Friday, December 8, 2017

The Southwest Ridge of Mt. Barff, New Zealand- 7,388ft, December 1st-3rd 2017

Going back to this last January, I started looking at mountains to climb here in NZ. The one that caught my eye was Mt. Aspiring. Also known as the “Matterhorn of the South”, she towers above the Aspiring National Park in high demand of respect. I researched the routes and the southwest ridge peaked my interest. Climb until you gain the ridge, then you’ll come to a couloir filled with ice. Two pitches of ice climbing leads you to the Northwest Ridge, where you gain the summit. The PERFECT route for where Joe and I were at in our Climbing, it’s all I could think about. 

I was most excited about Aspiring as it was the first Mountain and route I picked out for us to climb. So when we came to NZ only to here of warm temperatures and poor conditions, my heart started to sink and I tried not to think of the worst. We went from the DOC (Department of Conservation, similar to the National Park Service), multiple guiding companies, and to the gear stores in search of information. One of the guide companies conditions report confirmed our fears... “Southwest Ridge is incomplete”. In other words, rather than picturesque ice straight to the summit, you’re more like to discover loose and dangerous rock.  My heart sat in my stomach for a few days, to come so far for one major objective seems silly. But as Ive been told and am figuring out... that’s a part of Climbing. 

So with that, we started looking for new objectives. Asking around Wanaka, we were quickly laughed at when people figured out we didn’t have any rock gear. In a good snow year, ice screws and pickets are plenty. In a year like this, rock shoes and rock pro is the way to go. People started throwing out different options, one of those being Mt. Barff.

Mt. Barff

Everyone I've talked to about Mt.Barff doesn't know exactly why or the reason behind its unusual name. If I had to guess, I'd say that the person who christened the mountain with a name like Barff, must've puked multiple times just trying to get to the base of the snow.  Terrible skree rock lines her flanks and makes for a huge undertaking. 

We drove towards the Raspberry Car Park and encountered many fords along the way. The last looked deep and impassable for low clearance Hidey, so we parked her on the side of the road and added a mile and a half to our already 9 1/2 mile day. 

The first 3/4 of the hike is completely flat ground through the Matukituki Valley. Crossing through farm land in the presence of towering mountains on our sides and even larger beasts in front of us. We arrived at Aspiring Hut for a brief lunch and admired Mt Aspiring and Mt Barff that rose straight ahead. 

After a couple more hours of walking through flat valleys, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain that would lead us to Liverpool Hut. The sign read as: “Liverpool Hut-2 Hours. WARNING: This hike is steep and treacherous in wet AND dry conditions”.  

We started up and quickly realized that the sign was no joke. More like scrambling, most of the hike you were hand over foot pulling on roots and rocks to get you up. Over 2,500 vertical feet of “climbing” was had, with 40lbs if climbing gear on our backs. By the time we reached the hut we sat in exhaustion and stared at Barff that was peeking in and out of the clouds. 

Prior to leaving on this adventure, a local gear store employee advised us on the path through the scree rock to get to the snow. With a hand made map, Joe ate some lunch and scampered off to find the trail for tomorrow morning. I sat in the hut until his return multiple hours later. In that time a few hikers came to the hut for a nights stay, which we warned that we would be as quiet as we could at 1:30AM while we packed our bags and headed out for the climb. 

Joe returned looking tired but optimistic. With the hut being at 3,608ft, that meant we had 3,708ft to go for summit day. With an early start then next morning, we ate dinner and quickly climbed into our sleeping bags and fell asleep before the sun had set. 1:30AM rolled around faster than expected. Both Joe and I groggily changed and went to the mud room to grab our packs. We had left the hut by 1:57AM, and as we looked into the night sky an ominous cloud blanketed the summit. 

With mostly moonlight and stars we started up. Through the bush, we finally found our way to the rocks. A few wrong turns had led us astray but soon enough the cairns started to be more consistent and we knew we were on the right track. Each step was methodically thought about.  With pebbles on big flat slippery rocks, a fall would have high consequences.

 After two hours of just rock scrambling we found our first snow patch. We took advantage of the low angle and changed shoes, put harnesses on and roped up. The change from rock to snow was glorious, and rest stepping brought back wonderful memories from earlier this summer. 

The angle slightly increased on the mountain and the sun started to rise. Our hopes were high that the change in temperature would clear the dark cloud that we were now just a few hundred feet from. Up until this point the Climbing was easy. Few crevasses, and moderate angle made for smooth sailing. Soon enough we had climbed our way into the clouds. Before long the sky became the same color as the snow and the definition between the two was gone. 

