Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mount Adams

On Thursday and Friday before leaving, I told some people I was going to climb Mount Adams that weekend. "Oh... Where's that?" was the most common reply. Which is crazy because at 12,281 feet, it is the state's second highest mountain, after the much more famous Mount Rainier. I realized that unlike Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams is not visible from the highway so many Washingtonians have no idea where it is. In fact, the only times I've ever seen it have been from the air, before landing at Sea-Tac airport on a clear day.
Yes, it is wayyy down there, almost to Portland and much farther east. Even driving there is tricky, because the shortest route is on backroads, even down to unpaved forest service roads. If you want to stick to the faster freeway route you can go to Oregon and Hood River, but that adds 100 miles. 

Matt and I opted for shorter, slower, and scenic. We left after work on Friday, and after getting through city traffic, stopping for dinner, and driving on wash-boarded back-roads in the fog, we didn't reach our Trout Lake hotel until after 10:30pm. We repacked our bags for the hike the following day and went to bed around midnight.

We had originally planned to do the climb as a 2-day backpack- arrive Saturday, hike up about 3,000 feet to a campsite, stay the night, summit on Sunday, then hike out. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for Sunday was looking pretty bad, so we decided to do the whole hike in on Saturday. We woke up at 5am Saturday morning, got permits, and drove to the trailhead. As we passed this view of the mountain, I couldn't help but be amazed that it was actually possible to climb in one day. Really?! We are going to be on top of that?!
We did the South climb from the Cold Springs trailhead which starts at 5,600 feet. There was no snow on the trail for the first 15 minutes or so, and then we came out of the trees onto snow into bright sunlight and a clear morning. The idea was to ascend about 6,600 vertical feet to reach the summit- the most elevation gain of any day hike I've ever done.  I was determined to not make the same mistake I made last time I hiked on a snow field to Camp Muir- sunburning my ears. I slathered them with sunscreen AND covered them with a bandana. (Fool me twice, shame on me!)
Slowly but surely we pushed upward, checking the altimeter as we shaved thousands of feet off the hike. We thought we might need crampons, but the snow was so soft that they weren't necessary. It was a beautiful day and we had sweeping views of Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, foothills, and the dry expanse of eastern Oregon. There were great campsites along the way, on exposed soil nestled between rocks.

After the Lunch Counter camping area at about 9,500 feet is when the trail started getting really steep. And it was over 10,000 feet that I started to feel the altitude. It was a slow, sometimes meditative, sometimes discouraging tromp up. At that point you see what looks like the summit, but it's actually a false summit. We finally reached the false summit around 3pm and stopped to rest on some rocks. A lot of other people were hanging out there, some on there way up, some on their way down. We could see the real summit, over a mile away and about 700 more vertical feet.
Unfortunately, it was already sort of late in the day. We were tired, and we figured that by the time we made it to the summit and back down, we wouldn't get off the trail til after 9. I really really really wanted to reach the top, but the smarter decision was to listen to our bodies and limited daylight. It was still a phenomenal hike and I would just have to come back someday, either climbing it as a backpack, or camping at the trailhead and waking up much earlier. For now I was just happy to enjoy the amazing glissade back down. Where it was really steep there were fast, established runs and of course stellar views.
I had brought a large black plastic garbage bag and made myself a glissade diaper, partly to protect my pants and partly to go faster. In some sections it wasn't steep enough to glissade, but for the most part it was a quick and and absolutely giddy slide down the mountain.
It still takes effort to get back down though- to pick a good chute, maneuver curves, hold your feet up. Sometimes when I got going too fast I used my ice axe as a brake, and sometimes when I was going slow I used it as a paddle to push myself. Unfortunately, at one point I didn't make a wide enough arch with the axe and ended up stabbing myself in the leg. It tore my pants but it didn't hurt that bad and I didn't think much of it. 

We made it off the mountain tired but very happy, and the next day had a mellow day exploring the area. The mountain mingles with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which has tons of great hikes, lakes, waterfalls, lava formations, ice caves, and huckleberries. The berries were just getting ripe and you can find different varieties in the same patch of forest! It was a great weekend and I even had an ice axe souvenir to take home with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Harvest and a Quote

I came across this quote on my friend Lydia's blog today and it really struck a chord in me.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on Earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree, and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”
From The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
In other news, I finally got around to thinning the carrots and beets in my garden yesterday, and was happy to see the pretty rainbow carrots doing well. I got a bunch of beet greens, which is as much my draw for growing beets as the root, and we just finished off the last of the garlic scapes. I'm trying to plan and plant for my fall/overwintering beds, and as always, I wish I had more time to spend in the garden. Now it's a sunny morning, and I just fertilized everything and gave it a good water, and am loading up the car to head to Ross Lake for rest of the week. Excited to see how things have grown when I get back!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What We've Been Waiting For

Seattle gets 150 days of rain per year, 300 days of overcast skies, and almost non-stop cool temperatures. So when we finally get nice weather after July 4th, it's a pretty big deal. Every one is outside, giddy with sunshine and the sparkling beauty of Pacific Northwest. It's like we put up with 10 months for the 2 somewhat-reliable months of summer.
That's not completely true- we get some gorgeous, warm days sporadically all spring, and September is like the forgotten summer month. And our penchant for fleece and gor-tex and boots helps us get out even in the drizzly grey. But there is a certain magic this time of year, when the days are loooong, when you can swim after work, when cherries and raspberries are rolling into the markets and the promise of tomatoes and basil and squash and peppers just around the corner. People can finally plan BBQ's, camping trips,  and weddings in this narrow window when it's warm and dry. Consequently, there are tons of trips and activities crammed in to each summer.

