June 11th, 2002

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Descent (Sunday morning)

I woke up Sunday morning to Chuck struggling to get out of his sleeping bag. I felt well-rested, and so I decided to get up as well. I slept like a baby, although Chuck says I snored loudly enough to keep him awake. For future reference to anyone who reads this and sleeps in the same room with me, wake my damn ass up if I do that. My sleeping bag was toasty. I also have the ability to sleep on uncomfortable surfaces, although the thermarest pad pretty much made the ground comfortable.

It was at this point that I had a decent sunburn. I had asked Chuck the night before if I was developing one, but he thought not. I suspected something more than wind burn, but without a mirror I couldn't really tell. I never really feel sunburns anymore. I've had so many of them that short of putting me in the hospital, it's not really a problem. But I could feel this one coming on and knew that it would be bad, even by my standards.

After waking up, I pretty much did nothing for an hour or two. Just sat outside and enjoyed the view. For a few minutes even, the clouds broke almost completely, and we were treated to a wonderful view of the top of Rainier swirled in clouds. The wind was blowing primarily toward the southwest. But near the top of Rainier, the wind appear to come from the west. After the clouds blew around the mountain top, they merged into the wind traveling toward the southwest. The obstruction of the wind by Rainier made for interesting cloud patterns, like mixing cream into pea soup and watching the swirl.

Breakfast for most of the group was tea or coffee and instant oatmeal. Personally, if I was hiking up a mountain, I probably would bring instant coffee instead of coffee grounds, but this was not really a mountain climb. This is where I went "gourmet." I brought some breakfast sausages. Chuck had brought eggs, cheese and bacon bits. We cooked all of this together and threw in the leftover mushrooms, and we had the tastiest egg scramble you ever had. Plain food pretty much always tastes better when camping. Several campers back in the trees of the campground proper came out at various times to tell us that we were being extremely unfair to them by cooking sausage and eggs; they could smell it far back into the trees.

Although the snow was soft, Eddie decided that we really should get a chance to try on and use our cramp-ons. In a real life climb, cramp-ons are not used in soft snow like this, because the snow balls up between the teeth of the cramp-ons and prevents them from being used properly.

After that, we packed up our backpacks for the hike down. Eddie and William got into a "discussion" about how I had packed my shovel. On the way up, I was unsure how to pack it well, and William advised me to strap it on upside down in the middle of the pack. I strapped it on the same way for the trip down, but Eddie advised against it. He thought I should attach it to the side underneath the compression straps. THe two discussed the various "sail" properties vs. the use of additional straps needed for attaching it in the middle.

We headed down at a brisk pace. Eddie pointed out where he had fallen through the snow a few years ago. The White River runs under the snowfield, and there is a danger of falling through when the snow pack above the river grows thin. Eddie wanted us to maintain the fast pace to get used to walking quickly over sloppy snow. I did not have poles, and so this was difficult for me. Neither did I miraculously gain a lot of stamina overnight, and so I again fell further and further behind the group. This time I didn't fall quite as far behind, because we were going down and that requires less effort. Still, it wasn't unusual for the person in front of me to be leading by 20 or 30 meters.

On the way down, the trail was a lot less snow covered than on the way up. Friday night Mt. Rainier had seen fresh snowfall. The trail had now been through two days of sun, and many places were bare. There were also rivulets coming off the side of the ridge that crossed the trail under the snow. Mud was everywhere. I walked along following where Eddie had led us, but the weight of the people in the group in front of me was enough to weaken the crust. I fell through twice, although since these incidents were not in the main snowfield but much further down among the trees, the ground was only 12 to 24 inches below the snow. Still people have broken legs and ankles in just such conditions. I was lucky and was not injured. However, I had to be helped up, as I could not pull my leg out of the snow with my pack still on my back.

The trip down took a little over an hour. The same trip up had taken almost three. I went through two bottles of water on the way down. My conditioning is not good.

Then we were in the parking lot of the White River Campground. Officially, the trip was over, according to Eddie, we were free to go our merry way. However, it was a tradition to have a beer at the Naches Tavern on the way home. Most of us headed there after pulling off our gear. Or at least I would be headed there if I could find my car keys. Yet again, I could not find them. I thought I had placed them in the pocket of my fleece pants, but they were not there. I checked the pocket of my shell, where they were when I climbed up the trail. The keys weren't there either. Neither were they in either of the side compartments of my pack. As a last resort I tried the top compartment. Amazingly enough, there I found them. (Of course, you always find your keys in the last place you look. If you kept looking after you found them, you would be missing a flavor of cheese in your three cheese ravioli.

Having found my keys, Christian and I loaded up the car and headed to the Naches Tavern. Arriving there, we headed to the couch in the back next to the unlit fireplace. With us were Cory, Brendan, Sarah, Eddie, William and Chuck. Eric went his own way after the mountain, and Leslie stayed at camp with someone she knew who had been hiking around the mountain that day. Since this would be my last trip with the group, I decided to buy the first round of beer for everyone. I wanted to make my "going away" fun at least. That scored major points with the group.

