Thursday, August 31, 2006

Trading the mountains
for the ocean

Life continues in Ventura. It is like never left the refuge of the commercial warehouse I call home each fall. The southern coast of California is now being bathed in the warmest water of the season. Since there are no rocks to be climbed near coastal Ventura I gave in and bought a wet suit. Kindly Naturalists at Large loaned out their boogie boards and Michelle and I headed to the beach. During the relaxing week of NAL PC meetings we couldn't help to give in to the California vibe and relax on the sand.

Don't think it's all fun and games down here in Ventura. The fall season of NAL is looking huge and I've spent my fair share of time in the office prepping for some massive trips I'll be program coordinating. This weekend I head out to Catalina Island for a treat of a trip. I'm sure to send in a lengthy report from the mythical islands next week. Til then-

Sunday, August 20, 2006

If 'home is where you park it,'

then home is Bend right now. Even as the wall of my former converted garage/basecamp comes down I am reminded that Bend is still my hometown. The simple things, like knowing the roads and the TV anchormen, make Bend a more familiar place. Yet, memories and images of other 'homes' are bound to come to mind. It is indeed hard to settle into one place when one is regularly comparing the place you've been to the place you are at now. I'm sure teachers of many great cultures have parables to warn against such things. For now I'll disregard the mythos, and happily live in the past.

I went back to these pictures because I remembered the moment more than the picture taking. It was very early in the North Cascades on a shelf above Wing Lake. I think it was the orange hue that woke me up, but immediately I turned to see the sun's crescent illuminating the rugged range to the north. I was up and out of the tent. I watched as simultaneously the clouds curled from the west into the valley below and the sun crepted to is full orb. The sun was full, big, and deep red and the valley writhed with clouds that had came from nowhere. We had camped here for two days now and were accustomed to the endless beautiful views and lighting, but this was something outstanding. I woke Michelle up. Her dismay slowly warmed in t o gratitude as the show went on.

I took some pictures. We walk out to the point for an even more unobstructed view. The dance between the outrageously red sun and the ethereal morning clouds continued. We stayed up to watch but quickly fell asleep as the red turned to gold, and eyes had to again squint against the brightness. The warmth was welcomed to keep back the chilly alpine morning. Home felt more comfortable than ever.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Well friends, summers just about coming to and end for me. I can't say that the deserts of SoCal are 'calling me,' but my contract with Naturalists-At-Large sure is. The summer climbing and hiking adventures in the North Cascades are still fresh in my mind as I compute away here in Bend. Driving over from Portland, past Mount Hood, the Oregon mountains seemed more dry than usual - but I have yet to pin that on climate or my mind's immersion in the lush, glacial, and wild northerner regions of the range. The North Cascades are (obviously) nothing like those of my hometown Central Oregon volcanoes. It was great to see again, the stratavolcanoes, alone on the horizon, not fighting for space amongst the other mountains of the land

The last big adventure - besides the incredible four night Summer Meltdown Music Festival last weekend - was Michelle and I's one-day ascent of Mount Kangaroo Temple.

For my climbing geek friends: we climbed the Northwest face which is, according to Beckey who made the first ascent in 1946, Grade II, 5.7. What was novel about our climb is that we approached via the Twisp River trail rather than via Washington Pass. It made for a long day, but meant great trailhead
camping and some fun and beautiful off-trail travel through Kangaroo Basin. After about 14 hours of climbing, hiking, and scrambling we return to our camp. The climbing was really fun, though the Beckey topo was pretty useless (though the written description was helpful). I lead the route in three steep 5.7 pitches and shortroped (unnessecarily) the last couple hundred feet.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wing Lake Welcomes Us but Black Peak Turns Us Back

Ahhh...the North Cascades. I can hardly believe over a week has gone by since Michelle and I started our post-summer-work mountain adventure. Eight days in the expansive rugged range has gone by since we left Bellingham for the mountainside towns of Marblemount, Winthrop, and Twisp. I launched into the North Cascade National Park before that still and one thing is certain – only a tip of the iceberg that is the North Cascade mountains has been revealed. The mountains are big, the rivers and roads are long, and the small towns friendly and diverse. It's tough work investigating the intricacies of the one of the wildest region of the U.S. - but here's what we have so far.

Bellingham is always a welcome resupply stop. For the North Cascades adventurer it is perfect port of entry. Prices are always right in Bellingham. There is, without question, something happening the night your in town. And while its not considered 'on the way' it feels as if there is always reason to go there. So, keeping NW Washington tradition, we left B-ham early last week with full food bags, full tummies, and sleepy eyes leftover from the evening revelry.

Next stop: Marblemount – the true portal to the north North Cascades. Here you'll find the best map selection of any Ranger Station on the west coast, essential permits, and last-minute country stores and eateries. But our sights were set high and we lingered only briefly in the lowlands before beginning the climb up Highway 20 towards Washington Pass. We drove past Diablo Lake and countless trailheads, past Mount Colonial and into the mountain hemlock, to the top of the pass and a busy parking area. The trail to Lake Ann, Heather Pass and, our objective, Black Peak, waited.

I would love to go into endless details about our approach to Black Peak. But I must resort to age-old tactics for description: over 2,000 feet of elevation, 5 miles, off-trail boulder fields (Michelle now knows the definition of scree), and, since we started at 2, walking higher into the evening. The reward: wild and deserted camping at alpine and icy Wing Lake. The small tarn at the base of Black Peak's East Face tenuously hangs above the valley and has open views far into the sub-range to the north. This is qualifies (in my book) as one of the most outstanding places to pitch a tent in N. America. What's more is that classic and massive Black Peak looms above – the two most common climbing routes (the N. and S. ridge) outlined in every color of sky as the day progresses to night.

The next morning we were anxious to climb higher onto the peak. We were equipment for rock climbing only (i.e. no ice axes or crampons for snow) so we opted for the S. Ridge which appeared to possibly have a rocky sneak around to reach the rocky and snow-free ridgeline. We climbed for an hour or two, leaving the lake behind, and welcoming the closer views of the East Butresses and South col. We climbed high into a gully along a steep snowfield and stopped short of the crest as the rock quality decreased. Note: poor rock quality is the climber's way of saying ' shit was falling down all around me and everything I touched pretty much just broke off.' After attempting a couple of different lines and backing down for lack of sound anchors we, disheartened, reverse the loose slopes and returned to splendid Wing Lake. The day would have been long yet there is always something to do in the alpine and we occupied our afternoon traigulating and naming the peaks to our north and hiking to various viewpoints. The weather was outstanding, the scenery surreal – we were merely observers of the mountain land all about us.

While we didn't summit Black Peak, two nights at Wing Lake and three days of alpine travel with climbing and backpacking gear wore us out. A rest day was in order. Marblemount and Rockport provided food and showers; Bellingham friends led us to a keg party in the back of a barn full of locals, Park employees and alpine climbers. The weekend was apon us and tourists came out of the woodwork, so we headed back over the pass bound for the east side and the low-use (not quite deserted, but nearly so) Twisp River valley. More about our adventures to Kangaroo Temple to come.