31 July 2013

Skiing Mt. Hood - Summit Trip Report

Skiing in July is awesome.

To get my 21st month of Turns All Year, I convinced a few friends to come ski Mt. Hood. I've never stood on the top of Oregon before, and the idea appealed to me. So did taking a shortcut via two chairlifts to 700' below our camp. Some would call that cheating. I would call that being awesome. Tomato toMAHto.

Our adventure began early Saturday morning. Leaving Seattle at 5:30, we made it to the parking lot at Hood around 10:00am. My first thought upon seeing the mountain after my four hour nap (I get car-narcolepsy, don't judge!): "Where the hell is all the snow?" I mean, look at this:

View from The Magic Mile Lift

Not to be deterred by the lack of skiing from the summit, we picked up our $15 tickets for the Magic Mile chair. They are no longer selling the $35 climber's pass (apparently to discourage people from climbing) that would normally take climbers one way up both the Magic Mile and Palmer Chairs. So we planned to skin up from the top of Magic Mile and skip Palmer, but were pleasantly surprised when we were able to hop right on Palmer lift sans ticket, whisking us up to 8,540'.

Happy cheaters Ben and Johnny 

Exhausted from our big morning, we began the trek up to camp. We found what we thought to be a sheltered area on the rocks at 9,250' and made camp. Seeing as we made it to camp by 2pm, we briefly entertained the idea of making a few laps, but decided that sun-cups are sucky and we'd rather lounge in the sun. In bathing suits. And tutus.

Don't lie, you want a tutu too

The remaining two gals in of our party arrived around 5pm after skinning from the top of the Magic Mile chair (Palmer closes at 2pm). Legitimately tired from their journey, we made some food and broke out the fancy plastic wine glasses while we took in the amazing sunset. Not as spectacular as the show Rainier put on for me last month, but still pretty impressive nonetheless:

If you are bringing wine, spring for the fancy china

Photo by Kristen Wangerin

Summit Pyramid at Sunset


Anticipating a 5-hour trip to the summit and back, we got up for a 5am departure from camp. Turns out, we picked the windiest place on the mountain so camp. The night was...sleepless.

The morning was clear but quite windy, and the wind complicated and delayed our departure from camp until 5:30.

Theresa packing by headlight

Kristen the BIRTHDAY girl!

Crampon time

Unsure of how high we could ski, we threw the skis on our packs and opted to head to the east of the obvious hikers trail along the pummice ridge.

This was a mistake.

Do not do this.

I repeat, stay on the trail or risk wasting an hour to gain a paltry 400' by traversing a super sketchy snowfield above a crevasse, then scrambling up a 5.4 scree slope without protection while boulders start careening down the hill if you so much as give them the wrong look. Not. A good. Idea.

This is what wasting an hour looks like

We finally regained our proper ridgeline to the east of crater rock. Freaked from our chossy scramble and cold from the wind, we briefly contemplated bailing on the attempt, but thought better of it when we saw someone coming down from the summit. In passing, we asked him how it was. He simply replied, "Stinky." Yes sir, yes it is.

By 9,600', the snow was cold and hard and a sun-cupped disaster zone. More or less unnecessary 'training weight', we dumped our skis at the top of the last skiable snowfield. Any higher ski attempts would have required serious carryover and potentially catastrophic results if one of us were to happen to fall into a fumarole (as Hood is an active volcano with aforementioned stinky venting holes, which can asphyxiate a climber trapped in the oxygen-less void).

Meeting the Stinky Man - Sunrise summit cone in background

Working toward the Hogsback

We reached the Hogsback and could see the open bergschrund (a hanging crevasse). The standard Pearly Gates route was completely dry and absolutely a no-go. We opted to instead take the next most direct route and climbed the west chute/old route to the summit ridge. The climbing conditions were quite pleasant with the sun-cups forming an almost staircase up the chutes. An ice axe was a must, and I was happy to have my whippet as well. The chutes are close to 55 degrees at the top.

Hogsback with dry Pearly Gates. Old Chute pictured left.

Bergschrund - the split is about 15 feet

Looking back toward crater rock

To borrow from Johnny's trip report, "The exit from the chutes onto the summit mound is via a skinny choss ridge, barely class 2 but vertigo-inducing." AKA we topped out of the chutes to stand on a pretty skinny ridge with crazy 2,000' exposure on one side and a threatening 500' tumble on the other.

View from the top of the chutes

We dropped crampons and traversed along the ridge to the summit, which was devoid of snow. It was also completely devoid of other climbers also - one huge advantage for climbing so late in the season! In keeping with tradition, we cracked some breakfast beers to carbo-load for our descent. The wind was still quite strong on the summit, so after capturing our AWESOME summit photos (seriously people, this is how you do it!) we got out of the wind and headed down.

Happy Birthday Kristen! This is how you do a summit photo!

It only took about an hour to get back to our skis, then a whopping 5 minutes to ski the 600' back to camp, where we broke everything down in under an hour. Laden with our heavy packs, we struggled to ski the remaining 700' to where those magnificent grooming machines had made sweet, sweet spring corn for us. The skiing was pretty incredible once we were in the resort. Even with 40lbs on my back, I was having the time of my life carving into the smooth slopes. We briefly debated trying another lap, but concerned about traffic back to Seattle we begrudgingly finished our run, hopped on the Magic Mile lift, and schlepped our gear back to the car.

Hood will probably go for a few more weeks, but it was really, really melted out, and the sun cups were really, really terrible (and I've skied Muir in August!). If you head out be aware of rockfall in the late morning and afternoon. This would definitely be a hazard and was a major concern as we traversed to the Old Chute.

Another successful summit and another successful month on skis! Thanks Ben, Johnny, Kristen, and Theresa for joining me on this adventure. Who wants to ski in August?

26 July 2013

See Jane Run - Round 3

A few weeks ago I ran in my 3rd annual See Jane Run half marathon. My 7th half-marathon (I might have a problem) the See Jane Run was a three-peat of my very first half. What can I say? I just love running this race! It's an easy course close to home and it's all women - I really dig the positive female energy!

The medal got WAY BIGGER!

When I ran this the first time (my first ever half!) I finished in 2:05:31. Then last year I surpassed even my wildest expectations and finished in 1:50:12, cutting 15 minutes off of my first year's time and finishing in the top 10% of my age group!

This spring I ran the Lake Sammamish Half, finishing in 1:48:34 - knocking out 13.1 miles at an 8:17 pace. As someone who suffers from shortness, I figured there was no way I could outdo that pace. Ever.

The morning of See Jane was sunny and about 15 degrees warmer than I would have liked. The first five miles were stellar. I got a good start off the line at the beginning of the 9-10min/mile pack and quickly had lots of space to myself. I began catching people from the earlier start and was like, "Yeah, I feel pretty good."

Then I hit mile 6. Ouchie.

By mile 8 I was seriously contemplating running to my car and just driving home to take a nap. Must. Keep. Running.

Luckily my inner struggle subsided, and by mile 10 I was back to feeling good. Only then did I let myself even think about entertaining the possibility that I could set a new PR. So I started booking it!

One mile from the finish I realized, "Damn, I just might crush this thing!". And crush I did - here is what that looks like:


To say I was stoked on the finishing time of 1:46:26 would be an understatement. I mean, really? ME? The gal who three years ago finished in over two hours? The shortest runner ever known to man-kind (that may be a slight exaggeration). I am beyond thrilled. To finish 15th in my age group and in the top 6% overall? Well, you just can't beat that feeling!

Although full disclosure - my watch said I only ran 12.9 miles. I heard this from other people as well, that perhaps the course was short. Not sure how that would work given that it was the exact same course as the two previous years....but worth nothing. At the very least if I can never beat this time again I can assuage myself by saying, "it was just a short course."

I am going to reward myself with some new running outfits though. Apparently I really like pink - I basically have identical pictures from the last three years....

2011 and 2012

A huge shout out needs to go to the Seattle Anti-Freeze Runners, who inspire me to run and come out to the Thursday gatherings every week! I raise this champagne glass to you!

See you in 2014 Jane. But really, let's be done with all of this PR business. I'm getting old. 

01 July 2013

Skiing from the Summit of Mt. Rainier

Standing on the summit of Mt. Rainier is an incredibly humbling and amazing experience. When we finally made it to the top, I couldn't stop thinking, "Holy shit. I can't believe it. I'm really standing on the top of this thing!" Followed shortly by the thought, "Oh dear god now I need to ski down!"

The adventure started on Saturday morning when 5 of us expertly Tetris'd a Mazda hatchback. We successfully fit all of our mountaineering and skiing gear for the trip up the Emmons route. Our stoke level was high as we drove the 2+ hours to Mount Rainier National Park, where we picked up permits and snagged the very last spot in the White River parking lot. We packed our gear and began the trek up to the InterGlacier.

