Saturday, July 21, 2007

helping another attain a life's goal

Some think that we climb to eat - after all, when one is on one's feet for hours on end, one can usually eat whatever one wants, and either maintain, or possibly still even lose weight. So, surely, climbing is to eat, right?

Some think that we climb for the exercise. This is sort of similar to climbing to eat. But, yes, there's nothing like a climb up (and down) on a mountain for some good, wholesome, exercise. Feels great, and I've no problem sleeping, afterwards. . .

Some think that we climb to die. After all, that's what many see on the news. 3 climbers climbed Mount Hood last December, and one was found dead on the summit, and the others are still up there, somewhere. And years ago, many, all over the world, saw the helicopter do a nose dive and fall into pieces, rolling down that same Mt. Hood, when trying to lift off a severely injured climber from a climbing accident that left 3 dead and several wounded. So, surely, climbing is to die, right?

Many of my friends are definitely puzzled about why I climb. There are so many reasons - it's just plain FUN. It's exercise. It's about being outside. It's about being in nature. It's about challenge, sometimes. It's about the sheer joy of being on the summit of a mountain and looking down and around at all of the other mountains, seeing everything from a different perspective, seeing things that most people never get a chance to see - the crevasses, the glaciers, the wildflowers, the rime ice covering the rocks, the boulders/rocks/rock spires, and it's about sharing all of that with others.

Having the ability to climb, and being at least moderately good at it, allows me to share this opportunity with others. I've taken several people up South Sister, a 10,000ft peak in Central Oregon, just so that they, too, can have "climbed" a mountain, see a glacier up close, and experience the joy of being up so high and looking down. I've also taken people up Mt. Hood. My second climb this year was up the south side of Hood, and specifically to help two guys, David and John, meet one of their life's goal of climbing that mountain.

In Oregon, climbing Mt. Hood tends to be a fairly popular life goal, since the mountain is there, every day (whether or not you can actually see it, since it's usually cloudy, here!), looking bold and beautiful, the tallest thing in the Oregon sky. It beckons to people. And it's not just the walk-up that South Sister is, although one CAN frequently "just walk up" the south side. One should have a few skills before going up, and, there is what we call "exposure" - it gets steep at the top, and if one slips, one can go many hundreds of feet, before coming to a rest, unaided. Hence, it's good to have some skills before going up. David and John did have some of the basic skills, and we'd all done Mt. St. Helens the previous weekend, with another experienced climber, Duane, so this shorter, but more technical climb, was just a next step.

The lower part of the climb was no problem for anyone, just a matter of placing one foot after the other. There weren't so many people on the mountain, which was rather surprising as this was the beginning of May, where there is usually a stream of climbers going up. Above the Palmer ski snowfield, the climb gets markedly steeper, and crampons are usually in order, as they were this early morning (I think that we left at midnight). The next 1500 ft are fairly easy, especially if someone has already kicked steps, which someone had - so that we were able to put our feet flat on each step. Then, there's the walk around Crater Rock - a huge rock coming out of the center of the crater that is the whole top of the mountain. While going around this huge rock, the terrain is very steep, and on our right we could look down and see the steaming "Devil's Kitchen," a place where Mt. Hood vents - one can smell the sulphur that is exuded from those vents. This is the first place that it gets really steep. I usually stop to eat just before this, as it's inconvenient to stop while on this part (too steep). A climber in front of me heard me telling the others that I was going to grab a bite to eat and turned around and said "the Hogsback is just over there!" Yes, I know. The Hogsback is a flat ridge of snow where everyone rests before the final summit push. This is where everyone ropes up, if they're going to, or unropes if they're coming down. And it takes a while to get there from the just below Crater Rock, and I see no reason to go without food to reach it (after all, climbing IS about eating!). Anyway, we ate a bite and then trucked on up to the Hogsback. At this point, we could look down onto the side with the Hot Rocks, where the helicopter mentioned earlier, had rolled down, or, on the side we were on, down into Devil's kitchen, or up to "the Pearly Gates." Steep in all directions. It was here that one of the guys said "I can't do it." He'd gotten dizzy just going around Crater Rock. He looked up, saw the steepness, saw the exposure, and decided that this was a good stopping spot for him. I remembered my own similar experience years ago when I'd begged my friend, Peter, to take me up a mountain, and he dutifully tried, but when I got to a place over a cliff - I couldn't go any farther. It didn't help to have Peter tell me that, look, I'm not going to go very far, even if I were to fall - I'd stop before I got to that cliff. Nope. I'd just heard about a fatal accident on Mt. Hood in gory detail from a friend whose husband was involved, and that had translated into paralyzing fear in this particular instance. I couldn't go further, and we had to turn around. I'm sure that I wouldn't even notice that "exposure," now. So, it was very undersandable, hearing this same sort of thing from my friend, now. There would be another time, and I'm sure that he'll be able to do it. Meanwhile, David was still itching to get up there. We looked at the conditions, and they were good. The bergschrund (crevasse in a specific place) was only slightly open, with a good snow bridge over it, and the snow was good - we should be able to self-arrest if one of us should slip. We were three of us, David, Duane, and I, and we elected not to rope up. We walked in the footsteps of the people before us, to a flat place where we either had to go right through the Pearly Gates, or left through what one guide had told me was called "the Chute." I'd heard reports from others who'd gone up previous weeks, and turned left, heading up the chute. It was quite steep, and just one person wide. I went through, then David, and then Duane. David stopped to take this picture at the top of the Chute (still another hundred or so feet to go to get to the summit) - the camera didn't work so well without full light when looking down onto Duane, so it's a bit blurry, but it gives you a good idea of the situation, I think:
We summitted, and David was thrilled! And I was thrilled to have helped him get there! We still had half the trip, yet, to go - getting up is great, but most of the accidents happen on the way down. We downclimbed through the Chute, to the flat spot. I looked up, saw a huge chunk of ice, just being hit by the morning sun, and dallied no longer, heading down. I didn't hear footsteps behind me, so turned around and saw Duane and David standing there on the flat spot. I yelled to them about my concern about the ice above them - they looked up, and immediately made their way down. David had stopped on the way up in this same spot to take this shot:

