Scott and I left Boise bright and
early Saturday morning. We arrived at White Pass around 1:00pm and took a
driving break to get a look at
our challenge. The weather was perfect, although the air was thick with
smoke from the dozen wild
fires in the region. We debated for a
moment, as to the reasons for the dirty look at the base of the mountain.
It was much grimier than in
years past. We thought that some of it might have to do with the poor air
quality. It would turn out however, to have less to do with the air than
Back in the car, we dropped down into
the valley between White Pass and the mountain. For some reason, only a
couple of miles from the park entrance, I decided that we were going the wrong
way and turned around. Should have looked at a map (but we didn't have a
decent one in the car anyway). We ended up going all the way to Packwood
and up to Paradise from there. That little mistake added a couple of hours
to the trip and it was nearly 3:00pm by the time we entered the park from the
south. The thought crossed my mind that if my decision making process was
a knife, it would be one of the plastic type from the cafeteria at work. I
hoped that this wasn't the beginning of a trend.
We arrived at Paradise at 3:00pm to
find a full parking lot (as the sign at the park entrance had warned us).
I was in desperate need to take a #2 (I know, I know, but my intestinal
functionality actually becomes part of this story later on). I hopped out
of the car and skipped over to the public restroom while Scott continued the
snail's pace race around the parking lot, waiting for the next spot to open up.
After doing my duty, I walked to the ranger's station to secure our climbing
permits, but soon realized that we would be climbing without one. The
station closed at 2:00 and the after-hours registration service was no longer a
service. In all the time I've spent on this mountain, I had never been
asked for my climbers registration and I hoped that that trend would continue.
(Actually, I didn't think of it at the time, but it seems I stirred from my
slumber at Ingraham Flat
last year, just long enough to hear the others rustling around looking for the
permit... but I could be mistaken).
A few minutes later I found Scott, who
had found, or rather stole, a perfect parking spot very near the trail head.
We repacked our packs, pre-doctored our feet, wolfed down a bottle of Gatorade
and said goodbye to Paradise. Not more than ten feet up the trail, we
passed Ranger Rick. I didn't want to simply ignore him, thinking that
might draw suspicion and he'd ask about our permit. So I said something
about the weather and the number of people up there. His reply was quick
"Yeah Camp Muir is pretty full... and I'm glad you guys have your permit!".
I snapped back that we weren't camping at Muir and kept walking without looking
back. He wasn't fooled but let us go without further interigation.
past the ranger, the hiking rhythm kicked in and things began to look promising.
The weather couldn't have been better and returning climbers were giving nothing
but good reports of the route conditions and summit success.
We were carrying relatively light
packs. No tent, no sleeping bags. We planned on climbing through the
night to summit at first light. The only community gear (and the heaviest
single item) we carried was the rope. We switched this between the two of
us as we made our way to the customary base camp once known as Cloud Camp, but
don't call it anything but camp Muir if you want anyone to know what your
talking about, at '10,000. Of course this was named after John Muir who
along with Edward Ingraham, were the fourth party to climb the mountain and
the first to climb it from Gibraltar Rock (and also named that formation) in
1888 (the massif at the far right).
along the Nisqually glacier (or what's left of it), we had now way of knowing
that less than 72 hours later, the Kauts glacier (the white spat in the upper
left) would make national news by spilling its guts in a "glacial burst".
Which is a fancy way of saying that an ice dam broke and released a stream of
water and ice that flowed down onto the Nisqually, gathering material and
building in volume as it went. This event caused seismic monitors on the
mountain to trigger an alarm at some volcanic alert center triggering a the
political avalanche that would call for the voluntary evacuation of the mountain
and camp grounds all the way down the valley and close Paradise to incoming
The authorities would get some heat
for over reacting by the media, but anyone with half a brain would agree that
they did the right thing. I just whished that I could have been there to
witness it (no follow up to the half-a-brain comment please).
We arrived at camp Muir at around
7:30. We were surprised at the presence of several large crevasses
crossing the Muir Snowfield and thought it was just a tip of the ice-berg
(pardon the pun), and that the upper slopes would be heavily crevassed.
But hours later we would be happily surprised that the opposite was true.
We settled down on the rock shelf just below the
helicopter pad, and fixed up some grub. I felt less than strong on my way
to this perch and had to pretend that laying out the rope for our next leg of
the climb, was just as important and labor intensive as scrambling over to
collect water for dinner. Scott didn't seem to notice though, and
scampered off to fill our empty bottles.
body temperature quickly began to drop and I didn't waist any time putting on
just about every stitch of clothing that I had brought. Looking back on
it, I felt way too cold for the conditions and was probably running a low grade
fever. That would explain my lack of energy as well. I wondered if I
would have to bail on this climb before we even really got started. We
finished boiling the water that Scott had collected, and mixed it with Gatorade
crystals in preparation. We each slipped a hot bottle inside our
parkas and slumped over a rock for a snooze.
We both dozed for another hour (or
maybe two) as we waited for the sun to drop below the horizon before heading out
across Cowlitz glacier. It was 10:00pm when Scott stole me from my dreams.
My first thought was how much better I felt. That little nap was not only
enough to re-energize me, but I was feeling much warmer inside and out. and
began pealing away the layers in preparation for the climbing that was about to
commence. We wasted no time, already working by headlamp, as we made our
last minute adjustments roped up and headed out of camp.
My first thought was that I should
have taken a better look at the trail before it got dark. The moon
wouldn't rise until midnight and it wasn't clear at first which way we should
walk through the scattered tents at the edge of the Cowlitz. Nevertheless,
we followed a path around a corner and over a small hill and suddenly found
ourselves in dark solitude with a very well beaten route laid out ahead of us.