Jim Hill Mountain Ski Tour

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Gaining the north ridge of Jim Hill

I think I can honestly say that this is the first trip I’ve had that was about the skiing and not the summit or the views or anything else. We debated many trips, but settled on Jim Hill, a peak I had heard about for years but never checked out. We saw it from Rock Mountain a month or so prior, and I had always kind of poo-pooed it thinking there were better things to do. But we needed a day trip, didn’t want to trailhead camp, did want sunny blue skies, and settled on the Stevens Pass area. Jim Hill it was. Skiied 3/25/2018.

  • Distance: 5ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3400 (6400 highest point, we didn’t summit)
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny, 40’s and cloudy, 30’s and snowing
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Some backsliding while skinning but no faceplants or tumbles
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Lanham Lake

We arrived at the trail around 8. Problem was, we had planned on starting up via Henry Creek, but couldn’t find parking anywhere and I was too lazy to figure it out so we just parked at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center and went up via Lanham Lake. Lanham Lake is a popular snowshoe, and we made quick work of the 1.5 miles to the lake. I stubbornly left my heel risers down as long as possible before finally caving and putting them up, only to have the trail flatten out. So I walked in basically high heels for another few minutes before putting them down, only to encounter another hill around the corner. I grumbled and put them back up again as Robert sang Jack Black parody songs behind me.

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Almost at the ridge!!

At the lake, we crossed the outlet stream to the east and started switchbacking up through the woods. It was a surprisingly steep skin trail. Whoever was ahead of us had great balance, or just determination, because it was a few inches of fresh snow on top of an icy crust. I was hoping the other side would be a nicer ski out, because I knew immediately I wouldn’t have fun skiing the trees down to Lanham Lake.

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Robert coming up the ridge

We got sneak peeks of the views to the south as the trees opened up, and finally I saw blue sky ahead! And rays of sun! Yes!! I whooped as I gained the ridge and broke out into snow covered trees and spectacular blue sky all lit up by the sun with the open slopes and glades below Jim Hill begging to be skiied. Oh my god. Robert hurry up. Look what we can do. I relented and agreed to have a snack, I can’t run on stoke and pride forever.

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Weather moving in

We followed the skin track up the ridge. To my dismay, weather was already moving in. We knew it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to get cloudy until 11am, and no snow until the afternoon! Yet here was a wall of precip coming towards us. Ah, shit. Visibility deteriorated, I decided I didn’t want to tag the true summit because it was steeper than I had expected and the northwest slopes felt totally windloaded. We decided to ski back the way we came, and once we hit the ridge we’d drop into the north basin and ski out via Henry Creek.

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Visibility didn’t get too bad!

We transitioned to downhill mode and dropped onto the softest, lightest, most glorious powder I have EVER skiied. My sample size is small, but these were easily the best backcountry conditions I had ever seen. We carved two feet of powder, maybe more, whooping and hollering the whole way. It was an absolute dream. We went one at a time to be sure we liked the snowpack, and damn it was perfect. We came to a stop near another party, who was going back up for more. One more? Worth the hike? Hell yes!

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Neat textures up high

Since visibility hadn’t gotten as bad as we expected, we skinned right back up for round two. It almost got sunny (“partly sunny” is often how these days are described even though you’re mostly looking at the inside of a ping pong ball) but the light never got too flat. This time we started higher up and earned ourselves an extra 200ish feet of turns, and it was worth it so many times over. I dropped in first knowing Robert would catch up and we could just party run it (everyone at once instead of one at a time). This time we kept going to the bottom. From wide open alpine slopes to open glade skiing threading the needle between sparse trees to slightly more dense trees I mean seriously I wish this run had gone on forever. We finally hit the only patch of bad snow, which was sloppy grabby crust that I did not enjoy. But I still made it through without booting it.

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Robert shredding the north bowl. Two tickets to pow town!

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One more with moody clouds

And from there, we had some survival skiing (slide slipping on ice, dodging thicker trees, the works), some split-board-skiing (Robert’s actually quite good at it), some forest road cruising (soft and enjoyable), and a short highway walk (sorry mom) and we were back at the car just as it started to snow and visibility was officially shot. So on one hand, we had awesome timing. But on the other hand… we definitely could have gotten in a few more laps, and right now sitting on my couch I wish I was back up there. The sound of skis slicing through champagne powder is like the sound of rain on a tin roof. There’s just something soothing about it.

Tis the Season…

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I mean… how is this a Plan C?

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Okay, it’s gross, but still pretty I guess

…of turnaround trips, and halfway trips, and downgrading from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C and eventually surrendering to Plan E, which stands for “Eating on my Couch.” It’s been a quiet season so far for me, but I’ve managed to rack up a few turnarounds and a few bails and and a few successful Plan C’s. And one weekend’s Plan C might be another weekend’s Plan A. Or maybe I burned out and Plan E is my dream weekend. But now it’s 2018, and it’s a clean slate ready to be filled with more turnarounds, and hopefully some summits and some carving turns and some technical pitches and a generally unreasonable consumption of alpine cider.

