Winchester Mountain Birthday Surprise

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Here come the balloons! Baker peeks above the clouds.

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Party ready! PC Ken

Yeah, we took over a lookout. I almost felt bad, but everyone around us was pretty nice and patient and there weren’t many people because the mountain gods decided to wrap us in fog. To make the colors really pop, I assume. Thanks guys.

Eva had planned this crazy surprise from scratch maybe two weeks in advance. Like two dozen people coordinating formal wear, balloons, blueberry tarts, carpools up one of the worst roads in the cascades, how to get everyone there on time despite everyone being chronically late… amazingly it worked out.

  • Distance: 3.4 miles (i know, it’s almost a personal record of shortness)
  • Elevation gain: 1300ft (not too shabby for 1.7mi)
  • Weather: 40’s and partly sunny?
  • Commute from Seattle: 3hrs with no traffic
  • Did I Trip: Not today
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Blueberry break! PC Ken

I got to the meeting spot at 9:45. Everyone agreed to meet at 10. They all went to the Wake and Bakery (heh) beforehand, but I was out of cell service so I assumed they were wrapping up and moments away. But then it was 10, and then it was 10:15, and then Emily rolled up so at least I had company, and then it was 10:30… and finally everyone was there. We shuffled gear into the cars of those willing to take on the burden of driving to Twin Lakes, and headed off to the trailhead.

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The procession of the balloons

My car had about 40 balloons, which I figured would be enough to float us to the top. But it wasn’t, and that meant we had to actually face the road. Turned out the road isn’t technically that bad, just some small washouts. The scary part is the steep drop and the fact that it’s one lane. And I didn’t want to back that shit up (back up that shit?) in my manual transmission xterra, which, as dope as it is, doesn’t even like reversing uphill in a city. I need two gears for reverse in that car. Amazingly, we only had to pass two others, one that was a little spicy with like 3″ of space (Emily was like uhhh don’t go any farther this way…) and one where Emily and I both laughed and cheered because we passed them on a nice wide beautiful switchback. And suddenly we were at the trailhead!

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Each balloon can lift ~14g, so they helped a bit with pack weight

It took a while again to get everyone organized (party decorations, balloons, kids, dogs, debating turning cars around to hide obvious bumper stickers that would give us away) and finally we were on our way. I stupidly signed “EVE – PARTY OF 12” in the trail register. Thankfully, Eva had the foresight to guide Stephen away from the register so my idiocy didn’t give us away.

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The procession!

Meanwhile, we scampered (slowly) up the trail, taking blueberry breaks, pictures of everyone with their balloons, making bets on whether we’d have any views at the top. We got to the lookout and started setting up. Splitting up helium balloons (which don’t float as well at 6000ft because of the lower air density), recruiting the kids to blow up normal balloons, taping streamers across the ceiling, hanging up birthday signs, putting out the alpine blueberry tarts that Becka made, eating everyone else’s snacks because my snacks were mediocre at best:

  • A crumbled honey stinger waffle
  • A bag of muddy buddies grabbed at a gas station on the way to a SAR mission months ago
  • A salami wrapped around a cheese stick I didn’t know I had (aka old)
  • A quest bar I didn’t find until later
  • Some Peter Rabbit baby food (emergency sugar)
  • Espresso clif shot (emergency caffeine + sugar)
  • Pride and also Shame with a dash of Embarrassment (what I ate on the way up this time)
  • PB2 dust(???) in my pocket??? Basically pocket sand
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My favorite on the balloons

Yeah, I hadn’t been out since like mid August. I wouldn’t have starved but I mean… I’d need a certain level of desperation. Anyway, we finished up the decor just as Eva topped out, a few minutes ahead of Stephen. We scrambled to get the last of the balloon inside, eventually shoving them in the door and closing it while we tried to get the strings loose (I can untie them!! Wait! I can’t untie them!! What happened to the strings?! DOES ANYONE HAVE A KNIFE?!” I dodged inside worried Stephen was coming around the corner and snuck the knife to Eva, who finally cut the balloons free and turned around innocently just as Stephen crested the final incline.

I am still like a child playing hide and seek, suddenly I have to use the bathroom but I know it’s just the anticipation. Don’t turn around. Don’t make eye contact. Stephen of course immediately starts heading in the wrong direction. No don’t look. We hear Eva trying to corral him towards the door. He finally turns around like okay fiiiine i’ll look inside first.

