Poop and Acid, Baby

What a loaded title! What is this going to be about?! The title should really read, “Poop and Acid Baby.”

Every fall season the Forest Service has to remove all of the poop vaults from the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. All summer long the Wilderness and Climbing Rangers swapped out the 40 gallon back-breakers of poop for “clean” empties and stashed the full tanks out of sight. There are five of these toilets, each location containing 3 or 4 vaults. The tanks, much too heavy to carry out, are flown out by helicopter during a day-long mission of personnel moving and poop flights! But this story does not begin here.

Fellow Climbing Ranger Eric and I started this trip two days prior with a hike to Colchuck Lake. The fall weather was splitter but quite cold at night and in the mornings. We started a bit later than usual on the second day so that we might get a bit of warmth from the sun as we patrolled Acid Baby (10+ 7p). This did not help a ton seeing as the first pitch, a 10+ varying width corner, was completely in the shade. With screaming barfies right off the deck we chugged along, climbing in our puffy jackets. Streams of hikers flowed along the trail to Aasgard below us as we climbed.

The temps did not get much warmer but it doesn’t matter much, the climbing was amazing! The route is varied and the rock quality is great! And the top out pitch along the knife-edge ridge is one that I will never forget. The route traverses 30+ meters of exposed ridgeline as you sling horns and plug cams. The clouds moved in on us during this pitch and all we could see was our feet above an infinite and quiet slab of rock.

The descent is easy and quick, bringing us back to our bags in only about 30 minutes from the top. Stellar! We made our way back to camp and arrived just as darkness was falling.

Okay, Acid Baby is now complete. Moving on to POOP!!!

The following morning I packed a small day-pack and left my overnight and climbing gear at the lake. I walked up Aasgard and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. At just about 11 am I heard the sound of the blades echoing off the rock and soon I was accompanied by three more FS Rangers and Rappellers.

We stacked and strapped full vaults together and coordinated with the pilot to get our load safely back to the staging area in Leavenworth. The heli brought in empties and removed the full vaults, then we hiked down to the next toilet. We repeated the process one last time and then waited our turn to hitch a ride out of the core and back to Leavenworth. This marks my first time in a helicopter and it did not disappoint! The Core Enchantments from the air are spectacular. And it sure is significantly less painful than walking out!

That is about all I have to say. Let your friends know how much work goes into their next visit to the latrines in the Enchantments, they just may enjoy it more!

Climber Ranger Reflections

For years I have envied the job title of “Climbing Ranger.”  Something about that term fills my imagination with images of wild adventures and epic rescues in remote locations.  Mountaineering, climbing, rescues, glaciers, rocks, seracs, my imagination goes on! Fast forward to the present and I’ve just completed my first season as a USFS Climbing Ranger.  Most of those keywords were relevant! But I can attest that those descriptors are only a minor portion of the true meaning of being a Climbing Ranger, particularly in the Enchantments Zone of the Alpine lakes Wilderness in Washington.

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This summer marked my fifth season with the US Forest Service and my first season as a Climbing Ranger.  I’d spent the previous four summers working primarily in the front-country (trailheads, campgrounds) in the Mt. Baker and Baker Lake areas of the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest where we experienced high visitor numbers for a myriad of different recreational opportunities like hiking, climbing, fishing, hunting, boating, and camping (to name a few).  Moving from my previous role in Developed Recreation to the role of Climbing Ranger, based mostly in the backcountry of one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state, revealed an entirely new side to land management that I had previously never seen. I felt myself empowered at times and helpless at others to protect the areas we patrol. I felt lenient at times and eager to educate and enforce at others.  I had no idea the extent to which overuse affects the landscape!