 

Plan A’s tend to be climbs. Awesome, ambitious climbs. I mean what else can you suggest when conditions are good and you only have so many good weekends in winter? The best way to get in shape is to bite off more than you can chew and see how far you get (safely). And carry those skis. See Spring Training for tips.
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At least it was a powder day

Plan B’s are less committing climbs. Maybe avalanche conditions aren’t great, maybe the weather isn’t worth a two day trip, maybe you’re feeling sick and noncommittal, maybe you took too long to figure out plans and now you’re stuck alone. Or maybe it’s resort skiing, because I like to hemorrhage money during the winter pretending to be a yuppie.

Plan C’s are classes (for me, plus the letters match). Last minute avalanche class? Sweet. Learning to dig huge luxurious snow caves? Sounds lovely. Help instructing ESAR Course I? Awesome, I’ll bring sides for the burgers we’re going to destroy in front of the trainees. And peanut butter, because I ate the whole thing last time. Sorry, sort of.
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Big dreams on the way up

Plan D is whatever I whine about but eventually go on, or me texting everyone I know looking for people getting outside, and Plan E (short for “eating on my couch”) involves no effort from anyone whatsoever unless I actually walk 2 blocks to Markettime to get food, in which case I supposed I’m asking some favors of the cashiers and my digestive tract.

So let’s go through a few sample weekends. Weekend Zero is a good example of the quintessential weekend, with Plan C varying from ESAR training to SMR training to me taking classes I want to take. Weekends one through four are what I’ve been up to since early December, with a break for lots and lots of Plan E’s over the holidays.
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Ready baby! Plan C is a go!

Weekend Zero: 
Plan A: Backcountry skiing (couldn’t get organized soon enough)
Plan B: Resort skiing (not worth paying for such lousy conditions)
Plan C: Help instruct Course I (awesome Saturday)
Plan D: go home and hope to rally people for a Sunday trip (fail)
Plan E: in full swing Sunday
Rough start to winter. I ended up on Plan C, which was actually a blast, followed by Plans D&E, though I certainly did not earn the luxury of my couch that weekend. And hopefully the freezing level will eventually be low enough that Plan B can be what I usually land on.
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Looking back at Robert and Amber after leading the first pitch

Weekend One:

Plan A (Saturday): Three O’Clock Rock, Silent Running (bail)
Plan A (Sunday): Baker via Coleman Deming (bail – straight to Plan E)
On a weekend with surprisingly pleasant weather, I somehow could not convince anyone to come on a North Cascades snow slog with me. So I hopped onto Forrest’s trip, which involved a nice 5.9ish slab climb of Silent Running on Three O’Clock Rock out by Darrington. I wasn’t convinced we’d reach the trailhead, or that the rock was dry, or that we wouldn’t be pummeled by ice/snow/waterfalls, but everyone was pretty gung ho so I schlepped myself along.
We made it to the trailhead without issue, and the approach to Three O’Clock Rock is an awesomely short hike along a nice trail. Supposedly it’s unmaintained, but it’s not that bad at all, and it continues on to Squire Creek Pass, which is a nice winter/spring hike when Three Fingers is dusted in snow and you can watch skiiers doing borderline impossible ascents and descents of the north face. We took our turnoff, the only people interested in rock climbing, and started getting set up in the snow. The rock was a mix of dry and wet, but at least the first pitch was mostly dry. And the sun was coming around the corner, which should help with the rest of it.
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Three Fingers from Squire Creek Pass

Forrest led the first two pitches with Brooke, and then I led the same two with Amber and Robert. Slab is my nemesis, I just picture slipping and cheese-gratering my face all over it. Until Forrest actually told me how to climb it. It’s almost like squatting. Get your feet under your chest and you can pretty much just walk right up it. I was standing up, but I was standing up with like a 15 degree angle between me and the rock, which meant a high chance of my feet slipping. If you can get your body weight as close to perpendicular as possible, you’ll have way more traction. And suddenly I was more comfortable. And the first two pitches are an easy lead with solid pro and a few bolts, and soon enough I was at the bolted anchors.

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Robert getting to the watery sections in the cold shade

Belaying two people at once is a pain in the ass and my rope nest went to shit immediately, but hey the ledge was sunny and it was warm and that was nice. Robert and Amber cruised up and joined me on the icy belay ledge, waiting for our fingers and feet to freeze. Standing on snow in rock shoes sucks, so we tried to dance around it with little to no success. Oh, and then the sun went away. We had enjoyed it for like 15 minutes and now it was gone, never to be seen again.