I could see Joe just ahead and nothing more. The bright green rope between us glowed in the whiteout, keeping us together. The clouds would shift and we’d hold our breath, looking around for some sort of indication of where we might be, only to be engulfed again in the white. We stopped, took off our packs, threw on a warm jacket and waited.

We waited, and waited. In the same spot we sat and looked to see if the weather would be on our side. After more than an hour, doing sun dances and asking for a break the weather persisted. Should we go? Or wait just ten more minutes?? The thought of getting back to the hut and the Mountain showing her face made our stomachs turn in frustration. 

With the snow already soft and getting softer we knew our time had ticked away and we turned around following our tracks back to the rocks. When you do make the decision to go down due to weather, your mindset switches from: “please sun, C’mon, just a little less cloud!” to: “I hope I never see the sun again.”

Going down is always a tricky thing, with tired legs it tends to be the place where most accidents happen. With a summit in hand, the euphoria feeds into the thought process of thinking about each muscle movement that’ll get you down safely. Without one, it requires what seemed to be more thought and effort. 

We changed our shoes and took off our gear for the rock section. We stepped as carefully as we could. There was a few moments where my butt hit the ground but luckily those moments were met with a smile and laughter as we continued on.

We arrived back to the hut after 8 hours and 30 minutes of Climbing. We had made it 3/4 of the way to the top before turning around. Luckily when we looked Barff’s way, all there was to see what big, white, engulfing clouds. 

The rest of the day was spent in the hut. That afternoon the clouds increased and the wind picked up. Rain was repeatedly pelted into the side of the hut, and Joe and I were glad not to be up on the mountain. 

The next morning we headed down, we down climbed the roots and rocks and once safely at the bottom we celebrated with a candy bar, as we knew from here on out was just flat ground. 

Walking on “flat” ground is easier said than done. With heavy packs and tired legs the next 4 hours seemed to drag. When we reached the last mile and a half of our walk both Joe and I tried to not look ahead. I could’ve sworn the car was getting farther away even though we were walking towards it! 

Of course we got back to Hidey, took off our shoes and drove the rest of the way back to town. The clouds never broke around Barff while we were in the valley, only to solidify the decision to turn around.

While Climbing you tend to dream of the food you see in town. This trip was no different, and while trying to be good with our money we’ve only managed to eat out once the entire trip thus far. We decided to reward ourselves after a good effort and all we could think about was the Turkish Kababs and fries that were on the main drag. We had walked by the restaurant so many times, so to actually go inside was euphoric. 

We sat down, thoroughly stuffed ourselves with food and started thinking about the next climb. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New Zealand and the Kepler Track

The three hour plane ride across the Tasman Sea seemed to fly by compared to our previous flight. Near the end, as we started to descend I looked out the window and to my right the Southern Alps started to come into view. I smashed my face into the window like a little kid and Joe leaned over me to see for himself. I couldn’t scrape the smile and excitement from my face even if I wanted to. The massive snow capped peaks seemed to continue endlessly south. I couldn’t believe we were finally landing in the place I had read and researched so much about. 

Going through customs in NZ was as easy as putting your passport in a machine, and going on your way. We quickly realized they care more about what you are bringing into their country then who you are. Our boots, tent, poles, gaitors and anything else that could have any sort of soil on it was throughly inspected. We were prepared for such grueling inspections, they gave us high praise and were sent on our way with no issues.

Christchurch seems to still be recovering from the 2011 earthquake that demolished most of the infrastructure here. Way smaller than either of us were expecting, the city brought a calm that I really soaked in. Soon enough, the reality started to sink in of how we were supposed to start traveling. 

Initially we planned on hitch hiking around the country. With heavy packs, filled with such specific gear we started to question ourselves. Multiple hostel goers had bought cars for traveling the country and after talking to everyone, Joe and I came to the conclusion that it would be a sensible idea to do the same.

Buying a car in NZ is nothing like the states. In a mere 24 hours, we decided to buy a car, found a car, drove it around town, purchased the car and registered it at the post office for $9.00 NZD. So with that, we welcomed “Hidey” (in relation to being sneaky, stealth and keeping hidden) the 1998 Volkswagen Passat Wagon into our lives. She’s no Ruby (The Suzuki/mobile humble abode back home) BUT she will do just fine (plus I’m only a little biased)! 

Joe and I drove Hidey from town to town across the southern tip of the country. We were on a bit of a time limit as in just a few days we were scheduled to start our first hiking adventure here in NZ called the Kepler Track. 

Prior to the hike, and along the way we stopped in multiple small towns, beaches and enjoyed other beautiful sights. The reality of where we are really started to settle in. Seeing all the sheep on the rolling hills of almost makes you wish you were one of them. They must live the most ideal life of any farm creature to roam the earth. Not only the sheep but cows, pigs and deer all live out their lives on lush green pastures.