I was hired as a Climbing Ranger for the Wenatchee River Ranger District (WRRD) which includes all of the mega-popular Leavenworth area and the Enchantments Zones of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Leavenworth is home to many hundreds of bouldering, sport, and trad climbing routes and is blessed with nice weather when compared to Seattle located just a few hours away on the west-side of the crest.  The Enchantments contain some of the highest-quality alpine mountaineering and rock climbing routes in the state, ranging from Mt. Stuart’s 2,000’ North Ridge to Dragontail’s Dragons of Eden (7p 12.a) to moderates like Prusik Peak’s and Stuart’s West Ridges (both about 5.6).  The quality of rock is outstanding and, combined with the quantity of routes, the area draws a substantial crowd.


So what does it mean to be a Ranger in the WRRD?  The Climbing and Wilderness Rangers can both attest that being a Ranger in the WRRD is largely about managing the Enchantments!  Perhaps this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to readers who have known about the area for years. For me, I knew it was popular.  However I did not realize the extent to which the area has been discovered! The reality, as far as I see it, is that the area is seeing unprecedented popularity and exposure to a demographic of people that have little understanding of what a Wilderness Area is and who lack a general knowledge of how to conduct themselves in those areas.  I discovered that being a Climbing Ranger in the Enchantments has far more to do with managing the thousands of visitors, climbers and hikers alike, than it has to do with climbing!

Words like “mountaineering, climbing, rescues, glaciers, rocks, and seracs” morph to become words like “permits, toilets, litter, tat, drones, dogs, and poop!”  Don’t get me wrong, we patrolled many climbing routes this season. But after a summer of immersing myself in the area I ask myself, “what stands out when I reflect on the season?”  Was it the climbing? Was it the beauty of the routes? Or maybe it was the patrolling and cleaning of the climbing routes? Or perhaps it was how we maintained our integrity in our position of public service?  What actually echoes in my head as the most noteworthy, mind-blowing take-home message was the sheer number of users that visited the Enchantments! Hiking to Colchuck Lake, a 3.7 mile walk, could take upwards of 5 hours as a Ranger!  “Did you get a chance to fill out the Day Use Permit at the trailhead? It is the green tag found at the kiosk. No, it is not the parking pass. It is actually required everywhere in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.” The endless and repetitive conversation simply repeats.

On any given weekend I could easily talk to 500 users visiting Colchuck Lake.  Akin to the busiest day at your favorite ski area, I describe the trail as “500 people blissfully unaware of one another.”  On average, three discarded plastic water bottles on the side of the trail, 2 ACTUAL shits left on the ground to be packed out or buried (but we climbers don’t often carry shovels…), one oversized group, and one drone or pet.  By mid-summer the trail to Colchuck Lake had a dust buffer two feet wide on either side of the trail from the heavy use on the dry soil. Who knows how much soil was lost from the tread surface during the daily migration?!

There seems to be a complete lack of knowledge or disregard of the fact that rules and regulations exist in National Forests!  Where does this stem from? Are people simply seeing pretty places on Instagram and zombie-strolling their way to the viewpoint, neglecting any form of pre-education or trailhead informational reading because “@peakbeggar went there and said the hike was sooo easy and super pretty for photos?”  Honestly, some people literally did not even consider us Rangers to be legitimate! For example, after informing one user that dogs were not allowed on the trail she had the audacity to ask us how much the ticket would be for her to still take her dogs up the trail! Another group, flying two drones and containing 15 people, did not know they were breaking any laws despite that both regulations were stated clearly on the backside of their Wilderness Day Use Permits they signed at the trailhead.  I am impressed in the wrong way.

Okay, so what the hell does a Climbing Ranger do that Wilderness Rangers do not already do?!  Fair question! Many climbers do not believe that climbers, as a user group, are committing the same environmental-infractions as the masses of day-use hikers “down there on the dirt highway.”  Additionally, many people think we are climbing the routes to remove any and all non-bolted anchors and subsequently make it harder for folks to climb the routes.

