All week we’ve had stunning views of Mt. Adams looming over us wherever we go, the bright glacier white gleaming through the trees. We’ve just been waiting for the weekend to go and climb it…
Permits downloaded, everything packed, we are ready to go. Brad told me, “This mountain is going to change your life. Even if you $#!t your pants, vomit all over your sleeping bag, cry and curl up in fetal position, and I have to carry you down off the mountain, it will change your life”. Well, none of that awful stuff happened, but it was an incredible experience.
Climbing a mountain is a very different thing than backpacking or hiking. It is all vertical ascent with no relief. When there is snow, you have to manage the slipping and sliding, every step taking twice the energy and twice as long that it would normally. Mountaineering boots and crampons are heavy and weigh you down. The body reacts to the thin air at elevation in a number of different ways – headache, nausea, loss of appetite, inability to sleep. The sun is far more intense at altitude, and burns your skin and eyes. Dehydration and heat exhaustion is a very real problem. Simply put, climbing a mountain is hard.
It was very hot when we set out up the trail through a forest of burnt out trees. There were some brief interludes of dappled shade. Such a relief from the hot sun, but then it was gone again. I had rivulets of sweat dripping down my body.
Not far up the trail I felt a hot spot on my heel, and decided to put on my approach shoes even if it meant my feet would get wet. Once I got the weight of my mountaineering boots off, my feet felt as light as clouds! What a relief! Those mountaineering boots are so heavy.
It wasn’t long before we gained some elevation and could see Mt. Hood rise into view. Then Mt. St. Helens! A swarm of butterflies kept following me and flying in circles around my head.
We took the winter route at the advice of the ranger, although most everyone else was taking the summer route. It was peaceful and quiet. I saw a fox staying cool under the shade of a tree. He didn’t seem to mind that we were there.
The sun at elevation is intense. Even though I applied sunscreen every hour I could sense that I was burning. It wasn’t until we reached camp that I realized my lips were burned pretty bad. Later, the burning started inside my ears and nostrils. Yep, I burned my ears, nostrils and lips! Ouch! In the morning my lips were painfully swollen and red. Brad says it’s the best way to get the Angelina Jolie look…
The views from camp were incredible! I found a rock seat that was perfectly scooped out and allowed for a comfortable recline. It was just right to sit and eat some noodles while surveying the sweeping landscape. Mt. Hood was ever present on the horizon.
As the sun lowered the landscape changed dramatically, suddenly painted in hues of orange, yellow and pink. Brad pointed out the shadow that the mountain cast across the neighboring valley. You can see in the photo how it looks like a blue pyramid hovering in the air.
Then sunset followed, which was even more dramatic. Skies just don’t look like this from the mere mortal view down below.
Some other climbers came and set up camp right next to ours. Even on a 12,000 foot mountain it seems impossible to find solitude! But the wind had picked up dramatically, and after 30 minutes or so they repacked everything and headed back down the mountain in the dark.
We might have done the same if we hadn’t already settled in, plus we were completely spent from the climb up. The winds were fierce through the night, and it was difficult to sleep from all of the noise! The tent rattled and flapped in the wind all night long.
Descending was a bit easier with crampons on, but we took them off before long so that we could glissade! Sliding down the snow takes only a fraction of the time it takes to walk. It took 7 hours on the way up, but only 2.5 on the way back down. It was my first time glissading for “real” and it took a little bit of practice, but I got the hang of it. Ok, it was bumpy and my butt is sore now, but it sure was fun!
And then we made it. One burger and huckleberry milkshake later, it’s shower and nap time. My body aches in ways I didn’t know was possible! But it was worth every bit of effort. Totally type II kind of fun.
Tomorrow we move north to Lake Wenatchee. There are so many mountains to explore there. I wonder what adventure will come next?0