I finished up my road trip to Mt Rainier a couple weeks ago with Murphy. He’s been snacking pretty hard. He’s going to start packing on the pounds if he isn’t careful.
My route took me though Big Sky, MT then through the West Entrance of Yellowstone and into Idaho.
On the way I decided to try to bag Idaho’s high point, Mt Borah. Not knowing if Murph would be able to make the 8.2 mile round trip and 5,262 vertical feet to the summit I decided to find a sitter for him in the nearby town of Bellevue, ID. I used Rover.com and found a place for him to stay overnight for $25. After dropping him off I took Trail Creek Pass to the trailhead for Mt Borah arriving sometime after midnight. I fell asleep in the back of the Subaru and set my alarm for 5 am.
It rained most of the night and when I woke up there was frost on the ground and it appeared to be precipitating pretty bad, so I fell back asleep. I woke up the next time around 7 or 8 and there was another car at the trailhead. I hopped out and started talking to the guy. His name was Mike and he was making his way back to Oregon after working for the Forrest Service (I can’t remember where). He had also just gotten back from a bike tour in South America earlier in the year with his wife, so we had a lot to talk about. It was great to have someone to hike into the clouds and snow with. Especially since he had an extra set of crampons and a spare ice axe.
It was a pretty strenuous hike to the tree line and then came the infamous “Chicken Out Ridge”. It was pretty tough, exposed scrambling, but we slowly made our way through it after putting the crampons on due to some ice and snow accumulation. We ended up summiting a sub peak that was around 11,750 ft and decided to turn back due to worsening winds and cold temperatures. It wasn’t a great day for mountain climbing and I was already outside of my comfort zone on some of the trickiest scrambling and my first time wearing crampons as well as using an ax, so I was happy with how far we made it. I’ll have to come back to try to bag this one another time.
We got off the mountain sometime around 4 PM, I think, and I headed back to Bellevue to pick up Murphy. He had a great time with his Rover sitter. She took him for a few off leash walks and even sent me a picture of him while they were out on one of them. That night Murph and I stayed at a free campground near Redfish lake up Highway 75 past Sun Valley. I decided to take a more scenic route to Boise per the recommendation of my friend, David, from college. The next day we woke up and went to check out Redfish Lake which is a big glacier fed lake. It was super pretty.
David had gotten the day off work and decided to meet me outside of Boise for a soak in some hot springs. We met at Skinny Dippers Hot Springs on Highway 17 about an hour and 45 mins from Boise. It was a short steep hike to get to the pools, but once we were there the views were great and the pools were complete with tubing that ran hot and cold water for temperature adjustment. It was incredibly relaxing. The light rain sprinkle that came and went while we soaked, and caught up on the last few years was nothing short of refreshing.
After an hour or two we headed back to his place in Boise. I got my first shower in around a week and then we went for a hike in the foothills with David’s girlfriend, Lucy. Idaho truly is underrated and even just walking around the foothills provided some great views back on the city of Boise.
That night we met a few of David’s friends at a local brewery and called it an early night. Murph and I were up early the next morning to finish out the drive to Rainier. Ryan was scheduled to get off of the mountain from his seminar that day and I was excited to catch up with him to see how it went and get an idea of what to expect for my week ahead. My ankle had been feeling great and although I was still little nervous about it holding up for the seminar, Borah and the walk around the foothills near Boise gave me cautious confidence.
When I got to Ashford it was a buzz with people running around setting up tents and signs. Apparently the weekend I arrived they were having a mountaineering festival which they hadn’t had for a couple years. Tons of gear on sale and a bunch of world famous mountain climbers were wondering around (Dave Hahn, Lou Whittaker, and Jim Whittaker just to name a few). Ryan’s seminar hadn’t returned from Camp Muir yet, so Murph and I went for a walk behind the RMI basecamp. We stumbled upon a memorial they had erected to honor some of the guides they had lost in the mountains. It was a stark reminder of the dangers that lay in the grand beauty of the mountains.