These schools of thought are wrong.  Climbing is becoming continually more popular and that means that new climbers are constantly coming onto the scene.  On any given weekend I could talk to several climbers “venturing outside” for their very first time at the Forestlands Bouldering Area in the Icicle Canyon.  Are gyms teaching climbers how to boulder outside? Maybe. But it is not their responsibility to do so. The Climbing Rangers visited Colchuck Balanced Rock (CBR) only one time this summer and what did we find?  We found a climbing group knowingly camping without an overnight permit in the Colchuck Zone. How often do you think that happens? Wilderness Rangers do not visit that location, so my guess is that it happens frequently.  

I hate to say it but climbing is growing in popularity just as hiking is, and I don’t see why there would be an end in sight.  I see poor-practice amongst the new and inexperienced hikers, why would there be any difference in the climbing community?

We climb routes so that we can be stewards of that environment.  It is hard to describe the absolute asinine quantities of unnecessary anchor slings that are left behind on the trade-routes in the Enchantments.  On Prusik Peak, in a single weekend, we removed nearly 20 liters of EXTRA material. Rangers, being human, also need to rappel the routes. We do not remove whole anchors.  But why were there eight slings on that one station?! Fact - climbers are not innocent as a user group!

You will eventually find the Climbing Rangers out in the mountains.  We are there with extra time to reduce the impacts to the vertical environment that climbers on-a-mission do not give themselves.  We are there to go slow, to be thoughtful. We have an extra day, an extra night, maybe a whole weekend to spend in the mountains. Time allotted to contact and educate the public, protect the environment, enforce regulations, climb routes, and to preserve our National Forests.

A Walk in the G.P. Wilderness

While on a Patrol through the Glacier Peak Wilderness I promised my supervisor to keep the locations undisclosed if I were to share any photographs from the 5 day trip. By sticking to that agreement I cannot write much of a story to share, but I will nonetheless show off some of the photos!

The Climbing Rangers were stoked to not be carrying a rope and climbing gear for the first time of the season! Don’t get me wrong, we want to climb. But we considered this trip to be more of a long-distance cruise instead of a technical rock patrol and shaved every ounce of unneeded weight from the bags.

That being said, we had pretty rough weather on the first evening and all of the second day.

On day three we arrived at a critical point. Once we descended into the next valley it basically required that we continue to the planned end-point. Eric’s ankle was bothering him and, with three big days ahead of us, he decided to turn back and preserve himself for future patrols. Adam and I continued on and had a huge day of walking before settling into camp.

The next objective of the patrol was a side-trip from camp. With nearly empty packs we scrambled and crossed off-trail terrain to the summit of an undisclosed peak! After returning to camp we packed the bags and hiked several additional hours to camp for the night.

One more long day of walking through a recent burn brought us to the end of the trail. The GPW is still wild! But don’t go there.

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Mt. Baker's Coleman Deming

I lived in Bellingham for nearly 10 years and during that time climbed Mt. Baker at least that many times.  It is such an awesome outing - so close to the city yet the exposure is real, the mountain is huge as are the glaciers, and the experience is a true taste of alpine climbing!  Alex and I had to go for it!

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We got a start at about 4 am and it took us around 5 hours to get on top.  We shared the summit with nobody!  It is always thrilling to look down and out from the top and see the North Cascades and beyond.  It is a perspective unlike few others in the Cascades.  Puget Sound lingers just behind the Twin Sisters Range, Baker Lake sits right at the toe of the volcano, and Mt. Shuksan looks so small!

The walk down was smooth however the Colfax icefall had created a huge debris field that was haunting to walk through.  We loaded up the truck and caught some live music in Bellingham before driving all the way back to Leavenworth.  

A Month in the Desert

We returned from Asia to find that my start date as a Climbing Ranger was pushed back which opened up about one month of free time.  With nothing much else on the docket we decided to load up Penny and cruise south!

Alex and Tally enjoying the view at the river's bend.

We drove ourselves south and headed straight for Joshua Tree National Park.  We stayed in the Hidden Valley Campground for several days climbing the nearby crags and drinking Tecate in the sun.  

