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Found 7 results

  1. Trip: Mt Rainier - Fuhrer Thumb + Survival Date: 5/6/2008 Trip Report: May 4-6, 2008, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Thumb + Survival Summary: The Fuhrer Thumb is a beautiful ski line. But summit fever can get you in deadly serious trouble in the blink of an eye. Whiteouts and high winds at 14000 feet can suddenly leave you in a desperate survival situation. Steam caves in the crater are disgustingly humid, but better than freezing to death out in the open. And sometimes you are lucky enough to survive your stupidity, maybe even learn from your mistakes, and live to ski another day. I hope that by sharing this story, I can help myself digest one of the most powerful experiences of my life, and also give others some insight about what to do and what to avoid in a dire survival situation atop a big mountain. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fuhrer Thumb and Finger area, with our ascent route in blue. Zoomed view with a better angle of the Fuhrer Thumb. Details: We set off to ski the Fuhrer Thumb on the south side of Mount Rainier, a nicely steep couloir of 40-45 degrees, narrower but with a more sustained fall-line than its better-known neighbor the Fuhrer Finger. The forecast called for mostly sunny skies and 7500-8000 ft freezing levels on both Sunday and Monday, so we planned a one-day push overnight with light packs. We registered just before the Jackson Visitor Center closed at 6pm on Sunday May 4, with the park rangers remarking at our lack of gear, but trusting that with 40 Rainier summits between the two of us, we knew what we were doing. We started skinning uphill at 9pm, hoping to summit (9000+ ft of gain) in about 12 hours + nap breaks. We ascended the Nisqually on skis to about 7600 ft and eventually switched to booting with crampons as the slopes steepened and became hard-frozen near the Wilson Glacier. Routefinding through the one major crevassed area was complicated somewhat by the new moon and near-total darkness, but this area is easily avoided by heading up a gentler ramp to its right (if you can see). Yet the dark night sky was also brilliant with stars, and punctuated several times by the brief blazes of meteors. We reached the foot of the Thumb at 10200 ft at 3am and took a lengthy sitting nap break under a rock overhang, at the base of a steep cliff on the couloir's right side, just a few feet from the small bergschrund marking the head of Wilson Glacier. Starting up the Fuhrer Thumb just above our nap spot, with the Wilson Glacier bergschrund just to the left. Steep views down the Thumb, with Mt St Helens in the distance. We awoke at dawn to find unexpectedly gray skies and thick high clouds, but despite the weather concerns we eventually started up the steep slopes of the Thumb at 6am. Snow conditions were a mix of nice supportive crust perfect for cramponing and arduous breakable crust, causing postholes up to a foot deep. We each climbed using Whippets on our ski poles (two for me, one for my partner), and the single ice axe we'd each brought stayed on our packs throughout the climb. Above the top of the Thumb (11400 ft), we continued directly up the eastern edge of Wapowety Cleaver, avoiding the eastward traverse onto the Nisqually Glacier which looks quite broken up around 12000 ft, with crevasse navigation issues likely. The downside of choosing the crevasse-free Wapowety is that there are several sections of steep 50-55 degree sidehill snow slopes from 12200-12500 ft, which are arduous and exposed in spots, perched above rocky cliffs with a long drop down onto the Nisqually. In the midst of these steep sections the weather worsened around 9am, with light snowfall, gusty winds, and a large lenticular cloud enveloping the entire summit plateau. We took another break on a small flat spot near 12300 ft, which turned into a long nap for my ski partner after we debated whether to just pull the plug and ski down. We decided to at least wait a bit and see, and the weather did improve within a couple of hours, brightening to mostly sunny skies and much lighter winds with only wispy fragments of the lenticular remaining. I fired up the Jetboil to make about 2.5 liters of water, easily enough to see us through to the top. So at noon we headed upward once more, hoping to polish off the last 1900 vertical to reach 14158 ft Point Success, the second highest of Rainier's three 14000 ft peaks, in a couple of hours. Map of routes: Gray: Our ascent route; the switchbacks on the Nisqually are very approximate in location and number. Red: My initial ski route and subsequent reascent to the crater rim (also approximate). Green: Travels around the crater rim the next morning. Blue: My ski descent from the rim to rejoin the ascent route, the rest of the ski descent followed the ascent route. The next 200 vert above our nap spot were the steepest of the entire route, and we split the exhausting post-holing duties, diagonaling up the sun-softened slopes. Atop the flat summit of Wapowety Cleaver at 13000 ft, we took another break to switch back to skins, since the slopes above were not very steep and it