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.

Mt. Baker via Coleman/Deming Glaciers

Snow arch!

Snow arch!

The world didn’t want me to climb Mt. Baker. That’s right, you have to listen to my weepy self before getting to the good stuff. First of all, it took two tries. Three if you count the time we bailed because of weather. The first try was a general disaster. But even leading up to the first try, I was having some problems.

  • Left my keys on an airplane on the way to Chicago.
  • Lost my license at a bar after a wedding in Chicago (yes, you could say I was slightly inebriated, yes I flew back sans ID the next day, it is possible)
  • Learned that my car had been robbed while I was out of state. In my double gated, video monitored garage. On the bottom floor. Who robs the bottom floor? That shit takes a master escape plan. Anyway, my car was down a few windows. My only question when security called me: “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS?”
  • Found my keys! I’m not that much of an idiot! Woo!
  • Just kidding, I am an idiot. I forgot that I had left my whole climbing pack in my car, and it had been taken. $1200 worth of gear. Some Seattle hobo is sleeping in style in a nice hammock with a nice sleeping pad and waterproof pants and warm mittens glacier glasses (okay) and an ice axe (uhh) and a bunch of other stuff.
  • I had 24 hours until I left for Baker. Seriously, world, you couldn’t just let me oversleep on Friday or something?
Mt. Baker back in July on our first attempt

Mt. Baker back in July on our first attempt

I pulled my shit together and loaded up the credit card at REI. Airline points, guys. Luckily I still worked there, and that discount went a long way. And since it was in my apartment building, there was a chance that renter’s insurance would cover it. After giving my last few paychecks right back to REI (Recycled Employee Income, have I made that joke yet?) I got in my car and headed up north to Baker.

I thought it was going to be a crevasse rescue class with Adventure Explorers. It ended up being a group of hikers looking to learn snow skills, so I got to fine-tune my knowledge by helping out with putting on crampons, knots used when roping up, things like that. If you can’t teach it, you don’t really know it. I finally got my set of prussiks straightened out thanks to our guide Chris, and grilled Heidi (the bad ass guide they somehow found on Craiglist of all places) about Orizaba, which I’m going to hopefully climb in November.

Awesome sunsets on the CD route

Awesome sunsets on the CD route

Our summit day attempt was a long shot, I knew from the night before that we probably wouldn’t make it but hey it’s still time logged on a glacier, which was all I needed. And when I was going crazy with the slow pace, one of the guides said words that have stuck with me since: “When you have that much gas left in the tank, instead of dwelling on being bored, think how reliable you can be if something does go wrong. The people pushing their limits mentally and physically aren’t going to be the effective ones in those scenarios.” The ones who still have the energy to run in circles around us are the ones who will make the difference. Okay, you got me. I’ll spend the time fantasizing about daring rescues. We ended up turning around on the scramble just below the Roman Wall for a myriad of reasons. Inadequate warm layers, running out of water, running out of food, exhaustion, you name it, someone probably had issues with it.

Heading on up Attempt #1

Heading on up Attempt #1

I did not take it well. Interestingly, when I confessed that to another girl on the climb, she said she was surprised to hear it. But I had to come to terms with the fact that it just wasn’t happening, I was down $450 for a class I expected to learn z pulley rigs through and out $900 for all the gear I had to re-buy and I was working part time retail and who knew when my next weekend off would be? I pulled it together, passed around my extra water and chocolate covered espresso beans and combos and eventually laughed it off. Learning experience. And it was hazy anyway, so there wouldn’t have even been views at the top. We could barely make out Twin Sisters.

The second attempt was thwarted by the snow level dropping to 7000ft for the first time since like January. We didn’t even try. But third time’s a charm, right? So here we go, folks! Climbed 8/9/2015.

  • Distance: I have literally no idea.
  • Elevation: 7000ft gain (ish), 10,781ft highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy, 50’s and sunny(!)
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Good question. I did not! I did stumble in pain at one point, sneakily.
My room at the airbnb

My room at the airbnb. I was so comfy I didn’t even want to climb the next morning.

So we had a two day window. Head up Saturday, camp, get started for the summit early Sunday. Weather was not looking good, but the guides (Ben and Anthony with Miyar Adventures) for this trip were down to try it anyway. We got to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead Saturday morning (after I spent a night at the most AWESOME airbnb, seriously if you need a recommendation shoot me a message this place was ridiculous – old school claw tub if you’re into bubble baths, log cabins built by the host himself, a pool, and home cooked breakfast! Ahhhh) and started up towards camp at Black Buttes.

There's hope!

There’s hope!

