Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sahale Arm - 7/17/10

As I left the house at 2:30 a.m. Friday I felt mostly rested, but my body did not appreciate being roused at such an unusual hour. After collecting Hye and Shayna, we arrived at the Marblemount Ranger station in a respectable 5 hours from Northwest Portland. We hung out on the lawn for a bit while waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive, and once assembled, caravanned to the Cascade Pass trail head.

From here we began the march up to Cascade Pass. The weather was perfect: cool enough for hiking but with clear skies for unobstructed views. After resting on the patio at Cascade Pass we headed up the Sahale Arm proper. The higher we got on the Sahale Arm, the better the views. As we hiked I recalled the sign I saw posted as we rolled into the town of Marblemount welcoming us to "The American Alps". I’ve never been to Switzerland, but this area is very close to what I’ve imagined.
The hills are alive...

This climb could easily be done in and out in a long day from the trail head, but our trip was designed to flow at a more leisurely pace. Our plan was to camp at the base of the Sahale Glacier and summit the next day, then spend another night at camp before hiking out Sunday.

First break out of camp on Saturday

In addition to the views, one of the main advantages of camping at Sahale camp is that the summit is only 1,000’ away. Our group set off ~8 a.m. Saturday for the leisurely jaunt to the summit block. As we first headed out I was hopeful that we were getting an early enough start that we would have the mountain to ourselves that day. Unfortunately, being a group of 10 meant that there was a fair amount of standing around while our leader, Jeff, setup a fixed line and we each headed up to the summit one after the other. This additional time allowed for several other groups to catch up with us. By the time we were all on top, several other climbing parties were beginning their assault on the summit block from both the Quien Sabe and Sahale Glacier sides of the mountain. After a few quick photos, we made an orderly rappel descent to make room for the other groups.

Hanging out on top

The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out in camp taking naps, snacking, and even a bit of Hacky Sack. There were a couple of goats that hung around camp for most of the weekend, which also kept us entertained. The wind kicked up quite a bit Saturday evening, which meant interrupted sleep for many of us.

Home sweet home

The Loo With a View

Photo taken while using the Loo With a View. Intimidated the poop out of me...literally.

After the hike out on Sunday everyone seemed tired, hungry, and ready for a nap, so we stopped at the Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon to refuel before continuing the long drive home. I had a good time getting to know my team members on this trip since I didn’t know most of them beforehand. Thanks to Jeff for putting together a great trip!

I’ll be headed back to this area for a climb of Sloan Peak next month, so stay tuned for another trip report.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unicorn Peak - 6/25/10

Our objective

Our objective this weekend was Unicorn Peak in the Tatoosh Range just south of Mount Rainier. Unicorn Peak is a very nice climb with a short approach and enough technical challenges to make it interesting but not intimidating for less experienced climbers.

We had reservations for a beautiful campsite at Cougar Rock Campground in Mount Rainier National Park. It was so pleasant that I decided to sleep outside Friday night even though I’d brought a tent.
Ready to go

On Saturday morning, the short hike in was all on snow. We were thankful for the wands and footprints of an unseen group ahead of us. We ate lunch at Snow Lake before donning crampons and heading up the couloir that leads from the lake to the upper flanks of Unicorn. It had been a while since most of our group had done anything with ice axes, so I gave a brief review on ice-axe use and self arrest, but we skipped practice due to the soft wet snow in the basin.

We caught up to a group of Mazamas at the base of the summit block and waited a bit for them to get their group on top. The weather was warm and sunny with little wind, so it was not a bad day to sit around.

Once the route was freed up I set up a fixed line and we all scrambled to the top without much difficulty. The view from the summit was one of the best I’ve ever had on a mountain. The sky was very clear and we could see at least 4 volcanoes clearly in the distance. Almost all of the area we overlooked was park or wilderness, so there were no distracting clear cuts and few signs of human activity.
On top, Rainier in the background

After soaking in the 360° panoramic vista and snapping some photos, it was time to descend. I lowered Sean, Lindsey and Liz since none of them felt comfortable rappelling. I used a 96’ rope for this trip to save some weight. When it was time for me to descend the rappel was ~52’, which made for a fun finish on the doubled rap line which ended a few feet above the ground.

We easily descended in the soft snow until we got to a moat at the top of a snowfield not far from the summit. The Mazamas group had set up a rope here and members were rappelling one at a time down into and climbing back out of the moat. This took a while, but we decided to throw a rope over as well since there was a nice sling setup. Sean, Lindsey descended using prusiks, while Liz opted to rappel. I followed without a rope and was able to hop over a narrower section of the moat without any trouble.
Liz modeling the classic trash bag glissade pants

At the bottom of this snowfield Liz and Lindsey started glissading almost all the way back to Snow Lake!

The easy way down

We anxiously gobbled up the burritos that Liz prepared for us for dinner Saturday night and relaxed around camp before heading home Sunday morning. Overall this was a very pleasant trip with perfect weather and a great group of friends to enjoy it with.
Let the burrito digestion commence

Awesome weekend!