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Cheryl helping with streamers

“SURPRISE!!” Those bastards going rogue, we had agreed to say happy birthday! At least, everyone except me seemed to be on the same page, and that page said surprise and I had just missed the update memo so I said more like “hhhhhhaaPRISE!” Stephen just goes “oh, hey guys??” and we can see the wheels turning. “Oh there are lots of you!” “Oh oh wow you even decorated!” and we’re all laughing and clapping and HE HAD NO IDEA. I figured he’d at least have a feeling he was getting into something, just not the full scope of what we had pulled together. But he was completely clueless.

We had blueberry tart, whipped cream, whiskey, champagne, sang happy birthday with Eva on ukelele, and caught up on just how Stephen had no idea. He said everything suddenly made sense. Why Eva was waking him up early. Why Eva was rushing him out of the house. Why Eva dodged the trail register. Why Eva was dragging him up the trail so fast. I can’t believe the numerous WHC stickers (and bright yellow car) didn’t give us away. I was worried they’d even catch up to us, because we were pretty behind schedule too!! But everything went smoothly.

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Balloons make it easy to find your friends

We eventually took down the decor and headed back to the trailhead, stopping along the way for formal photos. Eva and Stephen do this thing where everyone brings up formalwear and changes into it at the best viewpoint, and we found a great outcropping on the way down that wouldn’t block the whole trail but also had a perfect backdrop. We froze in the cold and the wind in bare feet and semiformal dresses but it was totally worth it for the laughs and the pics. And we were still back to the trailhead before sunset, which is great, because it meant we could drive the shitty part of the road in daylight, instead of hugging the road next to the abyss for 2.5 anxiety inducing miles.

Great day, great company, and even the long drive didn’t bother me (it helps having company – thanks Emily!!). The days like this are just as good as the crazy climbs and runs. Happy birthday Stephen!!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY STEPHEN! (don’t judge by this streamer THE REST WERE PERFECT)

P.S. I used a couple of Ken Poore’s photography. They’re easy to spot in this post. You can tell by the way that they are. By which I mean they’re brighter, sharper, and better composed than my poor phone’s attempts at making clouds look okay. You can see the rest of his (more epic) work here: https://www.kenpoorephotography.com/

 

Table Mountain Circumnavigation

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Brad skins up below Shuksan, Artist Point in the background

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Looking up at Table Mountain

I’m sure there will be a collection of winter turnaround short stories and half day might-as-well-get-out trips, but I figured I’d start with the first successful (as in “wow look where we are!!!”) trip this winter. There’s been a lot of resort skiing, a trip to Costa Rica, some weekends where I couldn’t drive the hill in front of my house and skied the 48th St Couloir in Fremont instead of touring the backcountry… and then this weekend happened. Short and sweet.

 

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Baker! Brad scouts out a traverse route

Surafel was fresh (6 weeks?) off a major surgery and ready to get back at it. Brad for some reason had no plans. I was resigned to staying in town to work, but then decided to stick it to the man because when did the expectation change to assuming I’d be available on weekends? That’s not my modus operandi. Especially on one of those unique weekends where there’s powder and blue skies in the winter. And the slopes are like an adult playground and the snow is widespread enough for car to car instead of carrying the damn sticks for 6 miles each way before skinning and did I mention it was sunny and the days are getting longer and the skies are blue? Yeah. You bet your ass I’ll be there.

So we met late (by our standards) at 7am at the Lynnwood Transit Center. We almost lost Brad, who parked on the weird side instead of our normal side and also jumped when my car rolled because we were on a slight incline and my car is manual. Surafel had a banana for breakfast, Brad forgot to eat the muffin he had packed, and I didn’t bring breakfast because I’m too impatient and ready for action. Who needs food anyway.
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Brad’s awesome pic of Shuksan being a beaut

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Heading towards Ptarmigan Ridge

We drove up to Baker, stuck in the clouds until halfway down Baker Highway. Surafel had to rent snowshoes because he forgot that I, too, might own snowshoes he could borrow, or perhaps Brad, another grizzled outdoorsman. We finally broke into the sunshine, and everything was oversaturated and the sky was bright blue and the mountains were all white and we were ooh-ing and ahh-ing staring out the windows. Every switchback on that road was fantastic, I just kept laughing looking at Shuksan. It doesn’t get old. We freaking live here. And it’s been so long since I had a sunny weekend in the mountains, wow standards were low.