Driving east from there the highways took us toward Arizona.  Neither of us had ever been to Sedona despite having heard it's reputation as being a mecca of sorts for several years.  Although we were slightly disappointed by the actual city of Sedona the area was stunning!  Tally learned to chase a frisbee into the water at the local watering holes and I got to ride my mountain bike on some stellar trails.

Grand Canyon National Park was next on our list!  Unfortunately having a dog with us limited how much we could explore in the park.  Nonetheless, it is stunning even from the rim!  There is also excellent free dispersed camping to be had just off of the South Rim!  A friend of mine connected up with us and the 3 humans and 2 dogs formed a pack for a few more days.  

 

With the painted hills of Arizona behind us the van took a heading for Indian Creek, Utah!  We have a special love for this place.  It is where Alex and I first spent time together and will always be unique.  Through the dust storms we explored some of Canyonlands National Park, climbed a few cracks, and stood on top of the South Six Shooter!  

We ran a few errands in Moab (aka had a beer at the brewery and took showers) then camped up the highway for the night.  With Salt Lake City in the GPS we headed north and dropped the dog off at a friends before cruising up the Little Cottonwood Canyon to meet my family at Snowbird.  Spring skiing in the book!  When the turns ran out we grabbed the pooch and began rolling towards home, through the City of Rocks!

It is always bitter sweet to end a road trip.  Alex and I tend to be at our finest when we are wandering in the van.  Exploring new campsites, enjoying the scenery, playing with the dog.  A new chapter always starts, hopefully the "Summer in Leavenworth" chapter is a good one!

Penny

Skipping Winter in SE Asia

While in Alaska my partner Alex and I pulled the trigger on purchasing flights to Bangkok! With the tickets already purchased we couldn’t say no!

We left the States on November 4th. Our return flight was scheduled for March but our itinerary was largely unknown. In general, the plan was to do a circuit of-sorts from Thailand to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and ultimately back to Thailand.

Thailand

We started in Chiang Mai then headed north to Pai where we then motorbiked the Mai Hon Song loop. This track led us out of the tourist traps and into more rural and scenic areas. We rode past limestone cliffs and caves, roadside stands and huge markets, school children and broken down tour buses! It was at this moment that we knew the motorbike was the key to our Asian adventures. Returning to the busy roads of Chiang Mai made us wish we were back in the countryside! Friends from England invited us to join them on the “slow boat” to Luang Prabang, goodbye Thailand!

Laos

After a two-day cruise on the Mekong River we landed in Luang Prabang. After an epic visit to Kuang Si Waterfalls and several days of fun in the city we migrated to Vang Vieng for a week of floating the river, exploring caves, and a bit of rock climbing! Continuing south we headed for the capital of Laos, Vientane. With plans to head to Vietnam via bus we applied for visas at the Embassy and, to our dismay, had to wait several days. Feeling rather stuck in this city we made the best of it by trying out the waterpark and all of the museums. Visas in hand we headed south again to Thakek. Our initial plans to climb were delayed and instead we rode the local motorbike loop and visited the Kong Lor Cave! After climbing for a couple of days we jumped a bus to Vietnam!

Vietnam

We met a friend, James Le, in Hue and he gave us an insider’s tour of his family’s city. We spent the Christmas holiday in Hoi An and had custom tailored clothing made as treats to ourselves. The weather to the north was not agreeable so our journey continued south to Nah Trang (can you say skyscraper roof-top bar and huge theme park!?) and Mui Ne where we played in the sand and enjoyed the New Year. We met a group of Germans who invited us to a music festival on Phu Quoc. With nothing major planned we purchased flights that night! After stopping through Ho Chi Minh City along the way we spent the last 5 days of our Vietnamese travels on the beach of the island.

Cambodia

The first stop was the islands in the Koh Rong region. Most of them have been discovered by the backpacker crowd but we located a couple of incredible spots. We even found the nicest beach of the entire trip here where the sand squeaks under your feet. After leaving the islands we spent a couple of days enjoying the chill vibes of Kampot before visiting the classic cities of Phnom Phen and Siem Reap. Next stop, Indonesia!

