Hiking My Own Hike

Before I go on any major hike or backpacking trip, I do a little internet research about the trail and try to gauge the difficulty to mentally prep myself. After the trip, if I come across someone that did the same hike, I like exchanging notes with them. As difficulty ramps up, especially after crossing over to mountaineering territory, instead of feeling like I’m decently fit compared to others doing the same sport, I’m suddenly at the bottom of the bell curve.

Other people’s trip report of read like: We practiced river dancing steps up this so called steep section because it wasn’t steep at all and our heart-rate dropped to near flatlining while hiking it. We had to stop eating at all because we were gaining calories from practically doing zero exercise. The boulder section was embarrassingly easy, so to add some sense of challenge, we decided to do a one-legged race up the mountain. Our girlfriend, Kiki, who weighed 90lbs soaking wet, complained that her 50lbs pack was too light so we gave her both ropes to carry, even that was no challenge, so she added a boulder the size of a large human torso to her pack. Round trip took us 18 hours, with most of it spent trying to get the perfect lighting for our photos.

My trip report: Slipped on wet roots on super steep section, almost died. Clawed my way up a sheer rock face, almost passed out from excessive blood loss from cuts. Heart nearly exploded from over-exertion on second half of the climb up. Forded two rivers poorly, slipped and almost drowned twice. Wind knocked me over with my 50lbs pack crushing my soul and fracturing three ribs. Nearly lost my grip multiple times doing the class 3 scramble and wondered how the boyfriend would deal if I didn’t make it home for dinner ever. Round trip took us 4 days, with most of it spent crying for my mommy.

I often wonder when I’m reading other people’s trip report if perhaps they did a different hike altogether, but I recognize the location from their photos. I feel like a big wimp, but I still enjoy every moment of my trip. Except for the part where I wondered if I would make it home for dinner with the boyfriend. Just the thought of missing out on a good steak dinner makes me cry.

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West McMillan Spire

After climbing Rainier, I thought I was hot shit and that I could tackle any backpacking trip with ease. I was so so wrong.

A girlfriend of mine that I met from my mountaineering class with Bushwhacker Climbing Club, sent our section an email asking us to join her on her trip with the Bushwhackers. I love this gal dearly and I’ve wanted to check out McMillan Spire for a while, so I jumped at it.

As part of my research, I googled West McMillan Spire and found a good selection of links showing gorgeous photos of the hike. What it didn’t show was the scary amount of climbing you have to do at the end. It’s hiking on loose scree for 20 or so minutes, then another 20 minutes in loose rocks, then another 20 in class 3 rock climbing. The rock climbing part is easy enough, but it’s the fact that it’s really high up and one slip could kill you or leave you badly maimed that was freaky. Either way, I am alive and well now. So here’s the trip report.

 

DAY 1:

Five of us started late intentionally knowing it would be easy. We even stopped to grab a burger in Marblemount right before signing in at the ranger station.

The first camp was around 4 miles 1800ft in. When we got to camp, Sandy, this climb’s leader (also the only one that has done this climb before) told us we were at camp, and we all thought he was joking because we had been hiking for maybe two hours or less. He actually had to confirm that we were indeed at camp a few times before we believed him.

Once we believed that we were at camp, everyone hung up their sweaty wet gear to dry on the trees. The mosquitoes were so bad that night. They were also particularly fond of one camp member, Chris. He had to sit in his tent to eat his dinner because they kept dive bombing him, like they loved him so much they wanted him to eat them back.

There were some bear poop earlier on the trail so we were careful to bear-bag everything. We hung out a bit by the creek near the camp because that seems to be the only place the mosquitoes were afraid of. They wanted our blood so badly that we called it an early night to avoid them.

 

DAY 2:

This day was set to be brutal and we all knew it. Knowing it didn’t help, it’s like bracing yourself for a kick in the nuts, you’d still be rolling around the floor in pain. Right from camp, the climb uphill started with a gain of 4800ft in about 2-3 miles with another 2 miles or so of traversing. This trail was part of preserved backcountry trail, so no trail work was allowed, which meant the only trail around was created by boots.

There were a couple spots where we saw illegal trail maintenance with stumps across the trail having been sawed off, but that’s about it. Sandy said because this trail was gaining popularity, the trail was more stamped out. Far as I could tell, we were partially bushwhacking. Near the end of the uphill climb, the “trail” was really straight uphill climb with tree roots to help. We had to ditch our trekking poles for this climb.

Once at the top to the uphill climb, the long traverse begins. We were very fortunate to have Sandy as a guide, because the trail was still partially covered with snow, and we watched another party get lost and he had to help guide them. It’s definitely a bit of a maze if you didn’t know where you were going. Another party we spoke to got completely lost and wandered around the hills for the better part of a day.

After trekking for nearly eight hours, we came to the saddle that drops down to our camp at Terror Basin (if that name sounds ominous it’s because it is).

From the photo above, West McMillan Spire is the shark fin looking peak. We set up camp and washed our disgusting self, covered in sweat, DEET, and sunblock, in the deliciously freezing creek running through camp.