After our short walk I saw Moran from across the base camp. I could see him beaming from 100 feet away and could tell immediately that the seminar had his spirits at an all time high. He excitedly recounted some of the past week for me and introduced me to some of the people he had climbed with including his lead guide, Casey, who was going to be leading my seminar as well. It seemed they had all bonded pretty well over the last week. After letting me borrow some of his gear Ryan took off for Seattle to catch an early morning flight the next day. I drove off into the National Forest to look for somewhere to camp (i.e. sleep in my car).
After about an hour of driving I found a good spot with some fire rings and another car there. I asked the guy if camping was okay and he said it was as long as you didn’t have a fire because there was currently a fire ban. After talking to him some more I realized he was a bit out there. The super paranoid type who has a bunch of very strong opinions and conspiracy theories about the world and his life in general. It made me a little leery to be sleeping next to him, but Murph is a pretty intimidating guy and is great at alerting if anything is near the tent or car, so that helped. Other than that the spot was great. Right on the Nisqually river across from the National Park.
The next day I got up early to make it back to RMI for the sale they were having. They were selling a bunch of their rental gear at 50% off, so I swooped up some crampons, an ice axe, down parka, climbing pants, a water bottle, some super warm gloves, glacier glasses, and a mug. Spent way more than I wanted, but avoided having to rent anything other than an avalanche transceiver between what I bought and what I borrowed from Ryan.
After the sale I took Murphy to a Rover sitter in Spanaway. I was a little worried at first because her fence was pretty low and Murphy can be quite the escape artist. I put some flags in the ground around the perimeter that I had used to train him on an electric fence in Indianapolis. He immediately recognized them and wasn’t going anywhere near the fence. While I was there a couple other dogs that she was sitting for the week showed up as well. Murphy and a Lab/Rottweiler mix named Stitch seemed to get along great which helped put me at ease. I left to find another place to camp for the night. I drove through Mt Rainier National Park and looped all the way back around almost to where I had camped the night before, but found a slightly different spot.
The next day was the first day of the seminar. We met our lead guides, Casey and Billy, and the rest of the team. We did introductions and a thorough gear sortation to make sure everything we had would hold up to any conditions that we might expect for the week. Little did we know we would end up using just about every piece of gear in our backpacks. After gear sortation we did a review of the route to Camp Muir and to the summit. Since it is late in the climbing season and they didn’t get much snow last winter the route is pretty wild. All the crevices are wide open and the route zig zags about to avoid as many of them as possible. Some of them have to be crossed by aluminum ladders. It was a great day and got me excited for the week to come.
Camping again in the same general area I called it an early night to be ready bright and early for the hike to Camp Muir. The next day we met at RMI around 8 AM and took a shuttle to Paradise in Mt Rainier National Park. The hike to Camp Muir was only 4 mi, but gained 4,640 ft and with a ~50 lb pack on your back it was pretty strenuous. Although exhausting, I felt strong, and my ankle held up great. Great signs for the rest of the week.
When we got to Camp Muir we got settled into our accommodations for the week which consisted of a hut with bunks that was going to sleep all 14 of us and a few outhouses. Pretty luxurious considering we were at 10,000 ft ASL on a ridge between a glacier and a snowfield. The next two days were spent focusing on mountaineering fundaments like the rest step, cramponing, ice axe self and team arrest, glacier travel, route finding, knot tying, anchor setting, crevasse rescue, altitude ailments and countless other things that my brian just didn’t have the capacity to retain due to the wealth of knowledge we were bombarded with every minute.
