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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The North Ridge of Mt Baker (10,781 ft) June 29th- July 1st 2017

PC: JDStylos
I remember turning around on Mt Baker last year quite well. Joe and I were around 8000 ft, and we had a long ways to go before we even remotely got close to the ice wall that was ahead. That climb last year was so much more than going for a summit but more like just opening a door for me to a new type of climbing and experiencing what “could” be. In hindsight, there was no way I was going to make it to the top of Mt Baker via the North Ridge last year, but from that climb I did learn what I would need to do to make a solid attempt at it this year.

After our Mt Hood climb just a week ago, I expected to feel more of the fear that I had felt from last years climb, but the majority, if not all of my time on Hood was complete excitement and enjoyment. So when the weather opened up for another climb on either Mt Rainier or Mt Baker, we decided to choose our main objective for this summer, and that would be the North Ridge on Baker.

There's a few things the North Ridge has that our last route does not. The fact that that summit day is more than double the elevation gain is just one of the major differences, but the biggest obstacle that we were going to face would be the the ice cliff that is about 1000ft below the summit. A single pitch of alpine ice (AI) that lies between you and your summit objective, ranging from a difficult AI4 all the way to the nice grade of AI2.

So once the decision was made to give last year's climb another try, we quickly packed up our gear, read as many trip reports as we could and tried not to get our hopes up. I would be lying if I said I thought there was a good chance we were going to get to the summit. Between my fitness, climbing ability, and the fact that this would be only my third attempt at any sort of glaciated mountain and the unknown of how I would respond to the exposure of this climb all made for the perfect mixture for a failed summit attempt. So it came down to having the goal of just giving this climb the best that I could, and most of all taking what I can out of it for next time.
PC: JDStylos

So on the evening on Wednesday the 28th, we drove the four hours north to the Heliotrope trailhead at the base of Mt Baker. We arrived as the sun was setting and we set up the car and climbed into bed and fell asleep. We both slept so well that our 4:00am wake up time moved to 7:30 am. After finally getting out of bed and eating some breakfast we hit the trail with incredibly heavy packs. 45lbs on your back makes for slow moving, but we hiked through the trees,  and across the streams until we broke into the alpine zone. A marmot greeted us along the ridgeline trail that took you to the Hogsback camp. We passed empty tents as climbers scattered the mountain all going for their summit attempts. Last year we had camped at the Hogsback along with all of the other climbers, but knowing what was to come from last years climb we decided we would hike up onto the Coleman-Demming. In an attempt to avoid the crowds and give ourselves a head start for the next day.

Doing the Dishes PC: JDStylos
After climbing up and finding old tent spots from past North Ridge climbers, we set up camp to a neighboring tent. Joe and I spent the afternoon setting up camp, melting water, going over crevasse rescue and trying to break trail for tomorrow's summit attempt. We were outside our tent when our neighbors returned from their climb. We picked their brains on where they went and what they thought of the climb. They were ecstatic, and their success and excitement fueled my fire and was making tomorrow feel more welcome, and almost possible.

PC: JDStylos
We set the alarm for 2:00am with hopes to be out of camp in an hour. We were in bed by six o'clock that evening and we both tried to sleep the best we could. We did wake up to take a quick photo shoot with the mountain and the sunset around nine. After trying to get sleep and with some success, the alarm felt like it came quickly. Before I knew it we were putting our headlamps, crampons, and helmets on, and tied into the rope. The best part was that both Joe and I were feeling great, and excited. With a solid plan, boot path and partnership in hand we left camp seven minutes after three.

We crossed the glacier in a swift and quiet metronome. The sun felt like it came quickly and before we knew it we clicked off our headlamps and were crossing the glacier in the morning glow.