It was cold but it was too much of a treat to feel clean after the slog up. After we got around to feeling fresh like spring flowers, we gathered on this cluster of rocks next to camp to watch a party climb West McMillan Spire.

The party of two guys climbing up that day was doing this hike in 2 days: they hiked from trailhead to camp, dropped packs, climbed the spire then camped, then hiked out the second day and drive home to Oregon. I don’t think I can recommend doing the same. The place was so gorgeous, it was such a treat to do it at a leisurely pace to take it all in. When we asked them why they rushed it, they said, “Every minute that we spend here is another minute closer to a divorce.” That is reason #479 why I am not married.

When we watched them climb, they made really good time from camp to the snowfield. Then they disappeared into the rocks for longer than we expected, we started to worry about them a bit. Sandy said it would take about an hour each way up and down the shark fin, but they were traveling so quickly that we thought they might finish faster, but it wasn’t so. From looking at the mountain, I thought the shark fin didn’t look like a bad climb, like it’s mostly not steep, I was so wrong.

At night some of the mosquitoes found us and we retreated to our tents.

 

DAY 3:

When we got up around 7:30a.m. the spire was shrouded in a marine layer, so we weren’t in a hurry to climb into that opting instead to wait for some of it to burn off first. We got ready at a leisurely pace and ate breakfast slowly. Finally around 9a.m. we got our crampons on and headed out.

At first, we thought the crampons were a waste of pack weight, but as we climbed higher and the snow became crustier, we were very grateful for them.

The hike up the snowfield was surprisingly easy and felt really short. I helped kick steps the last leg of the snow climb and even that wasn’t too bad, so it must be certifiably easy. Then we got off the snow and all that “easy” changed.

To be fair, if this last part was about 10 feet off the ground all the way up, it would be easy. It’s just that it’s about 8000ft up and one mis-step could be a last that was a bit disconcerting.

I’m also very terrified of heights. Yes, it makes perfect sense that I like climbing mountains.

The first part of the scramble, consists of loose scree, which is a lot like the stair-climber at the gym, your legs seems to be moving but you’re going nowhere fast.  Up, up, slide down, repeat.

After the loose scree, comes the loose boulders. It’s a little better than loose scree in the sense that you can actually get somewhere. The only problem with loose boulders is that occasionally a large boulder gets dislodged and makes a run for it, so if someone is below you, that someone is a human bowling pin. Also loosing a big footing like that is jarring.

Then finally comes the large boulders. Some of this is simply walking on granite slabs, which is really nice, some of it requires a good hand and foot hold to climb up. This part would be stupid simple if not for the height factor.

And then summit. We were just happy to get to the top. Sandy and Chris kept telling us along the way up to look down and see if we would be comfortable with climbing back down. This got all of us thinking. Ronda thought about her kids and didn’t push for summit. I was scared just looking down, let alone climbing back down, but I pushed on. Chris told us to not push ourselves too hard because the mountain with still be here for us to try again. When I heard that, I must have been thinking out loud, “Oh, hell no I’m not doing that hike up to Terror Basin again!” I didn’t even know I said that out loud. However at summit, Laura said, “Yeah, I thought about what you said about never hiking to Terror Basin again, and I pushed on like you.” My inner lazy self is a magical motivation speaker.

I gave Laura a big hug at the summit. We were too glad to be done with the climb. Then came the super hard part. Down climbing. The worst part of down climbing was trying to find a good hand and foot hold looking down, while trying to suppress a heart attack.

With the uphill, it’s quite a bit easier to look up for a hold, and concentrate on task at hand without looking down. I told myself to not look down while going up, now I’ve lost that little bit of mental luxury. Chris and Sandy had to coax the two of us down. There was a point where Chris had to climb down ahead of me to help locate a decent hold because he was telling me which way to go, and I would get there there and say, “You sure? This looks like a sheer drop to death from here.” Sandy helped guide Laura down. The girl is awesome, she’s only done a couple short backpacking trips in her life with zero rock climbing skills and she push herself up the spire. She also came out with the most battle wounds but she laughed about each and every one of them.

After what felt like five hundred years, we saw Ronda, who kept shouting at us and we kept telling her we couldn’t hear her. As we got closer, we realized she was being looked up and down by a giant goat.

Laura got excited because she had never seen a goat in the wild before. Since it was her first goat, I told her to name it. She decided to call it Frank. Those of us that brought a camera immediate started snapping photos of Frank, which has an obvious distaste for paparazzi because he stalked off. When we finally got back down to the base of the shark fin to rejoing Ronda, Laura and I gave each other even more enthusiastic hugs than the summit hug. WE. LIVED.

Ronda told us Frank had been giving her the come hither look for a while and she had been trying to shout at it to scare it off. Instead of scaring it, her shouting got Frank more excited and he was visibly breathing harder and kept shifting toward her. She was happy to have us back in her corner.