looked to be no problem to skin all the way to Point Success. We zigzagged left and right through a field of large crevasses, but by 13400 ft the powdery snow atop a firm crust on the upper Nisqually Glacier was making skinning difficult for my partner. She switched to booting on foot and headed more directly towards Point Success, while I continued skinning a switchbacking track with ski crampons providing occasional support. My last glimpse of her was just after 2pm, as I headed out of sight around a minor rib on a long rightward switchback. The weather remained mostly sunny with light winds as I made the final leftward switchback, and I snapped a photo of Point Success from about 200 yards away along the ridge at 2:40pm. Hard work ascending the steepest part of the route on Wapowety Cleaver. The last bit of ridge to Point Success, still mostly sunny at 2:40pm. Six minutes later, I stood atop the peak in a sudden whiteout and strong gusty winds. The temperature was 14 F, winds 30+ mph from the west, and my altimeter read 14220 (+62 error). There was nowhere to hide from the elements atop the narrow summit crest, so I stood with my back to the wind and waited. And waited. Occasionally shapes which looked like human form, complete with skis on pack, appeared through the mist along the ridge to the east, and I yelled my partner's name each time, but in vain as all turned out to be illusions in the drifting fog. Wind-driven rime was rapidly coating my pack and clothing, so I switched over to ski mode and skied back down my skin track after about 20 minutes atop the peak. I assumed my ski partner must have turned around when the winds and whiteout hit, and I thought that I'd be able to ski down and cross paths with her soon. Little did I know that my friend would arrive only minutes later atop the ridge to find my skin track leading to an empty summit, and a partner who had abandoned her. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Things got much worse from here. My skin track down the ridge was rapidly filling with wind-driven snow, and following it down became impossible, as visibility for snow features was less than 10 ft. I navigated by altimeter and dead-reckoning, trying to hold a 14060+ contour (including a mental correction for altimeter error) which would put me at the saddle separating Point Success from the summit craters, and from which I could easily ski down the fall line to intersect my ascent route. Unfortunately, I made a nearly-catastrophic navigational error. I held a contour just a bit too low, probably only 20 vertical feet low, but that's hundreds of feet of horizontal error in the flat featureless vicinity of the saddle. The distance I had skied was hard to gauge in the whiteout and strong tailwind pushing me along. I suddenly halted as a dark black feature appeared about 50 feet to my right. What?!? I realized that I must have overshot the saddle and was now on the uppermost Tahoma Glacier, standing just below a gaping bergschrund. The sudden fear and panic of being lost in an unknown field of crevasses in a whiteout was gripping me. I pulled my seldom-used compass out of the bottom of my pack, turned 180, and began following my track back away from the crevasses. It was painfully ironic to know that my two GPS units were sitting warm and dry at home while I was lost and freezing in a whiteout at 14000 ft. At least I had a nice waterproof topo map of the summit region, and could attempt to navigate by compass. I eventually found the 14000+ ft saddle (or is it really closer to 14040 ft?), an extremely windswept spot marked by numerous exposed rocks. The west wind was now about 40-50 mph, and I spotted a small snow-cave like shelter, about the volume of an office desk. I considered crawling inside for relief from the wind, but nearly an hour had already passed since I left Point Success. I decided it would be best to simply ski across the saddle and try to descend the Nisqually to reach our ascent track, and hopefully reunite with my ski partner. I thought the winds might ease on the opposite side of the saddle, but they didn't. I continued downhill to about 13900 ft, pushed from behind by the relentless wind as I held a wide snowplow stance to maintain walking speed, and unable to see much beyond my ski tips. The fear of plunging into a gaping crevasse, the same ones I had switchbacked around during the ascent, was overpowering me. I stopped and sat down. I knew that I was in very serious trouble, and for the first time in my life, realized that I might actually freeze to death, my life thrown away uselessly, lost in a featureless plain surrounded by crevasses which I could not see. There had to be a way out, I couldn't die here. I pulled out my cell phone, thankfully warm in an inside pocket and switched off to preserve its battery, and discovered upon turning it on that I had 2-3 bars of signal. I tried the MRNP number at 4:15pm, but couldn't connect. Next, 911, and it went through! Such a relief. I explained my location and predicament in great detail, several times to make sure that elevation and position had been recorded correctly, and the operator told me to stay put and that Mt Rainier