I Think You Got This

“I think you got this.”

Madness guide Niels Meyer and Armando are standing at the base of the Roman Wall in a complete whiteout with the wind howling and temperatures dropping. Just half an hour earlier Armando, Adrian, Jeff, and Niels had been climbing up Baker’s Easton Glacier with partly cloudy skies and mild temps.

Adrian, Armando, and Jeff approach Baker via the Railroad Grade. Niels Meyer photo (all)

Armando and Adrian flew in from Mexico City a few days before their Baker climb. Adrian has climbed many of the Mexican volcanoes, Aconcagua, and a few other South and Central American peaks. Armando had done a lot of mountaineering in his youth and wanted to get back into the swing of things. They chose Baker as a good introductory climb to the North Cascades. The team met in Seattle to do a quick gear check, and after a very important coffee stop we cruised up towards Baker.

A room with a view.

Adrian, Armando, and guides Jeff and Niels approached the Railroad Grade and Easton Glacier under bluebird skies with perfect temps and beautiful views. Adrian, a photographer, snapped pictures of the many marmots out foraging and surveying their territory. At basecamp we dug in our camp and ate dinner while staring up at the mighty Mount Baker, contemplating tomorrow’s climb. Due to weather we were planning to summit the next morning. We prepped our gear and got in our sleeping bags to catch a few hours of sleep before our summit attempt.

Armando and Adrian contemplate tomorrow mornings climb over a delicious meal.

We awoke to clear skies and light winds. A quick breakfast and we were on the trail. A light overnight freeze made for tough breakable crust conditions but we climbed on, pushing for the summit.

A quick break for water, snacks, and views.

With just over a thousand feet to go, weather came in. It began snowing, temperatures dropped drastically, and Armando and Adrian were introduced to the North Cascade ping pong ball. With a complete whiteout and fatigue weighing down on the group we discussed turning around. Despite tired legs and adverse conditions, we summited. After pictures and high fives we began our descent, looking forward to a hot brew and an early bedtime.

Almost back to camp, finally out of the whiteout.

The next morning we packed up our gear after a long night of heavy rain and headed back to Seattle. Baker provided an excellent introduction to North Cascades mountaineering and reminded us that the warm, dry climate of summer in Washington was still a few weeks out.

Armando writes “I will take to my everyday life the encouragement from Niels at the base of the Roman Wall: ‘I think you got this!’ — And I did. We did.”

Armando, Adrian and Jeff on the summit!


~MM Guide Niels Meyer, text and photos

Tons of Milage on the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak

I just finished up guiding a great alpine route in the heart of the North Cascades, the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak.  I had the pleasure of meeting Paul and Stephen on the last day of July in Seattle, and we headed out in search of broken glaciers, huge rock ridges and, of course, the level of adventure for which remote, uncertain terrain is requisite.

Rock slab approach below Quien Sabe. Alan Rousseau photo

Our original plan was to attempt the NW Face of Forbidden, however with 15,000 foot freezing levels forecasted, and an already low snowpack, we opted for a route with less overhead hazard, the complete north ridge of Forbidden.  Any route on the north side of Forbidden is a committing climb.  You do not come back down the same way you ascend, and because of this there comes a time where retreat is no longer a viable option.  Being strong, fast, and resilient is necessary for these carry-over alpine style routes.

Boston Glacier in the foreground, North Ridge of Forbidden is on the right of the skyline. Alan Rousseau photo

We started off in sweltering heat and brush low in Boston Basin, which gave way to shaded old growth, and eventually a long awaited breeze when we broke treeline.  After a few hours of steep travel we found a nice dry rock slab bivy with running water close by.  After a relaxing evening at our home for the night we ended up asleep before the sunset.  Which was good because we would be awake before it would rise again.