PC: JDStylos
Our first real question of the day came a couple of hours into our climb. Last year, we attempted to gain the ridge by taking the long way around and didn't ever end up getting to the top. So with this years high snow pack, we felt good with taking the short way around and gaining the ridge by climbing the steep 50 degree snow slope. This was the part of the climb that I was most nervous about. Even from our camp it looked steep, and exposed. So when we started to climb up, it quickly steepened and the exposure started to intensify. I was expecting my nerves to get the better of me but they never seemed to come. Taking a deep breath and truly never looking down, Joe and I simul-climbed up across the snow bridge with a gaping hole below that could swallow most small houses. Joe and I gained the ridge, with sunshine finally hitting our faces, our smiles stretched wide across them. It was a relief to have that part of the climb behind us. I looked at Joe and said “well there's no way we’re not summiting today because I am NOT downclimbing that!”
PC: JDStylos

PC: JDStylos
We climbed up the ridge with a steady step until the ice cliff started to take shape and fill our view. As we arrived near her base we scoped out which side looked most climbable for our level. With this being our first alpine ice climb, we made our way right to a shorter section of ice.  Once we climbed up the steep snow to the very base of the ice cliff, we weren't in exactly the best place. The overhanging ice above our heads creaked in the warming sun and as we set up a belay we increasingly felt the need to move through this section of the climb as quickly as we could. I belayed Joe till he was just out of sight. I followed him up through some mixed climbing and arrived to a much safer belay station. Joe racked up and led out a full rope length up AI2 climbing. He was long out of sight, so much so that we knew our voices would fly into oblivion. So after coming up with a rope tug communication system before we started our climb, I waited to feel the three strong tugs that indicated I was on belay.

PC: JDStylos
The three tugs came without question and I started to climb. My first ice climbing since this previous winter and it felt so good to be back plunging my tools into ice and kicking my way up the ice step. The air below my feet seemed to float away for miles and my adrenaline made for what felt like quick climbing. The grade gradually got less steep and before I knew it, I was back in the sun and at the next belay station. Joe and I smiled, kissed, and felt pretty ecstatic to be passed that section of the climb. We had beyond achieved our goal of getting farther than the year prior. With plenty of go still left in our tanks, I belayed him out and we used running pro until we gained the rest of the ridge. We cleaned up our rope system and started making our way to the summit. With only a couple few hundred vertical feet to go, the summit felt so close but the summit of Mt Baker is also a forever walk away across her summit plateau. But, to gain the plateau we still had to walk around massive crevasses, and  over snow bridges that required you to walk with one foot directly in front of the other. It felt like we were on a different planet. With the hard climbing behind us, this last section of the climb felt surreal, it was as if we were walking across the moon..
PC: JDStylos

Before we knew it, we were making our way across the flat summit plateau with Bakers highest point just a couple hundred yards away. We passed climbers taking a rest after making it to the top, and Joe let me take the lead to the 10,781ft summit.

PC: JDStylos
The smile that came across my face was undeniably huge, I hollered out into the air and raised my ice tools with success filling every part of my being. The summit of Mt Baker was not expected, and the feeling of accomplishment caused me to fight back tears. We took our time getting pictures, enjoying the view and celebrated with hot tamales and Milky Way bars. After stepping down from the top to re organize gear we roped up once again and started our way down.

We took the Coleman-Demming for the descent, the much more common way up for most climbers. The climb down was much simpler than the way we came up and it was quite enjoyable to see the other side of the mountain. By the time we made it back to camp our legs were tired but we both felt surprisingly good. Whether we were just fitter than expected or the high from our summit fueled us all the way back to camp- I'm not really sure.
PC: JDStylos

After 12 hours of climbing, we decided to stay at camp, and enjoy one more night on the mountain. We took off our shoes and laid in the tent and relished in the wonderful feeling of success. We celebrated by eating a fancy dinner of Mountain House chili mac and even sneaked some of the next day's food into our evening meal.

Sleep came early for the both of us and gifted us with an incomparable night's rest.  In the early morning hours we listened to other climbers climb past our tent, attempting the North Ridge. I was feeling lucky to have climbed the day before, as we had the entire climb to ourselves. When I opened the tent door after the sun rose, and while I enjoyed my breakfast,  I watched them climb up the mountain like little ants tied together, slowly making their way through the glacier and up the ridge. I couldn't believe that those little ants were Joe and myself just yesterday.
PC: JDStylos

One last time we roped up after packing up camp and made our way down to the Hogsback. Tents were scattered all around and teams of climbers were flooding in. The holiday weekend and good weather brought in the most climbers I had ever seen on any mountain. After we untied and were back on the main trail and we were stopped by plenty of people that were on their way up, asking us about the conditions and our climb. We started to take bets on how many cars there might be in the parking lot. We crossed the streams and over the last bridge until we stepped foot out onto the pavement. Over 100 cars littered the road, we were dumbfounded with the fact that when we arrived there was only eight of us! We changed our clothes and ate a snack before finally hitting the road. With a Mt Baker summit via the North Ridge in the bag, the drive seemed to fly by. That night we enjoyed resting at a hotel and filling our bellies with delicious pizza.
PC: JDStylos