Expert packers
Geared up and ready to go. Everyone else forgot their Tutus at home

So much greenery on the trail
Water feature!

With spots secured at Camp Schurman, we enjoyed a leisurely trip from the car at 4,400' to the InterGlacier, which sits about 6,800'. Once we hit snowline, we stashed some Rainier Beers (pronounced Rah-Nya) in a little snow cave and put our ski gear on. The ascent up the glacier was mostly your standard slog, with the exception of the Happy Birthday Banner Incident. That's right, you've all heard of the 10 Essentials...well, these people have an 11th, and it's a banner that literally says 'Happy Birthday'.

How did we discover this fun happenstance you ask? I wear a tutu in the mountains (name one thing that isn't more fun in a tutu...go on...just try) and we may have been telling people it was my birthday. Thus = birthday banner picture!

A look at InterGlacier. Overcast but never rained on us!
Happy. Birthday.
Skinning up InterGlacier. We had lots of company.
Almost. There. The mountain finally peaked out too!

We made it to camp in about 7 hours - I said we were going at a leisurely pace! - and set about making 'home' for the evening. Kyle, an expert backcountry traveler, built an ingenious system for melting snow using solar radiation, which came in handy once we realized we neglected to bring a second stove! Luckily, we had enough fuel, food, and good spirits that the forgotten stove was quickly, well, forgotten. We ate, shared a camp beer (carbo-loading!), and melted snow for the big climb ahead.

The tutu has landed in Schurman. I repeat, the tutu has landed.
Panorama from camp
Grandpa Max made a friend with Spidey and Spidey's pet flamingo

I had planned on heading to bed around 8pm, but the weather gods decided to put on a spectacular sunset instead. The clouds were beautiful, glowing in hues only appreciated from a place far removed from civilization, and I was compelled to watch. I have a hundred pictures and none of them do it justice. But here is a glimpse into my "bed time story" for the evening:

Looking west you could see the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains

Looking east you can see the summit pyramid shadow


We finally crawled into our sleeping bags around 9:30 while it was still light outside. We did a little good-weather dance in our tents, and tried our darnedest to fall asleep. The alarm was set for 2am.

2:03am. Gross.
After what felt like sleeping for both an eternity and only a moment, we arose to calm, clear skies. The weather report had been calling for thunderstorms, so we were all pretty surprised (STOKED!) to see so many stars in the sky. With our skis on packs, ice-axes in hand, and climbing harnesses secured, we left camp about 3:20am to start the climb.

Our first crevasse encounter filled with icicles, lit by headlamp

Camp Schurman sits at 9,640' and climbs steadily up, up, up until you reach the summit cone. From camp, you can see at least 2,000 feet, so the climbing trail is pretty visible. "Looks easy enough," you think to yourself the night before the climb. Then you get on the mountain and realize the scale of things. People who seem right there are 20 minutes ahead of you, and you can climb for hours only to feel like you've only gone a few steps. Its maddening and rewarding all at the same time.

We had been climbing for only 30 minutes when the sun started to rise. Words cannot describe this sunrise. I mean, really. The three of us kept turning around and staring at it (click photos below to enlarge). I'm not afraid to admit that, at one point, I'm pretty sure I drooled on myself.
Cori turns back to appreciate the view.
The mountain was glowing red
And then it turned orange

Invigorated by the sunshine, we put our sunglasses on at 5am. After a quick food and blue bag break (not necessarily in that order) we were back at it. Conditions were good for bootpacking with crampons so that's what we did. With the warm temps we were concerned about a slushy slog, but in general everything froze and was well consolidated over night. We never once put our skis on for skinning - should have left those skins and ski crampons at camp!

Cori stripping down. Winthrop glacier below

My mood throughout the climb was quite variable. I would stop and check in with Cori and Ben below to see how they were feeling every 15 minutes or so (or whenever I was feeling particularly tuckered). We adopted a 10-point scale, and generally I was a in the 6-7 range, although one steep section with boot steps made for GIANTS put me in a foul mood, and I hit my low spot of 4.

Overall the route was in really great shape too. The boot track crossed a few little crevasses, but nothing you couldn't just step over. Then, about 12,000 feet, we encountered our first and only snow bridge. I regret the picture doesn't do it justice. This bridge spanned across a massive, gaping hole in the mountain and off to the climber's right side you could see down into the deep blue abyss below. It was breathtaking. That, or I was out of breath from altitude....And fear.