We drove into Te Anau on Sunday and walked into the Fiordland visitor center. As we picked up our camping and hut tickets we were briefed on the quickly changing weather, sun scorched trail, and the cheeky Keas (alpine parrots known to steal, chew and rip anything they can get their beaks on).

The next day was a short day of hiking to our first camp spot so we took our time sorting gear, getting food and eventually got on the trail a little after one in the afternoon. We weren’t exactly being very weight conscious, with our Mountain goals coming up we almost welcomed the extra weight as part of our training. The first day of the Kepler Track had us winding through a forest of massive beech trees and ferns that towered above our heads. Being relatively flat we made it to the Brod Bay Camp site with plenty of sunlight. We set down our now heavy feeling packs and took one breath in, before BAM! We were immediately swarmed by Sandflies. If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing sandflies then let me tell you about them. These minuscule, nat like bugs smell your sweat, find your skin and bite a hole in your flesh before drinking the blood from the recent wound inflicted upon you. They’re small, hard to kill, hard to spot and usually come in the thousands.

They make resting especially hard. If you’re moving, they don’t bother you- but the moment you stop, prepare to be bitten! We attempted in making a fire, but sadly only smoke semi helps the problem. So we spent most of the evening in our tent away from the bugs. We did emerge after the sun went down and the bugs went to sleep to chat with fellow trail goers who were headed the other way. 

The next morning, we stepped out of our tent to be greeted by sandflies. After a few bites of muesley (a form of delicious oatmeal that is much better than traditional oatmeal) we said our goodbyes to the friends we had made the night prior and headed up the trail. The trail gradually worked its way up through the trees and with my lingering cold I found it to be harder than I would’ve liked it to be. Switch back after switch back we were passed by day hikers and trail runners all with lighter packs. After a few hours of hiking up, without warning we broke passed the trees and ferns out into our first look of the NZ alpine zone. 

Unlike the tree lines I’ve seen prior to this, where  the trees get smaller and a tree less than a foot tall can be hundreds of years old. Here the trees, were massive all the way till they just stopped. Rather than harshness of environment, the vegetation purely goes off temperature. Once it hits 9 degrees Celsius, the trees just stop.

 It was a blue bird day, and we stopped to gaze across just some of the NZ mountains. You could see our trail cross boardwalks that saved the fragile plants from being smashed. We walked across the boardwalk until our hut for the night came into view. The hut had alpine views for all to see, windows everywhere, and the best part- no sandflies! We slept in a big communal dorm room, and with it not truly getting dark until 10:30pm, it made a late night for everyone.

The hustle of morning hikers comes early, and even though being one of the last couple to get out of the bed we were still some of the first to get on the trail. The trail climbs and loses elevation the entire day. We took a detour off the track and summited Mt Luxmore (crossing our fingers it’s not the only summit of the trip!) and came back to find our bags surrounded by four Keas. Though they had not touched them, they looked mighty suspicious. 

Each high point of the trail brought different views, with no clouds in the sky my breath was constantly being take away with mountain after Mountain. After multiple hours of ridge walking we finally started to descend. One switch back led to another and then another... we found our selves back into the forest and eventually after 81 grueling switchbacks later we walked our sore bodies into the Iris Burn camp site only to be greeted by sandflies. We tried to find reprieve in the river cold enough to give you hypothermia but alas they were there too. The campsite eventually filled with other hikers, and the night was filled with laughter around the fire.

The next day we quickly left Camp and hit the trail. The trail was almost entirely through the forest and made for a monotonous day compared to yesterday. Though beautiful, we were excited to see the hut come into view and one of the most beautiful lakes either of us had ever seen. We dropped off our gear inside, picked out bunks and quickly headed for the water. It was so clear you couldn’t tell if it was a foot deep or a hundred. The water begged my aching body to enjoy its healing, cool waters. Both Joe and I swam and  mostly cleaned our dirty bodies. That night we enjoyed card games played with good friends and headed to bed in the dorm.

Early the next morning I found joe sitting out on a The rocks watching the ducks make ripples in the water. We watched the sun crest the mountain tops and quickly ate breakfast before being the first ones on the trail. My feet ached under the weight of my pack. After a few weeks of no exercise I was feeling it by this point. After what seemed like forever we stumbled into the Kepler Car Park. We had finished the hike but with 45 minutes of hiking back to where the car was parked it was hard to rejoice. A local must’ve seen our frustration as she quickly offered to give us a ride back to the car and with little hesitation we agreed and hopped in the back of the car.

