampons on, etc.

Near 6000′ according to the guidebook, the slope opened up. We exited the narrow portion of the couloir by climbing up and left out of it on rock then traversing above it on the still icy snow. Emily ended up in the lead and took off for a while.

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As we rounded a rib of rock, turning uphill and left to follow it up a steeper, wider snow field, Bob took over the lead and kicked steps in switchbacks.

I started getting cold and bored with Bob doing all the hard work, and the snow was a comfortable firmness, so I exited the steps to the left and front pointed upslope next to them. The next and final real navigational issue was to find a keyhole the passed from the slope to the summit blocks, so I went up toward the ridge to look for it. I believe it was the second opening in the rocks back and to my right approaching the ridge near the top of the snow slope — a gap containing what looked like a significant scramble.

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We took off our crampons and followed Bob up through the keyhole, which turned out to be am easy climb. From the other side, the summit blocks were right in front of us. The side of the summit facing the keyhole was pretty smooth and rounded, but traversing just below them to the right brought us to some better cracks that were easily climbed to the wide top, with a smaller sloped block being the actual high point.

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We got up there around 1115 or 1130, I think. We had a turn-around time of 1300, so we spent a lazy 45 minutes enjoying the sun and the summit.

The descent was not quite as fun, I suppose. Crampons back on once through the keyhole, and heel plunging slash boot glissading down the now softer snow slopes was great, but then it was back to the couloir and its rock steps. We had a solo climber (with whom we shared the summit) with us and then just below us, and a party of two (who had turned back as we were on the summit) just below him. Rockfall is a significant issue on this and other Olympics climbs, so we had to wait a couple of times to let people get out of the area immediately below us. It took until around 1600 to get back to our camp.

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Emily cooked while I packed up the tent and shared gear, then we repacked our bags while the food absorbed its water. Michael and Connie headed down the trail, we ate, then we and Bob started after them at 1645. At some point Bob dropped back, and we didn’t all meet each other again until we were most of the way back to Lena Lake (though each group had a radio).

From Lena Lake, the trail felt like a damn highway. The camping area there is one of the more popular among the unprepared set, and while it is not at all flat it is a wide and level trail. Still, I wanted to lay down and take off my boots, and I wasn’t alone. The entire hike out from approximately the bottom of the couloir to the trailhead was pretty miserable, but no one so much as paused to tighten a bootlace. We made it to the car at 2005 and collapsed as soon as I dug out the remote and unlocked our way to a change in footwear.

Including those 14 hours of climb and descent, my Fitbit says my Sunday included taking 46,488 steps and burning 5244 calories. Sounds pretty accurate to me. We couldn’t find an open restaurant in PT to bring us pizzas, so first task when home was to preheat the oven for some frozen ones we had wisely purchased. Emily left a piece of hers uneaten, but I didn’t.

My GPS track from Sunday on a topo courtesy of www.sartopo.com
My GPS track from camp to summit to camp on a topo courtesy of www.sartopo.com
The hike and climb as tracked by my inReach.
The hike and climb as tracked by my inReach.

Abort-centric

Laying awaken in the tent early last night after just dozing a bit, I started to think that I hated this and couldn’t wait to get back to town. It’s been a while since I felt that. I chalk it up to controllable tiredness, because right now, waiting for my tea to cool enough to drink, I love being here.

Walking up the trail bring previous trips to mind. Carrying far too much food and water in the Wind Rivers solo and then with Jimmy. Backpacking for days in Nepal. The one other night out backpacking Emily and I have had since we moved here, up at Tull Canyon. The overnight Jimmy and I did to attempt Mt Stuart about a year ago. They were all different from this, which is the first time I’ve backpacked and climbed with a small group and Emily’s first time on an overnight climb.

They bring to mind two thoughts. First, I look back fondly on each of those and couldn’t imagine living without having done each of them and without planning to do more as long as I’m able. As much as we temper the wildness of the wilderness — with four-season tents, layers of technical clothing, light gear, GPS, a Kindle to read inside a bag stuffed with treated down — it’s the wildness here that is missing from regular life. The goat that visited camp yesterday, the bright red salamander I missed at the last creek crossing and the thrilling peaks surrounding us need to be seen and felt. Being out overnight, away from home for longer than a few hours on a day hike is the only way to see some of it and the only way to push thoughts of home and work away long enough to appreciate it.

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Second, and more simply, a trip like this, just a simple overnight, would have involved a week off work and four days round-trip driving from home in Chicago 18 months ago. Now it’s a weekend with local friends from the SAR team. That is pretty amazing.

So am I scared, tired and yearning for a few hours on the couch to relax and be comfortable before work starts at 0630 tomorrow? Yeah. What can you do. I can’t be happy without pushing past those feelings, which come and go to different extents on different trips. That makes me admittedly abort-centric, not just for safety reasons, not just because I know the mountains will always be here, but mostly because until I get home I sometimes really want to be on my way there.

But you should have seen the blindingly white moonlight around 0100 when I got up to find a backroom rock. And the moonlit shadow of prayer flags from inside the tent. What a place to spend the night.

Valley of Silent Men

Sitting at climbers camp on the way to attempt the south peak of The Brothers with Emily, waiting for the rest of the SAR team to catch up. We get a lot of calls up here and at Lena Lake, which is a popular backpacking site halfway back to the trailhead, so we are here for familiarization as much as training…and a bit of climbing for good measure.

We are at around 3000′ feet now. It’s a pretty decent trail even from the lake, starting around 600′. Summit is only around 6800′, but the Olympics do a pretty damn good version of alpine despite their being a relatively low range.

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Here are Bob and Emily just after the lake in the very silent (due to the creek apparently running underground during periods of low flow) Valley of Silent Men. Quite a nice place.

The gang is here, so we’re off to make camp and settle in for the night.