The hike on the snowfield back to camp was nice and easy with some good glissading action thrown in. There were talks of hiking up one of the smaller mountains in the basin, but Laura and I were still recovering from the hysteria of our near-death experience on the spire and politely declined. We opted to have a leisurely snack break at camp then an even more leisurely paced dinner. After dinner we gathered on our view spot and watched the sun disappear behind the Picketts while trading embarrassing stories.

Another party of two guys moved into the camp across from us and they brought with them weather reports of potential rain the next day. We went to bed early to get an early start out.

 

DAY 4:

The camp was completely shrouded in a midst when we got up at 6a.m. The hike back out was going to be long because of the steepness, so we guesstimated that it would take us 8 hours. We made hot breakfast to try to use up some 5 cans of fuel that we brought (we only used 1.5 cans). After we packed up, we put on our crampons to climb back up the steep snow saddle leading up to camp. Yet another day of waking up to a steep climb. Glorious. When we got up the saddle, we could see the sun trying to make a breakthrough, but evils of Mordor was trying to overtake the elven village.

Overall the hike out was pretty uneventful, it was just painful and long. Since all the plants were covered in a fine midst, parts of the trail were dangerous slippery roots, but everyone survived.

Once we got back to Camp Mosquitoes, we gathered at the creek to rejoice and wash our faces. From there it was a nice easy stroll out.

We stopped by a wonderful burger joint on the way out with a very interesting burger menu:

They even had kangaroo burger as their new lunch special. I really wanted to try the kangaroo burger, but when I asked the waitress which burger did she most recommend, she said hands down the buffalo burger. Being 4 days out with crappy dehydrated food, I wanted something that tasted good more so than adventurous. The buffalo burger did not disappoint.

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Too Soon

Did I mention that I’m prone to bad cases of the dramas when I’m in pain? After whining about my muscle aches and lack of respect from my leg muscles, I walked around a bit, and my legs were in decent working form.

Now I need to cancel my order of hot pink walker with ice-ax holster and Costco pack of Depends.

I still need Hulk pants though. Do you think maybe I can bring Spandex in as fashion wear?

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Aging With Grace and Very Little Dignity

I just got back from a crazy backpacking trip with some 2 hours of Class 3 scramble at the end. I must have banged the crap out of my legs on the boulders, because my legs look like I got in a kicking fight with an extra short midget with a mean round-kick and didn’t emerge victorious. I am also in the saddest of physical state right now. I have to walk with my legs straight with knees locked, kinda swinging them around in an awkward arch. If I try to bend them ever so slightly, as with habit, my whole body slumps over because my leg muscles are boycotting me at the moment, and any sneak attempt to use them has been met with great resistance. Face plants be damned.

There was an old guy walking into my family restaurant yesterday with a walker, he moved very slowly and stiffly, and when he got to the edge of the chair he plopped down on it without a knee bend, and I realized that old guy had stolen my patented move. But he is old, so I don’t know if I will pursue legal action. Yet.

As stated too many times before, I’m very short (4′ 11.75″), and my SUV is very tall, I have to stand on the running board to climb into it. This requires a knee bend. Which basically means getting in and out of my vehicle is all kinds of drama. If the boyfriend is around, he will join in the drama by laughing at me and telling me I’m pathetic while trying to lift my ginormous ass up into the car. I’m usually laughing too hard at myself while feeling too much pain that I’m screaming, “Stop laughing at me. Oh! I’m going to pee on myself!” He doesn’t know he’s just one muscle spasm from getting the uncontrolled golden shower. I should seriously consider Depends Undergarment For Adults. It may be time.

People should not complain about their body if they are in their fittest form of their life. But. My butt has gotten huge. It’s from all the mountain climbing. My jeans are now getting tight around my ass and thighs. Sometimes when I sit down, I feel like my thighs will Hulk-grow out of my pants.

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Mount Rainier

This entry almost read as, “Mount Rainier, the trip that didn’t happen.”

As I’ve mentioned in my Mount Baker post, after climbing Baker, I just was not sure I was ready for Rainier three days later. The weather on Baker was so harsh it was mentally draining fighting it, and I was so sunburned my puffy skin was oozing liquid, which later formed into big scabs across my cheeks, forehead and nose.

Still…this was RAINIER! How does one say no to a dream climb?

In the end, I felt that I would hate myself for not giving Rainier a try.

 

DAY 1

On Thursday June 30, 2011, bright and early, 8 of us packed into two cars and drove away from Seattle towards Rainier.

As we were driving, I thought about the new down booties that I just dropped a hundred bucks for. I thought about how those booties would be soooo worth it, if only to keep my feet from the mountaineers’ torture device (AKA mountaineering plastic boots) for even a few minutes. Then I thought about how much I really hated those plastic boots and how I did not pack my boots with me.

I left my boots at home. I screamed.

I told my driver what happened, who then called the trip leader in the other car to let him know what happened. I called the boyfriend to see if my boots were right by the door and asked if he could run it out to us. We pulled off the highway and found a spot to park and waited for the boyfriend. I felt like an ass. We all sat around for the 20-30 minutes it took for the boyfriend to catch up. Everyone nervously checked their gear to make sure nothing was missing and we split up whatever team gear there was and repacked.

