Monday, July 31, 2006

I just got back yesterday from a beautiful 5 day climbing trip with the Mazamas to Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park.

The trip started on Tuesday night when we drove up to Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic coast. Several of us camped at a nearby campsite, but the lodge has cabins for rent and a great restaurant. It looks like it would be a nice place for a weekend on the coast. Wednesday morning the rest of group gathered at the Hoh River visitor Center and at 10am we started our journey.

The approach is a 17.5 mile hike which is mostly flat for the first 12.5 miles then launches up 4000 feet in the last 5 miles. Except for a couple of very bad slides in the last mile, the trail is one of the best maintained trails I've seen and wanders along next to the Hoh River in a dense forest of old growth trees, moss and ferns.

Wednesday night we camped about 9 miles in at the Olympus Guard Station (OGS) campground. We had a perfect site next to the Hoh River. The afternoon was warm so we headed into the river to soak and enjoy the sun. Thursday we knocked off the second half off the approach hike and camped at Glacier Meadows campground about a mile below the Blue Glacier. Along the way we stopped to swim in Elk Lake which was almost as warm as bath water.

Friday morning we woke at 1am and started the climb at 2am. By 3am we were roped up and on the Blue Glacier. The bottom half of the glacier is heavily crevassed and mostly water ice (hence the name Blue Glacier). We crossed most the bad sections in the dark with just our headlamps which made it especially "interesting". Unfortunately none of my night time photos turned out. As we approached the steeper slopes below the snow dome the sun was rising and provided us with some pretty spectacular views. Once on top of the snow dome we traversed a snow field over to Crystal Pass and climbed a short steep pitch of 60 degree snow. A little more snow and some easy scrambling and we arrived below the summit block around 9am.

The summit block proved to be a real bottleneck with two different climbing clubs already on it. One group was off route and a significant rock fall had cut their lead rope. The other group helped the lead climber get to a safe anchor then continued on to the summit. We waited for a couple of hours and after nothing seemed to be happening skirted by the stuck group and finished fixing ropes to the summit. The correct route is low 5th class, maybe even 4th and I'd like to lead it myself when I climb Olympus again.

After helping the rest of the stuck group to the summit and back down, our group finally arrived on the summit around noon. After the obligatory summit photos we downclimbed/repelled the summit block and started the descent back to camp. Along the way we had more beautiful views including a birds eye view of the heavily crevassed glacier we had crossed earlier in the dark. We finally arrived back in camp around 6pm Friday night, after 16 hours on the climb.

The weather up until this point had been warm and sunny with clear blue skies. By the time we reached camp the skies had clouded over, it was colder and there were reports of a 30% change of rain the next two days. We had some discussion about trying to exit in one day instead of two but decided to play it by ear and see how the next day went.

Saturday morning we woke up, broke camp and headed out around 8am. About an hour after leaving camp one of our team fell on the difficult part of the trail and severely sprained their ankle, still 17 miles in and with 4 miles of steep, downhill trail ahead of us. Fortunately our team included 3 Wilderness First Responders, a nurse, a physical therapist, a chiropractor and several Mountaineering First Aid graduates. We almost had too many people rushing in to help. After assessing the situation and doing what first aid we could, we decided to send a couple people ahead to inform the ranger at OGS and inquire about exit options while the rest of us continued on down the trail.

Once we reached the flats at 12.5 miles the trail become much easier and we made good time, arriving at OGS around 4pm. The ranger there had contacted a horse train that was in the area and asked if they could help. They were already booked and the soonest they could help us would be sometime Sunday afternoon so we decided to we'd see how the sprain was in the morning and attempt to head out at easy pace. Shortly after dinner it started to rain so we made a quick plan for the next day and retired to our tents.

On Sunday we woke at 4am, broke camp and left at 5am. Even though it continued to rain all morning, the rest of the trail was basically flat so we made good time and arrive back at the trailhead around 11am. On our way home we stopped by the Kalaloch Lodge for the usual post-climb burger and beer feast.