National Park would call me back. Then nothing for a while, so I called my ski partner's phone, connecting to her voicemail after 3 attempts and leaving a detailed message with my location, apologizing for my foolish summit fever which had put us in this situation, and wishing that she was doing well. I then saw that I had new voicemail, and discovered a message: "Amar, this is David Gottlieb, climbing ranger at Mount Rainier. My number is 360-569-2211 x6028. Get back to us. Talk to you soon. OK, bye." I had met David a couple of times at high camps, and even remembered talking with him in July 1999 at Camp Schurman about the various routes he had skied. At least the rangers knew about my dire predicament, including the detailed location info I had given 911 (or so I thought at the time: it turns out they did not get the 911 recording, and the only info they got from 911 was that I was at "15000 ft on Mount Rainier". Ridiculous.) Over the next day, I would make a total of 49 cell phone call attempts, including 30+ to MRNP, several to voicemail, and several to another friend hoping that he could contact the park. Of that, only these 3 successfully connected, all between 4:15 and 4:30pm on May 5. By turning the phone off between each set of 3-4 call attempts and keeping it warm with body heat, I still had about 2/3 battery life remaining afterwards. I thought about my ski partner a lot, probably caught just like me somewhere out in the storm. The decisions we had made beforehand about gear and going lightweight, the way we had pushed each other onward and upward when either of us had lagged, and my final overwhelming push and desire to summit, even when it was clear that she was much more tired than me and just wanted to turn around and ski back down. She's the best and most inspiring ski partner I've ever met, and I knew that I had let her down. But the immediate issue was hypothermia, and worse, severe frostbite or actually freezing to death. I'm not very tolerant of cold at all, with poor circulation in the extremities, and I doubted that I could survive an exposed bivy with minimal gear at 13900 ft, in 40-50 mph winds with temperatures dropping below 10F overnight. My clothing consisted of top/bottom lightweight Capilene long underwear, soft-shell pants (REI Acme), and microfleece top (TNF Aurora). Insulation included a thick fleece vest, a newly-bought hooded puffy (Montbell Thermawrap Parka), and my super-warm Feathered Friends Volant down jacket with hood (still inside my pack). Shells consisted of Arc'teryx Theta SK bib pants and an Arc'teryx Alpha LT jacket. And thankfully, I did have lots of gloves and hats: 2 fleece hats, a fleece helmet liner, a thin balaclava, OR Alti Mitts (heavily insulated and waterproof, with insulated liner), OR Couloir ski gloves (insulated waterproof), OR Omni gloves, and 2 pairs of OR PL 100 liner gloves. A lot of clothing for sure, but not enough for me to survive overnight in that situation unless I kept moving or found shelter from the wind. There were only two options: descend the climbing route as best I could and hope to drop below the whiteout before falling in a crevasse, or climb back up to the crater rim and try to find a steam cave to bivy inside of. I tried option 1, trying at first to slowly ski down but realizing that I would have to switch to cramponing on foot. This would reduce the risk of skiing into a gaping crevasse, but greatly increase the risk of plunging into a hidden one. Around 13800 ft, I decided to turn around and climb back up, 400+ vertical to the rim. I headed due north, hoping to reach the Nisqually bergschrund, and then traverse rightward along it to a safe-enough crossing, providing access to the crater rim. I reached the schrund at 5:30, a huge opening about 20-30 ft high, with enough room for many to camp inside, but the wind was whipping through its length and powdery snow was flying everywhere. So traverse along it I did, and as expected it narrowed farther eastward, eventually becoming only a foot or two wide with numerous snow bridges across it. I crawled across one of them, and I could see exposed rocks just beyond. At least I was now safe, but it was time to get warm and fast. The bergschrund at the head of the Nisqually Glacier. I reached the crater rim around 6:20pm, a bit over 14200 ft, and immediately found an entrance leading to a large steam cave. I descended 15 ft into a first chamber, large but barely tall enough to stand up in, and then slithered and crawled through 3-4 ft high passages another 20 feet down, reaching an excellent large chamber with several hot fumaroles along one side and a steep passage angling directly back up to the surface about 30 ft above, providing a welcome glimpse of daylight without letting too much weather inside. Definitely home for the night, and maybe much longer if the weather did not improve. I went back to the surface to retrieve my gear and planted my skis in an X outside the entrance, hoping that any climbing parties that might reach the rim the next morning would see it. The steam cave just inside the crater rim, looking down the first entrance. The interior of the upper part of the steam cave. I set