Imagine looking down 100's of feet on either side

At 12,400', on a steep section above the snow bridge we encountered our first climbers coming back from the summit. This was like a shot of adrenaline. "If people are coming down, we must be getting close!" I thought. Well, it was partially true, we were getting close, but those last 2,000' on Rainier are no joke, and we were in for some struggles ahead.

Nearing 13,000' we took one step and were suddenly slammed by the wind. It was like the mountain turned on a fan, set it at 25mph, and aimed it right at your face. Gusting to 40mph, one could say the wind was unpleasant, made all the worse by descending climbers kicking rime ice onto you. That's right, the last 1,500' were completely covered in ice. The path to the top wasn't even clearly trodden. I was thankful for the wands marking our path.

The wind may have been miserable, but the sun was out and I was on Rainier and DAMMIT I was going to make it to the top! Gathering beta from climbers on their way down, we learned that we would soon see a field of scree, and the summit was "not far beyond that". True to their word, we did eventually find our scree field, but "not far" is all in the eye of the beholder.

We struggled onward, trying not to fall over as our skis caught in the wind like sails, and finally, at 10:40am, 7 hours and 20 minutes after leaving camp, we stood on the Summit of Rainier!!!

Cori, Kristina, & Ben - Rainer Summitters!

Well, of COURSE Grandpa Max came too!

We stood on the true summit for less than 5 minutes. We split a Rainier beer, took pictures of other parties (who had also brought Rainiers to the top - duh!), and tried to enjoy the view. You could see all of the volcanoes: Baker, Glacier, Adams, Helen's, and Hood. Shucksan and Stewart looked pretty darn beautiful as well. I tried to take summit photos but my camera jammed and my iPhone died, so I took a few eyeball panoramas and locked those up for safe keeping in my brain box.

The summit was windy and cold and we were exhausted, so we found respite behind some rocks to recoup. I was pretty nauseous but forced a sandwich down. Cori and I were both shivering uncontrollably for a while as well, even though we weren't cold, but managed to get that under control once we descended a little.

View of the summit cone from our lunch spot. The tracks are the final ascent of the DC route.

An hour after summitting we were on our way down. We descended below the rocks where we put our skis on at 12:10pm. We very carefully started skiing down the steep rime ice on the top of the mountain. After skiing only about 500' we encountered a party who warned us about another skier who had fallen. We learned more later, but basically this guy fell on the steep, icy section at the top, blew out of both of his Dynafit bindings, lost both his skis when they dramatically and swiftly slid into a crevasse, and was only able to self-arrest on his third attempt using a whippet, just before he, himself would have been swept into the crevasse. His three partners, who were also skiing, took off their skis and downclimbed to him. Thankfully he was shaken but okay, with a few scrapes and probably a lot of bruises. Everyone was glad he came out relatively unscathed, and it's a good reminder to always be cautious when traveling in the backcountry, especially under dangerous conditions.

Happy skiers. Liberty Cap in background
Cori on the 800' section with descent turns

Overall the snow quality was fair. It's was a 9,000' run - what can you really expect?!? After negotiating the icy section at top, we found 800' of really good turns before it turn to mush. At the snow bridge we removed skis and once again used the rope to belay each other across to safety. Then it was pretty straight forward all the way back to camp. In all, it took 2 hours to decend.

We hiked all the way up there?

Serac field

So pretty
Once back in camp at 2pm, Kyle and Jenny, our camp stewards who opted not to climb, met us with open arms and banana pudding. And it was awesome. Overcome by my day, I laid down to take a quick cat nap and assess the damage. I was only a little bruised up.

Legs of a summiter

An hour of much needed R&R and it was time to pack up camp. We skied out of Schurman, traversed to the InterGlacier, and made haste to our stash of very-cold beers. Which were delicious.

Sun for decent on InterGlacier
I swapped back into my hiking boots (yes I was still wearing the tutu) and we began the worst part of any backcountry trip, the walk back to the car. Kyle laid down while we were loitering and I'm pretty sure he fell asleep like this:

Sleep on your backpack. The tried and true method of any real mountaineer

The mountain came out to say goodbye on the hike out. I still really can't believe I summitted. Thanks to Jesse and James for loaning me gear, and a special shout out to Kyle for giving such a fantastic calf massage. And of course to Jenny, Kyle, Ben, and Cori: you are the people that adventure dreams are made of - thanks for being awesome.

Until next time Rainier. You bring the mountain, I'll bring the beer =)