Indonesia

Kuala Limpur to Bali! Our German friends invited us to their villa in Bali and we happily joined! Alex and I headed to Nusa Penida for more amazing motorbike adventures before meeting up with the Germans again on Gili T. Snorkeling and fun nights out prevailed. We flew to Labuan Bajo to begin a diving course and spent about ten days in the waters of Komodo National Park, a life-changing event most certainly. A quick stop in Ubud for yoga and a meet up with a friend from Alaska and we were headed back to Thailand!

Thailand

The limestone cliffs of Railay called our names. We climbed a day and spent time on the beach before getting deathly ill and promptly leaving the could-be-paradise. Alex’s friends from Seattle joined us on the island of Koh Lanta where we rented a huge villa and cruised the island! We were sad to see them leave because it also marked the near-conclusion of our trip. Onward to Khao Lak for diving and a visit to the truly epic Khao Sok National Park marked the end of our travels. We met up with our English friends briefly in Bangkok and boarded our flight to Seattle. Of course this involved mega-shenanigans with the Chinese at 2 am but we made it all the same. It was in the cab on the way to the airport when we decided that Australia would be a great destination!

Summer in Haines, Alaska

Alex and I spent the summer of 2017 in Haines, Alaska.  Alex and I decided to try out moving to a new location and doing something rather drastic instead of the same old day-to-day that we both had experienced time and time again.  Going north seemed like an excellent option so I put my finger on the map and landed in SE Alaska. 

We were accepted as employees at Alaska Mountain Guides and Chilkat Guides so we packed the van up for a 6-month stint into the Great White North.  With snow covering all of the non-major highways in March we basically drove straight to Haines.

I began training to be a raft guide and wilderness first responder while Alex got settled into her mostly-administrative position in the office.  It was a real challenge for us to be living in the van while being parked behind the office/warehouse where we worked!  Alex could see the van from her desk and meanwhile I was making no money but training away from “the yard” all day with a group of other guides.   We rather quickly figured out that van life for this summer was going to be a great challenge or it needed to change.

 

Fortunately for us a friend of ours connected us with the owner of an unoccupied dry cabin just 9 miles outside of town!  Apprehensive to leave the guides we ultimately decided to move out of the yard into the cabin nestled above the Chilkat River and across the valley from Mt. Emmerich.  We both agree that it was the best choice we ever made.

Summer was a real blur to be honest.  The guides were the best people, so fun and full of life!   We felt lucky to have lived in the Yard for the first two months and to be so close to the crew before moving further outside of town.  When I would be gone on long trips, often with mountaineering trips, Alex had a group of folks just outside the door to hang with and when we were both together the party at home was always real!  Our cabin provided sanctuary and pristine environment.  Classic Alaska!

By the end of the summer season we felt it was unlikely that we’d return for another season.  I was experiencing fairly rugged back-pain from rafting and the only cure for that was to not lift and row boats.  Alex found certain challenges in her work that were hard to over look.  Ultimately we packed up the van and hopped the ferry away from Haines. 

We loved it so much.  Thinking of our small Alaskan home could bring tears to my eyes.  It was truly heaven.  Since our departure we have considered returning many times.  Travel calls us, though.  We will land back in Alaska sometime, just not for now.

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Quick Trip to Iceland

Great friends of Alex’s were getting married in Paris and despite living in Alaska we couldn’t miss the wedding. So, with 2 trips packed into 1, we left Haines, AK on a ferry at 11:30 pm headed for Paris.

The wedding was beyond stunning and Paris is an incredibly fun place to explore. Eclaires and baguettes as far as the eye can see. And red wine. And a myriad of other things. But getting to the real storyline of this blog post - Iceland!

We took advantage of Iceland Air’s layover option and rented a van in Iceland for 5 days. With not nearly enough to explore even a single region of the country we decided to just make it a long drive. We circumnavigated the island and tried to see as much as possible from the road.