We truly had an exceptional guide crew between our two lead guides and the three assistant guides, Andrew, Robbie, and Katrina. The surplus of knowledge each of them had provided a learning opportunity with every discussion. The weather continued to deteriorated throughout the week as a system started to come in and the winds began to rise. We made our attempt for the summit starting at 5 am after our third night at Camp Muir. I have to admit I was beginning to get a bit restless and I was chomping at the bit to get out into the thick of things to start applying some of our new knowledge. Due to the deteriorating weather I was also nervous that our summit attempt wouldn’t be much more than a walk across the Cowlitz Glacier to the base of the Cathedral Gap. My concerns were suppressed as we ascended the Cathedral Gap across the Ingram Flats and up the Disappointment Cleaver. Although the winds were increasing at Camp Muir and the forecast wasn’t positive, conditions where we were remained relatively stable and the guides moved us along the route at a steady pace.
The sun was rising as we crested the Cathedral Gap and we got our first views of Little Tahoma. The surrounding landscape was as vast as anything I have ever seen. The glaciers showed huge cracks that we zigged and zagged around sometimes clipped into fixed lines since we were walking on a steep sharp ridge. A slip in either direction would send you and your rope team into an endless pit.
At around 13,000 ft we hit a section with a snow bridge across a crevasse that had degraded in just the week since Casey had climbed the route with Ryan’s group. The fixed line across it was stretched to the point it looked as if the anchors would pull out of the snow from the glacier moving and opening the cravasse. I was the last of four on the first rope team to begin to cross the cravasse. Standing on the bridge looking at cracks that had formed in the snow around me waiting for the first member of my team to climb the ice wall on the other side had me questioning my position and hoping that we would get off the bridge quickly.
Only two of the four rope teams crossed the bridge and once we were on the other side winds picked up significantly. To my delight the guides decided that 13,300 ft just above Camp Comfort, would be our high point for the day. Although at the moment there were no significant issues, a mishap while facing a worsening forecast and a dangerous route would drastically affect their ability to get everyone down the mountain safely. I completely agreed – it was time to go home. We made our way back down the same route we ascended. As temperatures began to rise you could hear and see an increase in activity on the mountain from running water to falling rock and ice. These dangers made it clear why you want to get an early start for any summit attempt.
Once safely back to Camp Muir we took most of the rest of the day off. Winds continued to increase throughout the night which made for interesting trips to the outhouse. The next day we set off back down the Muir Snowfield in ~50 mph winds, snow, and low visibility. I was inevitably a little bummed that we couldn’t get the summit with my second state high point attempt in a couple weeks thwarted by weather. It’s hard not to look at the two attempts as an opportunity lost, but it’s important to recognize that there is always a day in the future where conditions will be better and there’s hope in good judgement and surviving to give it a try another day.
After getting back to basecamp, debriefing, and celebrating a successful week with the team I headed to Seattle to spend the weekend in the Central Cascades with some friends. I met up with a friend from college who I studied abroad with, Justine, and a friend from high school, Conor, and we went to a couple breweys north of downtown.
The next day we headed out early to Blanca Lake.
The hike was beautiful and pretty strenuous. I don’t think I realized how beat up I was after coming down from Camp Muir the day before.
That night we found a camp spot in the National Forest, made a fire, ate some food, had some drinks, and made good conversation.
The next day Justine and I found another hike nearby called Evergreen Mountain and got some great views of the river valley and surrounding peaks.
After Evergreen Mountain we headed back to the city. I spent the next couple days at a friend from Indianapolis, Matt’s, house. We explored the area going to Fremont Brewery and Gas Works park. I took the opportunity to catch up on some emails that were stacking up and take care of some planning things for the winter.
After a couple days at Matt’s I headed up to the Northern Cascades. Hiked along a ridge called Skyline Divide in the Mt. Baker area and then headed toward North Cascades National Park. Did a hike to the summit of Mt. Sauk and then drove into the park even though I couldn’t really do any hikes in the park because dogs aren’t allowed on the trails.
After the North Cascades I headed back to Seattle to meet back up with Justine. This morning we hiked a busy mountain called Mt Si near Seattle for one of her friend’s birthdays. Next up is an attempt on Mt Adams which is one of the massive volcanos that we could see to the south from Camp Muir. The weather is supposed to be good for the next two days, so I’m hoping it holds. Looking forward to a climb back up into the altitude!