Except for the mishap on our exit and a little rain on Sunday, it was a perfect climb. The weather was perfect, we had a great team and the views were amazing! The hike in to Glacier Meadows is very peaceful and would make a great 4 day backpacking trip even without the climb. It was my 4th or 5th trip to Olympic National Park and it continues to be my favorite.

My complete photo album can be view here.

Next up... a 3 day climb of Sahale Peak in the North Cascades and getting ready for my trip to Russia to climb Mount Elbrus which is only two weeks away.

Monday, July 24, 2006

It's been a week since my last post so I figure I should give a quick update on what I've been up to...

I spent the first part of last week taking care of various errands around Portland and shopping for plastic boots for my Denali climb. I hit every outdoor shop in Portland and it seems nobody has a good selection of plastic double boots anymore. There are a few odd sizes here and there but when I inquire about the next shipment most shops are not restocking their plastic boots. It seems like most places are leaning more towards rock climbing instead of alpine climbing these days. I find this strange considering Portland's proximity to some of the best mountain climbing in the country. Anyway, I did get a chance to talk with the "boot gurus" at each shop and learned a lot more about plastic boots. It looks like I'll either have to make a trip to Seattle or special order my boots online.

On Thursday Kerry and I headed down to the Willamette Valley wine country and spent the night at Hotel Oregon in McMinnville. On the way there we stopped by a couple of wineries then had a delicious 5 course dinner at Nick's Italian Cafe. Friday we reversed course and had a leisurely drive back to Portland stopping at more small, off the beaten path wineries. Going mid-week was a great way to escape the weekend crowds and I'd highly recommend checking out the smaller wineries away from highway 99. We found several places we really liked along North Valley Road, including Aramenta Cellars and Adelsheim Vineyards.

Over the weekend we did our best to survive the record high temperatures. Both days we went for early morning trail runs. On Sunday we tried a new route from the Trail Running Oregon book - the Marquam Nature Park Loop. This loop is rated the same difficulty as the similar loops in Hoyt Arboretum and Forest Park, but it seemed so much harder! The 4.2 loop starts at the Marquam Nature Park shelter then winds around on a steep and rough trail system through the hills behind OHSU to Terwilliger Blvd before looping back on a paved path. It was probably one of the more difficult runs I've been on - possibly something to do with the 100+ degree weather we've been having. I definitely want to try it again in cooler weather.

Next up - a day 5 trip to Olympic National Park to climb Mount Olympus.

Monday, July 17, 2006

This past weekend I had an interesting attempt on Rainier via the Kautz Glacier route. We drove up Thursday night and car camped just inside the park. Friday morning the team gathered at the visitor's center and started up the mountain around 8:30am. The weather was ideal for climbing - scattered clouds while we were low to keep us cool and clearer skies as we moved higher. The glacier was in great condition with only a few crevasses open and we could see most of the route ahead of us. We figured the climb was pretty much a green light.

However, as we approached our high camp around 11,000 feet the winds started to pick up. By the time we reached high camp the gusts were strong enough to make you lose your balance. We selected our camp sites and started building rock walls to protect our tents. After about 2 hours we had our tents pitched and guyed out as best as we could. We estimated the gusts were approaching 50 mph. Here's a short video of what it looked like.

As the evening went on, the gusts became stronger and more sustained. Melting snow for water was difficult as our stoves kept blowing out regardless of how well we protected them from the wind. Cooking in our tents wasn't a good option either because the gusts would nearly flatten them at times. After about 2 more hours we managed to melt enough snow to cook a little food and give us each about 1 liter of water. At that point we decided reaching the summit the next day would be impossible in such winds. We didn't have enough water and the crux of the climb - 2 pitches of up to 60 degree snow and ice - was still ahead of us.

We took shelter in our tents around 9pm with plans to see what the wind was like at 2am. Nobody really slept much. You could hear the wind coming like a jet engine in the distance then 20-30 seconds later the tents would buckle and twist. Some tents we're literally floating on the wind only being held in place by the guylines. By 2am the wind hadn't changed at all so we decided to wait until 6am and either make an attempt at the summit or bag it altogether. At 6am the winds were still giving us a beating so we emerged from our tents, broke camp and headed back down the mountain.