The skin track was icy, and the fact that I did a shit job trimming my skins did not help. Like really shit, like ashamed that I walked into REI 10 minutes before closing and said “oh I don’t need you to trim my skins hurr durr” because then I slashed off like half of the bottom of one of my skins and now a solid 12″ strip is only 1″ wide. But whatever. Problems for future Eve. We followed the ski/snowshoe highway to Artist Point, where we debated whether to continue and I groaned about how I forgot that I hate people, and boy were there people at Artist Point.
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Baker and the Seven Layer Cake

The people may or may not have been a factor in my decision to continue. On one hand, the snow was more stable than I had expected. On the other hand, I hadn’t been out in winter in a while, I’m a wimp, I’m good at psyching myself out, and I felt bad leaving Surafel behind. But Surafel insisted (he’s too nice) and Brad was pretty familiar with the area, so Brad and I took off into the silence of snow covered mountains and skied the traverse over to Ptarmigan Ridge (after wallowing in powder because I can’t transition without taking my skis off my feet). At the bottom, we switched back to skinning in a patch that had been nicely stomped down by some good samaritians ahead of us, and took off towards the ridge, where I waited for Brad to take the longest open-terrain bathroom break in my life. I thought he had broken a binding or something but no, just really, unbelievably hydrated. Unlike some of us.

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Looking back at the pass we came from

We skinned along the ridge for a while, enjoying the otherworldly views, aiming for what we were calling the Sydney Opera House or the Seven Layer Cake. It was a wild formation of cornices that looked like a sea shell or a fungus, and the Portals we were originally aiming for were something like 2 miles beyond it. Dammit. Classic winter underestimation. We figured that was a long shot and we didn’t want to get back after dark or leave Surafel waiting for hours, so we decided to ski down into the valley below and head up and out on the other side of Table Mountain if we could, assuming it would be the popular Table Mountain Circumnavigation. We scouted a skin track on the opposing slope from up high and committed to the descent.

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Coming back up to the opposing ridge

It might have been one of the best runs of my life. Only a couple hundred feet, but the type of powder that just makes you giggle the whole way because it’s so fluffy and beautiful and the “wshhhhhhh” surrounds your skis and i’m not a good enough skiier to deserve this. We skiied as far as we could and then started to traverse back towards Table Mountain, which took us across our first sketchy slope of the day. Shaded (new) and near tree line (new), even though it was a similar aspect to a piece of microterrain we had just skied the feel was completely different. Within a few steps we noticed the difference, but still kept going. Luckily it was short, but it was not where I wanted to end up, and I wish we had skinned back up to more mellow terrain. Good reality check that you should constantly be aware of changing conditions and new characteristics. We dropped into a river gully and popped out on the nice comfortable sunny side of the valley where I admired the shiny round white ass of someone taking a dump 50 yards away. Ah, the joys of the mountains.

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Almost at Austin Pass, Baker and the clouds setting the mood

We passed doody dude and avoided eye contact, skinning uphill through trees a ways before breaking out into the Chain Lakes Basin, where we had a glorious skin across a frozen lake with Baker in the backdrop and the first evidence of an actual avalanche all trip. It was a small debris field and we were well out of the way, and took our time crossing the lake soaking in views before skinning up to Austin Pass. We caught up to a group of four, who I innocently asked “are you doing the full circumnav?” “Yeah, full Table Mountain Circumnavigation, it’s been amazing!!” via which I confirmed that we were, in fact, on the trip that we thought we were on. The snow had changed to dripping, sun-loaded slush, but we were in the trees and the skin track avoided the steeper gullies on either side. At the top of Austin Pass we admired one last glance of Baker behind us, Shuksan in the sun in front of us (Homer Simpson drooling = me) before skiing a disappointing, surprisingly crusty run back to the shady base. After lamenting the loss of my brand new snow basket (RIP lil buddy) we found Surafel at the car, who had ravaged my backup snacks like an animal and eaten all of my candy.*

We devoured burgers and beer and bottomless hot chocolate on the way home to wait out the ski resort traffic. It was amazing to be back in the mountains, and I was stoked we pulled off a pretty classic half day tour out of nowhere and stoked that Surafel was back out. He even swore he’d never touch snowshoes again after a romp around Paradise last year, but it’s like a marathon, you forget the pain eventually and want to do it all over again. Bring on the spring season. My body is so not ready.
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Surafel’s awesome photo of Baker. Good thing we left him for several hours

*Just kidding, he only ate a reese’s peanut butter cup/kit kat hybrid.