That line of snow in the middle of the photo is the famed Hogsback running right into Crater Rock, with one of the 3 dots along the Hogsback being John, waiting for us. Further down on the left of the photo, you should be able to make out the straight line of the Palmer ski lift. That lift heads down to Timberline lodge, and the Day lodge. We'd a ways to go before we could call the whole thing, successful. And down we went, and successful we were. I was very happy to have been a part of allowing David to meet one of his life's goals. It made me happy to be competent enough at climbing to do such a thing for another.

the first of 10 climbs. . .

(you can click on the above picture to get the bigger size)

Hi, all - it's been a while since I've written anything, and it's been a pretty good climb season, with a good mix of routes and mountains. I've done the South Side, Leuthold, and Sunshine routes up Mt. Hood, "winter route" climb up Mt. St. Helens, a good attempt on a southern route up Mt. Jefferson, a couple of south side climbs up Mt. Adams, part way up the Kautz Glacier up Rainier (again - one day, I'll get up there. . .), Mt. Baker, and an epic climb up Mt. Shuksan (see Blog for a good writeup on this one by one of our team-mates). I thought I'd mention a few highlights of some of these climbs in various "lore" writings, as well as include a couple of pictures from some of the folks who brought cameras along. I leave the picture taking to these guys/gals who have these cute little digital cameras that they can whip out at a moment's notice. . .

So, the first climb (April 28th, 2007): A friend wanted to do Mt. St. Helens, so we set a date and planned around that - he invited people, I invited people, and then he couldn't join us, but the die was cast. . . One of my friends at work wanted to use it as a "conditioning hike" for our Mt. Hood climb scheduled for the following week. So I brought a rope for him to carry, and pickets and a harness. He was a wimp, however, (ok, not really, but the story sounds better if I say so), and one of the other guys gladly took the rope for the rest of the climb. Mt. St. Helens doesn't require any of this stuff to climb - crampons and an ice axe, in this early spring season are plenty. But since we'd taken all of this, and observed a large cornice with a nice fault line some 10 to 20 feet from the rim when we got up there, we decided to use our equipment to safely peer into the crater. The weather cooperated, although it was socked in when we first got up there, by the time we started checking out the crater, it started to clear up, and so we had great views of the growing dome, and of Rainier, in the distance (with 3 lenticular clouds over it!). After we'd taken our looks and were getting ready to head down, a couple casually walked over to where we'd been peering, without any protection whatsoever. We called over to them, telling them that it wasn't a particularly smart move, given the cornice, and they retorted that "well, someone ELSE was here!" Good candidates for the Darwin Lemming awards, in my book. Do something stupid, because you think that someone else did it. We did inform them that, yeah, that someone had been us, with anchors set and use of a rope in case the cornice decided to give way. . .

Alas, the cameras of my co-climbers were safely in their owners' backpacks when we were all peering into the crater, so I only have this one to prove that we were there, with a shot of Adams in the background. . . You can also see that there *is* a cornice. And yes, there were lots of people up there - something like 127 people had applied for permits for that day - the 100 permits/day hadn't yet gone into affect.

A good start to the season!