Robert led the next pitches. With the warming temperatures, chunks of ice were starting to cascade down on us. I took a nice chunk to the wrist. Robert took a football chunk to the ribs and had a speed-clip mid-lead when he was 10ft above his last piece and the ice came, clipping just in time to be showered with golf balls. You’d hear the F bombs come down with the ice. “ICE!!!” “fuck” “oh shit AH” “ah jesus christ” “fuck OUCH” “fucking hell” and then you knew it was your turn. Helmets are good. I couldn’t help but wonder what the group walking below us thought. “Morons.”
Robert crushed the next two pitches, until it turned out that the last 20ft were flat, featureless slab with basically a small waterfall running down the entire thing. Forrest had traversed left and back right to get to the anchor, but Robert tried to go straight up and just ended up soaking wet. Can’t win that one. But he settled in at the belay ledge, and after a few minutes Forrest started setting up a rappel. Guess we’re bailing. “It’s too wet! The entire next pitch is soaked!” Yeah, like we couldn’t see that from the beginning. They rapped down as I climbed up. We’re here, I’m getting my money’s worth. As Brooke pointed out while I was being grumpy the day prior, “yeah we might not finish it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun.” She wins that argument. It was still a freaking blast.
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Everything looks better after you’ve bailed on it. Bring on Plan E!

I drove straight to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead, where I met Shawna hoping to do a one push ascent of Baker. I was set up in bed by 9pm and we figured we’d get moving around 3am. I was recovering from a cold, so not feeling fantastic but not feeling awful either, and I slept surprisingly well. Unfortunately, Christie woke up sick (I know you can’t get someone sick in 6hrs but I still feel bad), so our group of 5 was down to 4. We skinned up the road to the trailhead (road is blocked around 1.5 miles from the actual trailhead) and started up, alternating skis and boots. Naomi decided her heart wasn’t in it, so she turned back too. We pushed on to low camp at the top of the hogsback, and decided we were turning around too. I have a three strike rule I like to keep, and having two people turn back was basically two strikes. Plus, I realized that we were a group of two skiers and one snowshoer, and a) I wasn’t sure I was comfortable skiing the glacier with as little snow cover as there was and b) we were slower than expected, likely due to me insisting on skinning un-skinnable terrain and c) what were we going to do, have the snowshoer walk down unroped? So we pitched a tent, shiver-napped and laughed at how we had forgotten how winter trips worked, and then skied down. Except I had forgotten how to ski. Shit. And my skis need to be waxed, desperately. I couldn’t even get them to slide at first. Ah, tis the season. The season of turnarounds, being slower than expected, fighting to skin or posthole, and remembering that you have no idea how to ski.

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Snow caves!!

Weekend Two: 

Plan A: Skiing in the rain (bail)
Plan B: Assist with a Peaks of Life avalanche class (yay!)
This was a quickie. We were planning on resort skiing so I could re-learn how to ski, but it was supposed to be raining at Snoqualmie Pass and Forrest needed a last minute assistant for a Peaks of Life avalanche class, so I opted to help out. This involved a few hours of classroom education (basically plan E with some perks) followed by a short skin up to Mazama Ridge, where we built snow caves. And of course, evaluated terrain, worked on routefinding and snowpack observations, practiced companion rescue, and I got to get in a few mini turns while my muscles remembered how skis work. And it reinforced everything I had learned in AIARE 1, which was awesome. You can never stop learning this stuff. There will always be more to know, new research, better ways to do what you’ve been doing, new gear to be utilized. Never stop learning.
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…I mean it’s almost offensive to call this Plan C

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Brooke toasting us in snowshoes

Weekend Three:

Plan A: Shuksan via Sulphide (didn’t even start)
Plan B: Epic Nisqually ice climb (bail)
Plan C: Less epic Nisqually seracing (yay!)
This has been the highlight of winter so far, even if we ended up on Plan C. I bailed on Shuksan because I woke up on Saturday feeling sick, weak and pathetic. Sunday I woke up feeling slightly less pathetic, and we headed to Paradise to set up snow caves on the Nisqually and do some ice climbing in the area. I don’t like spending NYE in the city, so I was just happy to be getting out, especially on such a beautiful weekend.
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I bet this is better than your plan C

You know the book “The Things They Carried?” Yeah, well this was like a non-metaphorical version called “The Things They Didn’t Carry.” I forgot technical crampons. Amber didn’t bring sunglasses or a stove or a spoon (sound familiar? I bring two spoons now). Brooke didn’t bring sunglasses or poles. “Everyone forgot something except Forrest! And even if he did he’ll never tell us.” A few hours later, Forrest announced he didn’t bring a goretex jacket, just bibs. Ha! But between the four of us, we had enough to share. We skinned through the forest and then along a beautiful ridge to our campsite, and spent the next hour (three hours in my case because I have no idea what I’m doing) digging out snow caves. I don’t have the art of snow caving perfected yet, like Forrest and Brooke do. And we welcomed the new year with a fantastic sunset, dehydrated mountain meals, and battery powered christmas lights in snow caves. By which I mean we pretended it was midnight at 8pm because I wanted to go to sleep.

