Thursday, July 24, 2008

A really long day

So here's the story. I got off crutches last Thursday, went to Squamish on Friday, got home at 1 in the morning on Monday, and got up again at 10:30 to climb the Tooth with Alie, another girl from KCESAR. We stopped at REI in Issaquah to pick up a nut tool, and replace the cordalette that I had sacrificed in Squamish to back up the rappel to belay ledge at the Upper Malamute. So onward we went. We had heard that there was a mission going on up at High Point at exit 20 off I-90, so we stopped in to see how that was going, ate a bunch of the Operation Leader's wheat thins, and went on our merry way to Snoqualmie Pass. Finally there, we parked in the middle Alpental lot, right below the gate. We unloaded the car, packed up the gear, and hit the trail. We were both in sneakers, expecting somewhat minimal snow, beings the end of July and all. Along the trail, Alie's stomach was reacting to the chicken she had brought along, so we made slow time getting up to the Source Lake Overlook. From there, it was clear that we would be in snow up to the base of the climb. Turns out, Alie really hadn't walked in snow before. So I gave her one of my trekking poles, we took it slow, and I kicked nice steps around the descending traverse of the bowl, taking pictures of the incredible view as Alie made her way along, experiencing snow travel for the first time. Once around the bowl, we started to make our way up the snow choked gully. That took a while too. Finally, we popped our heads out of the trees into a gorgeous, snowy basin, looking right up at the Tooth. There was an initial flat spot, a quick steeper spot, another flat spot with a cairn and a bunch of giant boulders, and then a longer slog up to the gendarme. Alie declared that this was no longer fun, so I walked even slower, stopped even more frequently, and kicked even better steps. That seemed to be enough, and she kept moving. Once up to the gendarme, one crosses around the southwest side to a rocky traverse, and then back up and around to Pineapple pass, a narrow, steep notch in the rock at the base of the Tooth, peppered with gorgeous purple wildflowers, and surrounded by incredible views; West to Mt. Rainier, and East back towards Source Lake. So I racked up and set out. Alie, mind you, is overcoming a crippling fear of exposure. So I lead up, and get her on belay. Alie makes her way up. The sun's around a foot and a half off the horizon. I explain that we need to pick up the pace. This is Alie's 5th time rock climbing, so despite my impatience, her speed is explainable and expectable. I think I took a more direct route than suggested on the 2nd pitch, which held a cruxy move, slowing the lead down momentarily as I placed the magical green #12 stopper. The process slowed down even more as my friend pulled first the crux, and then the mantle. We needed to be going faster. The third pitch went smoothly, albeit slowly. The fourth and final pitch marked the beginning of the drama. A #0.4 camalot, that beautiful, secure, purpley-grey bit of cnc magic was just past Alie's reach into a horizontal crack. I shouted down that it needed to be moved to the right, to where the crack flared. So, instead of fishing her pinky fingers in there, or using the nut tool to hook the trigger wires, she hammered it back and to the right. My precious pro was then overcammed and slammed deeper into trouble. She shouted back that it wasn't coming out, so I suggested that she climb up. She did, and then I had her lower me back to my shiny amigo. I wiggled my little fingers in there to the trigger, but to no avail, that sucker was WAAAY over cammed. So, I got a rock and hammered it towards freedom. No luck. Even after 20 minutes of nut tool weilding, knuckle bashing, liberation warfare, my precious 0.4 remained stuck. I kissed it goodbye, willing that somebody, somehow, would be able to free it one day, add it to their own rack, and put it to good use. I climbed back up, admired the sunset in a hurry, found the rap station, set an anchor on the tree, belayed Alie to it, clipped her in, stacked the rappel for Alie's sake, rapped to next station, gave Alie a fireman's belay, pulled the ropes, and repeated the process. But the rope got stuck. So I led back up on the other half, unstuck it, down climbed, and THEN repeated the process once more, this time all the way to the packs at Pineapple Pass. Now, it was dark, and I slapped my headlamp over my helmet and threw on another layer as I packed up my things for the next two raps off the pass. Once again, down I went. It took 30 harrowing and terrifying seconds to find the second rappel station. But there it was, and so I clipped in, and hollered up to Alie that she was free to go. The 2nd rappel went smoothly, and set us at the edge of the steep snow field. I coiled up the rope in a hurry, threw it in my pack, and set out. I cut and kicked some lovely steps in the icy snow, and started making my way down. By this time, the warm front had moved in, and we were swallowed up into the belly of a cloud, destroying what visibility I had with my dying headlamp in the middle of the night. We had to stay within 20 or 30 feet of each other to be able to see the light coming off each others lights. I traversed over and down towards the middle of the basin which hadn't been as shaded earlier in the day. As I expected, it was softer, and made for slightly quicker travel. We made our way slowly down, covering our lights every few minutes, barely able to make out the shape of the basin. Once we got down to the flat spot, a break in the clouds revealed that we were indeed headed exactly as we planned to. So onward we went towards the gully that would drop up into Source Lake Basin. As we got to the gully, we had to cross the edge of the river, from the snow to the dirt, I hopped across via a stepping stone. A stepping stone that turned out to be 3 and a half feet under the water. It's true, LED lights, especially ones that are almost out of battery, don't offer much in the way of depth perception. I scramled back out, shaking the icy water out of my pant legs. Adrenaline is pretty warming, and softshell pants dry pretty quick, so I was still in good shape. My phone had rung just as I clambered out of the water, so I called my mother back to let her know that I was on my way out, and that I would call her back when I made it to the trail. Onward we went, still slowly, scrumbling down the really steep snowy gully, through super thick pine trees, and out in to the basin. Turns out we went down the gnarlier of the two gullies. 10 points for unnecessary suffering. The sky was starting to clear, revealing absolutely spectacular stars right above us, and the clouds even opened briefly to reveal a full yellow moon. We began the ascending traverse of Source Lake Basin. We were making really slow time, back on the icy snow. I was getting good at making steps, and Alie, despite exhaustion, was starting to get a bit more comfortable following them. After a while, we passed one of our landmarks- a boulder that had fallen and putty knifed a bunch of snow down with it. That was pretty orienting, and we cut higher up the slope. Next, we crossed the talus field. At the other side of the talus, we still didn't see our boot track, so we headed farther up hill to where our earlier steps intersected the rock field. Then, it was just a matter of walking along to the base of the water running down the rocks, where we would meet our trail. And sure enough, there it was. I kissed a downed log. It was beautiful. I was damp, we were both tired, and yet barring spontaneous injury, we were going to make it out! All we had left was to cruise the 1.5 mi back to the cars. We split the last of the water, and hauled ass down the trail. The car was so beautiful and inviting. We hopped in, cruised down to North Bend where we picked up enough gas and food to make it back to my house. Back at home a little after 3am on Tuesday, we fell fast asleep, glad to be warm and dry. Despite having had a rough time, I'd had a blast. It's always fun to catch a glimpse of your own meddle.

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