After I got my boots and apologized profusely to everyone broken-record-style, we got back on track. We got to the ranger station around 10 to sign in and pick up our climbing permits. I did not know this, but the permit was good for the entire year of 2011, which made sense because climbs of Rainier has a 50% summit rate, so people might up their odds of a summit with more attempts especially with each permit costing $43.

We got to the trailhead around 10am and strapped on our stupid heavy packs. The day was overcast to keep the long hike in mercifully  cool. After a couple hours of trudging on dirt trail, we hit snow. Once we got to Inter Glacier, we stashed our trekking poles under some rocks and roped up for the long grueling hike towards camp.

I thought roped up hiking with a full pack was going to suck. Oh, did it ever. Luckily, everyone felt the suck equally and we moved at a pace that didn’t leave me panting and begging for death.

At about 6:30pm we were on the final narrow stretch near camp. It was here that we got our first good look at Rainier which revived us with excitement.

 

We finally made it to Camp Schurman around 7pm. This meant we were hauling our heavy ass packs for close to 9 hours halfway up Rainier. Being Thursday and not the most popular camp spot, we had our picks of a few deserted tent platforms.

We converted part of one deep dugout platform into our kitchen to keep the windchill out with large benches around a snow table. Our kitchen was the envy of all camp with each group walking by to peer into it, some stepping so close to the pit edge that we feared giant plastic boots caving onto our heads.

I shared my tent with the only other female in the group, Christa. We were so happy to have each other’s company, if only to have someone to confide about our female problem and curl up against each other when the frigid wind dug right into our tent the first night. That first night was the coldest night. Every time the wind howled, we felt the chill in our tent. It made our 4 season tent feel like a mesh tent without the rainfly.

 

DAY 2

Rest day.

It was such a beautiful sunny day. We ate. We napped. We complained about the humbling effects of altitude. Sure we were able to haul 50-70 pounds halfway up Rainier, but suddenly we could not walk the equivalent of one flight of stairs with our little food bag without gasping for air. We sunned on the warm rocks (although I could not sun too much because my face was still scabby and scale-like). We watched tiny dots of people climb. One group in particular looked like it had a member in trouble. They were resting more than moving. One group got turned around early by the wind.

I drank so much water that I worried if I brought enough toilet paper. The best thing about Camp Schurman was the outhouse so that we would not have to carry around our own poop. The worst thing about Camp Schurman was the outhouse. Think about where unicorns and rainbows could possibly come from and think about the opposite of that, that is the outhouse. It is vile and disgusting and you smell like feces for a good half hour after being inside. Still, it provides a much needed private space in the middle of a tightly packed place so it’s a strange love-hate relationship. One that forces a person to stand outside of their tent to air out before going in.

Both Christa and I did not sleep well the first night due to the wind so we napped in the middle of the day even though we knew we were supposed to head to bed extra early to wake up at 1am. In the end, we didn’t sleep as well the second night, but we still felt well rested.

 

DAY 3

As with Baker climb, the moment I woke up, I sat up in my sleeping bag and crammed a breakfast bar in my face then got dressed. It’s such a jarring way to wake up, I didn’t think I would have the will to do the same if I was alone.

I will admit now, by my own device, I am a wuss when it comes to waking up to cold, doubly so if it’s at an ungodly hour. If there is no one else there to answer to, I sure as hell will not wake up at 1a.m. to shove cardboard in my mouth and dress while my teeth can’t stop chattering. I know, it sounds like joy, but I can only deal with such joy when shared.

The sky was clear, we could see the lights from cities far below.

After a last visit to the beloved disgusting outhouse, I finished dressing and walked out to the rope that was laid out before we went to bed and tied in. From this point on, it would be 8 hours before I got off the rope. I’ve never been more grateful for my bladder of steel which will surely one day land me in the hospital with bladder infection, but really, from the moment I roped up at 2am until we got back to camp around 2:30pm, there was not a moment of privacy. It’s a giant freaking mountain that’s incredibly exposed and people that survived the climb up did not want me to moon them. They earned that right.

Because of how warm it was the day before when the sun came out, I stupidly didn’t put on every layer I owned. The climb up was frigid. It started cold and never got really warm until we were halfway back down around noon (which in hindsight, was what we were aiming for, so the snow bridges would hold up during the climb up and down). I didn’t put on my balaklava with face mask, I didn’t put on my wind-blocking rain pants. I was obviously suicidal and decided slow death by hypothermia was a good idea.

We climbed many hours in the dark and slowly the sun crept in. Oh it was so glorious! Sunrise on a mountain.

We saw a few crevasses on Baker, but Rainier has some crazy massive crevasses, it really doesn’t compare. There was a spot where we had to double jump over some crevasses. At one point while I was balanced on a few crampon points, the snow was too iced over for my ice-ax to dig in, our group took an emergency break.