Traveling counter-clockwise we found hotsprings, glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, hotsprings, waterfalls, excellent food, hotsprings, waterfalls… You get the idea! Check out my photos and the short video we made!

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Jeff and Char Hit the Desert

My good friend/roommate and I headed to the desert for biking and climbing adventures in the fall of 2016. We biked and climbed our way through Utah, some of Colorado, more of Utah and into Southern California. Check out the videos and photos from the adventure!

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Biking in Bellingham

Just thought I would share some of the photographs that my buddy Jeff and I have been taking up on Galbraith recently! Check them out!

Snowboarding Cascade Volcanoes

Photos from Baker’s Coleman Deming Route!

We attempted the Success Glacier Couloir route and got to the top of the Couloir before having to call it a day. It was a bit of a struggle fest that ended in some excellent turns but no summit.

Who knew that you could still skin up Mt. Adam’s southern slopes in July?! Tom, Nick and I made a long day out of the SW Chutes.

Shots from climbing Mt. Baker’s Park Glacier for the Mt. Baker Ski Area!

Slesse's Northeast Buttress

July 17

     Last minute decision – join as a 4th member on an adventure to the Chilliwack region, objective undetermined, or stick with the original plan to shred the Stevens Pass Mountain Bike park. I guess it is a no brainer – Alpine prevails.   Frankie invited me to join his group the afternoon before heading north from Bellingham, but it wasn’t until 10 pm that night when I agreed to be a member. Not that I haven’t had last-minute adventures develop in the past, but this time the objective I found to be a bit more committing than usual.

     Mt. Slesse’s Northeast Buttress has a reputation being one of the 50 classic climbs of North America. It also has a dark past.  Slesse is the site of the 1956 Trans Canada Airlines flight 810 accident where a full passenger aircraft smashed into the mountain side, killing everyone on board.

 July 18

     We all gathered at Frankie’s house in Bellingham at 3 a.m., Guillaume, Eben and myself. After an early morning burrito and a quick discussion about gear we hit the road in Frank’s Dodge diesel headed for Tim Horton’s (aka Canada, also literally Tim Horton’s).

     As the city of Chilliwack faded behind us we discussed our objectives for the weekend and settled on two options. Climb Slesse’s Northeast Buttress or head up to the Nesakwatch Tower zone and climb stellar alpine rock. After several wrong turns, a new dent in the truck involving a large stump, and at least one full parking area, we settled on climbing the Northeast Buttress, an objective that Gui had previously completed. Only one problem remained.

     As we began organizing gear at the trailhead it became quickly apparent that somehow only one rope had made it into the truck (fortunately for me that rope was mine, relieving me of all blame). After some hot discussions on whose fault it was, the decision was made to drive back to Chilliwack and pick up a new rope so that the adventure could continue. Eben and I had the pleasure of a parking lot bivy session while Gui and Frank made the trip back.

     It must have been after 10 by the time the guys returned to the trailhead. With all of the gear properly packed we started up the trail. It was hot hiking through the logged zones in the direct sun but we kept a solid pace to the flight 810 memorial before getting geared up in harness and helmet. Off-trail travel began here as we crossed the granite slabs leading us to the access ramp to the NEB. 

          Mt. Slesse is composed of two rock types, the lower half being diorite, a salt-and-pepper granitic rock that makes for solid rock and quality climbing. The slabs steepened as the north face of the mountain jutted from the slabs leading to the access ramp. The ramp shoots out right directly at the base of the huge wall, bypassing the 5.10c direct start variation. It was easy climbing on the ramp however its grassy and dirty nature did not inspire great comfort above the still air below. After a few class-4 trees we gained the buttress and roped together.