It's hard not to think that this climb was all a dream, honestly everything went exactly how it was supposed to. Looking back on where I was last year as a climber and seeing where I am at now, I’ve grown so much. The difficulty of this climb opens up so many other possible routes that Joe and I have put off because of technicality. Truly, this climb was such an amazing experience, and getting to the top was just the finish. Every part of this climb kept us on our toes and that's what made it so much fun for me.

The Coleman Demming PC: JDStylos
With only ten days left here in Washington before I leave to Montana for a couple of weeks then back to Idaho, I am so glad I have been able to fit two such wonderful climbs in. Fingers crossed that we will have one more adventure together before Joe and I go off on our own adventures for a month and a half!
PC: JDStylos

The Ice Cliff PC: JDStylos

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mt Hood, via The Sunshine Route - June 2017 - 11,250ft

Stepping out of the car on Monday at the Tilly Jane Trailhead, the sun beat down on us with intense heat. A smile crept across my face. Finally the hours of running and hiking up and down hills around Boise was hopefully going to pay off this week. I wondered if I was going to be fit enough, if the last few weeks of sinus infections and trying to heal set me back. Would we would be defeated before we even set foot on the mountain?

We picked Melissa up at the Portland airport in a hurry surrounded by a million cars. Not even one week ago did she know she was going to be coming out to the pacific northwest to come and climb with her brother and myself. Melissa sat down in the car and asked us, “so where are we headed?!”.

Mt Hood is 11,250ft and one of the family members of the Cascade Volcanoes. She stands out from her neighboring beasts not from size but from her shape. Unlike her football field crater neighbors, her summit is steep and holds its triangular shape.  She ranks as one of the most climbed and skied mountains in the lower 48 and though her reputation may be known as an easy up and down on her south side, her North Side is labeled as “treacherous” and is highly unclimbed compared to her ski lift, activity filled south side.

The Sunshine Route was appealing in a few ways. The fact that the route was an easier route that lies on her north side, with glacier travel and some crevasse crossings, with a ridge climb finish was appealing by itself. More importantly we had high hopes we wouldn't see many other climbers on the route.

We arrived just after 4pm at the Tilly Jane trailhead. Only two other cars were parked in the parking lot and with about 1900 ft of elevation to climb ahead of us, we quickly packed our gear, smothered sunscreen on all exposed skin, threw our packs over our shoulders and stepped foot onto the trail.

The trail climbs between big trees and soon you step out into the remains of the Gnarl Fire that scoured the land a few years back. The skeletons of the trees line the trail, but with their lack of needles, it opened up a window to our objective. She towered above the horizon in the most symmetrical triangular shape.

With summer light on our side, we hiked through the warm evening light until the remains of the Gnarl Fire were behind us and we were soon walking through cool air the was coming off the snow patches that suddenly started to appear. With the snow, also came our camp area. The Tilly Jane camp ground has been a place to overnight and a place of refuge for climbers and skiers alike. I am sure many other climbers bypass this camp spot, but since we had started so late we took the opportunity to lie our gear out on a picnic table and enjoy our previously purchased sandwiches. We watched to sun dip below the horizon, and huddled into the tent with the first true day of climbing just a sunrise away.

Our first early morning arrived, and we all felt well rested and ready for the day ahead. We quickly packed the gear and immediately switched our hiking shoes for mountaineering boots as the snowline was just ahead on the trail. The trees became smaller and smaller and eventually we emerged passed the treeline to our first marker of the climb. The stone hut marks the point where you either continue straight ahead and climb the more difficult, and direct line to the summit called “The Cooper Spur” or you start to trek right towards The Snow Dome, which is was our objective.

After a quick break at the hut, we once again put our packs on and climbed down through the skree of the ridge and emerged onto the Eliot glacier. We placed crampons on our feet, harnesses around our waists and helmets on our heads. We all tied in, did partner checks and before we knew it Melissa was leading the way to The Snow Dome.