Mt. Shuksan (via Fisher Chimneys)

Whose beautiful Nemo tent is that

Whose beautiful Nemo tent is that

Turns out mountaineering gear is good for many things, like snow, cold weather, and the high winds that accompany sitting in the bed of a pickup truck on the highway. Okay, now between that and the title, you can probably already extrapolate exactly what happened. But assuming you’re here for pretty pictures and entertainment, you might as well read on.

  • Distance: 24 miles, I think
  • Elevation: I don’t want to know
  • Weather: Mountain-forecast is a liar. Fog, fog, snow, and fog, and 30’s to 40’s
  • Commute from Seattle: well that depends which trailhead you’re starting at. Fisher Chimneys is about 3 hours, Sulphide is about 2:30
  • Did I Trip: I slow-motion sat once
  • GPX file: haha, no, because then you’ll see how many tries it took us just to find the damn chimneys

I’m convinced that climbers keep this route description a little convoluted just to maintain the challenge, and keep us plebs out. I’ll see if I can maintain that while giving you a bit more to chew on.

We left Seattle at 6am on Saturday. I’m usually all about trailhead camping and early starts, but this seemed like it’d be a quick route, so why not be a little more casual? We had sunny blue skies pulling up to the trailhead, and Shuksan was snow covered and stunning with fresh snow. I haven’t been so excited for a climb in a long time. Fisher Chimneys had been a route I had wanted to try for months, and here was the chance!

Bonus pic: It totally looks like a bird. Seahawk Serac. (Go Pats!)

Bonus pic: It totally looks like a bird. Seahawk Serac. (Go Pats!)

We set off on the trail, immediately hiking down into a valley full of fog. And… that would be the last time we saw the sun pretty much for days. With the exception of a few glimpses here and there.

Fall color starting along the Lake Ann trail

Fall color starting along the Lake Ann trail

The trail to Lake Ann is very well maintained and easy to follow, though there are a few offshoots to other areas as well. We passed plenty of people on their way to and from the lake, everyone hoping we’d get above the fog. Fall color was just barely beginning to show, though we couldn’t see much of our surroundings due to the mist.

We chatted with a hiker who had been up the Fisher Chimneys route before, and I almost didn’t ask but finally caved. I had heard rumors of a composting toilet somewhere on the chimneys route: was it true? He laughed. “No, but it’s a great route for chuckadook.” I giggled. Chuckadook? Is that what it sounds like? “Yep, you find a nice flat rock, drop a dookie, pick it up, and use the rock to fling it as far as you can. Beats a blue bag!” I could have cried laughing. What was even better was the young girl with them (maybe 10) trying not to giggle, and the look of horror on who I can only assume was this man’s mother. We wished them a good hike and as they walked off I heard her go “TWO MINUTES AND THAT’S ALL IT TOOK FOR YOU TO TALK ABOUT POOP” “no no it’s okay they get it they’re climbers, it’s just a normal topic of conversation” and they faded into the distance while I tried to regain composure, still giggling about “chuckadook.”

Foggy Lake Ann from near the bottom of the Chimneys

Foggy Lake Ann from near the bottom of the Chimneys

We didn’t even know we had reached the lake until we were nearly past it, because you couldn’t see it through the fog. I hear it’s beautiful, I’ve seen pictures of Shuksan looming over it, and all we had was a wall of white. We took the boot path to the left, a much more well maintained trail than I thought. It turns out the trail goes all the way to the Lower Curtis Glacier. Which we didn’t realize, until it was too late.