The first part of the trail goes by quickly. Heliotrope ridge is a hike in itself, with access to some great seracing at the base of the Coleman Glacier and of course access to the Coleman Deming route. The trail crossed two large rivers which were tricky enough this time of year (especially when you’re being a princess about getting your boots wet on the way up like I was) I can’t imagine how they are in the early season. After about two miles the trail splits: left takes you to a nice overlook of the glacier, and right takes you up the climber’s path. For me, the “climbing” doesn’t start until you’re on snow or a scramble, so this was still hiking, despite the steepness. It’s about a quarter mile I believe until low camp, which is where we camped on our first attempt. I recall wanting to move to high camp that time, but we didn’t have a shovel to make tent platforms, and not everyone had camping gear adequate for snow.

A hot minute of fog

A hot minute of fog

This time around, we hiked straight through. We had to go very far to the right before getting on the glacier in order to avoid exposed ice and crevasses. The first time, you could essentially go straight up from the campsites, but it was much more open a month later. Everyone donned their gear, we roped up (six person rope… I had my concerns, but I’m not a guide) and started up.

Weather had been clear ish, but there were clouds above us, and we did have a few minutes of trekking through fog. Luckily it lifted just enough for camp at Black Buttes to be completely clear. We set up the mid, a floorless tent made of cuben fiber that ended up far surpassing my expectations. Ashwin had his backpacking tent, which he set up for him and Naman.

The mid! Home sweet home

The mid! Home sweet home, working on those snow blocks

As wind picked up, we realized the mid needed some reinforcements, and I was beyond excited to get to chop snow blocks with the snow saw. Anthony made a good example of the ice layers for me too, since I had been asking about avalanche conditions and how certain snowpacks consolidated compared to others. With the snow saw, you could see the layers in the block of snow, and you could tell which were weak and where you could expect things to happen. The weak layer was crumbly ice almost, “like the bottom of italian ice!!” I exclaimed. I heard Zuzana laugh from inside the mid. She spent time on the east coast, she knew what I was talking about. No one else knew what italian ice is, I realized. When you get to the bottom of italian ice and it’s melted you can flip it over and get to the really sugary icy part on the bottom. It’s the most delicious part. That’s what the weak layer looked like, especially when the block broke free along that line and I flipped it over to stack it near the mid.

Who wants to snuggle?!

Who wants to snuggle?!

After we had secured the tent, it was bedtime. I’m all about bedtime. The mid fit four of us pretty comfortably with all of our gear, and I was pretty cozy. We got in just in time. Rain and wind picked up, and I wasn’t sure it’d clear up. I couldn’t believe I stayed dry. I had my bivvy, but still. I expected to be damn. Around 12:30am or so, the rain finally stopped, though the wind was still blustery and cold. We opened the door and peeped out, only to realize we were completely socked in by clouds. Couldn’t see the tents of the other group, or the rock wall 20ft from where we were. It was eerie. We figured we’d wait and hope for the best, so we lay there chatting for two hours. Luckily I was with a hilarious group, and it was more or less two hours of me giggling. Eventually, Anthony stuck his head outside, and I heard “Ah!! Guys! Guys I have fantastic news.” My heart fluttered. Stars?! No, that’s asking for too much. 100ft visibility? I couldn’t hold back. “STARS?!?” “Stars!” “FUCK YES!” I would have leapt out of my sleeping bag if that was possible while squished in between two other people. Instead I wriggled and started getting everything together. I knew we’d be slow getting ready, so I thought I’d make tea. Nothing beats tea on a summit morning.

Looking down the Coleman at the beginning of dawn

Looking down the Coleman at the beginning of dawn

I sipped my earl grey with an absurd amount of sweetener and watched everyone prep. Ben and Anthony helped everyone get their bags down to a reasonable weight (I usually just take warm layers, food, water, glacier glasses, and that’s about it but we had some over-packers apparently) and just when I thought I was going to have to start doing push ups and jumping jacks for warmth, we finally got moving.

Naman

Naman “front pointing” in hiking boots and crampons – don’t do this at home kids

We traversed far to the right of the normal route to avoid some exposed glacial ice, and eventually regained the regular route after a small off-trail hiccup involving steep snow climbing. I think if it had been just me and guides, or me and friends, I’d have had a total blast, but I was too worried watching everyone else, waiting for someone to slip (sorry guys, call me paranoid). Ben and Anthony were great about setting up anchors and a running belay, but I was still on edge. Some of our group was just in hiking boots, which make front-pointing a pretty difficult feat.