I for one already have every weekend planned until September 15th. Crazy! The past month has been a manic frenzy of work, gardening, volunteering, socializing, and getting out of town every weekend, and shows no signs of slowing down. I try to make sure I get enough down-time to cook good food, sleep, and keep my life organized. But at the same time, when you're excited to do something, do it! If you keep putting it off, it may never happen. For years I have wanted to see the fire lookout on Desolation Peak, peer inside Mount Saint Helen's crater, and hike in the Enchantments. I'm tired of putting those things off and am totally committed to doing them this summer. Carpe Diem!

My English teacher my senior year in high school was a truly incredible teacher, and I remember her giving us all little valentines with an Annie Dillard quote. It's about writing, but it makes me think about life in general, about trusting in abundance, and living to the fullest in these rich, vibrant summer days.

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

Another summer event I've wanted to go to for YEARS is Burning Man. I've never been able to go for a variety of reasons, but it is still there in the back of my mind. The man I'm dating has been going for most of the past decade, and seeing his amazing photographs made my interest resurface. Unfortunately there was a huge fiasco with the ticket sales this year and it's sold out. Just when we wrote it off as impossible to get tickets and had let go of the idea, two tickets basically fell into our laps. It seemed too serendipitous to pass up, but I had my doubts. Maybe we should wait until next year- it would give us more time to get ready. But I don't know what will happen next year! What I do know is that Burning Man would be a completely new experience and it's in my heart to go. It may not be the most convenient, restful, inexpensive, physically comfortable, or predictable way to spend the first week of September... but I suppose the best things in life never are.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tiny Problem in Paradise

The 4th of July was a little strange this year, falling smack in the middle of the week. My sweetie had the day off so he suggested I take the day off too and that we head up to Mount Rainier for a hiking mini-vacation. Tuesday after work we drove up to the mountain to stay at Paradise Inn. The inn is a beautiful wooden lodge built in 1916, sitting at over 5,000 feet above sea level with a stunning view of Mount Rainier from the parking lot. I have a vague memory of being in this parking lot when I was about five years old, but other than that have hardly spent any time in the national park. We had been checking the weather for the past week desperately hoping that the clouds would pass in time for our ascent. After days of bad weather, we woke up on the 4th to sunny, blue skies and clear views!
The plan was to hike up to Camp Muir which is the basecamp for climbers attempting to summit the mountain. It's about 5 miles from the parking lot trailhead, and you gain 5,000 feet of elevation in the snow-covered hike. It was truly a gorgeous day, with clear views of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood to the south.
It was my first time ever getting up to 10,000 feet in Washington- I've been that high in the Andes in Peru and Ecuador, but never in my home state. We were super prepared for the day in what we had packed. We had the 10 Essentials for hiking, plus more snow clothes, trekking poles, and ice axes. I had slathered sunscreen on my face and arms and reapplied several times when we stopped for a snack.
We saw a lot of other hikers and skiers tromping up the mountain. We saw about 15 marmots which I thought were really cute. It's pretty amazing to see them appear out of nowhere and scurry straight up a vertical snowy bank.
As we got farther up the mountain, we had great views of several glaciers, namely Nisqually and Wilson. Did you know Mount Rainier has 26 glaciers, which is more than in any other single-peak system in the continental U.S.? In the hot, early summer weather things were warming up fast and more than once we heard loud cracks and saw an ice fall. You can see a little of the snow cloud here.
We made it to Camp Muir in the early afternoon and enjoyed lunch as we put more layers on. I looked out over the expansive view and felt so grateful to live in such a wild, beautiful place. This was my type of Independence Day, my own feeling of freedom and appreciation for this land.

Going down was much faster then coming up because we were able to glissade at least a couple thousand feet! If you've never heard of glissading, it's just a fancy word for slide down the snow on your butt. Since it was later in the day, there were some good glissade tracks already established. After we got below 8,000 feet or so, the snow started getting too soft to get much momentum so we had to walk. Then toward the bottom when we thought the fun was over, there were a few really steep, deep glissade runs.
By the time we got back to the parking lot, it was early evening. I was a little tired, but more just felt drained. I felt sort of dehydrated, even though I had been drinking plenty of water. It wasn't until I got home and felt my hot skin that I realized I was very sunburned in two totally new places. First was my knees, between my shorts and gaiters. I had forgotten to put sunscreen there, and now it hurt to bend my legs at all. Then there were my ears, which have never been sunburned in my life. By the next day they were completely swollen and forming blisters.
I realized that any time I'm ever in snow, I usually have a stocking cap on- not a sun hat where my ears are exposed. In all of our planning and preparations, I overlooked this detail.  I had to spend the next few days slathering on aloe and covering my burnt skin. Granted, it was a small problem in the overall scheme of things, and otherwise we had had a unique and incredible Fourth.