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But this was Plan B

In the morning, we roped up for the Nisqually to be safe, but it’s nicely covered. Forrest gave the first two ice falls a good shot, but route A was too soft and route B was too thin. So on to the next idea, and we headed up to the seracs to get in a few laps. Forrest led two routes and the rest of us top roped. Ice climbing was like slab climbing. I’ve done it a few times, but no one has ever watched me and actually told me how to do it. Within a single pitch Forrest had given me three crucial tips. 1) Triangle. You want your ice pics almost in a vertical line, and your feet in a wide stance so your points of contact make a triangle. You can also yell “TRIANGLE!” at someone on their whole climb, just like skiing behind them yelling “PIZZA!” 2) On plasticy alpine ice, it’s possible (even ideal) to have more than just the front two teeth of your crampons in contact with the ice. And 3) You want to stick one tool as high as you can reach, then move your feet 3+ times, then stick your next tool as high as you can get it, move feet a bunch, rinse and repeat. Like rock climbing. And once I had those 3 things on my mind, everything was suddenly easier. It’s amazing how much having someone watch you even for just a few minutes can help.

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Brooke belaying Forrest leading a nice WI3 pitch

We wrapped it up after a few laps, ripped the skins from our skis, and carved our way back down the Nisqually with Brooke dusting us in her snowshoes. She took advantages of our transitions to get a head start, but damn I have never met anyone that fast on snowshoes. We knew we were getting back to civilization when we heard kids and saw people sledding, and we skied all the way back to the parking lot, where all four of us ate it almost immediately on the black ice.

Weekend Four: 
Plan A: Lookout Mountain Lookout and Little Devil Peak! (forecast got worse every day)
Plan B: Just Lookout Mountain! (forecast got even worse)
Plan C: Resort skiing! (forecast changed to rain everywhere)
Plan D: Amabilis Mountain cross country ski! (avalanche conditions worsened, Kacie had a dream I died in an avalanche)
Plan D-2? Can’t be E because E is my couch: Hex Mountain
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Clouds reflecting my grumpy bland mood

And you know what? Hex Mountain was fantastic. Super sweet low angle snowshoe out by Roslyn, which is often far enough east to get sunshine even when the pass is getting pounded by rain or snow. Kacie had to be back by 5pm so we needed something short and close, and this fit the bill. We crashed two meetups with had several mutual connections (one guardian angel on my Stuart trip last spring, Ashwin who came up Baker with me years ago, and some friends of SAR folks), I skiied (well, skinned) the worst snow I have skiied in my life, and we got to check out the remains of an area covered in wildfires this summer.

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Okay, Hex isn’t so bad

It was pretty wild seeing the eerie, gothic needle trees leftover from the fire, or how the fire consumed one tree but the tree next to it was left unscathed. So stop whining, you still got out, got a workout, and got some awesome photos. And you can go back in a few years and admire the changes as the forest recovers.

Weekend Five: 

Plan A: Oakes Peak (too ambitious)
Plan B: Lookout Mountain Lookout
Problems I expected to run into: Slushy snowpack, moving slower than expected, loose wet avalanches, sunburns
Problems we actually ran into: Jackson being scared of going downhill on snow or bridges, ghost water stealthily draining from bladders, bloody dog paws, and excessive dog shitting
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Rippley coming back to help us coax Jackson across

We started up the trail and finally strapped on snowshoes just below 4,000ft. You could have left them on for longer. I had been told Jackson was scared of steep snow but I didn’t know how scared until we reached the first snow bridge, where it turned out he’s also scared of snow-covered bridges even if the drop to the creek is like two feet. Shawna wrangled him across that, and then two more bridges, but when it came time to cross the steeper final slope, Jackson’s face said “absolutely not.” I was stomping a path across when I noticed Rippley’s paws were bloody, and announced that the pups were calling the trip for us. Back to the car! But hey, it’s sunshine, and a workout, and the smell of crisp pine trees in the middle of January, so it’s hard to complain. And Jackson actually slept in the car on the way home, imagine that.

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Still a gorgeous day in the woods

So Plan C can be good. And so can Plan B, even if Plan A is the best. After all, getting out in winter is an accomplishment in itself. And the best way to stay in shape is to carry skis and wallow a bit. It’s not a true backcountry trip if there isn’t some postholing, or some booting, or even a tree well or two.* Bring it on, 2018, we’re ready!