Mountaineering is still such a new thing to me, but this moment of finally getting to rope up has been such a goal for the last few months, that the nerves of what lay ahead slipped away and only excitement filled me up.

Our objective for the day was to get to our high camp on top of the Snow Dome. The large obvious snow field that lied in the middle of the mountain. We set off and with warm temperatures looming we thought we would have a more active mountain on our hands but with only one large crash of ice off the headwall, we were pleasantly surprised to be climbing on a very peaceful day.  I’m thankful we had such a quiet mountain, between the lack of recent training and illnesses  proved to affect our climbing and our 3500ft day was slow moving. Granted, we had all the time in the world but our fast and light goal was feeling slow and heavy.

The  day moved along and after leaving the Tilly Jane camp at 5:45am we arrived at the top of the Snow Dome around 12:00pm. Joe probed out our camp spot on the glacier and drew lines in the snow where our camp was not to be crossed unless roped up. Melissa started to dig a flat spot in the slope to place our tent while Joe and myself removed the trash bags from our packs. We strategically placed them in the snow to melt water for our empty bottles. With no clouds in sight, we quickly filled all six water bottles, the cook pot, and the food cups.

50 degree slope with Anderson rock to the left.
A couple hours of labor was soon admired by the three of us as we rested in the tent. The backdrop of Adams, Rainier and St. Helens was mesmerizing. Just above our camp was the “crux” of our route. The crevasses that are under Anderson and Horseshoe rocks looked passable, but without getting up close and personal no one truly knew what was ahead.

With plenty of daylight still to come, Joe and Melissa roped up and set off to break a trail through the crux. A day of climbing with my head in a funny position left my neck throbbing so I opted to stay behind and make more melt water and rest while they spent a couple of hours climbing.

The route goes! Melissa and Joe
I watched as they climbed on, to the right side of Anderson rock, over the bergschrund until they were out of sight. A couple hours passed and though I couldn't see them, the wind carried their voices from 1000 vertical feet above me back down to camp. When they arrived back to camp the wind had picked up and was throwing gusts of ice into the tent. That didn't deter the smile that was on both of their faces as they had broken a solid trail to the ridge for the next morning.

By this time we were all tired, Joe made dinner and we climbed into the tent to enjoy spanish rice, and sharp cheddar cheese all wrapped up in a tortilla. When the elevation isn't affecting your appetite, it's no secret that all food tastes significantly better after a day of hard work. We snuggled into our sleeping bags and attempted to get some sleep.
Tent life

Sleep never came. With gusts of cold, mountain wind hitting the tent, drowned out any quiet, peaceful sleep we had hoped for. The night dragged on, when we had hoped the wind would stop, it only picked up. The alarm came at 4:10am and with the wind trying to blow our tent back to the trailhead, we hunkered in and waited it out. With an extra day in hand, time was on our side. We knew if we had to, we could wait an entire extra day to go for our summit push and with a trail already stepped out by Joe and Melissa from the prior day, we weren't in too much of a hurry.

The biggest benefit to staying and waiting out the wind was the fact that we finally were able to fall asleep. Even just a few hours made the world of a difference. Once we finally stepped out of the tent the wind had died down enough that we all looked at each other, and decided to go for it. So at 9:00am we got our climbing gear on and stepped out onto the route an hour later. With the wind whipping down onto our camp, we just assumed that the moment we passed the bergschrunds and climbed onto the ridge, the wind would be so intense we would have to turn around.

We stepped out of camp and started to climb. Over Anderson rock and back onto the snow, it got steep, and it got steep fast. Around 50 degrees we stepped into yesterdays trail and made good time up to yesterday's turn around point.. The wind had yet to even show a smidge of a breeze, so we kept on going. With Joe in the lead, an ice axe in one hand and a tool in the other, he pressed on and stepped across the crevasse under Horseshoe rock. We placed a couple pickets here for protection. When my turn arrived to cross, my foot plunged through the snow into the crevasse below, my heart took a leap out of my chest but after taking a deep breath I climbed on and before we knew it we had gained the ridge.