Even though we failed to summit, it was a learning experience. 5 of us on the climb are going to Denali next spring. The winds there can be brutal. Everything takes more effort in high winds and we have to take that into consideration. Clearly canister stoves do not work well at elevation and in strong winds. Tents need to be guyed out to the max. My 3 season REI Half Dome took a beating but emerged unscathed because I went overboard with guylines. Another group was also up there with 3 "bombshelter" Mountain Hardware tents which didn't fare so well because they weren't guyed out properly. One would have been blown off the mountain if our group hadn't stopped it.

Anyway it was a long, tiring two days on Rainier but the Kautz Glacier route looks amazing. I definitely plan to go back next year, perhaps earlier in the season with skis. With the right conditions you could ski from high camp at 11,000 all the way down to the visitors center at 5,400.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I just got back from two days at Smith. On Monday we climbed Sky Chimney a multi-pitch 5.7 route to the top of Smith Rock. It's rated as a two-star but relative to other climbs at Smith I would give it a one-star. The views are awesome, but the climbing is full body. The first pitch is described as grunting up an unpleasant chimney which is an understatement. The second and third pitches were more enjoyable but exposed. After topping out we walked off the backside and hydrated after 4 hours without water in 90 degree weather. Before calling it a day we did a quick run up Five Gallon Bucks (5.8) to regain some climbing mojo. I love that route! It's so easy with big bucket holds you could almost sleep in.

Tuesday we trekked over to Koala Rock to find some shade. We warmed up on Round River, an easy 5.4 multi-pitch route to the top, then rapped down the backside to The Knob (5.10a) and Hero of the Day (5.7). We finished the day with Round There (5.6) and Crazies (5.7) before heading home.

Unfortunately rock climbing is becoming a challenge for me with my finger problems. I find my finger joints are stiff and painful after the first day of climbing and I have no confidence in my grip strength. Top roping things I once led is frustrating. Climbing is still fun on top rope, but not being able to lead limits the thrill. Hopefully I'll find a way to deal with my fingers that will allow me to climb at the best of my abilities again. I'm itching to try some harder, longer routes.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

This is my first post to my blog. I've decided to start one as a way to chronicle my year long adventure. For years I've dreamed of taking some time off from my hi-tech job to climb, travel and enjoy life. On June 30th it finally happened. After 10 years in the hi-tech industry I flew down to the bay area on June 28th for a series of farewell lunches, exit interviews and to turn in my badge. When I first tendered my resignation a month ago I was apprehensive about what I would do after the 30th. As I got closer to my final day that apprehension was replace with excitement for the adventures I was starting to plan. By Friday I was floating around the office on a natural high saying good bye to my co-workers. Ironically my flight home to Portland was first class, the only time I've flown first class for work.

My first week of "retirement" has been busy. It started with a 4 day "weekend" of parties celebrating a dual purpose Independence Day. It culminated with a huge 4th of July BBQ party at the Shack with about 30 of my friends. We're still eating the food and beer left over from the party.

On Wednesday (July 5th) my first day of not going to work, I headed to the Columbia Gorge to climb Beacon Rock with Preston who is also happily unemployed. Beacon Rock was a fun half-day climb and my pictures can be viewed here. We climbed the SE Face, which was the original route with about 6 pitches of easy 5th class. The crux was a nice 5.7 friction slab. The weather was perfect, we had great views and the place to ourselves.

Thursday (July 6th) Preston and I had planned to go climbing at French's Dome near Mount Hood, but rain diverted us to Broughton Bluff instead. After an interesting trad lead by Preston on Edges and Ledges (5.8) we spent the afternoon top roping some 5.9 and 5.10 routes at the Red Wall.

This past weekend was mostly spent painting my office and attending a friend's wedding. In all a perfect start to my "retirement". Next up, a couple days at Smith followed by a Rainier climb...