*Brooke found that for us, during the only 10 minutes of the trip where she wasn’t leaving us in the dust.

Mt. Stuart via Ice Cliffs Glacier (aka Go Get A [excessive expletives] PLB)

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The cornice at the top. At least 20′ tall

“Maybe I should have renewed that SPOT subscription.” “I mean we’ve only been talking about it for the past 5 weeks right?” “Yeah… it would be nice to have right now.” “I’ll take a space heater, a hot shower, and a down comforter with my beacon please. And a foot massage.” And there we were, in a nice ice ledge/snow cave we had dug halfway down the Sherpa glacier, staring at the snow lit up by the moon and wondering how fucked we’d be when I wouldn’t show up to work at 9am and no one would know why. How did we get to this point, you ask? Let’s find out. Climbed 5/6-5/8.

  • Distance: ~20mi round trip
  • Elevation: 7200ft gain (9,416ft highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny? Random snow squalls
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Many, many postholes. And shattered dreams.
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Come on it’s hilarious. Especially when you ring the bell.

We got to the trailhead at 7pm. Well I did, JT showed up at 10 and insisted on doing the approach. Nope, it’s like a 6 hour approach without the road, with plenty of creek crossings and no trail and I figured it’d be easier in the morning. We had time. JT begged but I was committed, I needed sleep. Call me lame.

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First glimpse!

We got moving at 6am. JT had brought a hilarious electric fatbike, so we strapped our packs to the bike and he started to take them up. Don’t worry, the bike has a bell you can ring in case you need to pass anyone at your top speed of 3mph. We figured we’d leapfrog and take turns with the bike, which if it didn’t save us much time at least provided comic relief for the four miles of dry, easily driveable road. I left my trail runners on for the 2 miles of Colchuck trail we needed to follow, no traction or anything. When we branched off onto the Stuart Lake trail it started getting a little more postholey, and when we finally started the cross country trek, it got real postholey. We were hoping someone else would have broken trail but of course not. We came along an old skin track that we followed on and off, but all of the creek crossings were different. Many logs, not many good access points. The snowbanks made it awkward, since youd’ have to drop down two feet of snow and hope to land your ass on the log. Lots of shimmying. It was a lot more fun when you’re a kid, and not carrying 50lbs with skis attached to your park. I clotheslined my skis at one point because I was so worried that when I sat on the shimmy log they’d stick in the snow behind me and tip me forward and thus off the log, leading to my untimely and mildly embarrassing demise.

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Route on the left, JT ready to ski!

But we survived the river crossings and honestly that was probably the hardest part of the approach. We camped just above the trees at the base of the route. We skinned up to check it out, figuring if it looked too intimidating we’d do Sherpa instead. But Ice Cliffs looked dope, and well within our abilities, so we decided to go for it. We made some turns on the way back to camp, perfect mellow green run for baby skiiers like me. Look at those S’s baby. Someone’s learning.
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That’s a 5 star bivvy. Best night of sleep in months.

We dug out our bivvy spots back at camp. I walked up to some avvy debris piles to collect branches as ground insulation, because we had time and I wanted to be warm and have everything smell like Christmas. We left tracks all over that basin (this was problematic later). We melted water, watched a climber get plucked off the North Buttress Couloir on Colchuck, and went to sleep as the sun set.

We got up around 5 and started up to the couloir. There was avvy debris mixed with chunks of glacial ice from the icefall at the base of the route, frozen solid, like a talus field except snow and ice. Soon enough, the steep snow starter. We knew if we stayed left of the icefall there would be a nice snowy couloir that would lead us up to the mellow, flat section above the falls. From that section, it would be steep snow to the cornice, and…. well, we’d deal with that when we got there.
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Baby turns!

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Already in heaven

Luckily, it was fucking freezing. Everything was rock solid. We placed no pro, until one spicy section I was halfway up when I realized I was hanging on by like 1cm of ice pick and 5mm of crampon frontpoints. I looked up at JT. Same deal. Oh, good, we’re on ice. With no protection. With a thousand feet of terrible runout. Well. Not much we can do now. I swallowed and wished for JT to move quickly and blanked out the consequences. 30 feet later it was soft enough to at least get an inch of boot in, and 30 feet after that I was back to walking up with some variations on french technique. There are two advantages to being horribly duck footed. Breaststroke, and climbing steep snow. I have found my calling.

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For once I was thankful for clouds

We took a quick break on the flat section after some traversing (which I hate, and will always hate, because it is arguably more tedious and less comfortable than downclimbing). We placed a picket for protection just in case since the runout was a nice slide down to the icefall followed by a i-don’t-want-to-know-how-far drop. I destroyed some sour patch watermelon and some goldfish. It was a short walk to where the final steep snow slope began, and we decided to start placing running belays here just to be safe. I’m still not sure it was necessary, and we’ve rehashed it several times. It slows you down a lot, but if someone’s tired, you should probably place it. So we did. One time the rope got stuck, and we took turns whipping it to get it loose. Naturally this resulted in me singing Whip It Good for the rest of the way up. Isn’t that what you sing when you’re in the middle of nowhere slogging up snow?