We managed to not forget about the millions of people on the other side of the world celebrating one of the best Holidays that ever existed. We all dreamed about family meals, traditions and came up with the idea to meet up with our fellow hikers off the trail that night to have our own Friendsgiving in the park.  

We grilled up good ol’ traditional hamburgers and had our own thanksgiving BBQ. Apple pie and Vanilla ice cream filled our bellies to the brink of exploding. We cheered to good trail weather, food, and even better friends. 

The next day, Joe and I started to switch over our mindset. Knowing we are headed to the Mountains soon we took advantage of being so close to Milford Sound and drove the car north for a rest day. 

We stopped at multiple different places along the way but one in particular made our eyes wide. A massive field of blue, purple, white and pink lupin engulfed the valley. The smell and color overwhelmed your senses. Could such a place truly exist? I walked through them, carefully stepping around them taking in a site few get to see. 

As we drove on, the glacier carved peaks towered above the car. Finger like waterfalls fell over every single peak, each one falling more than hundreds of feet before hitting the valley floor. The sound was scattered with tourists and though we didn’t pay the money to ride the boat, helicopter or plane ride we did manage to soak in the views of big mountains that met the sea and hanging glaciers high above our heads.

The Kepler Track was a good start point to get our bodies in the mindset of heavy packs on our back and walking uphill. We headed to Queenstown to try to start researching about Mt Aspiring, but found little luck. After a quick dip in the lake we decided to make our way to Wanaka in hopes of finding some more climbing beta. 

With Wanaka being the base town for the Aspiring Region, we are right where we want to be. Now we start to focus on learning about the Mountain, and watching the weather. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


The moment I sat in the seat of the shuttle bus in LA the butterflies that had been kept locked away started to flutter. I watched the buildings and colors of the city become a blur as the only thing that I could think about was seeing Joe and starting our adventure. 

I found myself in the international terminal only to find out that I would be taking my international flight out from a domestic gate. It turns out that carrying a duffle bag, a small backpack and a large 70L pack completely wrapped in plastic wrap, 5 terminals down a busy airport is no easy task. By the time I made it through security my sweat had dried and I soon saw Joe walk through the Security gates.

Eight weeks is a long time, even for Joe and myself. That much time apart makes seeing each other that much sweeter. With ten hours in the airport and 14 1/2 on the plane, we had more than enough time to catch up. 

Our internal clocks were all out of whack and when we arrived at our Hostel, our eyes and bodies drooped in a way of begging to finally find a place to rest. Check in still was an hour away and after walking around Sydney, a lot like zombies we finally found our way to our bed in the Hostel and slept for a good 14 hours. 

It took some time to get on the new clock schedule but we finally achieved it. Our first days were spent exploring Sydney. Not only does the city consist of genuinely kind and good people but it’s clean, easy to get around and all around pretty great. Our first day was spent on a walking tour learning bits and pieces of the city we would’ve probably missed otherwise.

Sydney excels at bringing the big city and nature together in the wonderful mix of views and botanical gardens. We walked through and admired giant trees neither of us had seen before while gazing across the bay to the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.

I went from watching snow try to cover the mountains outside my windows to flying to a country where beautiful purple spring flowers covered every branch of most of the trees. The sun beat down on the red roofs of the buildings throughout the city and the contrast of red and purple was like its own signature Sydney art piece.

The Harbor bridge and Opera House are both breathtaking in their own architectural way. Walking up to the opera house I placed my hand on one of thousands of white tiles that make up her outward shell. And while stepping onto the Harbor bridge the giant steel beams shook under the driving cars as both Joe and I gazed across the water that met the city and watched as boats and people went about their days.

You can explore almost the entire city by just walking. Chinatown seemed far on the map but with the hustle and bustle of a big city and so many things to keep you busy, you find yourself there before you know it. Sydney is a fun mixture of cultures and Chinatown was no exception.

When you can’t get to where you’re wanting to go by walking, Sydney offered probably the best transit Joe or I had ever seen. With the Opal card, you put a certain amount of money on it and you just tag on and off any mode of public transportation you desire. On Sundays the card maxes out at $2.60(AUD) and you can travel for free after that. From ferries, trains and buses- it applies to it all.

We took the 2 1/2 hour train ride to the town of Katoomba and stepped out into the Blue Mountains. With Joe getting over a cold and myself just picking one up we didn’t get to far but did find a shady spot on some sandstone and enjoyed a view that wasn’t tall skyscrapers. 

Neither joe or myself are beach people, and to be quite honest I have a very large fear of the ocean but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go and see the famous beaches of Australia. We started at Bondi and walked across the cliffs and watched as surfers caught big waves and the ocean crashed along the sandstone walls. The water carved big and artistic holes and lines to the sandstone like it was it’s own personal sculpture.