I stood up, expecting the wind to blow me back down. Only to quiet mountain air swept across my face. With another small water and snack break we pushed on. We knew there would be a couple of false summits but the ridge (compared to the climbed we had just finished) seemed easy and smooth. My crampons gripped to cold wind scoured snow with a comforting tension. You could feel the air coming into your lungs getting slightly thinner but time just seemed to slip away without notice. We arrived to another crevasse crossing and stepped passed without issue. Just above this the snow seemed to run out into oblivion. As Joe crested what looked like the top, he stopped and looked ahead. With me below him, and Melissa below myself, I called out and asked what he could see. The line to the summit was a ridge that truly makes Mt Hood different from her sisters. He hollered back to tell us it was the summit ridgeline.  We climbed on, and for the first time in two days we saw another person. Below to our right, little ants swept across the mountainside, passing the ski lifts, while climbers headed down from the summit trudging along through the wet snow.
Summit Ridge PC JDSTYLOS

Looking at pictures of the finish line to the summit online made me nervous. When it stood in front of me at 11,200 ft in the air my nerves slipped away and I took a deep breath and the entire time I climbed those last few feet to the summit, the smile on my face only grew and my breathing was short, not from altitude but from excitement.

We stepped onto the summit of Mt hood threw with high fives all around, a whoop and a holler in celebration of  bagging our first summit of the mountain. For me, this climb marked my first summit of any glaciated mountain. We took pictures of our ice axes in the air and smile across our faces.

Melissa lead the way down around 2:00pm. The snow on the way up was hard and icy but in the afternoon heat it started to soften. The crevasse crossings were fairly straightforward, and even though the thought of climbing down them made me nervous, we had ended up having no problems. We arrived back to camp and we laid in the tent, where the wind still blew.

Our rest was short lived, as we quickly packed up gear,  tied in one more time and headed down. The weight of my pack pressed against my aching neck and made each step into the wet snow excruciating. I was having a hard time seeing where to place my feet from the pain in my back and by the time we finally made it off the glacier, I threw my pack on a rock at the top of the ridge and fought off tears. We hiked down through evening light to the stone hut where Joe found us a place to sleep out of the wind. We climbed into the stone hut and turned on the stove and celebrated our summit with an Annie's Mac n Cheese dinner. To top off the day, I had saved my Milky Way for dessert and my first bite into the chocolatey goodness was the perfect way to finish off an amazing day.

We climbed into our sleeping bags, while the wind tried to still blow us away. I fell asleep that night with my wind guard tied tightly around my neck and goggles over my eyes.

Morning light peeked over the horizon and we all stepped out of our bags to watch the morning sun set a beautiful light onto the mountain we had just climbed. Our footprints had created a line that the naked eye could see all the way to the ridge. I looked at the mountain, almost in disbelief that not even 18 hours ago I had stepped foot ono the top of the Pyramid that stood in front of me.

The snow was hard and slippery and made for a tricky hike back down to the main trail without crampons on. The rest of the hike down was quick and enjoyable. Leftover climbing butterflies fueled my legs until we stepped out of the forest around 9:00am and packed up the car and drove back into town.
The Sunshine Route

Melissa was to fly out the next day and with an entre 24 hours to kill we opted to celebrate our climb by getting a cheap hotel and enjoy laying in bed and watching TV. We arrived at the Motel 6 in Troutdale and by the time we had got settled into our room,  poor Melissa had deteriorated and climbed into bed with a fever and shakes. Luckily, with the help of ibuprofen and liquids. her fever broke and was feeling a lot better by the time dinner rolled around. We ordered Dominos pizza and indulged on its cheesy goodness that neither Joe nor I had had in months. As a result it didn't take long for the cheesy goodness to make my stomach upset, but even so- It was well worth it!!!

The next morning we made a quick stop in Portland before taking Melissa to PDX and saying our goodbyes. It's so hard to believe that just a few days ago we had picked her up with only hopes that we would get to climb something. Now here we were, saying our goodbyes with a summit of Mt. Hood in the bag!!

As I am sitting here in the grass, with magical trees towering above me and a view of Mt Rainier on the horizon, I can't help but chomp at the bit for more. Though the mountains and I have a relatively new relationship, I am quickly learning of their addictive qualities. The way the wind sweeps your face, the massive objective that lies ahead, the mountains humbling qualities but the gift she gives when all the stars align.

Cheers to my first successful mountain summit, and cheers to hopefully many more successful climbs to come!