And that meant the pace was slow enough I could take tons of pictures. The bummer is that my phone started this trip at 7% battery, I had left the camera in the car, and that meant I had to ration photos. Ugh, the horrors.
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Living the freaking dream

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I saw that #1 cam crack from 50 feet away I was so proud

We mixed pickets and some rock pro as anchors. We stayed to the right since the majority of the falling debris that passed us was on the left (I think this contradicts what summitpost says). We took a break on a sweet snowdrift next to the rock, and finally hit up the last stretch. The cornice was MASSIVE. We had been pumping ourselves up to burrow through it, but upon seeing it, we could either spend 4 hours trying to burrow or we could suck it up and test out the mixed chimney that was in the middle. Survey says? Let’s try the chimney.

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JT at our last break

JT made a bomber rock anchor below the chimney. Yeah, I wasn’t leading that. Maybe if our lives had depended on it. It didn’t look bad until you were in it. I could tell he was panicking too (sorry JT) as I belayed him up. And he wasn’t sure the pickets he placed halfway up would take a fall. But 15 minutes later, he was whooping on top of the ridge, and I was throwing my entire body weight upwards on the picket trying to get the damn thing out of the snow cursing his fucking indestructible placement because this thing was $25 and I’ll be damned if I leave $25 in this god forsaken chimney (this is foreshadowing).

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Final stretch!

I finally got the picket out and made the spicy mixed move to get out of the slightly overhung chimney. I looked up at JT who was laughing as I dragged my fat tired ass over the edge. We organized our gear and started walking up towards the summit, jealous of the skiiers heading down Cascade Couloir, which looked so mellow and easy and fun.

It took maybe an hour to get to the top. JT was ahead of me. More front pointing on hard snow, man I’m sick of hard snow and it’s going to be a pain in the ass to downclimb this. I look up at JT as we got close. “Fuck.”
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HAHAHA ahaha haha ah no.

“What? Is it not the summit?” “It’s definitely not the summit.” “Are you sure??” “Well unless there’s a bigger, taller peak right next to us… yeah, I’m sure.” I hurried up beside him and we both just burst out laughing. The real summit of Stuart was another hundred feet higher, with more hard steep snow, which meant more frontpointing and more downclimbing that shit and random snow squalls kept happening and there was just no way either of us were going up there and we didn’t even have to say it outright, we just knew. We sat down and kept laughing at how humbling it was and had some snacks. And soon enough, started the downclimb, crossing out fingers that entry to the Sherpa couloir would be easy.

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Looking out at Sherpa and Balanced Rock

And it was! I lay on the edge of the couloir moaning about how much of a pain in the ass downclimbing was going to be, until I started laughing again. Look where we are! We’re on top of the world, and I’m still finding a reason to whine. We started down, I was pretty tired and I told JT to go first and kick great steps. Great steps meant like 1″ of purchase, if that. Ugh. Damn my weak winter calves.

So we kicked, or tried to, if you can call that kicking steps. After a few hundred feet there was no more kicking, just frontpoints, and laser sharp focus. Half an hour later, there was just sharp focus. An hour after that, there was blurry focus, and while my body physically felt fine, I was mentally losing it. The bottom looked so close. Maybe two rappels, if we set up an anchor and just left it? Yeah, that looked about right. JT was talking to himself as he downclimbed. “One foot now, two points in, next foot now, two more points in, now the first foot, now the second foot, just keep going, second foot, first foot, making steps.” I was singing that song that the parrot in the Lion King sings in his bone cage, somthing about I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts do do do do do do there they are all standing in a row, big ones small ones some the size of your head! I finally made a joke about bivvying.
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I mean, you have to laugh a little at the situation

And that joke about bivvying basically shut us down. I hear when pregnant women make it to restrooms, they don’t always make it to the toilet. Their brains are like HEY WE’RE HERE LET’S GO! That’s how the bivvy was. My brain heard the joke and was like HELL YEAH WE’RE DONE! and I could feel myself crashing as we anchored ourselves with pickets and shoveled the biggest ledge we could after chopping through the surface ice with our tools. I put on all my layers, sat on my pack, we undid our coils and used those as ground cover too. Shivver bivvying at its finest. “Do you think there’s something fucked up in our heads?” JT asked. “No, no way. We’re normal. We’re awesome. Why?” “Because.. .we’re stuck outside and we’re exhausted and we’re spending the night here and we’re still having fun?” I mean, you have a point. I was pondering a different, slightly related, equally hilarious (to me) question. “Do you think our parents would be proud that we’re making the safe call to stop and rest here, or do you think they’d just be pissed we got ourselves here to begin with?”

