June 10th, 2002

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Approach (Saturday Morning)

My alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. I woke up surprisingly easily consider I only had 3 to 4 hours of actual sleep. I got up, scrambled around to get the last of my shit together. Put on my hiking clothes: wicking underwear, shirt, fleece pants, sock liners, and SmartWool socks. Pulled the sausage from the fridge and tossed it in my backpack. Fed the cat.

Then my crisis. I couldn't find my wallet. I can misplace anything, including a wallet the size of Texas. I went down to my car, but it wasn't there. I came back up. It was 5 a.m., the time I was supposed to pick up Christian. So I gave him a quick call to let him know I was running late. Scrambled around the apartment looking for my wallet. Not on my desk. Not in my coat. Not in the freezer (yes, I checked there). Dug through the hamper (otherwise known as the floor of my closet). I couldn't find it anywhere.

I finally decided just to take my backpack to the car and go. I hoped I wouldn't get pulled over or need it to enter Rainier National Park (map 2 MB - but a good one). I threw my backpack in the back seat (my trunk has my snow tires in it, cause I have no place to keep them). But when I opened the front door to climb in and go, I spotted my wallet in the pocket on the door. I had everything.

Christian lives on Second Avenue in Belltown. I drove down Second looking for the address or cross street he gave me. At 5:15 in the morning, the rich and famous are not the people staggering down Second. I half expected someone to approach my car to sell me crack every time I slowed down to peer at an address. Christian made it easy for me though. He was waiting at the curb. He threw his backpack in the back seat and climbed in. I noticed he had ski poles, and I had my first inkling that maybe I had forgotten something. Of course, ski poles were not on the list of equipment that Eddie said we needed for this trip.

The drive to the trail head at the White River Campground was quite pleasant. I hadn't had the chance to talk with Christian much. He's from Germany, and only lived here for about a year, although he went to college in Virginia. His English is much better than my German, although that is to be expected. He is also a software developer.

We arrived at the White River Campground around 7 a.m. Our designated time to be there was 8 a.m. Brendan was waiting in the parking lot. I expected Chuck to be there already as well, as he had told me that he liked to arrive early. We spotted Eddie's truck, but not Eddie. At least we thought it was Eddie's truck.

Over the next hour, the rest of the party arrived. William, the assistant instructor pulled up shortly after we did. Then Eddie crawled out of the back of his truck. It was his truck after all; he had driven down the night before and slept in the back. As had Sarah. Sarah is a federal prosecutor, pretty good looking and a smart-ass to boot. Unfortunately, she had a ring on, which I haven't ever seen her wear before. She was tenting with Eddie. Then Leslie and Cory arrived. Leslie lives on Vashon, so we expected her to be last to arrive due to the vagaries of the Point Defiance run of the Washington State Ferries. Cory lives in Tacoma and Leslie picked her up. Finally, Chuck, my tent-mate arrived.

We spent some time making sure our packs were in order. For a few minutes I couldn't find my shell. As I have stated many times before, I can misplace anything. I pulled apart my pack. It wasn't in the main compartment. It wasn't in the compartment on the left side, or the top. I freaked. I told Eddie I might have a problem. He got a "Why me?" look on his face. However, when I finally opened the right compartment, it was there. I forgot that it packed up pretty small and I didn't think it would fit in the right compartment with the other stuff that was there.

The shell scare over, I got the tent from Cory. Chuck and I were borrowing her spare tent, as she intended on sharing Leslie's. Christian had planned on using his single man tent, but since Brendan did not have a partner, he unloaded his into the back seat and they redistributed the weight among themselves.

We were all ready to go, but we were missing two people. Eddie told us that Alfred had dropped out of the class. He expected it was because Alfred realized how expensive this was going to be when he started purchasing equipment. But a more surprising missing element was Erik. Although the quiet one of the group, he had been pretty good about showing up before. There was no sign of him, so William put his tent in his car, and decided to share Leslie's tent with the two women, as it was officially a 3 person tent.

All gear ready, we pulled on our backpacks, and headed up to Glacier Basin around 9 a.m.

Next entry, Ascent (Saturday morning)

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Ascent (Saturday morning)

We started across the parking lot and gathered at the sign at the start of the Glacier Basin trail. At this point, Eddie decided to point out that it would be a good idea to use our ski poles for walking. First item that I needed that I did not have. Would have been nice if he had put that on the list of equipment we needed. Leslie didn't really want to use hers, and offered to let me use them for the climb. I declined (I hate borrowing other peoples' stuff).

We then began up the trail. The first 3/4 mile is mostly through a forested area. I was a little slower than everyone else, but that was mostly because I spent more effort balancing myself without poles. Eddie stopped to point out a tree well and it's danger. A tree well is an area around a tree where there is less snow, forming a depression. In two feet of snow, this is not dangerous. In six feet of snow, you do not want to slip and fall into one. Also dangerous was around fallen trees, which have some of the same effect.

The two miles of the trail had less trees on it. This part was almost completely snow covered, with a few bare spots. We were following along the White River, along the mountainside. I began to fall further and further behind. Only Sarah and William, our assistant instructor, were behind me. Without poles, I couldn't even begin to think about keeping up. With poles, it would have been extremely difficult for me. I was tired and I couldn't breathe. I also drank through all my fluids.