Many of our days were finished off with naps and homemade dinners at the Hostel. Sydney was a bit of a unexpected gem in a lot of ways. The reason behind this trip was not only to travel but to get some big and amazing mountains under our belts... so to find such enjoyment from being in the city was a decent surprise. 

We woke up yesterday morning after a week in Sydney and caught the shuttle bus before the sun broke the horizon. The airport was quiet and as the plane took off we waved our goodbyes to Australia. It’s hard to believe anyone could visit these places for just a week at a time. We did so much but as we were flying away we were already talking about what we were wanting to do next time we come back. Before we knew it, the Southern Alps of New Zealand broke the horizon and a massive smile of excitement grew across my face. 


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall is for Work, Family and Trip Prep

Time has a funny way of sneaking up on you, but it's interesting how you only notice that after the time has come and gone. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't need to worry about packing and prepping for our fall/winter trip to Australia and New Zealand because I had plenty of time to get all of it done. Now here we are with all my mountaineering gear, trip clothing and everything that we might need, scattered across my floor.
Working at Aspen is like coming home
doesn't ever really feel like work.

The last time I sat down and wrote a blog was three months ago, when Laramie and I finished the daunting task that was the Bridger Traverse. I find it so rewarding to sit down after a trip and write a story that I can share with anyone who wants to read what I have to say. My fingers never halt in hesitation as ideas just spew out across the keyboard.

After three months of no “adventure” or outdoor exploration, it's a lot harder to find the words to write down that anyone would find interesting to read. With our departure date to Australia & New Zealand looming a mere 11 days away, I have felt the need to reboot the blog and start getting in the mindset to write regularly again.

While my summer was filled with big mountains, beautiful destinations and long summer days, this fall has been filled with family time and a whole lot of work. Every other week I have been traveling across the country going from horse show to horse show, and in the weeks that I am home I spend it here in Boise working at Urban Ascent.

My family was brought together for some of those weeks while we said our goodbyes to my wonderful grandmother, Donanna; who has always a driving force and inspiration in my life. My Grandmother was the first to support me in my writing and encouraged me to continue in the way I live my life.
My grandparents were both avid white water rafters.

After returning from my second to last work commitment of the year, I have spread most of my time laying out gear across the floor, staring at it in contemplation of what can go and what will stay. With this being my first international climbing trip I feel a little lost. From packing axes, tools, carabiners, runners, trekking poles and everything in between, I am finding my 70L backpack to feel more like a fanny pack. I sat on the floor and tried to fill every crevice that was available with gear and clothes, only to be shot down when ¼ of my gear sat untouched on the floor next to me.

I still have a few days to get my act together and figure out the packing situation. I have a few ideas, and I think they will work… because either they will or they won't and if it doesn't work I will be bringing less stuff than I had originally planned!
the art of packing... still not a fan of this set up.

We fly out to Australia on the 6th of November, and plan to layover in Sydney for a week before flying out to Christchurch, New Zealand. Joe and I will have not seen each other for 8 weeks by the time we meet up in the LAX airport. I plan on going directly from the horse venue straight to the airport and meeting up with Joe there. After a week in Australia we will fly from Sydney to Christchurch where we will enjoy the southern island hiking, mountaineering and exploring a whole new place for the both of us.

Hilly Billy homecoming at work, some friendly competition,
swing dancing and chili make for a fun night!
I absolutely love working at the gym here in Boise, and have really found a comfortable life here in town with my family and spending time with friends. As much as being here has been enjoyable, I would be lying if I said that there wasn't an itch that has been brewing inside of me, a need to get out somewhere new and be out of my comfort zone again. It feels like it has been forever since I’ve been able to take a deep breath and really submerge myself in my surroundings. I am looking forward to refilling myself with things that make me feel like me.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Bridger Range Traverse, July 26th 2017

My alarm broke the silence of my deep sleep as my eyes opened to the 4am darkness. It's been almost two weeks since I said goodbye to Joe until the end of August. Now here I was back in Bozeman, Montana with our good friend Laramie, waking up for the next adventure.

I’ve been in Kalispell working at the largest 3 day event in the country called Rebecca Farm. After ten days I made the five hour drive south to Bozeman to spend time with Laramie. She had briefly ran the idea of the Bridger Range Traverse across me while thinking of things to do while I was visiting. After some research, I quickly became obsessed with the idea.
Sacajawea Peak

I watched the virtual tour on google earth (a rare luxury for most hikes), and read that the trail traveled 19.5 miles, summited six peaks over 9,000 ft, all while ascending around 5,000 ft, and with a descent of more than 7000 ft. With the steepest grade being 50%, I knew it would be an absolute sufferfest but a must do and hopefully enjoyable experience.