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Time to get moving and warm up!!

There’s not much sleeping when it’s like that. You’ll start to doze and then your body remembers you’re fucking freezing and starts to shiver and you wake yourself up again. So we watched the snow get lit up by the moon, I wondered how long it takes trenchfoot to set in and thanked the sweet baby jesus for telling me to wear ski boots instead of mountaineering boots (toasty liners), and occasionally I had some snacks. We had plenty of food and water at least.

As soon as sun rose we were moving. We had already decided to rappel off gear and just leave the gear behind. Two rappels right? No, I suck at distance judging and we all know it. 2 raps turned into six. I couldn’t get pickets in through the ice, but it was still too thin for a v thread. Snow bollards were an option but I thought they’d take too long to make since we’d have to cut through all the crust. A chunk of ice broke my helmet (not a split, just knocked a plastic piece loose, but that was enough to render it useless). Great, we’re bailing. Fuck the pickets with two flat ends, always get the ones with one sharp end. It was impossible to get the flat end ones in the snow even after I chopped a starter hole. Pound that picket in harder, Eve. What happened to your swimmer triceps and shoulders?! Bro do you even lift?!? (no. but i should.)
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Somehow the snow still hadn’t softened up, here I am happily rappelling down

We finally reached the bergschrund, which was nicely covered with avvy debris. One last rap to get over it, and we were walking off! Woo! JT looked down as he was crossing. “Oh, I can get my sunglasses!” I started laughing. He had dropped them sometime on Monday, and I figured they were toast. I belayed him into the crevasse to retrieve his brand new Julbos. Small miracles!

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Glacier glasses that (on their first day in the wild) were nearly abandoned in the crevasse

We walked back to the sunny soft snow where I had one of the best glissades of my life back to camp. We boiled water, had the best alpine cider ever, and started to pack. Soon we heard helicopter blades chopping through the wind. Damn, there must be another rescue! Busy weekend.

Except then the helo came and hovered right over us. And then it flew right over the ice cliffs route, and down the sherpa route. “They just… do you think they’re looking for us?” “Well they just flew literally right up ice cliffs and right down sherpa, so…. yes?” It was 10:30. Would my office have seriously called SAR at 9:01 sharp? I’ve been late to work after climbs before, this isn’t exactly the first time I’ve had an unplanned bivvy. I mean, maybe?
We stood by our stuff and stared at the copter, who hovered next to us for another 5 minutes before flying off. They definitely saw us, right? They’ve got to be going back to tell everyone we’re okay. I mean we’re standing on snow wearing bright orange and blue packing up our skis, there’s no way they didn’t see us.
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The Shimmy

We started the trek out, which involved more postholing and somehow more log shimmying than the way in. Helicopters continued to fly around us, one flew next to us and we waved as they pointed while we crossed the swampy section right where you cut off from the Stuart Lake trail. Half an hour later, back on the Colchuck trail, we saw two more helicopters. “There’s something bigger than us going on out there,” JT said. I hoped he was right, but I was freaking the fuck out. Yeah we know we’re fine, but my office doesn’t. And if they called my family, then there’s at least 20 people who are panicking right now. But they pointed at us in the swamp, and they hovered right next to us on the snowfield. They must be looking for someone else and figured out we weren’t the ones they were looking for. But the thought was still in my head, and my body was on fire with anxiety and I was flying down the trail trying my best to not leave JT behind. He broke trail like all the way through the snow, and I had been lazy. But I had to get back to cell service before anyone called my family.

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Shattered Dreams

We got to the Colchuck trailhead, which had been recently cleared of downed trees, bathrooms cleaned, and even restocked with fresh toilet paper. Best bathroom experience of my life. Plus, this must mean the road is open!! Great, JT take the bike and the packs, I’ll start walking, get the car, and meet me halfway up the road. Helicopters continued to fly over. I waved to one as I walked down the road. That one definitely didn’t see me. No one waved.