Hint: The standard route departs from the trail several gullies before the Lower Curtis Glacier. We were socked in by fog, and finally decided to take a snack break and check a map to see if we could get our bearings. We heard a huge rumble in the background – what was that?! a plane? Rock fall? Who knows. We definitely need to gain elevation, and might have passed the turnoff/scramble that will lead us to the Chimneys… okay, so we need to backtrack. Whatever, goldfish and kind bars first.

And the skies clear! Upper Curtis and Lower Curtis

And the skies clear! Upper Curtis (where Hell’s Highway is) and Lower Curtis

And suddenly I hear “WHOA! WHOA OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHOAAAAA!” (double rainbow word for word with an equal level of enthusiasm) and I turn around to see the clouds clearing, and we’re sitting freaking 20 feet away from the Lower Curtis, which has a stark terminus full of jagged seracs all lined up, with hell’s highway and dramatic rocky peaks suspended above it. Hoooly shit. I nearly fell over. This is what it looks like. This is where we are, and we had no idea. That rumbling had been the freakin glacier! There was still a small pool of cloud hanging just over the glacier, but Shukan is a beautiful mountain. Nothing can compare.

Well, now it was certain we had overshot. So we backtracked to where the Fisher Chimneys trail turned off, which is clearly marked by cairns, I’m apparently just blind. This led us up to a stream, which we eventually concluded needed to be crossed, following by some vague scrambling that finally dumped us onto a boot path for a while. Thank goodness, because we were not doing so hot with navigation.

Bottom of Lower Curtis - those seracs!

Bottom of Lower Curtis – those seracs!

For the next hour or so, everything went smoothly. We had trail, we had maps, we had cairns. Finally we reached the entrance to the chimneys. “It’s a really obvious gully” we were told. Well to whoever said that: you’re full of shit. We tested several different gullies before finally finding one that didn’t involve class 5 moves along mossy rocks, and we were off.

Guys, I love this shit. Almost as much as I love technical glacier travel. Fisher Chimneys was great because the few fourth class moves you encounter are like solving puzzles. There were several very exposed parts, so I would not attempt this one until you’re pretty comfortable on rock. We did belay Ben up one section, though I think it was all in his head because as soon as John had him on belay, he scaled the wall like it was nothing. Lucky for us, despite the clouds and occasional rain, the rocks were still pretty dry.

John during part of the scramble

John during part of the scramble

We hit snow a few dozen vertical feet below the White Salmon Glacier, and upon cresting the ridge, I started to relax. The chimneys had gotten stressful towards the top since it turns out not everyone enjoys exposed scrambles as much as I do, and I was happy to get to terrain that everyone in the group knew well. We roped up and aimed for winnie’s slide, which we found like 15 minutes later. It’s close.

And we were just in time, because it was dark within 20 minutes. We were originally planning to camp higher, but this would do. We found two tent sites and set up. Clouds stayed where they were, and moments after I pitched my tent, it started to snow. We cooked in the vestibule, and I heated extra water so I could sleep with a warm water bottle.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home (Winnie’s Slide on the left)

I spent the whole night freezing. I have no idea why, but I was so cold. Just not feeling it, I guess. I need a warmer sleeping bag, I know that. Mine’s rated to 15 degrees, but the “comfort” rating is 30 degrees. It wasn’t as bad as Shuksan back in August, though, because at least all of my belongings weren’t soaked through with water. Too cold to sleep, I more or less waited for morning. I figured I could nap during the day, since we knew conditions would be lousy and planned to lie low.

Morning came eventually, and I sat up when I heard John and Ben rustling around in their tent. I opened my door, and it was snowing real snowflakes, fat, white, cold snowflakes, like Christmas! I couldn’t help being thrilled, the first snow of the year always fills me with a childish joy, and this was real snow. We crossed our fingers and hoped for it to clear up, and spent the next six or so hours eating, napping, whatever kept us happy.

Crevasses and moderate visibility (not the worst we had all trip...)

Crevasses and moderate visibility (not the worst we had all trip…)

Towards early afternoon, we figured this was about as good as it was going to get, and we packed up to move to a higher camp. Winnie’s slide was in better shape than we thought. Reports had said it was entirely exposed ice, but with the recent snow, we could kick steps, and the group before us had left nice tracks. The snow was pretty solid, though conditions wouldn’t stay that good for that long.