I looked at the crevasse next to me and asked if we could move up a little. Negative. Our climb lead came down with a bad case of diarrhea and had to take an emergency dump. His stomach had been bothering him for at least a couple hour by then, we were worried about him. If he had gotten worse a couple hours ago, we might have turned back, but by this point, we were not that far from summit.

At 800 ft from the summit (which is at 14,411 ft), the air got really thin and walking became extremely difficult. There’s a little hypnotic chant going on in my head for most of the climb: out, in, move ax, out, in, move ax. It’s to insure a constant 2-point contact at all times between the 2 feet and ice ax. I think I had mostly 3 points of contact by the end and a lot of trying to suck in oxygen.

Despite the difficulty in breathing, I was giddy. I was in awe of the fact that I was that close to Rainier summit. It felt surreal and a new chant came in of, “I can’t fucking believe I’m really here.” At 10am, the last 100 ft to the summit was a long stretch of flat. We finally un-roped from each other. I was huffing for life, but had the biggest shit-eating grin, “Fuck yeah, I’m almost there!” The climb lead, who had recovered from his stomach problem, came by to talk me to the summit.

We watched as one teammate, who was obviously delirious from seeing the summit, decide to make a run for it. He took a few steps and toppled over. His brain obviously decided to over-rule his plan. Breathe. He slowed his pace.

When we got to the summit, the sky was perfectly blue. Video here.

It was definitely windy and cold but gorgeous. It just felt like such a privilege to be there. It’s a huge sigh of relief of a longstanding goal achieved that boiled into a jumping desire to scream with joy. Giddy. Shock. Disbelief. So many emotions. After freezing our ass off for a bit, we headed back down to sign the summit register.

I did not know what to write, my mind was still chanting, “FUCK YEAH!” I eventually thought about how this trip would not have happened had the boyfriend not driven my boots out to me, so I thanked him.

After everyone signed the register, we roped up again and headed back down. Downhill was pretty uneventful except for a point where some skiiers were hogging the path, they wanted to wait for their friends, but wanted to use our pickets that we had put in for safety across one sketchy snow bridge. Also, Christa had a bad case of fear of heights coming down. I was in front of my rope-team going down and I was antsy to get back once we started downhill. It’s hard to gauge the speed, when people want to go down fast, but someone on the rope is a bit freaked out and trying to pull back.

They say going back down is the most dangerous part of a climb because people are tired and trying to rush through things. I followed the footpath the best I could. At one point footprints were everywhere then converged off to the side. I asked the person behind me if I should follow, and he told me to just go straight and get us home. I decided to follow the footpath, which lead us to to a small crevasse jump. After I jumped over and looked back, I saw that if I had gone straight, I would have stepped right onto an overhang over a huge gaping crevasse.

We got back to camp around 2:30. We lined up for the outhouse then went back to our tents to crash. By the time we got up for dinner, Camp Schurman was a freaking zoo with all the people there for the long weekend.

 

DAY 4

It’s Sunday, the day before 4th of July.  The weather was not terrible but it was cloudy and wind was going crazy. We packed our stuff quickly and roped up to get out.

On our way out, the wind did this crazy on/off thing. One minute, it was calm, the next minute, I was flat on my face with my full pack crushing me beneath it. I was so worried about getting knocked of the narrow trail back.

Then once we got to Inter Glacier, we took off our crampons and found ourselves a nice glissade trough. It took us four hours to hike up, and only ten minutes to glissade back down.

It felt like a roller coaster ride that looked big and impressive but lasted a few seconds. I wanted my money back. Even if it was fun.

The rest of the hike out was nice and uneventful. All in all, an amazing trip.

One thing mentioned during this trip, Rainier was the big big goal of a lot of people on the climb, with Rainier checked off after many years, what now?

Slideshow of the climb here.

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Jungle Legs

A lot of men have much nicer legs than women. They are naturally taller, thus legs longer. My favorite pair of legs is on a drag queen.

My sister and I were clubbing in Vancouver when they happened to have a drag competition. The most beautiful drag queen of them all wore a long slinky red gown with high slits up the side to showoff legs that goes for miles. She was tall with a short torso, which made her ridiculously leggy in the way that fashion designers draw models with unreal proportions. My sister and I are both exactly 4’11″ and 3/4″. We envied and drooled over her long shapely legs. Legs that were probably nearly as long as we were tall. Drool.

The boyfriend has nicer legs than me. My ass trumps all, but I do have leg envy. He knows this too. He taunts me with talks of wearing short dresses and showing off his nicer legs in them. Of course as a guy, he does have leg hair, and does he ever have them. He’s half Korean plus Asian mutt but part Samoan, and I think the Samoan blood gave him thick rich hair, head and legs.