First bivy below Quien Sabe. Alan Rousseau photo

After a 4:30 wake up, we donned crampons and made the short walk across the Quien Sabe glacier to Sharkfin Col.  Here we really woke up with some thin face climbing above a snow moat.  Soon we hit our first point of commitment rappelling over Sharkfin Col, onto the very broken Boston Glacier.  After seeing how severely crevassed the Boston Glacier was I told Paul and Stephen I put our chances at maybe 50% of being able to find a way through.  I asked if they wanted to go for it, despite a chance of being shut down.  They replied, “This is what we came here for, let’s give it a try.”  And with the pull of the rope we made our first commitment to the north side of Forbidden.

Traversing the lower North Ridge. Alan Rousseau photo

With a couple hours of down climbing, rappelling, running jumps over large crevasses, and of course a bit of luck we made our way across the Boston Glacier, to the base of the North Ridge.  Once you gain the North ridge you have nearly ¾ of a mile of linear distance to the summit of forbidden.  We were already six hours into the day when we hit the ridge and needed to climb the majority of it that day.  Most of the lower ridge is 3rd and 4th class terrain with the occasional mid 5th class step.  We moved quickly and covered terrain fast with a mix of techniques from short roping, short pitching, weaving the rope between rock horns, and full pitched-out climbing as well.  A few hours later we found ourselves back in crampons to climb a snow arête that led to our second bivy at 8,400 feet on a narrow portion of the north ridge of Forbidden.  Smoke plumes from a forest fire provided an amazing glow for the sunset adding to the ambiance of one of the wildest bivys in the cascades.

Bivy 2 with Forbidden in the background. Alan Rousseau photo

Bivy 2 on the North Ridge of Forbidden. Alan Rousseau photo

Our third day started off again with a 4:30 alarm beeping in my ear.  Today was a big day.  We had 11 pitches of climbing to reach the summit (it looked like 5).  Then a descent down the 800 foot west ridge to the west ridge notch, followed by a series of rappels, a tricky pocket glacier, several hours of hiking, and of course a drive back into Seattle.  Efficiency was paramount to say the least.  After a short 3rd class traverse leaving our bivy we were in 5th class pitched climbing for 1,000’ to the summit, which we hit at 9am.  Piece by piece we compartmentalized our descent and checked off one box after the next.  Focusing solely on the next chunk of terrain we had to deal with.  By 1 pm we were taking off harnesses and helmets, high fiving and filling up water from the glacier melt.

Last pitch before the summit. Alan Rousseau photo

The next few hours were kind of a blur as glacial slabs turned to heather, to old growth, to deadfall, to valley brush, and of course eventually the van!  Soon we had coffees in hand and stomachs full of fresh food, cruising to Seattle.

Filling bottles up after the Forbidden descent. Alan Rousseau photo

For those of you with some experience climbing in alpine terrain looking for a bigger adventure than you might be able to do on your own, give us a call and ask about the North Ridge of Forbidden.  It’s an incredibly aesthetic line, with a high level of commitment, and A LOT of mileage in technical terrain! Thanks to Paul and Stephen for showing up fit with your game faces on, hope to share a rope with you both in the future!

~ MM Guide Alan Rousseau

Mount Olympus: Success and Summits

Mountaineering is supposed to be about reaching the summit, gritting your teeth against the discomfort, and standing on top, right? I’ve heard several other guides say it wasn’t, but I’d always brushed it off. This weekend on Mt. Olympus, I learned they’re absolutely right; it’s not.

Wynell Schatz climbs above Mount Olympus’ Blue Glacier at sunrise.

 With a party of six, Zach Keskinen and I walked more than 17 miles to reach the flanks of Mount Olympus. The approach wanders through lush rainforest unlike anything you’d see in the Cascades. Thick moss carpets every branch in sight; a professional painter couldn’t number the ineffable shades of green. All the while, the sound of the glacially fed Hoh River rushing just out of sight makes for a unique, immersive experience.

 

View of the glacially fed, brilliant blue Hoh River.

I could go on about how gorgeous it all was, but that’s not what this weekend was about either.

We took the first day to drive and hike our heavy 5-day packs 9 miles to our first camp. Day two was another long day of walking, interspersed with snacking. Day three was our summit push. Day four we reversed most of the approach and day five was a short and sweet walk back to the cars.