Next entry, Things I didn't tell you along the way.

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Things I didn't tell you along the way

  • I managed to rip a hole in my pants with an ice axe during the self-arrest practice. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but those ice axes are sharp. I am lucky I still have a leg on which to walk.
  • William had a date on Friday night. It started off that he was just helping someone pick out gear and it turned into a date. According to him "And then I was done around 1 o'clock." So he got to sleep around 3 a.m. and got up around 5 a.m. to drive to the trailhead. Good to know our instructors are working on less sleep than we are.
  • My sum total of injuries was:
    • One small blister on my right big toe. I didn't even notice until I got back home. I had a few other hot spots on the way down, but none of them blistered up. Got nothing even close to a blister on the way up the trail. I think I just didn't lace my boots tight enough for the trip down. They seemed to come looser with the quicker pace we had on the way down.
    • I have a relatively severe sunburn on my face. It blistered and is now peeling. But no pain except where I've picked at the skin. It takes a pretty severe burn to cause me actual pain.
    • I was somewhat sore yesterday, and there is a little lingering soreness in my left arm. Other than that, nothing.
  • I really like Sarah's personality. It's sarcastic and biting.
  • Things I should have had:
    • Gaiters. Didn't actually need them, but Eddie said they were required for the self-arrest practice. I didn't get any snow down my boots though.
    • Ski poles for balance while walking the trail.
    • A real tent
    • A better selection of food. I was afraid to bring anything with weight, like canned goods. However, there were lots of other possibilities I just didn't think of.
    • Spare camera batteries
    • better trail pants. while the fleece were warm and comfortable, they were too loose and I felt like they were slipping off the entire time.
    • some kind of bivvy sack to hold my food. I just threw my food into the backpack.
    • More water
    • Bring water bottles with lids that are looped to the bottle itself. They are much easier to carry to a water source, and they can clip onto your pack if necessary.
    • better accessory straps
    • my own sunscreen
  • Marmots are not really afraid of humans.
  • It wasn't really as cold as I thought it would be. The proper clothing can really make a difference. In addition, it is easy to overheat because the work is harder in the snow than on regular surfaces.
  • You aren't allowed to crap in the woods on Rainier. You have to crap in a blue bag, then carry your waste back to the trailhead and deposit it there. Although I did not know this, I made an effort not to have to use the facilities in this manner by taking care of business before I left. Figured it would be simpler this way.

Right now, I can't think of anything else. I might add an item or two here later, but they will be items of no consequence.

Next entry, Thoughts.

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Thoughts

This one will be short, I swear.

I had fun on this trip. Parts of the climb were hard work. I learned a lot. I don't think I am too far behind anyone else in the class in the "how does one mountain climb?" department, even though some people started way in front of me. The air up there is beautiful. Other than the wind, the atmosphere is silent; the snow eats up almost all the sound.

The sad part is, I can't keep up. In 1½ weeks, the group is making a day trip to Camp Muir, which is the high camp from which many people make their ascent of Mount Rainier. Camp Muir is about 10200 feet up. The trailhead is 5400 feet up. That is 4800 feet of climbing, or nearly a mile. One week after that is the Mount Adams climb. That is 12300 feet, although we will do that in two days.

I can go at about 90% of the speed that the rest of the group can. I am not in completely horrible shape. However, that will stretch out a summit climb from 5 to 6 hours and the climb to base camp from 7 to 8 hours. Easily. It would hold the group up and make could make the trips more dangerous.

With my schedule, I can't put in the hours it would take to improve my cardio enough in the next three weeks. I am going to have to drop the class. I knew it was a gamble when I took it. As I said, this is the first thing I've done in years that I was not 100% certain I could actually do. I can't. Not right now.

I don't really feel bad about this. I gave it a pretty good shot. And I don't feel like I am giving up either. Normally, I persevere with something well past the point that it's bad for me. I finish, but I pay a price.

So here's my plan. I plan on taking relatively difficult hikes over the rest of the summer and into the fall. One of the best ways to train for climbing to to climb. Over the rest of the summer, I should be able to improve my stamina enough that I can do the class next year.

Anyone who wants to join me on a few days hikes and possibly an over night campout or two, let me know. Otherwise, I shall bring along a couple of good books and read in the mountain air.

Well, this entry was shorter than the others in this series.

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Independence Day party

I am going to have a small Independence Day (that's the Fourth of July) party at my apartment. I will be providing some food (home-cooked, but not sure what yet), chips, beer, and other party necessities. I am thinking this will start in the early afternoon and go til everyone leaves. Mostly just a lazy afternoon and evening to celebrate our independence from England. (Don't you all just feel so happy that King George is no longer ruling us?)There could be music, swimming, a movie with explosions.

My apartment sits on Lake Union on a pier, offering a view of the Lake Union fireworks. Also the Elliot Bay fireworks can be seen, although that is further away.

This is not a general invite (there's only so much parking and room), but if you can read this, you are invited, and feel free to bring a guest or two. Please let me know by the 1st if you are going to come, so I can plan how much food and alcohol to provide.