We hiked Mailbox Peak this Saturday. Being the swamp season that it has been here, there were endless streams of bugs chasing us up and down the mountain. Even at the summit, we were swatting bugs away. At one point, one fly got caught in the boyfriend’s leg hair, and I watched with a mixture of horror and delight when it starts climbing around in it. I told him, I think there’s a fly climbing around in his leg hair. He flicks it off with disgusts, “Ugh, was he doing jungle gym in my leg hair?” I nodded. I’m sure if I watched carefully, I could have seen it do summersaults around a hair, or perhaps some fancy pole dancing action. Either way, it was gross and funny for me, I win.

Now, when the boyfriend gloats about his sexy longer legs, I get to advise him to shave his legs first, because bug’s jungle gym legs just isn’t as dead sexy.

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Mount Baker

Our Mount Baker trip was 4 days, 3 nights, from June 23 – 26, which is probably at least a day longer than most people’s climb. This trip was part of the Bushwhacker Climbing Club course so we spent most of our time learning mountaineering skills.

As mentioned before, a classmate of mine died in a freak accident on his outing back in 2008, so this trip was three years delayed for me. Having three years to freak out over all the possibilities of different accidents caused all kinds of jitters for me before the trip. I pretty much wrote a will and gave the boyfriend all my account info in case something happens to me so he would have instant access to all my fundings and retirement accounts if I didn’t make it back. I know it sounds overly dramatic now, but really…three years.

The night before the trip, I think I got maybe two hours of broken sleep at best. There were at least one nightmare about a nasty accident on Baker which lead to me to believe it’s a bad omen.

Before I get on your nerves with all the “Oh, I’m freaking out talk!” Let me just start with, we did summit Baker and I can honestly tell you now, there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of. The only thing that was honestly scary was the unknown. Our day 2 plan was to take turns dropping each person inside a crevasse and rescue them, I kept imagining the rope snapping while I was dropped in, and I fall into the bottomless pit. Did not happen. I also pictured giant gaping crevasses along the path up waiting to swallow us up, also did not happen. See, I’ve spent too many years getting creative on ways I would die tragically on Baker. The trip went extremely smooth, the only thing that I might have had a chance to die from was hypothermia, and even then, it was me being dramatic and thinking, “By God, I will never feel warm again.” It was honestly the coldest trip I’ve been on, but it’s not hypothermia bad.

 

DAY 1

We met up at Chris’, our instructor’s, house at 6:30. From there, we carpooled over to Baker. On the ride to baker, Chris asked me what I was doing next Thursday, and I told him, nothing yet. He said, “Want to climb Rainier?” I didn’t even think about it, “What? Really? Fuck yeah I want to go.” I would later rethink this decision many times during the Baker climb. Keep in mind, we would not get home till Sunday, so I had a whopping three days to rest in between climbs.

We had to stop by the ranger station to sign in for our climb and to pick up blue bags (doggie bags for human). We were there before the ranger station opened, so I insisted on getting a group photo while we’re clowning around at the parking lot.

Once the station opened we gathered inside to use their magical flushing toilet one last time and sign in. Each person had to sign in with an emergency contact and we gave them a date to expect us to sign out in case we need to be rescued. One of the ladies in our group, Ronda, asked the ranger if she could have some blue bags, and the ranger said sure and took out a box and asked her how many she would like. Ronda sheepishly replied, “Maybe five or six?” The ranger’s eyes widened and said, “Well if you need that many, I’ll teach you how to make your own.” She brought out all the supplies: a blue bag, a thick clear plastic bag and twisty ties. It became a blue bags craft circle for a few minutes there. Ronda declared, “Sorry, I poop a LOT.” In case we didn’t understand her intentions with them.

We had some very regular people in this group. That person was not me. I ended up giving away the blue bags I made. I saved one for emergency but that was never needed. I was grateful to not have to be the person that needed to use a blue bag while tied to the rope team.

From there, we drove out the trailhead, which was still covered in snow, so we drove to the point where the snow hasn’t been plowed and hiked in with our giant ass packs. With half the tent, my pack was close to 50lbs. This was after cutting off half the food I wanted to bring and leaving behind clothing layers that I later wished for. It was a tough choice, food and comfort, or a pack that I can reasonably manage. I chose the latter.

Soon as we got to the actual trailhead, we were asked to take out our map and compass and took turns navigating.

The instructor intentionally lead us astray a bit when we weren’t paying attention and had us fix our path. This lead to a somewhat longer trek up. A good part of the extra time was spent learning more about navigating with our maps and compass.

It rained on us most of the way up to camp destination, so I thought it would be okay to not go out of my way to reapply sunscreen. I got the worst sun poisoning of my life that first day. My skin was red and puffy the entire trip and was oozing liquid by the time the trip was over. I had giant scabs on my face and nose, it was so terrible, I thought it would scar. Okay, because words can’t describe the terror, I will share the unsightly-ness with a photo.

Public service announcement: Use sunscreen! Apply frequently on snow covered mountains even if it’s freaking raining.

We started hiking in around 10:30am and got the our camp around 3:30pm. Not great, but not bad for getting lost and being lead by me part of the time when I sure as hell didn’t actually know where I was going. Once at camp we set up our own tents and dug out our kitchen area.