For as much as I love walking and snacking, this weekend wasn’t about the snacks either.

This particular group had been assembled by Jim Schatz, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. He was the common thread between the eight of us: members of a running club he was a part of, his wife Wynell, additional family, and finally Zach and I because he had climbed with Mountain Madness before.

Right from the get-go, it was clear to Zach and I that this group was super strong and fun. They had us laughing from our meeting point at Ascent Outdoors and all along the lengthy trail even after our climb.

Sarah and Josh rounding the final twists of the approach trail to Mount Olympus.

This weekend, it wasn’t about the summit, the scenery or the struggle. It was about being out there together and appreciating the wild ride through the twists and bends in the forest, through the highs and the lows, the sweets (Zach’s caramel cookies) and the sours (that time I accidentally dropped part of the pasta into the dirt.)

Of our party, four people reached the summit of Mount Olympus (7,979’) with Zach. Three of us decided that our high point was going to be Snow Dome at a substantial 6,600 feet, and that was quite alright. We broke out some lemonade and jelly beans, and took in the beauty of the surrounding Olympic Mountains. This weekend, it wasn’t reaching the highest bit of rock but enjoying what we’d accomplished together and the journey along the way.

~Words and photos, MM Guide Mallorie Estenson

A Window into the Alpine Climbing Course

What a whirlwind these last eight days have been! From clear skies and perfect sunsets to high winds and post holing through snow, Jennifer, Alex and Guide Niels Meyer saw it all during their Alpine Climbing Course. It even rained for a brief spell, just to remind them they were in the Cascades. Progressing from rock climbing to alpine rock climbing, and then to glaciated travel on one of the North Cascades’ most beautiful peaks, the Alpine Climbing Course provides an introduction to many forms of mountain travel.

Alex and Jennifer approaching South Early Winters Spire. Niels Meyer photo

Jennifer, Alex, and Niels began their adventure in Seattle, where they met for the first time to discuss equipment, plan meals, and purchase food for the next 8 days. After wandering around the grocery store picking out simple but nutritious food for our upcoming days in the mountains, they hopped in the Madness Mobile and took off for Leavenworth to climb some rocks.

Jennifer and Alex both had experience climbing, but it had been a number of years; reviewing the basics was an easy but valuable refresher. Most of their climbing history had been top roping, so the three discussed and practiced the differences between top rope climbing and lead climbing. After they climbed a few pitches and were feeling comfortable with the basics, Niels taught Jennifer and Alex some of the more advanced climbing skills, such as rigging and rappelling for multi-pitch climbing, and the ins and outs of building anchors for both bolted and traditionally protected climbs. And then: Boom! Part one was a wrap! They packed up, jumped back in the car and headed to Washington Pass to do some alpine climbing.

Sister and brother, climbing together on South Early Winters Spire. Niels Meyer photo

After a good night’s sleep at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel, our team started early and drove to Washington pass to climb The South Arete on South Early Winter Spire. This involves a snow climbing approach to excellent ridge running on 4th and 5th class rock. With only a light freeze the night before, they post holed their way to the base of the climb (good training for what was to come on Shuksan…). Cruising up one of the most classic moderate climbs in Washington, with some of the most scenic views in the whole state, they talked about and used different methods for alpine climbing. The gang worked their way to the top and sat on the summit boulder for some photos and a snack. The beautiful blue skies were a real treat!

Jennifer, Alex, and Niels woke up their second morning at Washington pass to high winds. They decided going up the Liberty Bell was probably not the best idea. Luckily, Fun Rock was close and there were plenty of skills to practice! After some warm up climbs, Jennifer and Alex moved on to mock leading. Jennifer had led a few climbs years ago and Alex had never lead climbed. Mock leading allows the climber to practice lead climbing while still on top rope. This eliminates the risk of dangerous lead falls while still allowing the climber to get the hang of placing and clipping into protection. In the afternoon they began crevasse rescue, a crucial skill to know when traveling through glaciated mountains.