And it was a good thing we camped below the slide, because at the top were two tents from the other group! Unoccupied, so we figured they must have gone for the summit. We passed them and got onto hell’s highway along the upper curtis glacier, which was very, very heavily crevassed. Reminiscent of the DC route crevassed. Okay, maybe not that big, but bigger than we had dealt with on Coleman Deming, and bigger than Eldorado, and bigger than the Sulphide. We even had to set up protection across a crevasse with a dicey looking snow bridge that you had to climb down a bit to reach before traversing. John belayed me first with two ice screws as an anchor, I scampered across and set up a deadman’s on the other side due to lack of ice. The snow was basically concrete on the other side. Ben was next, and once he was across, I belayed John. We cleaned up our gear and got started again. We had known there was one tough crevasse to cross, and we figured that had to be it.

I bet it'd be stunning in clear weather

I bet it’d be stunning in clear weather

For once we were right, and the rest was clear sailing. Which is great, because it turns out crevasses are a lot harder to navigate when you can only see 15-20 feet in front of you. If we walk parallel to this one, will it end and we’ll be able to just go around it, or will it keep going until it meets a cliff or a bigger crevasse? You just don’t know. Fortunately, we made it to the base of the cliffs above the Upper Curtis, and we knew to hug those until we could hop up to meet the Sulphide, which came up quickly.

The ramp up to the Sulphide was a tough section. Very steep, and by now the snow had softened enough in the warmth that there was plenty of sloughing coming down towards us. We finally saw the other group on their way down. We moved over to the side below a small rocky outcropping to avoid the pinwheels they were triggering as well as any potential larger issues we probably didn’t want to voice. We’d move quickly. As they passed us, we asked how it was, and they seemed exhausted and unhappy. Rough, I assumed. Long day, summitting in those conditions from camp just above Winnie’s Slide.

Once they had passed and were around the corner below us, it was our turn to tackle the slope, and we needed to move fast. I headed straight up the shortest section. Suddenly there was snow tumbling towards me, not a slide, but some big chunks that had sloughed off the slope. I froze. Am I in the line of fire? Yes. Can those knock me off my feet? Yes. Shit. Can I move to the side? No. Okay great, duck. And that’s what I did. I hit the ground. Had I thought faster, I might have been able to get my pack over my head, but I haven’t gotten those reflexes boiled down to instinct yet. I threw my arms over my head after the first few large chunk hit my head (it was like getting hit with a watermelon at 20mph, my neck felt it for days) and stayed like that until I heard John yell 30 seconds later. I wiggled my arms and shoulders free and got the snow off my back and kicked aside the small wall of snow that had built up around my body. Fuck you, snow. And that’s one of the many reasons why we wear helmets. I’m just lucky it was sloughing and not an actual slide. Yikes. “Hint of avalanche.”

Towards the top, it got steep enough I was wishing I had used my ice tool rather than axe, not to mention that beneath the foot of unconsolidated snow was solid ice. But that was just a few feet, so some near-front-pointing with the crampons and good balance did the trick.

No, he isn't crawling on the ground, it's just that steep (photo credit to John)

No, he isn’t crawling on the ground, it’s just that steep (photo credit to John)

Over the top, we could just barely make out the area where I had seen tents the last time I was on Shuksan. Except this time, there were two nice crevasses running through the flat area. Well, shit. I told Ben and John we’d keep moving until we found a relatively flat, safe area, and set up camp there. So we started heading up the Sulphide.

The fog got thicker. We did a fine job with the crevasses, which were far more prevalent than in mid August. The difference three weeks makes is amazing. The horizon started to blend everything together. Foggy sky was impossible to differentiate from snow, and I can see how people can get disoriented so easily. The crevasses were the only things keeping me in line. I pulled out the map, and it looked like there would be a flat ish spot up to our left. I pow-wowed with John, his GPS said the same thing. That’s what we’d aim for.

We finally got there. We knew where we were on the map, but had no idea how views would be. And we left the trusty blue shovel in the car, so leveling tent platforms was up to axes and crampons. I started scraping out a spot for myself, trampling it with my crampons like a dog walking in circles before it lies down. My tent is pretty small and all things considered we had found a pretty level spot, so it wasn’t a problem. I set up my tent, deadmanned the shit out of it (seriously, it was so well anchored it took me like half an hour to dig it all up the next morning) so if conditions deteriorated further, it was going to take some serious winds to toss me around. Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s a true mountaineering tent. I’m scared of wind, if you can’t tell. Snow, whatever, rain, meh, fog, meh, wind…. as soon as it’s dark and windy, I’m gonna be on edge.

