Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2nd, 2014: Back from Portland and getting ready for Argentina

Had a great trip to Portland to see family and friends.  We got back yesterday afternoon to a pair of happy dogs.  They didn't wreck the house so we had little cleanup duty.  All in all, a wonderful trip!

I planned to climb two days but the weather was horrendous so I only have one climb to report.  One day - November 28th - I managed a solo trip up Rainier.  I left Portland at 5am where it started to rain lightly.  The closer I got to Rainier, the harder the rain came down and the colder it got.  Upon parking in the Paradise lot (5,400 feet according to the NPS but 5,280 feet on my GPS), I noticed the thermometer in the car read 37 degrees (F) and the rain was coming down in sheets.  Sheesh!  Fun ain't always fun but I was ready.  I donned my hard shell pants and top along with plenty of layers underneath to keep the cold out.  My aim was to climb as fast as possible for 3 hours and then turn around wherever that 3 hours left me.  Off I went.

The snow on the route was unconsolidated, wind-blown and crusty snow/ice about a foot or two deep - sometimes a bit deeper in areas where the snow drifted.  I had almost no visibility outside the tree-lined areas.  When I first pushed off, I saw this:

Nice blueish day with flat light.

Not much to see other than snow, rain, and hail.  It was pretty miserable at first but I was on a mission.  No rain would keep me from a good training climb.  Yep, climbing in the Cascades - a true experience.

On I went.  I climbed as quickly as I could and almost jogged up the hill.  The going was fast at times until I started post-holing in the drifted snow.  My patience ran thin a few times.  The snow conditions were nothing short of aggravating.  Instead of getting frustrated, I opted to turn up my tunes and focus on getting higher as fast as I could manage.  Never throughout the early climb was I out of breath.  By the time I took my first picture, I was already at 6,500 feet.  

The cold rain gave way to slightly warmer weather and no precipitation.  Finally!  I was out of the pouring rain.  Below, you can see what I looked like at about 30 minutes into my climb.

Happy dude at the beginning.  Rain?  What is a little rain?  I'm in the Cascades for crying out loud!

Yeah, I was wet but wet and warm was not too bad.  If I started to get cold, life would get much more miserable.  Time to press on!

I climbed for a steady hour more before taking a short water/snack break.  Along the way, I grabbed a few more pictures.  Here they are in the order I shot them.  Notice the fog rolling in during the picture sequence?  Yep, it started getting foggy before the real Cascade weather set in.  Keep reading and you'll see.

Postholing on the route.  Not fun.

Note the post-holes in the snow?  The picture above shows a rough few steps but the snowshoe imprints packed the snow enough to keep me from dropping down too far.  I managed to keep each post-hole step to no more than about 9 inches.  Still, a 9 inch drop makes for some pretty nasty climbing.  

The picture above shows you where I was and below is the same shot after the fog rolled in and altered the lighting.  I saw nothing but white after this point...well, apart from the trees and signs that I encountered along the route.
Looks like a moon scape.

The little sign in the lower center of the picture above was one of many that demarcated the "Skyline trail" or what lay beneath the 2 feet of snow.  That trail is the well-worn path by most hikers in the summer.  Today, it was just a route buried by snow and served as a "b-line" for my climb.  I was glad to encounter the signs just as a confirmation that my route finding abilities remained intact.

Cruising up the hill in a white-out.

Lousy visibility set in and I resorted to climbing by compass headings rather than landmarks.  The funny thing about the picture above is that I could see very little of what the camera resolved.  I recall a ton of white.  Yep, a white out.

Nice sign.  Very reassuring that my route finding abilities were still working.

My friendly reminders that my compass headings were pretty spot on with the trail.  See these guys above and below....very comforting.

And then there were the signs I didn't care to see well above me at the top of a steep pitch.  Instead of post-holing up that pitch, I took the easy way around.  

Yeah, I could get there by climbing up that snowy incline but why bother?  I took the easier route.

Now the fog rolled in without much warning.  The winds picked up and soon I found myself in a true white out; my face sandblasted by hail, snow, and frozen sleet.  Boy was that pleasant.

Uh oh...fog!  The true white-out was about to begin.

On occasion, I found some comfort from the rocks that contrasted the whited out terrain.  Still more to go....

Ugh!  Fog rolling in but rocks helped me resolve my route.

I stumbled across the sign below that gave me some pause.  At first, I could barely read the ice-encrusted sign.  Thanks to the NPS for pointing out some objective hazards.  Now I was warned.  Proceed with caution I did....

NPS sign that helped me make a better turn-around decision

Can't read the sign above?  Neither could I.  Here is the sign at my more comfortable viewing distance:

A better view of the NPS sign.

Unfortunately, at this point, my camera started resolving nothing but white.  I had huge snowball looking images close-up with a ton of white in the background - sometimes black and white backgrounds.  Not sure what happened but I did manage a few pictures on the way down.  Below is one sign on my return that I managed to chip off the ice just to read it.  You can see from the signpost that the ice accumulation was rather thick.  I knew at this point that I was about 1,800-2,000 vertical feet from my car.  No snowshoes (aka "slow" shoes) and non-waterproofed approach shoes were not keeping my feet terribly warm.  Oh well.  Almost home.

Last picture of any trail sign

Just before I pulled into the parking lot, I took one last selfie.  It was raining cats and dogs and I was soaked to the bone.  Notice, however, that I still managed a smile.  My climb was 3 hours up and 1 hour down - made it to the snow fields of Camp Muir where the crevasse were indeed open and ready for someone to take a long tumble.  I spared the National Park Service (NPS) the headache of a rescue on that lousy day.  

Last selfie before climbing into the car and heading home

After the 4-hour round trip climb, I drove the 3 hours back to Portland and set my climbing gear out in our hotel room to drip dry.  Moments after unpacking, I found my way to the hotel pub for a few malt pops and some greasy food.  What a day!

Drip drying in the hotel room
Beer!  A climbers best friend.  Well, perhaps second best friend to down.  I now have five more days to pack my gear for Argentina.  All my gear went through the wash so I am ready to get packing.  Kathy and Patrick are all set with their gear.  More on gear in the next day.  I promise to post the final gear shots.  

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed the brief and somewhat curtailed trip report.

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