Monday, August 31, 2015

Wonderland Trail run

We had just enough time (and energy!) left to go for a run on the Wonderland Trail.  It's a beautiful (some might say - wonderful?) trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier.  Many people hike it in multiple days.  Some people run the whole thing.

We did a small piece of it, that which we could easily reach by car.  John ran one direction, I drove out and ran back.  Along the way we went up and over a big ridge so we also got some vertical in.

Another beautiful day and the mountain was clear as well:

Looking down into the narrow Box Canyon, with water running down from the Cowlitz Glacier where we just were a couple days ago, that's pretty cool:

Ah, a lovely trail and deep dark woods:

Well-made bridge:

And beautiful streams:

I really enjoyed the variety along the way:

And several waterfalls visible through the trees:

Stevens Creek:

Now this is a fun little bridge:

More waterfalls:

This is probably Reflection Lake, not the greatest shot of the lake nor the reflection of the mountain:

Narada Falls, worth seeing from the bottom (for scale see the person on the bridge at the top), and I even captured the little rainbow:

Looking up the Nisqually River at the majestic mountain:

Lots of water in the river, photo courtesy of John who went back later in the day to poke around some more:

The previous bridge apparently was big but not big enough to stay in place during one of the floods!

That's a wrap on Mount Rainier - at least for now!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Camp Muir day at Mt Rainier

A day of camp!  After sleeping and recovering from our aborted climb, we returned to go play on the mountain some more and do a little training.  Another excellent day of weather and we didn't want to waste it.

Hello, glorious mountain!

It was fun seeing the lower mountain in the daylight.  The Pebble Creek crossing, for starters:

Looking back down the Muir Snowfield, it was rather hazy (possibly related to distant wildfires, but we didn't know that at the time):

Climbing up rocks on the east side of the snowfield.  Of note is the distant horizon, where Mount Adams was sort of visible to us a couple times (but not really in this photo, I don't think):

Tracks in the snow and more views of the surrounding area:

One of the wands marking the way:

And another one in the snow, with plenty more tracks.  A lot of people make the trek up to Camp Muir to hang out, as no permit is needed up to that point.  We planned to journey onto the Cowlitz Glacier, so we picked up a permit (like a "day pass") for that.

We wore our shoes and smaller crampons for this venture but still carried all the glacier gear:

All day long there was a helicopter doing runs up to Camp Muir and back down.  We learned they are working on a new bathroom and the helicopter was delivering supplies and helping haul rocks from one location to another.  Loud, but neat to watch.

Welcome to Camp Muir in the daylight!  There were a few people resting up for their summit attempt that night.

One of the buildings at the camp:

Closer-up shot of the copter:

Solar hot water system, I believe this one was for melting snow and not for taking showers!

Checking out the Cowlitz Glacier in daylight:

A group gearing up to trek over to Ingraham Glacier to set up a research project:

And another shot of camp.  It was great to see everything (and everyone) during the day, got to meet a couple climbers and guides, along with one guy who hiked up to camp there overnight with no intention of continuing higher.  Neat place to see.

The trail across the Cowlitz over to Cathedral Rocks, including on the left one of the first crevasses we had stepped over a couple days previously (I don't believe I could actually fall into that one, just don't drop your keys):

On rope and starting out onto the glacier:

We went over to some larger crevasses to study them and get a feel for "cross country" (i.e. without following tracks) glacier travel.  I enjoyed spending time on the glacier, starting to understand how it works and what to expect.

Nice afternoon lighting:

Wow, these things are so cool, so crazy:

Not sure how this fin happened down in the crevasse:

Love the perspective on this shot:

We found a shallow crevasse that worked great for a bit of rescue training.  We were losing daylight so there was only time for one of us to try it.  I nominated John to be the guinea pig, of course.  We set up an anchor and he rappelled down a few feet to the bottom:

Notice how the rope is trenching into the top of the ice, a common thing you have to deal with and our first experience with it.  An ice ax under the rope is a good way to prevent this.  I also worked on getting the other end of the rope run from the anchor directly down to John as a backup option for climbing up (we have a long rope for just 2 people and plenty of extra length).

John switching from a rappel to a climb back up using prussics plus a chest harness.  Not your normal adventure race ascending gear!

Somewhere on the way back up he managed to bump his forehead on the ice (probably with the glasses still on his head), although he didn't realize it until he topped out and I asked about the spot of blood on his head.  Such a typical look for John - laughing while slightly bloody!  The guide at Camp Muir saw him and asked if he should be worried?  Naw, just a flesh wound.

After getting back to camp and de-gearing, we ran fast down the snowfield chasing daylight.  John attempted trash compactor bag sledding but it didn't work too well on the bumpy surface:

Beautiful brook near the lower trails:

And one last shot of the mountain - thank you Mount Rainier for a fun afternoon!

Mount Rainier - partial climb

Mount Rainier!  So much to say about it, but hard to put into words.  It's not just another high point, it's truly an amazing place and a powerful mountain.  We spent 6 days camped in the national park and didn't get close to doing everything we wanted to.  The good news is that we will be back.

The fun entry portal on the south side.  The huge trees in the lower forests were amazing, but I didn't really get any great photos of them besides this one (it was pretty dark in them there woods):

There it is!  Or at least, there it is behind that giant cloud.  The cloud covered the mountain during our drive in and for our first day there, while there were blue skies all around it.  Apparently the phrase "the mountain has its own weather system" is for real.