The morning of our adventure we woke up to the early hours of darkness with the goal of being on the trail by 5:30am. With this hike being across a mountain range we had to caravan and drop my car off at the College M trailhead, that marked the end of the hike. We hopped into Laramie's truck and drove parallel to the Bridger Range and watched as the sun lit up our days objective. We arrived at the Fairly Lake Trailhead and ended up starting our hike 45 minutes later than planned. With the cool morning air and barely any clouds in the sky we were in no rush.
Pre Climb Photo

We began our hike up and quickly arrived at our first summit. Sacajawea Peak marked our high point for the day at 9,612ft. Feeling strong and with about 18 miles ahead of us we took a quick summit photo and were on our way. We descended down and were surrounded by the colors of thousands of wildflowers. We each picked yellow daisies and placed them behind our ears, and tasted the drops of sugar water from Indian Paint Brushes.
Summit of Sacajawea Peak

We walked around the base of Ross peak and admired the sheer cliff faces that towered above us. The trail slowly went back up and as we gained Ross pass we placed our packs on a stump and enjoyed a quick break. At 7,650ft we made it to the pass. With Ross to our left and Naya Nuki to our right we were in a beautiful saddle of green, alpine meadows. The world of work and responsibilities  seemed to float away as we indulged in the euphoria that was around us.
Ross Pass 

The trail quickly climbed up as we came to our next summit of the day. We stood on top of Naya Nuki while thousands of bugs clinged to our sweaty skin. The photo on the summit seemed to take forever as our arms flung in every which way to try to relieve ourselves of the annoying pests.
Summit of Naya Nuki with our Ross and Sacajawea Behind us

In front of us lied the never ending miles of the Bridger Traverse and our accomplishments behind us already seemed so far away. At this point the trail stayed on top of the ridge as the city of Bozeman looked like a town of toys to our west and to our east the distant mountain ranges filled the horizon.
Miles to Go

Before we knew it ahead of us the clouds started to darken. That little voice inside of us started to make us keep an eye out for possible threats. With us being the highest thing for miles our pace quickened as we walked passed the chair lifts above Bridger Bowl.
Trying to stay stoked even with a storm ahead of us

The deep rumbling of the clouds made us stop. With metal trekking poles in each hand I knew I was my own personal lightning rod. With miles and miles of hiking behind us and what seemed like less distance ahead of us, nature made the decision for us to push on and try to get off the ridge before the storm rolled in. Our pace was now demanding our breathing to keep up at an exhausting pace. My heart pounded in my chest but was silenced by the thunder ahead of us.
Hiking towards the storm

We climbed to the top of Baldy and started to descend back down to the forest below. Feeling now relieved to be in a safer zone my gut started to make me question our direction. I stopped and called out to Laramie that I thought we were going the wrong way. We climbed around a rock outcropping only to see our trail on the other side of the mountain. We ascended back up a vertical 500ft to the summit of Baldy and towards the ever looming clouds.
Beautiful just a few hours before

Our pace stayed in a quick metronome as we climbed another peak, then another one and just as we thought we had climbed our last summit we were once more disappointed to see three more ahead of us.

Luckily the storm stayed to the east of us and our pace slowed back down as we tried to catch our breath. The feeling of trying to race nature dissolved and the pain of my blisters reemerged back into my brain. I thought to myself that the descent must be close. Finally we saw the road from which the trailhead was connected to. If you squinted your eyes you could see the cars driving along it, not exactly the best sign… But we ate our crackers, drank our water and pushed on.
Ready to be done.

The edge of the storm sent wind and rain into us from the east. Laramie looked at me, threw her hands in the air and hollered with encouragement. Adrenaline fueled me to our last peak as we saw the trail descend down the ridge. Our feet moved like mountain goats to escape the wind. Once back into the forest and in the protection of the trees we rested. Our legs felt like they had chains connected to the ground. The pins and needles in our feet made the last 3 miles to the trailhead seem forever away.

The descent was slow moving, but before we knew it we were starting to emerge back into civilization. We passed hikers who seemed to notice our apparent exhaustion. Each leg flung out in front of us to catch our bodies weight as the trail grade subsided. As we stepped onto the pavement, rain drops welcomed us back to the car. After 12 hours and 45 minutes of hiking,  I turned around to smile with success at Laramie as she threw her hands in the air and yelled out for the whole trailhead to hear.
Post Climb photo

We sat on the pavement and high fived. Its as if our bodies knew that the day's excursions were over and stopped suppressing our muscles fatigue. The pain from my blisters radiated throughout my feet and Laramies shook with exhaustion. But with the feeling of exhaustion came the feeling of happiness, success and being thankful to have achieved such a great accomplishment.