We heard voices above us, but couldn’t see anyone. I went to go pee. Guys, if I’m not back in ten minutes, come looking for me. Terrible way to go out. But ten feet from the tent, I was out of sight. Sweet. I got back, and got ready to cook. Suddenly I felt sun on my face, and looked up. I think John and Ben saw the look of wonder on my face. “John, turn around.”

The summit pyramid was out, covered in fresh snow, the sky was blue for the first time since Friday morning (and that one glimpse of the glacier) and we could see a group of three descending! I took some sweet pics of them beneath the pyramid, and waited for them to get closer. As they passed our tent, I ran to talk to them (And mostly to ask for permission to get photos of them walking past). Because Baker was out, above the clouds, with the sun shining behind it! Koma freakin Kulshan, in all her glory.

Mountain Madness

Mountain Madness

The three climbers were two clients led by a Mountain Madness guide. They hadn’t summitted due to the central gully being a bowling alley of rock and ice. The group that had accompanied us up Fisher Chimneys had gotten stuck on the summit for hours, waiting for conditions to improve before descending. Brutal day. I chatted with the second climber, Maureen, who was an upbeat, bright person whose laugh cheered me up immediately. She was thrilled about the pictures, too, and I set myself up to snap a few more as they continued down. I think this resulted in the best picture I’ve taken in my life to date.

After they were out of sight, we made dinner and went to bed. The clouds moved back in maybe 15 minutes after we chatted with them, and we were back to whiteout. We set alarms for 3am, and figured we’d play it by ear. I slept like a baby. Warm, cozy, tired, content.

The best picture I have taken in my life

The best picture I have taken in my life

The alarm went off at 3am, and I almost didn’t even get up. I had… not a bad feeling, but a general reluctance. It was clear, stars were out, but I was uneasy. I didn’t care if we summitted. And I’m an impatient, hotheaded kid, too. I interpreted my lack of drive as a bad feeling. John was feeling the same way. We waited an hour to see if it stayed clear, and it did, but we decided to just not go. Soon enough, we were enclosed in our foggy bubble again.

I showered myself with frosh in the morning, inside and outside the tent

I showered myself with frosh in the morning, inside and outside the tent

We got up around 8am, and after a BLELGFDKSDGKFK of frost in my face when I sat up into the wall of my tent, I was excited to see a 6 person rope approaching. That HAD to be Miyar Adventures. I knew Anthony and Sandeep were leading a group, and I know how they feel about 6 person rope teams. I sat back and patiently awaited. 1) I was excited to meet Sandeep, who I had talked to but never met, 2) I was happy to see Anthony again, and 3) at this point, it had been decided that not everyone was okay going down Fisher Chimneys given the conditions, and we were going down Sulphide. And that meant, we might need a ride back to town.

Sandeep was in the lead. “Are you with Miyar adventures?!” I shouted. He seemed surprised. “Yes!” “Sandeep!?” “Yes, how did you know?” “I’m Eve!” He laughed and we shook hands. We chatted about the route, I told him what the previous two groups had told us, and then I went to go say hi to Anthony. He saw me coming, and recognized me. Is it the orange jacket? It must be the bright orange jacket. We talked for a bit and finally I explained the situation and asked for a potential ride. The answer was yes. I had a feeling we’d beat them to the trailhead, but if we made it down around the same time (or if we were still trekking along the road when they drove past us), at least we’d have a backup ride. I felt a hundred times better knowing that.

Pretty but not too happy with that windy lenticular

Pretty but not too happy with that windy lenticular

We packed up after the Miyar group carried on, and headed back down. I was excited for this, because it’d be a test of how well I could follow a route I had done once before, but in far lower visibility. We had tracks, but they branched off several times, and you never know when they’d dead end in a crevasse. Besides a few more sloughing slopes that we crossed quickly, it was smooth sailing. We made it off the glacier to the rocks with the tidepools I mentioned last time, and headed for the notch. It was a much easier downclimb than the chimneys would have been, I’ll give you that.