     I partnered with Eben as Frank and Gui took the lead. The lower portion of the route is easy class-5 climbing with solid gear and fun position. The first challenges appeared as we entered the direct variation a couple of pitches below the bivy ledge. Gui took the lead as the three of us watched from below, and slightly to the side, at a reasonable nearly-hanging belay. Gui is a strong climber and the slower-than-usual pace he set through this pitch suggested that the rock quality left something to be desired. He was most of the way through the pitch when we heard him scream, “rock!”

     It was one of those screams that immediately makes your stomach sink. Guilluame, who was now hanging by his hands 40 meters above us, had dislodged a microwave-sized block that was hurtling down toward us. It disappeared behind the shallow ridge crest just as I caught a glimpse of it, and its trajectory was unknown to the three of us at the belay station. Unfortunately for me I was anchored in with no slack and nowhere to go so I don’t blame Frankie or Eben for huddling beneath me. Looking up, waiting for uncertainty, the rock never came. It had chosen a different path.

The scent of busted rock was fresh in my mind.

     Gui finished the pitch and Frank followed him. It was my lead so I began up the pitch on my 8.9mm single line. My head was in a weird place as I entered the loose zone nearing the top of the pitch, the idea of a loose rock effortlessly splitting my floss-like rope. The real challenge of this pitch came as I entered the roof that requires committing to a loose-looking block. With a head full of uncertainty I made the move and the block held. Two more fun pitches and we were at the bivy.

      The psychological approach to alpine climbing varies greatly among climbers.  I was relieved to be at the bivy with a group of light-hearted and goofy guys. We had an evening of alpine cocktails and I took some photos before calling it a night. This bivy ledge left little to be desired.  It was the Cadillac of ledges, you might say.

 

July 19           

     Sunrise was nothing short of primo as light warmed us on the ledge. We geared up and climbed about 40 meters to the only snow-patch on route to collect and melt water. With mostly full water bottles we continued through easy simul-climbing terrain along the ridge crest up toward the steeper rock above.

     The rock type changes to Darrington Phyllite as you move to the upper reaches of the mountain. While the rock remains solid it definitely changes in character, becoming less blocky and more textured with face holds and fewer cracks. Eben and I, following behind our friends, swapped leads to the summit where we found Gui and Frank resting in the shade of a boulder. Frankie found the summit register and read us some highlights that made us feel weak and pathetic compared to certain other climbers, but you can’t win them all.

     It must have been about 3 p.m. when we began our descent from the summit, just 2 miles from the U.S. and only a few more from the mountains we all know so well on highway 542. We traversed southeast, rappelled down a short face, and continued down into a large gully system. A few more rappels and we discovered a higher route that traversed skier’s right around the mountain, relieving us from having to descend and climb hundreds of feet as we had previously suspected. A final 2-rope rap took us into hikeable terrain and, after descending too far and hiking back uphill, we were hiking along the ridge NW of Slesse looking for the exit raps leading back into the basin to our north.

     Frankie found the rap station and we quickly abseiled down and descended into the basin below. We found a melting snowfield that was just too dirty to drink comfortably, despite having run out of water hours prior. After two sandy slurps I decided to persevere to a better source of water, as did everyone else. With the exit-drainage finally visible below us we dropped off the ridge and navigated through the boulders, scree, and slab until at last we found a raging torrent of water. Thank God! With full water bottles we pounded out the steep exit trail back to the hiking trail. Frank and Eben gained distance on Gui and I but we all caught up at the river in the valley bottom before hiking up to the car as a group. 

     Tired but stoked we started the drive back to Bellingham. Only one last problem - The Border Patrol was not fond of Gui’s papers (Gui is French-Canadian and his paperwork and residency are legitimate). Totally annihilated from two monster days in the alpine we spent 45 minutes at the border, stinking and fighting against exhaustion near midnight, waiting for an agent to simply let Gui know he was free to go. A quick exchange of “words” about the event and we were finally making the last leg of the drive…

Stuart's North Ridge

June 24th

            For the previous week Jeff and I had been full with excitement preparing to climb the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Unfortunately, Jeff began feeling sick late in the evening and woke up in the morning with what we presumed to be food poisoning. Jeff was just as excited to climb as I was and, despite his illness, he did not need to be coaxed into coming. We packed our gear into my ’87 4runner and I made the 4 hour drive while Jeff laid horizontal in the back. We arrived at the Lake Ingalls trailhead late and spread out our sleeping pads, preparing for an early start the following morning.