The kitchen wall provided great comfort and warmth from the howling wind. Mount Baker sits in a weather convergence zone, our instructor told us he’s experience far worse weather with greater frequency there than Rainier. As we were setting up our tent, we had to anchor everything down or we would lose it to the wind.

That night was the coldest night I’ve spent camping outdoors. I couldn’t tell if it’s because of my crappy 15 degrees synthetic bag. I’ve previously snow camped in conditions so cold, I could watch ice form in my water bottle. I was using my 30 degrees down bag then, and it was fine. At Baker, we were required to bring synthetic, that bag was worthless.

 

DAY 2

We woke up at somewhat normal hours. We roped up at 8a.m. to head out to find a nice crevasse to jump into. This was our first time together, on full length rope, as a true rope-team. In our previous class outing, we used a half length rope for practice.

It was a frigid cold day, I had my full face balaclava and it was still cold. The instructor had already scouted out a nice crevasse about 15-20 minutes walk away from camp, so we practiced our group snow travel skill there.

Once there, we set up our crevasse rescue station with a back-up belayer. Then the first person went into the crevasse and soon we were taking turns learning what role we played depending on if we were part of the rope with someone that fell into the crevasse or the second rope team that comes to the rescue.

We were all very nervous before being dropped in, we told each person we love them before we dropped them in. Inside the crevasse was magical. I feared for my life when I was lowered, then soon as I was inside, I almost didn’t want to leave. It was such a beautiful place.

Looking down, it was definitely deep and looked somewhat bottomless. Then the sun camp out for a little bit and I could see blue skies above me and the valley off to the side.

It was a surreal experience. One that my instructor reminded us to appreciate for what it is, because we certainly hope to never see the inside of a crevasse under “normal” circumstance. It rained and snowed on us on and off during crevasse rescue class.

After everyone had a turn inside the crevasse, we headed back to camp to make dinner. There were very few actual sit down meals during this trip, dinner each night was pretty much it. The rest of the time, food was being crammed into the pie-hole while standing around.

 

DAY 3

Wake up call was at 2am. Soon as I was able to sit up on my sleeping bag, I crammed a breakfast bar in (I’m still amazed how quickly this felt normal). Getting dressed in the frigid cold night was a chore. Everyone was jamming up the designated bathroom area. We would be tethered to each other for MANY hours once roped-up, so if we wanted any privacy, this was our last chance. It was so cold that I put on every layer I had even though I usually get sweaty hot after a bit of hiking. I was worried that I would regret putting on the long johns and topping everything off with my heavy rain gear, but I ended up wishing I had still more layers to pile on.

We were fully roped up and ready to head out at 3:30am. We had 3 rope-teams, with 3 in front, 4 in middle and 4 in back. One of my classmate felt sick after the first day, so she decided to stay at camp while we did the climb, she was happy with just doing the crevasse rescue. Really though, being dropped into a crevasse is quite an experience.

Being the shortest and slowest, I was the last person on the last rope-team, which was quite erie in the dark. All I could see in front of me were the glows from the headlamps, and nothing behind me. It was pitch black.

Being on a rope team in the dark felt like I was being fished. If I saw the rope move, I moved, I followed the rope wherever it lead me. We had a few standing water and snack breaks here and there. At some about 6am we stopped for a 20 minutes breakfast break, but that was cut a bit shorter because we all started freezing the moment we stopped moving. The wind was digging in deep, all the layers in the world didn’t help.

Baker was frigid cold throughout the night hike and the sun never truly came out even in daylight. We had hoped once we hiked up past the cloud layer, there would be blue bird sky, instead another cloud layer rolled right in and we were stuck in a nasty cloud sandwich from then on. We had moments of almost clear-ish skies here and there, but definitely nothing to get excited about.

The wind howled louder and harder as we climbed. We had our only off-rope break at Lunch Rock around 8:30am, where we tried to tuck ourselves away from the wind. One of our climber, Rachel, started feeling nauseous right about there. We tried to feed her extra snacks, some meds and extra water. She was also feeling very cold, so a couple of the guys help her put on some puffy pants that our instructor had. It’s a good thing she’s tall, because those pants would have been worthless on me.

By the end of lunch break, she was feeling quite a bit better, so we all continued onto the final stretch climbing up Roman Wall. We set up a quite a few pickets going up so the going was slow, which made the climb easier.