The Bridger Range Traverse was hands down the hardest hike I've done. The idea that people run the entire thing in a race is absolutely mind blowing and hats off to them. I feel so lucky to have been able to share such a big day with such a great friend. There's nothing better than to spend time out in a beautiful place with a great person.

I am planning on staying here in Bozeman for a couple more days before heading back to Idaho. It will be wonderful to unpack and regroup after some really great adventures.
Looking up at Ross Peak

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mt Rainier via The Kautz Glacier (14,411 ft) July 9th - July 12th 2017

Mt Rainier is such an iconic mountain. The moment you cross over into Washington her presence is apparent. From the Washington license plates, Rainier Beer Company, to the small town of Rainier, she is a well known symbol not to just us climbers but to everyone who lives near her.
PC: JDStylos

It doesn't matter how many times I see Rainier on the horizon, the massive mountain of snow, ice and rock never seizes to take my breath away. In the last four years, my view of the mountain has changed dramatically. From just admiring, to aspiring to climb the largest volcano in Washington.

The number one most climbed route on Rainier is the Disappointment Cleaver, with over 8,000 climbers reported in 2016. Looking at the statistics, the number dramatically drops with the Emmons Glacier coming in at just over 1,000 climbers in the same year, and the Kautz Glacier coming in with a mere 400 climbers, making it the third most climbed route on the mountain.

After some careful and methodical research (and maybe a little confidence after summiting the North Ridge of Baker) Joe and I decided that we would attempt the Kautz Glacier. With the possibility of having a pitch or two of ice climbing, a rappel and ice fall danger before entering the ice shoot, made the route sound intimidating. As if that wasn't enough, we decided that we were going to carry over. Meaning, that we would carry our heavy, 45lb packs up to the summit, and descend the Disappointment Cleaver.
PC: JDStylos

We woke up as the sun was breaking the horizon on Sunday morning. After packing all of the gear the night before, we had a quick breakfast and were on the road to Mt Rainier National Park. We hoped to be first in line for our climbing permits. We arrived just as the clock hit 7:00am, walked into the Ranger's cabin only to find a line of climbers discussing they’re climbing plans and filling out permits. For the first time this season we would be sharing the route with other climbers.

Once we parked the car and finally hit the trail my pack was feeling especially heavy. The way my plastic mountaineering boots hit the pavement had me wishing for steep snow. The mountain quickly took up our entire view. We pointed out and discussed possible ways to drop down into the glacier. By the time we roped up and stepped foot onto the glacier, a group of eight were not too far behind us.
PC: JDStylos

I weaved and stepped over crevasses as we crossed the Nisqually Glacier and made our way up to the ridge. The weight of my pack seemed to vanish as my body remembered the feeling of rest stepping up the mountain. The higher we got, the easier it became as our bodies started to accept their new normal.  
PC: JDStylos

We weren't exactly sure where camp was going to be that night, we did have a rough idea on what elevation we might start to see some camp spots but when we arrived at the top of the ridge, there wasn't much there. With the decision to keep on climbing, we made it above Castle Rock to about 9,200ft where the campsites were plentiful. We were the first to arrive and chose one close to the water source and with a good view. The perks to camping on the rocks was the ability to lay out our gear and dry everything out as we spent the rest of the afternoon napping. As the sun dipped below the horizon other climbers made their way to camp. I climbed atop the rocks above camp and watched the sun kiss Mt Adams goodnight as the warm light disappeared below the skyline.
PC: JDStylos

Throughout the night our tent was lit with the moonlight. Joe stepped out multiple times to watch the climbers go for the summit as their headlamps scurried up the mountain. We woke up at 5am, and packed up our gear and trekked the 1,800 vertical feet up the Turtle Snowfield to camp two. Once again we weren't quite sure where camp was supposed to be, so when we arrived to another tent at about 11,000ft, we knew we might be in the right place. With such a short hiking day, we took the time to find the fixed line into the ice chute and sat on the rocks with our neighbors and conversed  about the route. We watched as climbers descended the now warm and slushy chute. As they passed out tents, we picked their brains and even with mixed condition reports from different parties, we started to feel confident for tomorrow's summit go.
The ice chute with climbers descending
PC: JDStylos

As the afternoon faded into evening the wind came with a vengeance. A guided group and quite a few others had made their way into camp. Even though the wind whipped across our tent, we knew that the next day's forecast was the best we had seen in weeks, but that was two days ago. After talking with the other climbers, everyone sounded like 2:00am was the time to start climbing. With so many people, the fear of bottlenecking through the ice pitches crossed all of our minds. We knew we all couldn't start at the same time. Joe and I came to the conclusion that since we planned to carry over we should try to get a head start and be the first out.