Next they were off to Mount Shuksan to continue crevasse rescue practice, learn glacier travel skills, and attempt the summit. Warm temps and no night freeze made for a hard first day getting into base camp. The trail was still mostly snow and the post holing was tough. When you fall almost to your knee with every step, it makes for a long walk. After a full day of this, Jennifer, Alex, and Niels made it to camp and settled in for a well-deserved sleep. Day two on the glacier to be snow school and crevasse rescue.

Sunset from Shuksan camp. Niels Meyer photo

Crevasse rescue is very important, but the first margin of safety is comfort and stability while walking on snow. So, the team spent the better part of the morning using different stepping techniques and getting comfortable walking on snow, with and without crampons. After snow school it was time to practice the mechanical advantage systems learned at Fun Rock. After Niels showcased a full crevasse rescue scenario, Alex and Jennifer jumped right in. After only a few times it was obvious that both of them had a talent for understanding the different systems, so they practiced, practiced, practiced, and then it was time to rest for the summit the next morning.

Planning our ascent of Mt. Shuksan over a cup of tea. Niels Meyer photo

Due to it barely freezing at night, the gang left camp at 2:30 AM to avoid avalanche danger and traveling during the heat of the day. It was so snowy on Shuksan that the only open crevasses were in the ice fall, so the team was able to bee-line for the summit pyramid. Arriving at the base of the summit, they were ahead of schedule. The summit pyramid at this time of year is a steep, snow filled gully. There was way more snow in the gully than usual, which made for awesome climbing! Pitching out the gully, they moved steadily towards the summit as the sun cast beautiful colors across the North Cascades. Climbing past the steepest final section, they gained the summit ridge and made their way towards the top. The summit was a lot smaller than usual due to all the snow! With cornices on most sides and a steep drop of on the others, they sat in the very middle to enjoy the amazing view and refuel before descent. After descending the summit pyramid with belayed down climbing and lowers, the team lathered themselves in sunscreen before the long, hot walk back to camp. Many hours of sleep later Jennifer, Alex, and Niels packed up camp and headed back to the car before the heat of the day set in.

The final push for the summit on Shuksan! Niels Meyer photo

During the Course Alex and Jennifer learned about everything from single pitch rock climbing all the way to traveling on glaciers and climbing alpine rock spires. With these skills they have begun their journey in mountain travel. It takes a wide range of skills to safely travel through a mountainous environment, and the Alpine Climbing Course provides an introduction to those needed skills. It is important that after the ACC our newly minted climbers continue to practice these skills, or else they will lose them as fast as they learned them. Jennifer and Alex are now ready to head out with a solid skill base and continue to enjoy the mountains safely. Even though they are headed back to the mid west, there are plenty of opportunities to practice these skills. That being said, I hope we see them back out west soon!

Tasty Ham and Eggs Climb Launches Alaska Season

Madness Guide Alan Rousseau writes in with some great images and description of an ideal climb of Ham and Eggs in the Alaska Range.

I just wrapped up my first of three planned Mountain Madness expeditions into the Alaska Range for the 2017 season.  Rett and I climbed Ham and Eggs, on the Moose’s Tooth, which saw its first ascent in 1975 by John Krakauer, Thomas Davies, and Nate Zinsser.  Given the technical standard at the time, and conditions encountered, it was an epic battle to the summit with a tent-to-tent time of 33 hours from the hanging glacier that is now home to the root canal airstrip.  It was more than ten years until the route saw its second ascent.  It saw a flurry of activity after that and quickly attained classic status.  It is now considered a great introductory route for those looking to climb technical routes in the Alaska Range.  A high level of fitness, and efficiency in WI3/4 terrain are prerequisites for this route.

Ice climbing. Alan Rousseau photo

Rett and I did some ice climbing together in Ouray this past winter to work on refinement of ice climbing technique in preparation for Ham and Eggs.  After climbing with Rett in Colorado for a few days, I felt confident he could climb well enough to accomplish the route in good style.