After Roman Wall, the climb flattened out quite a bit, but the high elevation with less oxygen made moving slow from there. When we got to the flat spot right before summit around 10:30, we coiled up our ropes and unroped for the photo at summit. The bad weather made the summit photos less than spectacular, but we were all just giddy to be at summit, especially knowing that one of our class section got turned around from bad weather last weekend. The wind at summit was around 50mph with -10 degrees windchill factor. It was extremely cold. We snapped a few group photos and headed back down to rope up. I accidentally set my camera to video mode during the group photo and came away with an awesome couple seconds of video:

BakerSummit

Right after Roman Wall, we had pretty much white-out conditions all the way back down. Because of the lack of visibility, we kept the rope teams really close together. As a speed demon going downhill, I was put in front of rope on the way back down. I kept a good enough pace to be within chatting distance of the last person of the rope-team in front of me. The hike down was pretty uneventful saved for the two people in the back of my rope team forgot their anti-balling plates, so balled-up snow was tripping them constantly, causing them to ask the teams to “turtle” (code for slow down) or stop. Because of the bad white-out and deafening wind, communication had to passed between the front and back of teams by means of “telephone game”. Anti-balling plates were class requirements because of this very reason, so the instructor was definitely not pleased to hear this while we were all tired and wanting to be back at camp resting.

We got a little bit lost in the white-out, but found our bearings soon as we realized we were off-track. We got back to camp around 2:30pm, took off our ropes, and went back to our tents to crash for a bit.

It was right about this point that I questioned if I could climb Rainier in a few days. My hiking buddy, Daniel, climbed both Baker and Rainier with this class two years ago and he told me at the time that he thought Baker would be very easy for me, Rainier is definitely going to be a challenge, but still very doable. I did not think Baker was easy. There were points when the team was keeping a faster pace to keep us warm, and I felt like I was going to throw-up. Between freezing my ass off for most of the climb and being generally tired from constantly moving uphill, I was mentally and physically drained. There was not a single point where I thought, gee, they should really go faster because this leisurely stroll is putting me to sleep. Not once. Wait, unless you count the downhill part, that I’m a monster. Uphill, I’m dragging my sad ragged teeth-chattering corpse up.

Around 5:30 people started crawling out of their tents to seek nourishment. I think I skipped doing the rehydrated meal thing and just ate whatever snacks I could stomach. I just wasn’t hungry for some reason. I spoke to Chris about Daniel finding Baker extremely easy, and how Baker just soundly handed me my ass. Chris said, oh, yeah, that’s because Daniel’s climb was extremely easy. He explained that with mountaineering weather plays a huge part on the climb difficulty. Battling 50mph and crazy windchill was exhausting for everyone. When Daniel did his climb, they had perfect weather. They were able to hike up in a thin t-shirt and which made the hike cakewalk. This somewhat restored my faith in my ability to climb Rainier.

We all went to bed early in hopes of getting an early start out.

 

DAY 4

We woke up to perfect blue skies. This should have cause some disgruntled feelings toward the weather gods regarding our summit weather, but I was just happy to not have to pack in the freezing cold while fighting the wind for our tent. Three solid days of crap weather was wearing me out, basking in the sun did much to re-energize us. We goofed around and had a great time packing.

We did some good glissading back down and took turns navigating the trail back with our map and compass. The great weather made for a wonderful hike out.

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Douchebag Crisis

Wow…there are a couple write-ups so long overdue. I’ve been at lost for words to describe the whole experience, I can’t tell if it’s because of the days spent in low oxygen level or just being a few weeks out of practice is causing my writer’s block. A small part of it, I attribute to the fact that the days following two back to back epic mountain climbs leads to life feeling…not quite real. I don’t know how to say that without coming off as a douchebag with existential crisis, but right now, I feel like my head is stuck in a cloud and nothing feels real.

Perhaps this is not that different than coming back from Burning Man, where reality has a different meaning. I would never in Seattle, consider hugging a random stranger before introducing myself. I tried walking around Seattle in a bikini-top over the weekend, people stared and stared. Oh cover the children’s eyes. Burners often come back feeling like living the Burning Man lifestyle is the only way to go, and soon as one burn is over, they spend all their time preparing for the next burn. And also only their Burner friends are “real”. I’m not that douche that will tell you that Burning Man is home. I don’t think Burner life or mountaineer’s life is “the way”. Neither life is really sustainable for me, in both situations I spend much of my time wishing for a shower and flushing toilet, while wishing to not burn/freeze to death.

Now that I think about it, I’ve been having a real hard time sitting perfectly still since I got back from my mountain climbs. I haven’t read a single book since I got back. When I was sitting on Rainier, freezing my ass off, I kept thinking, when I get back, I would love nothing more than to sit on the beach and read a good book. Since I got back, I only want to get back out  to the mountains or I don’t know, go chop wood with my bare hands.

This middle-class ennui phase will pass.

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I STILL LIVE

I am back from Rainier. The climb was spectacular with an exceptional window of weather. Great conditions for going in, climbing and coming back out. I will do a write-up of it when I have a moment, but you can stop worrying about me. I am alive and well. And yes, we hit summit.

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I LIVE

Baker climb was extremely rough but spectacular. I will write more about it when I get back from my Mount Rainier climb. I got back from Baker on Sunday, have been working every day since then. I will be leaving for my Rainier climb early tomorrow morning.

No, Rainier was not planned, I got a last minute invite and you know…Rainier has been on my todo list for a few years now, so I would be a fool to not jump on it. So I will tell you all about Baker and Rainier when I get back.

And in case you’re curious, we did hit summit!

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