Day 4: Ice Climbing
We had covered most of the basics required for glacier/snow travel and since we weren’t planning on moving to a high camp for summit attempt, it was decided that we would do some ice climbing. I was really excited by that idea since i have never ice climbed before so it was a great opportunity for me to try it out.
As usual we started around 9 and descended into the glacier to find some ice wall, we came across one but the area around it wasn’t as safe and we would be resting on a bridge whose stability was hard to judge.
So we moved on and tried to find a much secure location and after another half hour or so we did find a great spot to practice ice climbing. I thought we would set up top rope on the shorter section but Matt led a climb which was abt 30-40 ft high and we setup two top ropes.
I was the second one to go on the route which was little harder and to my surprise i did pretty good, i was at ease ice climbing though it took lot more effort than i had thought. We spent the entire afternoon ice climbing and on my 3rd route which was the hardest my body gave up.
I didn’t have the endurance in my upper body to hold on to the tool anymore and it was time to call it a day. Everyone got chance to attempt both the routes and some were successful, others not so much. The weather was also getting little nasty and by the time we got back to camp it was almost whiteout and windy.
Everyone went inside their tents as soon as we got back to the camp since the weather was nasty, i couldn’t resist making some hot chocolate and heated the water inside the vestibule of the tent. It was a fun experience and dinner was also made in similar fashion.
We were going to attempt the summit of Mt Baker tomorrow and we decided to get ready by 6am, there are no hazards on the route so waking up in the middle of the night for the climb didn’t make much sense.
Day 5: Summit Climb to Mt Baker
We all got up, ate breakfast and tried to get ready by 6 am but the weather hadn’t improved much, it was snowing and whiteout like conditions so we decided to wait and try to get going by 8 am. I felt it was much needed sleep and the conditions did improve later so at around 8 am we decided to head out for the summit.
Yesterday while deciding on how to make rope teams Matt asked if there was someone willing to be on their own rope team without a guide. Myself, tony and chris had no problems with it so we were going to be on a rope team. Matt led the way and the conditions weren’t exactly ideal, it wasn’t raining or snowing but there was dense fog and the visibility was about 15-20 ft. Route markers were placed on the glacier while we ascended.
It was hard to figure out which way we were headed and there was barely any time to look up since all we had to do is follow the footsteps of the person in front of us. It was a slow and yet very steady pace and i didn’t have too many problems.
I had a faint idea of the landmarks on the glacier that we would be encountering on the way but as we got closer i was mistaken. I thought we had reached the icefall area of colfax peak and it was time to turn right into the col but it would be a while before we got there. We took breaks every hour/hour and half and that was the only time when i had chance to look around, get an idea of where we were and possibly take some pictures. It was around 11 am and there was no sign of the sun whatsoever, sometimes it would get windy and sometimes it would be calm so we had to constantly adjust our layers during the breaks.
After couple of breaks, Tony wanted to be the lead for our rope team so we switched places and we got on short rope as soon as we reached the summit ridge. While traveling on glaciers in most circumstances the distance between the climbers is usually 30 ft, it provides enough slack in event of someone falling into crevasse but on steeper terrain this long slack would increase the momentum of the falling climber thereby making it difficult to hold the fall and the entire party could get pulled off.
On the ridge
So to prevent this build up of momentum we shorten the rope distance between the two climbers to about 6ft, it does provide with less response time for the other climbers to arrest the fall but at the same time there won’t be too much of momentum buildup by the falling climber. Some people believe strongly against short roping and think that it increases the risk but i think its a matter of trusting your fellow rope team and your own skills as a climber.
The sun finally come out but unfortunately we had just moved above the cloud layer so all we could see is clouds everywhere around us. It got warm and less windy because the ridge was protecting us against the wind. We made good progress along the ridge and the main wall which was about 35 degree slope didn’t pose much of problem either.
We were just taking it one step at a time, following each others footsteps and in almost a robot like fashion making our way to the top. I love this feeling where your mind is in a totally different zone and every single thought is just focussed on the next step. All you are thinking about is maintaining your balance, planting one foot in front of other, into the steps in front of you thereby making your way up the mountain one step at a time.
Once we got on the summit plateau it got lot windy and the true summit seemed like really far away but it wasn’t too that far. We stopped closer to it, got rid of our packs and then went to the true summit to take some pictures. The wind didn’t make it possible for us to linger there for a long time, definitely made me wonder how windy it would be on the summit of all the big himalayan peaks.
I was little concerned about the hike down specially on the steeper section but it didn’t turn out to be bad at all and we made it down just fine. Further down along the ridge, one of the spikes of my crampon got caught in the gaiter and i fell. It wasn’t a bad fall where my team had to arrest me or anything but at that moment i felt that i had pulled my calf muscle and it was game over for Rainier. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t that bad as i initially thought and not only i was able to walk properly but the feeling of my calf injury being serious was going away with every step.
We had our crampons on for the entire part of the climb and once we got off the ridge the snow had really softened up and it was sticking to my crampons. It was starting to get really annoying since i was having like more 6 inches of snow getting stuck on my boot. It was time to take the crampons off and we finally reached our camp at around 5 pm or so and after a heavy dinner it was time to go to bed.
Day 6: Back to Seattle.
We were planning to get back to seattle as early as possible so we could get maximum amount of rest before embarking on our Rainier adventure. We had our breakfast, packed everything up and around 9 am started to hike back out. Getting past the first few snowfields was going to be tricky with the heavy packs on and the snow being firm, having crampons on would have helped but then it was too much of hassle to put them on and take them off.
It was tricky but slowly and surely we made down the snow fields, there were times when i was being aggressive and then there were times when i was being lazy while descending. My legs were definitely sore from yesterday and i was dreading the rainier part but i knew i had to think about breaking the whole thing in parts and not look far ahead in advance.
Once we got off the snow field i was in high gear and just powered my way through to the parking lot, it was surprising how many people we ran into but then it was a weekend so it made sense. On our way back we had lunch at one of the local restaurants, of course there was beer involved and we got back to seattle by 2-3 pm.
Kartik picked me up and after showering we went to Gaurav’s place for some BBQ, i was sore and tired but i knew a protein shake would make a difference and i also planned to carry couple of them with me for the rainier part. I thought that my pack would weigh a lot less because i won’t be carrying all the meals or tents but unfortunately i was mistaken. I didn’t get the amount of sleep that i had hoped for and by the time i went to bed it was already past mid night.