Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Amongst the Peaks
and Streams and,
errr.... clearcuts

These last weeks I have found myself either busily planning for a trip or waiting patiently for a partner to come about. After Michelle returned to Seymour to finish off one more week of driving and logistical adventures I found myself once again weaving through Seattle traffic on a missionless return to the north. After nearly running out of gas amongst the bumper to bumper I decided I needed a plan. So I exited to th U District and found the perfect burger place with wireless internet. Its amazing how a few google searches can add clarity to an otherwise foggy day. It wasn't long before I was arching northeast towards the town of Index and the swimming holes of the Skykomish River.

After a few circles and a stop by the Ranger Station (which was no help) I found the finest of local swimming holes about 5 miles east of the deli at Index. Eagle Falls is top notch. Endless cliff jumps and the deepest pools yet, amazingly fun bouldering traverses high above the water, a rope swing, and water worn rock pools that form lounge chairs of all dimensions. Friendly locals directed me to the climbers camp at the base of the Index town wall. That evening I found more swimming – with Mount Index and Persis towering above.

After dinner I quickly delved into the guidebooks and maps in search of route information for the peaks that stood before me. Index's steep north walls would require rock climbing and a partner – the easier routes from the west looked brushy and long. I set my sights on a relatively easy and straightforward ascent of Persis via the West Ridge. I planned to beat the heat and get an early start.

In the morning I inventoried my snacks and found a stop at the Index general store a necessity – I waited until they opened. Armed with two guidebooks and a Forest Service map I expected no difficulties in route finding. Two hours later, after a hike up an abandoned logging road, 4-wheeling through clearcuts, and returning to the main road to reset my odometer I parked at the slight pulloff indicating the West Ridge trail. I hiked straight up through brushy clearcuts and tree farms in midday heat. Seems to be my standard story for approaches these days. All the while the hum of harvesting machinery and the beeps of loaders sounded from below. The patchwork of treeless swaths and access roads became sickly apparent as I climbed up onto the flanks of Persis. The valley below me, intermixed Forest Service and Weyhauser land, looked strained and denuded – resource extraction from the tallest ridges to the lowest basins superimposed an unnatural and angular infrastructure on the land. I climbed steeply, hoping to the leave the noise and emptyness behind.

I gained a ridge and tall timber. I came across two small lakes after 2500 feet of ascending in less that two miles. After the lakes the trail was distinctly alpine in nature. As I made my way across talus and heather towards the summit clouds began to swirl up to me from below and Mount Index began to show its mighty buttresses and gullies. From the summit of Persis an impressive view of Mount Index is gained – one I will not soon forget.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Records Temps &
Washington Swimming

or Blue Eyes, Blue Pools

The rivers of Washington flowed with added allure this weekend. As Seattlites struggled through traffic and record heat Michelle and I escaped to the forks of the Snoqualmie River. I shared briefly in the traffic of the weekenders as I made my way from Bellingham to the Key Peninsula and back out across Tacoma towards the pass. I still forget that driving is a requirement for getting out. I-5 is a humble reminder to those of us Northwesters that are still under the false impression that traffic jams are confined to Southern California. I can assure you they are not. There is, up north, a strong urge to escape the city when the time comes. The traffic is reminder that I am not the only one yearning to swim in an undammed river or climb above the smog and clearcuts into the untouched alpine. Cars and roads take us there - so we drive.

Struggling through traffic in western Washington may come with extravagant rewards – services that are not found 30 minutes from comparable southern cities. The magical high Cascades give forth year round snow melt. These summer snowfields, guarded deep within range, fill the endless rivers and stream. Deep pools, cliff jumps, swimmable rapids, and ample flat rocks turn any hot summer day into a blissful and refreshing swim day.

Besides infinite swimming holes, the I-90 corridor also offers a few rock climbing destinations. We guessed our way to Mount Si and were rewarded with two clean and fun sport routes before the heat chased us back to the river. Sunday morning's breakfast, with my sister Alyson and Bill, took us well into the heat of the day. Easy decision: skip climbing, straight to the next deep blue pool. We guessed that this summer Sunday, with the sun high and hot in the sky, was the busiest day of the season for the deep pool we lounged beside.