Since spring has been showing up earlier and earlier in the Alaska Range, I suggested to Rett we aim for a mid-April start date.  Meeting in Anchorage on April 12, we were pleasantly surprised to be comfortable without wearing jackets.  The forecast couldn’t help but put a smile on our faces: high pressure for the foreseeable future, with mid-day temps of 30 F at 7,000’.

 

Friendly faces at the Talkeetna Airport. Alan Rousseau photo

We arrived in Talkeetna the following morning and checked in with the friendly folks at Talkeetna air taxi.  They told us they could fly us on the glacier in one hour.  So after a check in at the ranger station, we did a final weigh-in and loaded our kit onto the plane.  It takes about thirty minutes to fly from the airport in Talkeetna to the Moose’s Tooth.  As we approached our landing site, Paul Roderick (pilot) banked the plane hard and circled us in for landing.  He set the plane down on the hanging glacier just a five minute walk from the start of Ham and Eggs.

 

Flying in to Moose’s Tooth. Alan Rousseau photo

After getting the duffles out of the plane we started setting up camp, digging in our cook tent, and building snow walls.  Rett was feeling good with our initial bump in altitude, so we decided we would wake up early the next morning and try to climb.  After a 4:30 alarm sounded we cooked up some breakfast, drank some coffee, and by 5:45 we were off to the races.  After a half hour we had crossed the bergshrund and made our way through the steep snow slabs that guard the first pitch.  “Ham and Eggs” is primarily a 50-degree snow climb with a handful of steeper rock and ice sections to add to the excitement… and exposure.  The summit ridge requires careful traversing on a heavily corniced ridge.  From camp to the summit is 3,000’ of vertical gain.  Rett and I made good time up the route finding it in favorable condition. We even stopped at the col for thirty minutes to brew up some coffee.  Nine hours after leaving camp we stood on the summit.  There was no wind, and it was warm enough to hang out without wearing gloves.  I was surprised that my phone had full service on the summit, so both Rett and I put in calls to our wives, enjoyed the view and started making our way down the summit ridge.  After reversing the summit ridge, 15 or so (we lost count) rappels got us back across the bergshrund and only about five minutes from camp.  We arrived back in camp about 14 hours after we left.  After eating some pizza and enjoying some bourbon we called it a day.

   

Steep snow climbing. Alan Rousseau photo

The following day we lounged around camp, looked up at the route we had climbed, and soaked in the views of Denali and Mount Huntington.  We contemplated climbing another route, but with some uncertainty in the forecast we decided that we had done what we came to do and it would be best to get out before we got stuck.  In order to fly in and out of the range, pilots need ideal conditions with good visibility most of the way from Talkeetna to the glaciers.  Sometimes with large storms it can be up to a week where no planes fly.  Fortunately for us, despite a cloud bank in the foothills the next day, a plane came to pick us up and brought us back to town.

Mount Baker Slow Boat – MM-style

Mountain Madness guides Chris Marshall and Casey Henley led a group up the Squak Glacier on Mt. Baker from July 18-21.  Although it was only the second half of July, the south side of the mountain was in typical late-season condition with exposed glacial ice, many large open crevasses and tricky route finding.

Passing a crevasse as the morning sky lights up. Chris Marshall photo

This trip, offered as a special four day “Slow-Boat” experience, allowed the team to be fueled by gourmet backcountry cuisine and to spend a full day on snow and glacier travel skills and to get adequate rest before a summit attempt.  Plus, the guests’ packs were significantly lighter hiking into basecamp since there were two porters on the trip carrying all the group equipment and food!  If you’d like to climb Mt. Baker, and do so in a more relaxed and less strenuous trip, the “Slow-Boat” is for you!

Mount Shuksan on the Approach. Chris Marshall photo

The past winter wasn’t kind to the Pacific Northwest, delivering near-record, low snowfall.  The summer has been hotter and sunnier than average too, which is great if you are a beach-goer, but has allowed the glaciers to suffer.  Many of the large glaciers on the volcanoes in the PNW are showing late-season conditions in the middle of the summer and are so broken that some of the “standard” routes are impassible.