Above the clouds, sun rising, I mean it's basically haven

Above the clouds, sun rising, I mean it’s basically haven

In the midst of that, the sun began to rise. Damn, guys, we were above the clouds, sunrise was turning everything pink and orange, and I knew I’d (hopefully) be warm soon and be able to feel my fingers and toes again. Hell yes! Sunrise is the best. Talk about gaining momentum. We found the highway (there was a pretty well traveled path up to the summit, no idea how we missed it originally – it was dark, okay?) and officially started making our way up.

Gaining the rocky ridge, Colfax in the background

Gaining the rocky ridge, Colfax in the background

We were slow, but going at a better clip than the last time we tried Baker. Conditions were great, too, which meant that even if we weren’t the fastest, we’d have a shot. I started to think we might actually make it. Ben and Anthony were great at being encouraging when people were slowing down, and I think that’s a huge reason we ended up making it. The crevasses were there, complete with snow bridges, some dicier than others. But in daylight, it was all pretty navigable even for my noob brain. We got to the point where our last group had turned around on the rocky ridge around 9500ft, and we kept going. Up to the Roman Wall, which wasn’t as steep or wall-like as I expected (though it looked like it from a distance). Here’s where views get real. Twin Sisters and Colfax behind you, the Coleman glacier to your left, the Deming glacier on your right with the north cascades in the background. You can see all the way to Glacier Peak.

Zuzana looking like a bad ass coming up the Roman Wall. Twin Sisters back left!

Zuzana looking like a bad ass coming up the Roman Wall. Twin Sisters back left!

I started playing the “guess how many steps to that rock!” game. I’m pretty bad at it. I’d guess 250 steps, and be at around 530 when I’d announce to the group how bad I was. I never got better, either. Finally we got to the brief (icy) scramble before the summit plateau. Don’t be fooled! It’s another 20 minute walk or so from where you gain the plateau to the little nub that is the true summit. And you don’t freakin see Shuksan until you’re right there at the nub, either! I mean let’s be real, looking at Shuksan is basically why I wanted to do this climb. And it was totally worth it. Look at that peak poking through the clouds and tell me it doesn’t look awesome. It looks awesome.

Shuksan looking mighty fine

Shuksan looking mighty fine

Traversing to the summit nub

Traversing to the summit nub

I signed the summit register, took selfies, everything you need to do on a summit. Actually I might have forgotten to take a panorama. Rookie mistake, I know. I was too busy being proud of the group. What’s amazing is that we had the whole mountain to ourselves. Besides one group at Black Buttes, we were the only ones all day. And that other group was just practicing technical skills, not making a summit bid. It was just us. The forecast had scared everyone off. No complaints here, you all know I hate people. Jokes aside, the solitude was amazing. Just rocks, ice, and you. And views. Damn, Washington. I’ll never get bored here.

“Someone take a picture!” guys I already have like 40 of this spot

Going down went much faster than going up, as usual. We took one break to refuel, apply sunscreen (did I mention how swollen my lips were after Rainier? Bring your damn chapstick! And put it in a really accessible pocket! Or else you’ll spend the entire next day drooling uncontrollably) but besides that, it was one solid push to camp, where we spent some time packing everything up before heading the rest of the way out. Unfortunately, there was one casualty: Ashwin’s lightweight backpacking tent had succumbed to the wind, and the poles had broken. At least it was anchored well!

Glacier Peak beyond crevasses on the Deming glacier

Glacier Peak beyond crevasses on the Deming glacier

Overall, I gotta say the Coleman Deming just felt like a standard slog up a glacier. It sounds mean, but it doesn’t have the dramatic seracs and crevasses of Rainier or the awesome alpine views and rock of Shuksan. I think for me it was a one-and-done thing, unless I have a free weekend and friends want to go back. I hear the North Ridge is a party, so perhaps I’ll aim for that someday. Ha, I can’t believe I’m saying all this as I look back at pictures. It’s freaking fantastic. It just goes to show what else is out there.

Obligatory crevasse pic

Obligatory crevasse pic

I just can’t believe how lucky we got with weather. I thought I’d be showing up to a group of people I didn’t know and spend some time holed up in a tent on a glacier in shitty conditions, getting experience in “how to deal with sleeping in a wet down bag in subfreezing temperatures and high winds and not be a little bitch about it.” To everyone who was on that trip, I can’t thank you enough. Ben and Anthony were fantastic guides, and dealt very well with our small off-route extravaganza and I learned a lot just watching how they encouraged the group. Going to the mountains is always the right decision, despite whatever hesitations I had beforehand.

Summit selfie

Summit selfie with Shuksan