June 25th

            We began hiking at first light and set a good pace to Lake Ingalls. Jeff was dehydrated from the start and was unable to drink water in large volumes due to stomach pain. The lake provided us with much-needed water and not-so-desired mosquitoes. We covered our skin as we filled our water containers and managed to find some rest among the goats and mosquitoes.
           The remainder of the hiking to the North Ridge is largely off-trail through rougher alpine terrain. As we ascended toward Goat Pass Jeff began to feel fatigued and dehydrated.

Despite a bloodied knee and nausea Jeff kept on pushing and soon we found ourselves at the base of the complete North Ridge with 2000’ of rock above our heads.

           I took the first lead. The climbing was more challenging than I had expected, although the difficulty of pitch one had much more to do with my backpack in the squeeze chimney than the difficulty of the climbing itself. It was on the first pitch when I got my first taste of what climbing next to the Ice Cliff Glacier is all about. I was leading up a left-leaning crack when I heard the roar of ice-fall echoing off the shear walls around us.  "Forget it, move on."

Jeff linked up pitch 2 and 3, cleanly climbing through the 5.9+ lieback crack with an incredibly bloody knee. Above pitch 3 the terrain mellowed and we simul-climbed and belayed our way to the large bivy half-way up the ridge, arriving just as the sun set behind the mountains. It didn’t take long before we were in our sleeping bags under the stars, a light breeze fending off the mosquitoes. No stove in our packs meant we would be limited on water so we both went to sleep thirsty.

June 26th

            We awoke with the sun and wasted little time tying into the rope. The climbing was mostly enjoyable with fun exposed zones and straight-forward route finding. All day we listened to the magnificent sound of glaciers calving and avalanches pounding.

            The next obstacle to surmount was the Great Gendarme consisting of two steep and solid pitches that go at 5.8 and 5.9+.  We chose to haul our packs here instead of fight them while climbing, allowing for a more enjoyable and sporty feel through this section.  Jeff lead the lieback 5.8 corner, pictured below, and I took the off-width 5.9+ after him.   The second pitch began with a traverse out right, off of the nice belay ledge, to a horrendously exposed off-width crack.  We did not bring gear large enough to protect this short section however we knew from parties-past that a fixed cam was lodged about 3/4's of the way up.  My arms were elbow-deep in the crack as I looked down past my feet, now jamming in the rock, to the smooth granite slabs leading onto the Stuart Glacier hundreds of feet below.  I felt free, immersed in nothing but the present.  It is these moments that I would trade for nothing else in the world.

            The climbing above the Gendarme became a bit more broken and loose.  The only new challenge with this change was dealing with our fatigue and dehydration. We stopped to discuss our attitudes and determined that we were feeling tired, not frustrated with one another, and that we should continue carefully simul-climbing to the top.

          We arrived at the summit around 3 in the afternoon and after a short break began the journey to the Cascadian Couloir. Having ran out of water before summitting I was feeling the urge to find a source so I put some distance between my partner and I and found a small trickle to surprise Jeff with when he arrived. We skidded and skated our way down the Cascadian with our eyes locked on the river below.

            With full water bottles we came upon two climbers planning to climb the Cascadian the following day.  They showed us the log crossing and trail leading up to Long’s Pass and ultimately the car. They warned that the trail was hard to follow but we found our way and made it back to the 4runner under cover of night. We chose to sleep at the trail head and hit the road early and rested. 

June 27th

            We had breakfast in Cle Elum and Jeff was still unable to eat a full meal. Thanks for toughing that one out Buddy!