The group stopped several points along the way for Eddie to show us more hazards on snow covered trails. We passed through three avalanche areas. The trees were knocked down like twigs. In most spots, the Park Rangers had chainsawed through stuff blocking the trail, at least enough to get through. But in one, we had to heave ourselves over a fallen tree that sat about 4 or 5 feet off the ground. In another place, the edge of the White River covered the trail. At this point I borrowed one of Leslie's poles to balance myself as I walked along the new bank of the river, occasionally having to step into the water. Many in our party were wearing plastic climbing boots. I wore leather Vasque boots with Goretex. The plastic boots are absolutely waterproof. The only way water can get into them is through the top, or from your sweat. Goretex can fail over time. However, my boots were new, so my feet stayed dry and cozy.

The last 3/4 mile was across snow with little trees at all. In many places I could hear water running underneath. We could see little streamlets come off the mountain and disappear underneath the snow pack. But underneath the snow pack was the White River. This was no streamlet. But with 6 to 10 feet of snow above it, we weren't likely to fall through. If you haven't ever been in a snowfield in sunlight, I would highly suggest doing so at least once. It is a majestic site. The light is very much like I would imagine a near death experience would be like. Easy enough to go blind. However, we all had good sunglasses or glacier glasses.

During the summer, the trail does not travel over the place where the snow field is now. It climbs a hill and goes directly into the Glacier Basin campground. But traveling over the snow field is a more direct route for all the snowboarders and skiers, and we followed their path.

And then we turned a corner and were in what must be a beautiful meadow during the summer. At the moment, it was covered with perhaps 8 to 12 feet of snow. Eddie announced that this is where we would be making camp.

Next entry, Settlement (Saturday afternoon).

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Settlement (Saturday afternoon)

We got to the Glacier Basin campground sometime between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Normally, parties are supposed to camp in the trees at the campground, where there are marked campsites. However, those campsites were under about 6 feet of snow. Eddie wanted us to set up camp in a meadow just outside the campground proper, because it would simulate high alpine snow camping better. In the snow covered meadow, there is little protection from the wind. However, at the altitude we were at, there was no chance we would be getting the wind that swirls around the mountain tops. And we are also pitching our tents in a fairly level location. No need to dig into the mountain side to create a flat spot to pitch a tent. We did dig down 6 to 12 inches to get level spots, and to reach older, harder-packed snow.

My tent-mate Chuck wanted to pitch our tent out a bit from the rest of everyone else. So Chuck and I began digging. We made a couple of mistakes though. First, we didn't dig deep enough. Also, later that night we discovered we didn't really make it level enough. After setting up Cory's tent, we realized she did not have enough snow stakes to properly stake the tent out. We used her regular tent stakes as well. Regular tent stakes look like a large nail with a hook at the end for looping guy lines onto. Snow stakes are wider, and curved to hold better in the snow. We put two of the regular tent stakes together to better grip the snow, and then buried them under more packed snow to try and hold them better. We did have 6 snow stakes and the tent should have been fine with them, but we wanted to be safe. We even used the ski poles and, after our self-arrest practice, our ice axes to stake down the tent even further.

After we got the tent set up, we asked Eddie to critique our work. Since the tent was somewhat different than others' in our party, we weren't sure our setup would cut the mustard. The rest of the tents all had doors and vestibules on the narrow part of the tent. Ours had the door and vestibule on the wide side. This meant that our tent had a wider profile for wind to catch, as the vestibule stuck out into the wind. If anyone wants this explained, I can whip up a graphic diagram.

Eddie confirmed our suspicions. Since we hadn't dug down too far, he suggested that we build a snow wall around the tent to prevent wind from catching the edge of it, and flipping us over as we slept. So we set out to dig around the tend and build up a wall. It wasn't a pretty wall. Sunday morning, we got to see a really nice wall that some folks forced off the mountain by high winds had build around their cook pit. Ours was shameful in comparison. For first time snow campers, though, we didn't feel too badly.

After all this digging in snow, we were tired. Most of us used the time to eat. Most folks brought some ready made foods for eating. Almost everything I had required some cooking. Luckily, I really wasn't all that hungry. I did munch on 2 or 3 chewy granola bars though, just to keep my energy level up. Chuck ate bagels and cream cheese and smoked salmon. Several of us went to get and filter water from an exposed part of the White River. Although I was out of water, I didn't. Chuck and I finished off the water he still had.

Next entry, Self-Arrest (Saturday afternoon).

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Self-Arrest (Saturday afternoon)

After setting up camp, Eddie led us back across the snowfield to the base of Mt. Rose. Mt Rose is a sub-peak of Mt. Rainier. If you like skiing, and you like hiking up 2000 or 300 feet in snow, you could get some excellent skiing coming down. Eddie selected a point on the slope of Mt Rose where the angle was about 50 to 60 degrees. Here was where we were to practice self-arrest.