Hobo burrito wrapper note

Hobo burrito wrapper note

Back at the trailhead, I snagged the pen from the hiker registry and left a quick note for Anthony on my burrito wrapper, which I tucked beneath the windshield wipers of a car I was 90% sure belonged to someone in his group. Oh, by the way, that burrito had refrozen, and on the second night I slept snuggled up to a cold ass brick of a burrito hoping to thaw it so I could have a delicious breakfast. The note said something along the lines of “we made it down, if you see some sad hikers on the road, that’s probably us!” and I left a P.S. about how much Happy Corn I had eaten. That shit’s delicious.

**If anyone on the Miyar team is reading this, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to give us rides. Even though we didn’t need them, the peace of mind it gave me was much, much appreciated.

Eff this shit

Figured I’d capture my “eff this shit” moment

We hiked six miles to the Baker Lake road. Ben noticed I was limping a bit – I have no idea what happened, but some tendon in my knee was not happy with the forest road. I’ll never know. I was dreading it, though. I didn’t think anyone would pick us up. I didn’t think anyone would even pass, and highway 20 was another 22 miles away or something hideous like that. I was resigned to having to tell my coworkers that the reason I didn’t come to work was because I was sleeping on the side of the road like a hobo.

We reached Baker Lake Road, and I dropped my bag and sprawled out on the ground looking as pathetic as possible. Within seconds, a pick up truck pulled up, and after chatting, offered us a ride. Oh my god. It was happening. We’d at least make it to Sedro Wooley. We threw our packs in the bed of the truck and hopped in. Into the bed of the truck. I think I did that once, as a kid. Once.

Like they've been doing it their entire lives

Like they’ve been doing it their entire lives

Let’s get something straight. I’m a hoity toity east coast city girl from a hoity toity rich bitch Massachusetts town where there’s a list of acceptable colleges to attend and most kids get brand new cars for their sweet 16 (I was not among those) and houses are judged by their manicured lawns and whether their owners rake in seven or eight figures a year or just a measly six. Hitchhiking was something from the 60’s, something that only bums did nowadays, or people who lived in rural bumfuck nowhere. And there I was, with my Weston-ass self plopped in the back of a pickup truck riding down a highway. And I loved it.

We got dropped off in Sedro Wooley, got sandwiches at Subway, and sat on the curb at a gas station with our gear while we ate. So I was three days of wilderness adventure with no shower, eating a foot long (6 inch sandwiches are for wimps) with a 40oz soda because AMERICA. Waiting for someone to offer us a ride. And eventually, along came another pickup truck with a man and a dog, and again we piled into the bed of the truck. I put on my puffy and my hard shell, John even put on his ski goggles. 60mph in a truck, no problem. We’re all geared up.

hoity toity east coast bitch (yours truly)

Hoity toity east coast bitch finally experiencing life (yours truly)

We finally made it back to to the Lake Ann trailhead, and I have never been so relieved in my life. The guy who picked us up was nice as can be, and lived in Acme, a tiny town between highway 20 and the Mt. Baker highway. We transferred gear to my car, thrilled to be back at the car before sunset, and took off towards Seattle.

And there you have it, folks. I hitchhiked. I put my tense, high maintenance city self aside and did it. And I swore to myself I’d pick up the next hitchhikers I see (subtext: if they look like normal people). Because as it turns out, it’s a fairly common thing to do, and normal people do it. The first two guys who picked us up had hitchhiked plenty before, and had no problem giving us a ride. The second one was the age-old-wisdom type who had picked up so many hitchhikers and had tons of stories.

Okay, hitchhiking aside, Fisher Chimneys was possibly my favorite route I’ve done up anything. I can’t wait to do it again on a clear weekend. It’s just so much freaking fun. Such a variety of challenges, and the route finding and low visibility and having to set up protection and belays a few times made it an unbelievably worthwhile experience. Shuksan’s a tease, but I’m helpless. I spent all of day 2 whining “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME LIKE I LOVE YOU” in my head, because Shuksan just doesn’t want to give it up. That’s okay, I’ll try again. Long term goal? The Price glacier. Get ready, Shuksan. We’re gonna be best buddies.