Last year, after reading many books on climbing Mount Everest, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and sign up for a mountaineering course to get me on my way. I searched various outfitters,
and settled with American Alpine Institute www.aai.cc. http://www.aai.cc/ProgramDetail/alpinism1/
Alpinism I Introduction – a six day introduction to mountaineering. Spend one day on rock and five on the glaciers of Mt. Baker to acquire a full
range of mountaineering techniques that will make you a skilled climber capable of making ascents of alpine routes of intermediate difficulty. Climb Mt. Baker
After paying my money to lock me in and force me to get the gear and get in shape, I started a rigorous exercise routine to get ready. I spent 3 months
walking around with a 65 pound backpack. I tried to average at least 3 miles a day when I could, but I did manage to average about
30 miles a week. After 3 months, and 35 miles in the Grand Canyon, I was ready. I flew up to Seattle with my gear and met up with my team. The morning started at AAI. Everyone laid out their gear. Our guide Kurt, went through everything…he took out about 25% of everyone’s gear and clothes, adn Here we are as we unload our gear and get ready to go up the mountain. Img_0091.
Here is our fearless leader, Kurt. He’s an accomplished guide, ice and rock climber.
After hiking for several hours loaded up with more the 75 pounds of gear, we took out first break.
It was amazing how far we had gone.
We did not see many people up on the mountain. The forecast was for poor climbing conditions, but we opted to go anyway….We only one small group of campers on the way up.
After 6 hours of climbing we finally made it to our campsite and pitch my tent.
That’s Jerry….we went trekking for water about a half a mile away…
Most of our food was freeze dried…here’s dinner the first night.It is amazing how good this stuff taste at the end of a long day….just boil water, pour it into the bag, and wait for 10 minutes.
The first morning on the mountain was spectacular. I slept pretty good, using ear plugs to quite the howling winds. Here is the view out my front door.
The first day of class was exhausting. We had to learn how to walk in cramp-ons.
Here we are getting on our gear. Kurt shows us how it’s done.
On day 2, the weather closed in on us. Since we had no tent big enough for everyone to fit inside of, we built a igloo type classroom, by digging and cutting ice blocks….we used a tarp to keep the bad weather out. We would spend the next couple of hours in our class room. When the weather cleared up, we went outside and learned how to stop ourselves from sliding down a hill with our ice axe.
We also learned about crevasse rescue…this was brutal…we lower each team member into a crevasse, then had single handily arrest the fall and build a hoist rig to haul them up The prospects for a day 4 ascent up Mt. Baker looked slim. Kurt decided we would go in the morning and make a run for the summit. This is what we saw when we woke up. …I can barely see my teams headlamps in front of their tents.
After hiking up for over 4 hours in near whiteout conditions, the weather started to let up a bit. I’m in the back…My job is the stop the team from falling in the crevasse. Our leader said they usually put the best climber in the rear….I think it is because I was the biggest.0168
An hour later, the team broke through the clouds, and the weather looked awesome.
An hour later, we came upon our first real obstacle.
What seemed like beautiful powder was an avalanche waiting to happen.
There were hidden crevasses on both sides,
so we searched for a climbable path.
Stuck, at about 11,000 feet, we walked along the sloped ridge, looking for good snow.
The recent heavy snow falls had accumulated on top of the iced up layer, making the snow
unstable. The top layer of snow would slide right off. Kurt showed us how to test the snow. We cut out blocks of snow looking for an area whose top layer would not slide off.
Unable to find a safe path, Kurt made the call….we would not summit. The risk of avalanche was too great. Instead, we would take some time to learn more about avalanches, take some pictures, and head down before the bad weather came back.
A hidden crevasse.0211
Getting ready to head down the mountain…
Here I am enjoying our last bit of sun shine.
After a long day of hiking, we finally made it back to camp.
As we descended through the clouds, the bad weatherclosed in. Note the fog behind me.
Here I am exhausted.
It rained the rest of the evening, and throughout the night. Luckily, most of my gear stayed dry. The tent was soaked along with a damp sleeping bag..
We woke up to a break in the weather and prepared for a hike down the mountain. The trek down the mountain was brutal. Descending with a full load, through the slush and muck was tedious and
tiring. As we follow a creek, each of us kept falling into the water.
At one point, one of our teammates hurt her leg, and was unable to carry her pack. We all added more weight to our own, and Kurt lashed the remaining gear and second pack onto his own. The total weight of the two packs had to be at least 125 pounds.
After making it down the mountain, we made our way straight to the laundry mat to dry out.
We would be spending the next night, camping on dry
land at a nearby state park on the banks of the Puget Sound. The views here were just as spectacular.
After setting up camp, I finally had time to assess the damage to my feet. I had
rented climbing boots instead of purchasing $600 new ones. I learned my lesson. The rentals were your typical ski boot type. Hard plastic and very unforgiving. I had been suffering from severe
blisters on both ankles. I could not get anything to stick to the skin…moleskin, band-aids, or tape. It made the climbing miserable.
That night, we made a camp fire (2 2×4 pieces of lumber) and toasted our accomplishments.
Our last day was the day I actually had been waiting for all week….rock climbing and repelling. We drove to a nearby climbing spot and rigged up ready to drop. Normally, you learn this stuff before climbing up the mountain, but weather convinced us to try the mountain first.
Today, we would learn about climbing rocks, crevasses, cracks, and how to set hangers into the rocks to hang from.
Before repelling, we had to learn how to climb up a rope using the prusik technique.
Now the fun stuff starts. We are going to repel and climb from these two manmade hangers.
Here’s AJ coming down the wall.
Here’s Kurt going up the hard way.
What a blast! The trip was exhausting but fun. We were a bit bummed that we did not summit up Mount Baker, but ultimately we all realized that safety had to come first.
The meals were actually a lot better than I would have imagined….the freeze dried chili mac was especially good. Dinner was usually topped off with powder juice and hard candy, and hot cocoa before we went to bed. I learned all the techniques needed for a full scale climbing expedition. I’ve invested heavily in the gear..I only need a decent pair of climbing boots!