Self-arrest is stopping yourself when one falls down a slick mountainside and wishes not to go all the way to the bottom. Going all the way to the bottom could be a very bad thing. The bottom is often a crevasse or a rock fall. Neither of those are places where anyone wants to end up at the tail end of a 30 mph fall.

According to Eddie there are basically four ways a person can fall. Each of the ways has its own method for stopping the slide after the fall.

Face first, head up
This one is the easiest to stop yourself. Simply dig the point of your ice axe into the snow, as well as the toes of your boots.
Face first, head down
This is what happens when you toboggan sled down a hill, except you have no toboggan. You are simply falling head first looking down the slope. Basically, you plant the pick of the ice axe into the snow beside your head and let your momentum swing you around until you are facing back up hill, then dig your toes in to help stop. I actually found this one the most difficult, and strained the muscles in my side trying to do this.
Head up, back to the snow
In this position, you are sliding down the mountain on your butt. To arrest your fall, you reach across your body with the pick of the ice axe, and plant the pick into the snow. The point is to flip yourself over onto your stomach in the same motion that you use the axe to begin to slow yourself. After you are on your stomach, you dig your toes into the snow. This one was also rather difficult for me. I had a tendency to ride on my knees. While that works in soft snow on which we were practicing, it would be much more difficult to stop like that on harder snow or ice.
Head down, back to the snow
This is the most dangerous position to fall into, according to Eddie. To stop your fall, you need to reach across your body to plant the pick of the ice axe, then let your momentum swing you around to a head up position at the same time that you are flipping over to face the snow. Something like this movement that Brendan is performing. This wasn't as difficult as it seems, although the first time you are sliding down at a good 15 mph where you can't see anything is a little unnerving. But I seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly.

While we were practicing, I noticed that someone was wandering around in our camp across the valley. He stayed there for a little bit. I wondered if it was Eric. Sure enough, after about 15 minutes, the figure started traipsing toward us. Eric's story was that he had gone to Paradise instead of White River, and when he realized his mistake he drove around and hiked up by himself. Luckily for him, he saw us as we climbed up the side of Mt. Rose and back tracked from there to where our camp was.

In any case, this was some of the best sledding I have ever done, even if I didn't have a sled. The slope was very steep, so we could build of some good speed on these practice stops. And in this case, there was little danger of injury from crashing at the bottom. Although there was a piece of old mine equipment off to the right of the bottom of the slope. You can see it in the picture of Eddie giving us his instructions.

After self-arrest practice, we slogged back to camp. Chuck, Leslie, Cory, and I headed down to the exposed portion of the White River and retrieved some water (which we filtered, no giardia for us). Several of us dug a cooking pit in the snow. This was we could sit with our feet in the pit, and place our stoves on the other side where we could easily reach it. I made a nice dinner of beef stroganoff in a freeze-dried packet. Chuck however, brought out all the gourmet fixings. He had red pepper fettucine, tossed in some fresh mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, and a few other ingredients. It tasted delicious (yes, I stole a bite of his food). My only special touch was bringing Kool-Aid mix so I didn't have to drink only water. Several others brought better food than my freeze-dried, but no one matched chuck for gourmet.

After dinner, several went straight to bed, due to long Friday nights. Eddie, Brendan, Sarah and myself stayed up and played Mindtrap for a bit. Mindtrap is otherwise known as the Microsoft Interview Question Game. Basically, a bunch of questions in which you have to try to think of the weird, yet logical answer. Here are a few from the game, plus one I was asked during my interview at Expedia (which is a Microsoft spin-off, and often employs the same technique during interviews). By the way, these are not verbatim, I don't have that good of a memory.

  1. In the gym are two ropes hanging from the ceiling. George has been directed to tie the two ropes together. However, if George holds onto one rope then walks as close as he can toward the other, the second rope remains just out of his reach. The makers of this problem have kindly given George a knife. Using only a knife, how can George tie both ropes together?
  2. Peter Rabbit is hungry. Farmer John grows lettuce in a fenced in garden. The fence has a small hole in it through which Peter can just barely squeeze through. Unfortunately, if he were to eat the lettuce, he would not fit back through the hole. The lettuce is also too large to fit through the hole in the fence. How can Peter Rabbit get enough lettuce to survive, yet not be caught by Farmer John and killed for stew meat?
  3. Police Officer Joe Friday is stopped at a red light on regular patrol while looking for speeders and other scofflaws. That same night, Professor Mumford is headed home after a long night at the University. He's pretty absent-minded, and the hard day has not improved his state of alertness. He blows through the light without stopping. Why doesn't Officer Friday do anything about it?
  4. Susan Miller is in a room with three light switches. Down the hallway and through a door from this room is another room with three lights. However, Susan doesn't have the key to get back through the door to the room with the light switches (it's one of those exit doors that you push the bar to go out, but you need a key to get back). How can Susan tell which light switch turns on which light with only one trip to the room with the lights in it?

After playing this game, the rest of us headed to bed. My synthetic down sleeping bag kept me nice and cozy all through the night, in spite of the low temperature. In fact, I had to unzip it partially because I woke up during the night and was too hot.

Next entry, Descent (Sunday morning).

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