Where I've Been

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Last weekend was Field Trip #3 (Snow #1) with the Tacoma Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course. The class met at Longmire on Saturday morning and after a 3 hour delay due to the snow plows, our vehicle train was winding up the mountain road to Paradise. I had never been so close to Big Tahoma from the South but a dismal forecast kept my expectations low for any scenery we might experience. Being early spring, this first field trip in the snow is more often than not blessed with crappy weather, allowing for a better chance of sunshine on the next trip to Paradise (FT#5-Crevasse Rescue) in June.


Shortly after noon our party of around 60 were breaking trail through deep, fresh powder. My thanks to all those students wise enough to bring snowshoes, you saved us a lot of post-holing! Snowflakes continued to fall with increasing size throughout the day. After quickly setting up camp we broke into teams and headed up to some modest slopes for practice and testing of our ice ax arrest techniques. Easily my favorite part of the trip, we built glissade chutes and practiced arrests from various fall positions. After testing we ran through the standing ice ax-carabiner belay and proper anchoring technique with a snow picket. Back at camp we prepped for simulated glacier travel in the morning before  being excused to our tents.


That night I had my first experience cooking with white gas. Colin's whisper-lite stove seemed a little finicky, but after losing fire once and experimenting with the pressure pump, I am sold on the added efficiency in cold temps and at high elevation. While I boiled water for dinner and hydration several inches of fresh snow accumulated on the base of our rain fly. This forced some maintenance to the tent site as we were expecting close to another foot over night. In addition to glacier travel, I learned a lot on this trip about proper snow camping techniques. There is a fine balance between the size of a vestibule trench, effective anchorage, space to move around the outside, and sufficient room for shedding snow to accumulate without burying the tent. The most important lesson here: be adaptable and resilient.


In the morning my group was geared up and harnessed in before 4 a.m., ready to begin "up the glacier" in two rope teams of 3.  We practiced belaying each other out of camp and up the glissade chutes using prusiks, then simulated falls for each other to test ice ax arrests of the rope team. Throughout the simulation I found rope management (not stepping on it with crampons, and pacing with the group) to be the most complicated part, requiring constant attention to detail. On the way down we went through passing a running picket belay and then un-roped to test our ability to construct various bombproof anchors in the snow including the "dead man" and bollard. It was around this time when we were treated with a short break in the clouds. Big Tahoma emerged from the white and sunshine warmed our skin for the first time in days. Our instructor Scott was kind enough to pause the course work for a few minutes while we all enjoyed the brief weather change.


Finally we built emergency snow shelters. I was a bit disappointed that we lacked the time and proper snow conditions to dig a snow cave, but our little trench with an emergency blanket for a roof sufficed for the grade. While we broke down camp Pinnacle Peak and a few other Tatoosh Peaks broke through clouds to the south. By the time we had broken camp and started back, it has stopped snowing and the sun was out to stay. Before leaving we gathered for a much more realistic demonstration of the Z-pulley technique for crevasse rescue (the first demonstration was at the Seattle facility on carpet), which I look forward to practicing myself with Colin and a few others after our next adventure in the snow.


This weekend was a blast! Many thanks to all of the instructors for volunteering their time and subjecting themselves to crappy weather. You make it all possible!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Third time is the charm on Lennox Mountain 3-23-2014

Lennox Mountain has been taunting me from afar since I first laid eyes on its rolling snowy slopes from somewhere within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I had hoped to continue on to Lennox after climbing Cleveland Mountain, and then from Canoe Peak but each time the summit seemed just out of reach. After conceding that this one would deserve the dedication of a full day, I began to look for the perfect snow conditions and weather forecast. With a Sunday that would live up to it's name and the lowest predicted avalanche danger in weeks I was confident that the third time would be the charm.

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Lennox Mountain is ideally climbed (from the south, at least) with enough snow to ease travel through the thick brush which covers the forest floor for the first 1000' or so above the road. I was a bit surprised to find snow on road 5730 about 3 miles from the end. Some jeep ruts helped to get me and my crappy tires another half mile, and I was off with Maverick in tow by 6:30 am. The jeep tracks stopped just past Spur Road 113 where snowshoes instantly became necessary. McClain Peak and Mount Phelps lit up in alpenglow behind us, and what could only be Lennox Mountain briefly appeared ahead, though it looked oddly tame from this angle.

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We left the road around 2600' in order to gain some elevation before crossing the next creek. While I thought at first we may have gone higher than required, we happened to cross just above the start of a deep, wide trench in the snow. I had hoped for a more consolidated snow pack but by 10 am the sun really began to bake the surface and each deep step brought with it a mound of slush caked onto my snowshoes. In a few steep sections I was forced to make painfully mellow switchbacks so that Maverick could get somewhere with his efforts.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bearhead Mountain (Attempt) 3-15-2014

This was my and Colin's first outing with the Mountaineers. When we saw a new summit listed as the destination for a conditioner we jumped at the opportunity to avoid a weekend trip to Mount Si. With no recent beta I set my expectations low as our convoy climbed as close to the trailhead as the snow would allow. We made it to about 3600' and after a quick weigh in we were breaking trail under rolling snow clouds. The overcast layer slowly rose through the day and provided several sun breaks, as well as a few brief flurries.

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Bearhead and Pitcher Mountains each came into view during the roadwalk. We reached the trailhead in just over an hour. Twin Lake was hardly noticeable under snow when we cruised past it. Beyond the lake snowshoeing was a pain on the steep traverse and the trail became faint. Beyond that the slopes grew steeper as we climbed higher, some of us even debated switching to crampons. Around 5500' we reached a clearing with a nice little bench just in time for a short break. Beyond Cayada Mountain Tolmie, Howard and Florence were capped in snow.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thomas Mountain (Attempt) 2-22-2014

We initially planned to snowshoe up the Alpine Lookout near Lake Wenatchee, but after checking the cameras at Stevens Pass we chose to find something to do along Snoqualmie Pass instead. I can usually count on some sunshine Easton area when precipitation is scattered throughout the Cascades. This time we were merely taunted by the sun which remained hidden behind a high overcast layer despite making dozens of appearances. Several feet of fresh snow meant we were working for every single step. Thanks to heavy snowmobile traffic we were able to boot the first 3/4 mile, but the next stretch was the slowest I have ever moved over flat ground. This was the first time I have utilized the 6" extensions for my snowshoes, which seemed to make little difference. We finally reached the trailhead after an hour and a half, where we took the first break to refuel by the dam on Silver Creek.

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Once we began to truly ascend it became clear that we had already found our max speed. Each step up was rewarded by half a step back down as our snowshoes sunk deep into the powder. We were able to follow the trail for the most part until about 200' below the first junction on the west end of Easton Ridge. We reached the signed junction nearly 5 hours after leaving the truck. It was becoming clear that we wouldn't be reaching our destination by our predetermined turn-around point. We took a break and decided to continue on our planned route up the Domerie Divide Trail and hopefully reach Para Point before retreating.

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We stayed close to the edge of the trees, being careful to avoid the exposed cliffs to the west. Throughout the day we heard at least 5 separate short whoosh and booms which we assumed to be small avalanches in the Silver Creek Valley. Dozens of small cornices littered the mostly flat, wind swept forest. Most of the larger tree trunks were plastered with triangular prisms of snow on the windward side. A group of four appeared below us around 3400'. They thanked us for breaking trail and we let them pass while we sat down on a mellow sloped ledge to take a break.

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Easton Ridge was barely visible through the falling snow, which was building in size and momentum by the minute. The descent was quick and pleasant. We were surprised to find that some of the barely hour-old tracks had been completely covered by fresh wind-blown powder. I noticed a small memorial to Richard Woodworth on a tree west of the Easton Ridge/Domerie Divide junction.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Green Mountain Attempt (NW Olympics) 2-21-2014

Mount Townsend in the Olympics seemed like a relatively safe option given the considerable avalanche danger forecast. I wasn't too hopeful about reaching the trailhead by car so i planned to use nearby Green Mountain as a backup in case the snow stopped me more than 4 miles away. I played it safe and pulled out at a break in the ruts about 7 miles out when about 6 inches covered the road. It snowed lightly most of the day besides a few short sun breaks.

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We followed Road 2812 for a few miles before heading up an unmarked road at the base of a short ridge that branched off of the north to south ridge that makes up Green Mountain. In less than a mile I reached the roads end and began the bushwhacking. After struggling with thick snow-covered brush for about 20 minutes only to gain about 50', I turned back and began to think more about tomorrow's summit with Colin. On the return I found a fresh set of ski tracks joined by a dog, and passed the pair as they were loading up to leave. A long drive for such a short snowshoe, but better than sitting home or getting rained on elsewhere!

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Indoor climbing with Julian and Jaxon

The last few weekends have been filled with plans which kept me away from the mountains, but I did get a bit of adventure with my nephews yesterday. As a dual birthday present I brought them to Stone Gardens in Bellevue for some indoor climbing. Each time I visit a climbing gym I can't help but think of how much fun it would have been as a kid with never-ending energy. I'm still missing the mountains, but a chance to re-live childhood vicariously will subside my cravings until next week.

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