The evening passed slowly as Joe and I only got about an hours worth of sleep. The alarm went off and we quickly packed our gear and stepped out into the moonlight. We were surrounded by only the sound of our boots crunching the now hardened snow. The light streaked across the mountain, and lit up the climb like nature's headlamp.
Climbing up the ice pitches PC: JDStylos

We stepped away from camp at 1:00am. Just ahead of us was the most hazardous section of the entire climb. A very short section lies underneath a large ice fall zone. To get to the base of the ice pitches we had to cross it as quickly as we could. We down climbed, and like mice scurrying across the kitchen floor we hurried our way to the other side. Before we knew it we had safely made it to the base of our climb. With such an early start the ice had not yet formed into the glass that shatters when your picks hit it. Rather, you could feel the sticky ice wrap around the pick of your tool as we made our way up. With 50ft of WI2 (Water Ice) climbing behind us, the route turned into an easy upward metronome. We stepped from one frozen sun cup to the next and before we knew it we had climbed all 1000ft of the steepest section without a single piece of protection. As the grade slowly decreased, we saw the first headlight step out to the base of the ice chute now far below us.
PC: JDStylos

With plenty of climbing still ahead of us, Joe did his best to find the route through massive crevasses. With little light, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish sun cupped bowls and boot tracks. Joe continually impressed me as he found the way over the next ridge with a sense of calm that was incredibly contagious.

After a couple of hours climbing, light had yet to peak across the horizon. Even in the cover of darkness, the crevasses were like sleeping giants. As we climbed higher, the trail became easy to follow but the air became distant. The closer we got to the summit, the sun finally fell onto our faces with a welcomed warmth. I tried to fill my lungs with consistent breaths that matched my slow stepping. I could feel my lungs expand but the satisfaction of a deep breath was 2000 ft below us.
The warmth of the sun was more than welcome!
PC: JDStylos

With the hard, and technical climbing behind us, we crested the summit crater as steam rose around the edges and welcomed us with a 360 degree view of Washington.  We climbed around the crater towards the 14,411ft summit. I tried to take it all in, the summit of Rainier looked so different from what I had imagined it. Joe and I swapped places and once again he let me take the lead to the top. With the sun just over the horizon and the wind whipping across my face, I smiled under my face mask realizing that I was finally standing on the mountain that I had admired for the past four years.
The Summit Crater
PC: JDStylos

After a summit selfie with Joe, we walked down and in the protection of register rock, we took a quick break, ate some snacks, and signed the summit register. We crossed the summit crater once more towards the Disappointment Cleaver. Climbers started to pop up from both the DC and the Emmons Glacier. As we descended, we passed a long train of climbers rest stepping their way up to the summit. The sun quickly warmed the snow as we crossed some fairly large crevasses. We approached the cleaver, and climbed down the rock. I listened to my sharp crampons become dull as they scraped across the rocks and dirt. We made our way down, passed Ingraham Flats and finally after 4000ft of elevation loss we proudly stepped into camp Muir as the first climbers to summit the mountain for the day.
14,411ft on top of the world
PC: JDStylos

After 9 hours and 25 minutes of climbing, the thought of setting up the tent for another night was exhausting, but less than the thought of hiking all the way back to the car. So after finishing the camp chores of making a water melt system and laying out gear to dry, we climbed into the tent before noon and rested the remainder of the day away.

The next morning I poked my head out of the tent to see the headlamps of other climbers slowly ascend the ridge. I watched the sun crest the horizon on my 21st birthday at 10,400ft from my sleeping bag, on the mountain we had just climbed 12 hours earlier. I don't think I will ever forget the feeling of the sun reflecting off the snow and warming my tired and aching muscles that morning. Nothing but happiness filled me up. To be at one of the most beautiful places in the world, with my best friend is completely priceless.
Waking up in the early morning light after a climb
is quickly becoming one of my favorite things
PC: JDStylos

Later that morning we made our way back to the chaos of Paradise, as tourists filled the parking lot and alpine meadows of Mt Rainier's lower elevation. We shoved all of our gear into the car and started to drive back into town, with lasagna and cake in our future.

With the climb on Mt Rainier comes the end to our summer mountaineering season. With three mountains successfully climbed, Joe and I credit so much of our success on our fitness and ultimately a bit of luck. The weather cooperated in the end and so did our bodies. Just because it's the end of the summer season, doesn't mean we don't have a couple few more climbs on our list! But for now we will take a deep breath, rest and look forward to our next adventure.
Summit selfies are hard in thin air and cold wind
PC: JDStylos