Add a few random forest roads and scouting for future scary adventures (note Mount Garfield below - Beckey's guide book calls the routes on this peak 'masochisitic and serious endevours'). The forest is still welcoming the continuous stream of visitors. For thoughs of us used to having it all to ourselves it is weekends like these that remind us to share.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Liberty Bell and South Early Winter Spire
Mountain climbing in the Subaru's backyard

My Cascades adventure has begun. The weather in northwestern Washington is nothing short of perfect, the Subaru is running well, and I have gear for just about anything. At the beginning of last week I started with an attempt of Sahale Peak. I went to sleep under crystal clear skies only to wake up to clouds boiling up from the valleys below. After 4 miles and much elevation gain I was deep in the clouds. Visibility was poor and I abandoned my climbing mission and turned to naturalizing amongst the boulders and alpine trees of Cascades Pass. Heather and columbine mixed with many other flowering high elevation gems to form a mat of distinct color and texture. The dense fog only added to the effect and I found myself saying 'now this is the Cascades.' I ambled slowly back down to the trailhead, finding a huge marmot along the way, and taking pictures of plants I didn't know off hand to reference later.

Back in Bellingham I started the partner search for something a bit more adventurous. Luckily my good friend Anitra had put me in touch we her roommate and alpine partner, Misty. We made plans for the classic 'alpine cragging' zone of Washington Pass. Fortunately for me Misty was excited to get on the same routes I had my eye on – the weather was shaping up.

Two days, two great peaks. Liberty Bell via the classic Beckey Route, and then South Early Winter Spire via the Southwest Rib. Both of these routes were on great granite with outstanding views and fun climbing. The first day we used a double rope technique I've been excited to refine. On day two, citing the 400 foot knot we untangled the previous day Misty convinced me to return to the traditional one rope for the spire. We climbed fast and had fun and beat the heat. This area has immediately beacem one of my favorite climbing areas and I can't wait to get back up there – though Misty claims she's had her fill of the meadering Blue Lake trail for the year.

Photos: Fog at Cascade Pass, Early Winter Spires, Columbine, me with way too much rope for the route, & Misty showing off our secret weapon (a 4.5inch cam used for the dreaded bear hug off-width pitch; which she led - well).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The adventure continues up north

Canada is always a treat

Home is Bellingham today – and I couldn't be happier about it. Last night the sun went down late behind colorful clouds that hung over the bay. Downtown seemed to be lit by crisp and orange spotlights. I was happy to friend my good friend Ryan bartending at the Calalloo and happily drank the tall mojitos he muddled in front of me. After my intense two week trip in British Columbia I couldn't pick a better place to catch up with the finer things in life and enjoy a few days without being a leader.

Lots of notable things happened on my BC trip with LongAcre Expeditions. We backpacked through much more snow than expected, we skiied in blasting summer sun on a disappearing glacier served by roped tows at Blackcomb, the kids ripped apart some really hard routes at Squamish (this may have been the hardest things I've ever seen beginning students climb, were talkin' 5.11 slabs here), and we weaved through the normal nasty traffic of Vancouver to make the ferry to Galiano Island. From Galiano we traveled by sea kayak to a handful of islands around Wallace Island.

Sea kayaking, for me, was great (I guess the kids had fun too). I peppered our experienced guide with endless questions about currents and winds and rescues and paddling techniques. Sea kayaking is fairly new to me and I wanted to meld my knowledge of map reading and canoeing etc. into a new skill set for expedition kayaking. After a few days with Mark I think I've got it and am looking at a personal trip in early August. It felt great to be a neophyte at a new outdoor en devour. Plus: sea kayaks can hold just about anything and I'm dreaming of all the yummy food and field guides and toys that can be loaded into one. We're still looking for some fellow adventurers for the Vancouver Island sea kayak mission. August 1.

The pictures from this trip were few and far between. I find I don't take as many pictures when leading. Something about having kids in tow and just not focusing on capturing the moment on film. Also, it may have something to do with the large group – everybody's always snapping pictures so I feel less inclined to take some for my self. Nonetheless, The frozen glacial lake in Garabaldi Provincial Park was some of the most scenic countryside I've seen in a while. The bald eagle we came across while sea kayaking was almost a little too comfortable with us being there – I think I was actually scared when my boat continued drifting in closer and I had little I could do since I had brought my paddle parallel to the boat so as not to spook him. I sat there, uncomfortably close, waiting for the wind to puff my boat back into open water. I adjusted my rudder with the foot pedals ever so slowly and was able to turn nose in to shore so as to not pull up directly alongside. The nose of my polymer boat bumped the barnacles on the shore, the eagle stared directly at me. It seemed like an eternity before the boat began to slide back and away from shore – I dropped the camera in my lap and sheepishly backpaddled with my hands. The sea kayak is indeed the perfect wildlife viewing machine.

The summer continues with another backpacking trip up north – and then play play play. Keep in touch all!