We chatted with a helpful ranger about climb conditions and routes and decided to give it a go.  The plan was to start in the evening, make it to Camp Muir about the time the "normal people" were getting prepped to leave, then continue up on the standard early morning schedule.  We figured our fitness level would allow us to do it in one push and then we could eliminate the camping gear and Camp Muir stop.

So we got our permit, that step accomplished.  The next day we went down to Ashford to rent some boots and crampons, and we compiled all the crevasse rescue ropes gear.  Didn't quite get a nap in, oh well.

Quick peek at the peak, it's out of the cloud!

The steps leading up to the start of the trail:

What a lovely sunset to start us off:

Parts of the mountain were visible:

All geared up and ready to walk:

A little bit of alpenglow:

Wonderful trails above the Jackson Visitor Center, what a great place for hiking:

More sunset colors:

That's it for photos!  The rest of this story is in the dark.

We climbed well on the trails to Pebble Creek, crossed over and started following a faint trail through the rocks.  Then some snow and occasional wands with tiny reflectors that lit up in our headlamps.  Up along the Muir Snowfield, eventually our shoes were slipping enough that we decided to stop and put on our boots and crampons.  I was following John's lead with leather boots instead of plastic this time, and what a huge different - much better, no shin issues.

It didn't take long to get chilled while we were stopped, so we put on more clothes, then it didn't take long to warm up again once we resumed climbing.  We knew it was a long way up the snowfield, just taking our time and enjoying being on the mountain.  We found lots of boot prints and tried to follow the ones that were going uphill instead of the larger steps of the downhill trekkers.

We heard occasional rock fall over in the Nisqually Glacier valley to the left, obviously nowhere near the main climbing route but still rather weird to listen to in the dark.

Not too far from camp we found a large rock off to the right with a little stream flowing down it.  We filled a bottle, got our new Steripen to work after a couple tries, and wondered why the heck we lugged so much water up from the parking lot.  I can only assume that this stream is seasonal (maybe normally snow-covered), or everyone is keeping the secret that there is an excellent water source at 9000'.

We could see lights moving up at Camp Muir, but by the time we arrived around midnight they had all departed for the next part of the climb.  There was one guy standing in camp watching for a couple people coming back, and he gave us some info on where to find the trail across the glacier, so that was helpful since it was plenty dark at this point.  We could see the lights of the groups ahead making their way across the Cowlitz Glacier, very cool.

We found a spot out of the wind to put on harnesses and set up the rope for glacier travel.  This is still pretty new to us so it took most of an hour to get it all together, and by then we were shivering pretty good.  We really need to get better at the setup part, and we also could have put on harnesses at an earlier stop with a chance to climb and rewarm ourselves before this point.  Anyway, just as we finally had our stuff together, a large rock slid a couple feet down onto the snow from a nearby wall and made a bit of a crashing noise.  Between the sounds of rocks falling (far away and now right near us) and the shivering, I was already on edge.

Then we stepped onto the glacier.  And into another world.  We have trained on a couple glaciers in the past and seen little crevasses and big snowfields, but this was different.  The good news was that the path was simple to follow, with all the boot steps of groups going up and down every day (and no new snow).  The challenge for me was that the path went right over the crevasses, cracks to step over.  It was really nothing to step across, just a few inches, but you could look down and see a void.  A dark crack going deep into the ice, no bottom in sight.

So my brain kind of freaked out on me, which happens occasionally as John can attest.  All kinds of questions - how does this happen?  Why do glaciers exist?  How often do they move and could a crack open up at any time?  Logically I know that the ice is super stable.  Plus we're on a rope.  But my mind was not quite grasping the whole concept.  It just didn't make sense.

I decided that we should walk the 800 meters across the Cowlitz Glacier and over to Cathedral Rocks.  It was an easy walk, John led the way and we warmed up quickly, and we were careful with all the crevasse step-overs.  By the time we reached the dirt trail on the other side, I had much calmed down.  OK, the glacier thing is still weird, especially in the dark, and it will take some time to get accustomed to it.  But the concept was starting to sink into my crazy brain.

We could have kept going, but I decided that I wasn't ready.  Mostly I need to feel a lot more confident in our crevasse rescue skills in order to be OK with being up there.  We need more practice on an actual glacier, and I would be way happier with one or two more people on our climbing rope.  So I called "turn around" and John of course (being John) was completely fine with that.

Back across the glacier, getting more comfortable with every step.  I could look down into the holes and be amazed at the shapes and colors.  It is such an incredible place.  To see it first at night was pretty special.  Maybe not super smart, but hey, I did handle the storm on Mount Hood completely fine, so you never know.

The consolation prize is that we definitely have to come back!  I am really looking forward to that, coming back much better prepared and hopefully with friends.

It was a long walk down the snowfield in the boots, and we kept the crampons on since the snow was getting harder in the chilly night.  By the time we reached the bottom we were realizing that it's a really long climb with big packs!  And we did only 4800' of it (up to 10,200').  Maybe we should do the tent camping thing at Camp Muir after all and break it up into sections with rests in between.  Anyway, I collected a ton of notes and made a bunch of plans, and it's all good!