Friday, May 30, 2014

Mountaineering Class Post 3: The Alpine Climbs

The past two weekends were the alpine climbs with the Washington Alpine Association Basic Climbing and Mountaineering class. The first weekend we met bright and early at the Alpental parking lot near Snoqualmie Pass. 

My group of six was assigned to climb Lundin peak. Getting to the top would just be a scramble, but the trip out there was designed to be as much of a navigation exercise as a climb. We had maps and a guidebook, but none of the students had ever hiked to the base to Lundin. The instructors left it up to us  to make a plan, figure out a route, and work together as a team.
(Photo by Charing)
We made a plan and set out into the schizophrenic spring weather. It was a fairly warm day, but changed constantly, alternately socked in and then patches of sun. We constantly had to stop to check the map and our bearings, so it was a bit slow-going. It made me realize just how little actual navigating I've done in the backcountry, as I'm usually on a designated trail, and usually not on snow. Eventually we made it to the base of Lundin, where our instructor told us we had taken the standard, most efficient way there. Yeah team! We then sat have some snacks and discuss our options.
We needed to go up a steep gully of snow before we would get to any rock. There was a lot of avalanche debris right where we needed to walk. The snow was deep, wet, and mushy. We couldn't see what the terrain looked like above the gully. When the sun came out, it was really warm. It was already a day of moderate avalanche danger, and considering all the factors, we decided as a group that continuing up Lundin was not a conservative decision. We played it safe and decided to not attempt it. We found out later that none of the other five groups in the class had climbed at all that weekend due to the conditions, so clearly we made the right call.
But it was still disappointing to not be able to climb what we set out to do. It wasn't even noon, and we didn't want to turn around already. An instructor suggested that we hike up to the neighboring Cave Ridge as a backup plan. Satisfied to have a new objective, we set out in a new direction across a steep slope. It was a pretty intense ascent as we kicked steps into the snow, self-belayed with our ice axes, and found a big hollow melt out spot under us. With a little more navigating, we finally made it to the top! We didn't have any view, but we had a lot of fun anyway.
(Photo by Alice)
The second weekend we met again at Alpental, with fingers crossed that avalanche conditions would be more favorable and that we would actually be able to climb. We set out toward the base of The Tooth. It was overcast but not raining or snowing yet.
We ditched our poles and took out ice axes for the last steep section before the base of the rock. Then it was time to prepare for the actual rock climb. We put on warmer layers, our harnesses, ate, and hydrated just as we felt rain drops. It was only sprinkling, so we would keep trying to get climbers up for as long as it was feasible. 
We waited while a few classmates went first. It is a multi-pitch climb, so we were staggered climbing at different times. It was set up by our instructors as four pitches (three belayed climbs and one hand-line where we used a prusik). Here are a couple students on the first and second pitches. 
I've never climbed a multi-pitch route, never in an alpine environment, and never with a pack on, so this was a new experience. It wasn't a hard climb, but it was unfamiliar enough that it was an awesome and fun challenge. It was slabby, with good hand and foot holds, and a few moves you had to think about. The last pitch was really cool- at first it looked like a fairly sheer wall, then you realize that you can walk up on a little catwalk lip most of the way.
Amazingly, the weather held out. It never got wet enough to make the rock too slippery, and by the time we got to the top, we had alternately socked-in and clear-ish views.
(Photo by Angela)
It was fun group, and lots of singing, laughing, and snack sharing ensued. We still had to get down though, which meant it was also my first time doing a multi-pitch rappel. I told the instructor I was a little nervous.

"What part specifically makes you nervous?" he asked.

"Hmm, I guess it's just the walking over a cliff backward part!" I replied.

The hardest part is always those first moments, but once I was over the edge the of the cliff, I remembered that I LOVE RAPPELLING. It's really, really fun.
We all made it safely down the rock. Then we hiked out, glissading on the way down. It was a really good day and satisfying climb. And there were even Rainiers waiting for us at the parking lot!

No comments: