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This winter I decided that I would like to climb
On Friday, I picked Jim up at his house in
After poking around the vintage lodge, we headed down to Government Camp (6 miles away) and found a campground. It was in a deep forest and the temp was very cool that first night. While on a bathroom break, I discovered deep snow under a fallen tree. Did I mention the campground’s elevation was 3,000 feet and it was mid-June?
The next morning, we were back at the lodge for our snow
school at . One instructor was an
Irishman named Joe. He was very experienced and quite funny. The other’s name
was Nick. Nick was younger and basically training to become a guide, but still
had an impressive resume. We had 4 classmates… a husband and wife, and 2 women
by themselves. The couple had been on
After the class was over, Jim and I thoroughly debated when to start the next day and whether or not to camp higher on the mountain or just drive up from our campground in Government Camp. We dined at a restaurant, where we decided we would just climb the entire mountain in one swoop and start at . So off to our campground we went. We got our gear loaded in our packs and were ready for a sleep at 7:30 PM, with the alarm set for 11:30 PM. Sleep came easy for me at first, but after about an hour, I was awoken by loud music nearby. Jim could not sleep, and eventually got up to have a soda and speak with his wife on the phone. Once I awoke, it was 2 hours of lying there, before dosing off for 30 minutes before the alarm went off. Jim was not woken by the alarm, so I let him sleep about 5 minutes before wrecking his peace and tranquility.
The weather was now beautiful. The full moon was out, as were countless stars. With everything ready, we just threw on a few clothes and our plastic boots and were off to the lodge. We arrived just after . We signed in at the climber’s registry and used the bathroom to fill water bottles.
We hit the trail and could notice a few dark silhouettes
against the white, moonlit terrain. The mountain was bright and we never used
the headlamps while climbing. The mountain had a lenticular cloud formed around
the top, but that would later relent to clear conditions. We got into a pretty
good rhythm and quickly passed a couple of hikers. The wind was blowing hard
and the snow was solid as a rock as we made our way on the eastern boundary of
Just after the break we got passed by a solo climber that said his girlfriend had quit after 400 feet because she was feeling sick. He almost seemed happy about that, as it relieved him of the burden of carrying the rope! We continued up towards the top of the ski area at 8,700 feet, where we took our second break and put on our crampons. The terrain was a bit steeper, but I was really starting to feel good at this point. We just worked our way straight up a feature-less snow slope. After about 1,000 feet more elevation gain, we stopped for quick break behind some rocks. At this time we could see some light on the far eastern horizon.
The next phase of the climb was up through some rocks to a
steep ridge where the Steel Cliffs were visible. Noticeable now was a pungent
smell of sulfur from the Devil’s Kitchen, which was an excellent reminder that
we were climbing a volcano. During the next 1,000 feet, I felt fine physically,
but the sulfur smell was making me nauseous. It became light during this
section as well. With the exception of one medium-length break, we moved
quickly towards Crater Rock and the Hogsback. The Hogsback is essentially a narrow
ridge that runs from Crater Rock up to the Pearly Gates (rocks on both sides of
a chute that leads to the summit). We rested with 10 or so other climbers on a
saddle, before mustering up the nad to tackle the crux of the climb, which is
the section from the bergschrund (a giant crack in the snow) to the upper
portion of the Pearly Gates. We decided to fall in behind a knowledgeable
looking team of 4. We also decided NOT to rope up, as we figured the rope would
give us a false sense of security given our limited knowledge of how to use it
and our ability to arrest someone other than our self. This section was much
tamer than I expected and I really wanted to pass the rope team, but patiently
remained behind them. We finally pushed through the Pearly Gates and in 5
minutes were enjoying sunshine on the top of
The way down was a bit nerving through the Pearly Gates, as the terrain just didn’t feel quite right. So I just took my time and made my own steps where needed. Jim was a bit skeptical, so I took the lead. Soon we realized it was much easier than we thought and we motored back down to the bergschrund. While taking pictures of the bergschrund, we heard a shout from our instructor’s from the day before who congratulated us for our successful summit. They were taking our classmates up a route known as the crater variation. Once back at the saddle, we phoned our fathers to wish them a happy father’s day and did a little celebrating. Other than ripping off a few glissades (sitting on your butt and sliding down the slope), the down climb was pretty mundane. Mundane or not, the accomplishment, views, and cobalt blue skies made every minute of it seem heavenly.
Big thanks go out to Jim, who acted as my sherpa. Jim carried the 5 lb. rope, and helped with with my water and camera on several occasions. Beyond that, he was an excellent climbing partner.Trip stats: