Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's That Buzzing Sound?

It is 6:30pm, we are hiding just below the summit ridge of Mt Temple. The charged atmosphere is causing my hair to stand up even thought it is damped from the unrelenting hail. Our ice axes, crampons, and all other metal objects, including my sterling silver earrings, are buzzing. The thunder started just as we overcame the crumbling black towers. The black towers were the final rock section before reaching the glacier. The rock below the towers was relatively solid but not the towers. The rock on these towers could be compared to fist-sized chunks of granola held together with saw dust, it just kept crumbing off under our hands and feet. We had to belay one another from protected stances, because as the leader climbed these chunks of rock would shower down the steep slopes.

The forecast was not ideal, but after days of looking at the forecast of rain to find each day bringing sunshine, we decided to gamble and attempt the 11,624 foot peak. It rained most of the evening and the morning was full of mist and fog. Most of the day we were climbing in a cloud, it was nice, it kept us cool. It would lift now and then to let us view the splendor of the valleys and lakes below and then quickly swallow us again. The first 2000 feet was easy forth-class scrambling. Then the wall steepened for 600 feet of the “big step” which lead into the chimney with two large chockstones, the highlight of the climbing. A few drops of rain dampened our clothes as we headed across the snow moat to the black towers. One point higher up on the ridge of the towers I glanced back down behind me and it was as if the ridge was cutting the sky one side was clear with view to the lake below and the other side was filled with a cloud.

After nearly 5000 feet of climbing, we topped out onto the final double-corniced ridge above the hanging glacier. This is when we first heard the thunder, but there was no retreating now as the decent route was up and over the top of the mountain. To return the way we came was not an option. We knew we were close to the summit but we could not see it. With a pressing sense of urgency we navigated the crevasses and ridge cornices. We strapped our crampons onto our approach shoes (light weight tennis/with rock shoe rubber) we choose these opposed to boots to save on weight. Coating them with a waterproofing product helped keep our feet dry until we were sinking up to our knees in hail/gropple/snow. Our feet were soon soaking wet. Under the gropple was a hard layer of ice, we were very happy to have brought crampons. Thunder again, “Move faster!” Going from one side of the cornices to the other depending on which was overhung. The clouds would go from white-out to slightly less white out to allow us to navigate. A summit flag…… and this brings us up and over to our hiding place. We set all metals objects away from us and decided to wait 10 minutes or so. We were just 40 feet below the summit still exposed and on a cliff. We need to get down lower. We decided to make the move; it had been a few minutes since the last clamp of thunder. We repacked our bags in lighting speed, and holding our ice axes by the rubber handles, instead of strapping them to our packs as lightning rods, we ran down the hikes trail at full speed. We must of dropped 2000 ft is less than 20 minuets. We were out of the cloud, what a relief!

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Light is Too Light

The lactic acid was flowing relentlessly in our legs after climbing Slesse as we made our way to the latest and greatest ski resort in BC, Revelstoke. This place is great! We concluded that we could move there if we ever have to flee the country for whatever reason.

Mt Sir Donald is located just up the road from here on Rogers Pass, the legendary backcountry ski destination. The terrain here is amazing, but we were here to climb, not ski. As we prepared for the climb in the parking lot we asked the question we seem to pose often, "how much crap do we need to carry for this climb?" Since we have been going non-stop since Rainier our time for doing research on each climb has severely dwindled. Do we need a 60 meter rope, or non at all? Is there a glacier to cross? Will it be steep? How long will it take? How much food? Is there water on route? Rappel the line or down climb? The answers to these question will dictate if our packs weigh 40lbs or 15lbs. The vote was unanimous, 15 lbs.

With a 30 meter rope, a double length sling and locking carabiner (lame substitute for a harness & belay device), and no rock protection we set out from the parking lot. Two climbers we pass on their way down told us, "oh yeah, you need a 60 meter rope and a set of cams and stoppers at least, and most people start at 4AM and it takes all day" (it was about 11:30AM then). Second guessing our choices had now begun. Approaching the base of the ridge was quite intimidating. This peak was like the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak, only 5 times longer, and 10-20 degrees steeper.

We decided to go unroped until we didnt feel comfortable. After 3 hours of climbing/scrambling we were at the top, with dark clouds over us and light gropple coming down. The gropple continued until there was a nice slick covering of ice on all the rocks we were down-climbing. The talking stopped as we fully directed our thoughts to each move. Thankfully the precipitation stopped and the sun came back out. The rest of the descent went off without a hitch and we were back to Lulu 10 hours after we began this adventure. The 15 pound packs were the perfect fit for that particular day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Heading to "that big country above the US"

Eleven of the fifty classic climbs are in Canada. This year we are ambitiously gunning to climb seven on the list. The first being, Slesse Mountain via its NE Buttress. This buttress sweeps unbroken from its summit at 8,002 feet, dramatically to the Pocket Glacier 2,000 feet below.

This mountain is amazing! Our first view of the mountain made me think, "holy crap, we are going to go up all that! That's steep!" The trail gained elevation quickly and we were soon in snow at about 4,500'.

Crossing the Pocket Glacier was our first hurdle. In the past it has killed several climbers when huge chunks of ice broke loose and slid down the ball bearing gravel that covers the solid granite rock it sits on. We weaved our way quickly across its snow slopes to where the rock shoots steeply out of ice, the start of the NE Ridge. At the edge of the glacier there is a rock bench that you have walk across to access the ridge. Due to the snowy conditions the entrance to the bench was completely blocked. This forced us to rope up and climb wet sandy steep rock. The bigger problem was that there were two ice blocks the size of train cars, sitting on the bench directly above us, just waiting for gravity to overcome their melting bases, fall, and crush anything in its path.

I call this "high octane climbing". Thoughts raced through my head while I pulled the moves under those death blocks on sandy, wet, sloping rock: move fast, pray, feet hold on that dime sized edge, move faster, come on Mark, get up there faster. I got up past the blocks, built a quick anchor and belayed Janelle above the danger....ahhhh, relief. Now onto the fun part.

The rock on the ridge itself is great, we scrambled through several hundred feet of easy terrain, then roped up again for the harder parts. We decided to take the 5.10 variation, which was awesome climbing. Very intimidating to look up at that terrain, knowing you had to climb while wearing a big backpack. The small holds revealed themselves at just the right time and we were able to pull through it with no falls.

The large bivy ledge was covered almost completely with snow. We found a small dry patch of relatively flat rock and got out the sleeping bag (only save weight). The sunset was beautiful, what a great day.

The following morning we slept in til 8:00 when nature's call turned into natures scream. There were still about 5 pitches of climbing to get to the knife edge summit ridge. At the summit register, we were the first people to sign in since Sept '09. I guess most people wait for the Pocket Glacier to slide?

The descent was no fun at all. We dropped from the 8000' to 971' in less than 4 hours. On the horrifically steep trail we dropped 550' every ten minutes! Our knees were sore by the end of that adventure. So the next day we stopped at one of the many "you pick" fields in the area and filled our bellies with 10lbs of blueberries!