A few hours later, I hear an engine. And I see an FJ come around the corner. Woohoo, JT!! The road is open!! Except… behind him is a huge pickup truck. With a huge label on the side. In all caps. “SHERIFF.” Oh, shit. So they were looking for us. That helicopter was for us. All day, that helicopter was looking for us. JT had gotten back to our cars, each of which had a note saying “you’ve been reported as overdue, please call the sheriff.” So he drove to cell service, called the sheriff, who opened the gate to the road and let him come pick me up. You know what’s great about a having bright yellow xterra? They saw it from the sky immediately and said yep Eve’s car is here. Nothing subtle about that.
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This is really getting in the way of our self rescue

In my state of mixed guilt and embarrassment and shame and humiliation I wasn’t sure what to do. How could the best route of my life and a simple overnight bivvy have caused all of this? We felt like we had everything under control 100% of the time. At no point was I concerned for our safety, or scared, or even stressed. I was more anxious about being late to work and missing EMT class than anything else. Sure the bivvy wasn’t ideal, but it was absolutely the right call. Tired, on a tedious 40+ degree slope with another 600ft to descend with only our crampon points, already late, and one misstep if we tried to push it would have resulted in a fatal fall. So we stopped, and got up a few hours later, surprisingly refreshed once we loosened up stiff frigid limbs.

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Good look at Stuart over the swamp on the left

We thanked Chelan Mountain Rescue profusely. These guys dropped everything they were doing to send out a helo to look for us, and to be fair, from the air it looked pretty bad. They saw the bivvy ledge, the bail gear, the bergschrund, and a ton of avvy debris from earlier in the week. The bail gear ended just above the bergschrund, and it probably looked like either 1) we were hit by an avalanche and were nicely buried or 2) we were trying to bail and we rapped off the end of the rope or something failed and we fell into the schrund. They thought it was a recovery.

Luckily, neither of the above even came close to happening. We just left an awkward trail of bail gear. While they were changing plans from rescue to recovery, we were bitching about postholing and why did we carry skis and shit none of these logs are good for crossing the stream and can you believe that buttered popcorn jelly beans are still disgusting after 3 days of climbing? I’m like at least 2 days from starvation if those still taste like shit.
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Sherpa Glacier on left, our route on right behind the center crag

If we had had a messaging beacon, we’d have been able to send out a text as soon as we set up the bivvy saying hey, we’re fine, just going to be late. If we had a true PLB maybe our friends would have felt a bit safer knowing we hadn’t hit SOS yet. Instead, no one knew what had happened. My coworkers knew my intended routes because I wouldn’t shut up about it all week, but none of my immediate climbing friends did, and that caused a bunch of confusion when they started wondering why no one had heard from me. Should we have flagged down the helicopter? Yeah, but I’m still not sure what the sign is for “hey, you’re looking for us, but we’re fine, gonna hike out!” In our heads, we were barely even overdue at that point (a few hours, we knew we’d be getting to the trailhead wicked late on Tuesday), and we definitely weren’t lost. Turns out they saw us and assumed we were hikers, not the people they were looking for. There were tracks all over the basin, they had no way of knowing which were ours (answer: all of them). And given the bail gear pattern, holy shit I’d probably have thought the same.

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Colchuck Peak, the lone climber’s rescue foreshadowing our own epic

Get a beacon! One beacon could have saved all of this confusion, all of the effort on SAR/CMR’s part (god forbid someone else get injured looking for me, especially when nothing’s wrong with me to begin with), and all of the ensuing feelings that I, my friends and family, and coworkers all went through in the 12 hours I was missing. We had been discussing it for over a month and I was too cheap to buy my own. I always pictured beacons as purely “SOS” function, not the “hey everything’s fine but we’re going to be late” heads up to the real life friends and coworkers back in the city, and that’s what you’ll get with the satellite messenger beacons. You never think it’ll be you, until it’s you.

I have no idea if my office called that a vacation day, a personal/sick day, or is turning the other cheek. I was brainstorming my apologies and excuses while we were bivvying. “Call it a vacation day, call it two vacation days, I’m so sorry I’m so embarrassed” blah blah blah. I got into work and no one cared, everyone wanted to hear the story, and everyone was just relieved I was okay. Everyone had rallied and called in personal favors to anyone they knew who climbed or could stir up a rescue. That’s an awesome office right there. And there I was, back to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets never made me bivvy in a snow cave, or rap off $300 of gear, or resort to eating butter popcorn jelly beans. Tough choice between those and turds.
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So proud of my bivvy branch collection. Good thing I got such good sleep on night #1

Huge, huge thanks to CMR and SAR for coming after us. As embarrassed as I was, it’s amazing knowing an entire community is ready to jump on it 90 minutes after someone calls us in as overdue. Thank you to everyone who called, everyone who pitched in with information, everyone who got up right away to put the search into effect. And huge thanks to JT for suffering through all of that with me, and thanks to Mt. Stuart for being a coy bitch, and thanks to everyone for not making me feel tooooo guilty upon my return.* And lastly, thanks to my family back in Boston who put up with my questionable hobby. I can’t apologize enough, nothing I say will change anything, just know we do our best to be safe. From here on out you’ll get the “we’re okay, just going to be late” messages at 3am. You guys are the best, don’t ever think I take you for granted.

So go get a PLB. Don’t talk to me until you have one.
*You now have permission to make jokes at my expense.