The steep, broken Roman wall in late-season conditions. Chris Marshall photo

That didn’t stop Mountain Madness’ team from attempting a summit on Mt. Baker.  We chose to climb the Squak Glacier instead of the Easton.  This allows a shorter overall approach, a beautiful base camp at the scenic Crag View, and an excellent location for teaching a snow school and glacier travel class in preparation for a summit bid.  A high camp at Crag View shouldn’t be missed; you have stunning views of Mt. Shuksan to the East, and the Coast Mountains and Puget Sound to the West.

Snow School! Chris Marshall photo

Practicing self arrests. Chris Marshall photo

Gourmet food on the “Slow-Boat” is a top-priority, ensuring that our guest eat nutritiously and in style.  We had carne-asada tacos, complete with guacamole, salsa, and other fixings the first night!  Other dinners included pesto pasta topped with wild Alaskan smoked salmon, and a pad-Thai with chicken and a peanut sauce.  Sure beats the dinner-in-a-bag that some other guide services offer on their Mt. Baker climb!

Casey prepares the finishing touches on dinner. Chris Marshall photo

An alpine start brought the rope teams to the Squak Glacier in the dark.  The route to the summit was all but straight-forward, involving crossing blue glacial ice, stepping over and winding through crevasses.  Almost to the summit, on the final steep slope know as the Roman Wall, Chris’ team found that the bridge over the bergschrund (large crevasse) had collapsed, and had to punch new tracks out of the schrund and onto a steep and icy slope.  The traverse back to the east onto of the schrund was steep and exciting.  A number of hours after leaving camp, the team was standing on the summit with a blue sky and swirling clouds below!  Bravo.

On the summit! Chris Marshall photo

If you’d like to climb Mt. Baker, and want to do it with a lighter pack, with gourmet food, and a relaxed schedule, come find yourself on the Mountain Madness “Slow-Boat”!

~ MM Guide Chris Marshall

How to Prepare For Elevation Sickness

There are ways to prevent altitude sickness. Lean on your guides to pace you to the top. They will keep you at a slow enough pace that you shouldn’t experience it.

 

If you do start to feel dizzy, get headaches, or get short of breath stop and rest.

Some things that help me on my climbs:

  1. Salt tablets – Since we are eating more fast carbs while climbing our sodium can drop causing us to dehydrate. The salt tablets helped keep my headaches under control and take away the nausea.
  2. Cell Food – This is a elevation sickness prevention. You take these drop about 1-2 weeks out from a climb and it helps prevent elevation sickness on your climbs.
  3. Acetaminophen Tylenol is also great for headaches
  4. Acetazolamide is a diuretic (a drug that increases urine output) that increases kidney excretion of bicarbonate. This decreases the blood ph, thereby stimulating extra breathing, which results in higher oxygen levels in the blood.

 

All these need to be approved by your doctor. These are recommendations not prescriptions. So use any of the above remedies at your own discretion.

The Top 4 Ways to Prevent Blisters

Here’s ChaseFit’s top 4 ways to prevent blisters:

  1. Blisters are no joke so another way to prevent hotspots or to keep from using your blister kit is to ALWAYS wear wool socks when you hike, run, or anything active. Wool doesn’t absorb moisture so the odds of getting a blister wearing wool or synthetic are way less.
  2. Break in your boots and test out where you tend to get hotspots way ahead of time. Once you become aware of those hotspots you can purchase a blister preventative kit and tend to that part of your foot before you start your trip. If at any moment you start to get hot spots tell your guide so you can tend to them or re tie your boots right away!
  3. Make sure your boots fit perfect! When you shop for boots you need to shop comfort not style! It doesn’t matter how good they look if they don’t get you to the top.
  4. Give your feet a break from your boots during break so they can breath and keep them dry, especially if you tend to have sweaty feet