up the Jetboil to melt snow for water, but within seconds I had tipped it over, dousing its flame completely and unable to relight it due to all the snow packed into the burner. This was a potential disaster: without a way to make liquid water, I would probably get hypothermia if I kept eating snow even within the relatively warm (almost freezing) steam cave. But then an idea: I filled the Jetboil cup with snow, put the lid on, and sat it against the hottest nearby fumarole. This one sounded like a camping stove, hissing out a powerful jet of steam and gas which was intolerably hot to the touch and thankfully nearly odorless. I suspected its temperature was close to the boiling point of water, about 185 F at 14000 ft. I knew that volcanic gases typically include H2O, CO2 (carbon dioxide), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), CO (carbon monoxide), and H2S (hydrogen sulfide). The latter three are all poisonous, with CO being odorless and thus quite insidious, SO2 having a noticeable pungent smell, and H2S with a noxious rotten eggs smell, so prevalent on other Cascade volcanoes such as Mt Baker and Mt Hood. I knew that this fumarole had almost none of the stinky sulfurous gases, and hoped that any CO would be minimal to avoid any effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Within a few minutes, the snow had melted in the Jetboil cup, and 15-20 minutes produced half-liter quantities of water as hot as tea. I was stoked: As miserably wet and humid as the cave was, I had found a source of both unlimited warmth and unlimited hot water at the summit of Mount Rainier. I knew I could survive for days if necessary with no fear of either hypothermia or dehydration. But food was another story: a quick inventory revealed only 1 pack of 4 Nutter Butter cookies (250 cal), 1 pack M&Ms peanut (250 cal), 1 pack M&Ms plain (240 cal), 1 Chewy Dipps granola bar (140 cal), 1 Chewy granola bar (100 cal), and 1 Kudos bar (100 cal) = 1080 calories. I decided not to eat any of it that night, saving it all for the next day. Although I knew I needed food, especially after the exertion of climbing nearly 10000 vertical feet in the past 21 hours, for some reason I was just not very hungry. Also, I realized with relief that I felt no discernible effects from the altitude. I've always felt so lucky that I handle altitude better than most people, and in numerous previous trips from sea level to 14000+ feet in under 24 hours, I had never once experienced any altitude-related illness. I'm very fortunate in that regard, and the majority of people would experience some symptoms of AMS for sure under a forced bivy at 14000 ft less than a day after leaving sea level, with HAPE or HACE a real possibility for a smaller fraction. So darkness came and I cuddled up next to the fumarole, still always brewing another batch of hot water in the Jetboil cup and making sure to drink plenty. I tried turning my headlamp off at first, but realized that I needed the small comfort of being able to see around me in such an alien environment and so I kept it on most of the rest of the night. LED headlamps are great, I knew I had dozens of hours of battery life remaining. My clothes were already soaked, as the rate of condensation on any exposed surface was the most rapid I've ever seen. Any object would be dripping wet within a minute or less. Nevertheless, being hot and damp was much better than cold and damp, and so I kept rotating various sides of my body close to the fumarole, using my crampon bag as a deflector to reduce or re-aim the stream of hot gases in a needed direction. When my feet got cold inside my ski boots, I could just place them directly atop the fumarole and they'd be back warm within 10-15 minutes. I was wearing all my clothes except the down jacket, which I tried to carefully preserve inside its Sil-Nylon stuffsack within my pack. The down would be useless within the steam cave environment, rapidly turning into a heavy sodden mess, but it might be essential to my survival the next day outside on the mountain and so I had to keep it dry. Despite the heat from the fumarole, I shivered constantly through most of the night, with relief usually only for a few minutes after drinking a cup of hot water. My hands stayed nicely warm and dry for several hours inside the insulated waterproof Alti Mitts, but eventually they soaked through too and my fingers soon looked like prunes. My soaking wet fingers the next morning. I slept fitfully, mostly not well at all, and had my longest nap from 4am to 5:30. I awoke on Tuesday May 6 to a shocking surprise: there was daylight visible out through the opening of the cave! Given the forecast for deteriorating weather throughout the week, I could not believe my good luck. With nice weather, I thought that climbers and especially guided parties would certainly be reaching the rim shortly. I planned to ask them for food and for assistance in descending via whatever route they had climbed. I also probably needed some dry clothes, since my sodden garments would quickly freeze into a stiff suit of armor outside in the expected 10 F cold. Looking up the second entrance from home sweet home. It took me forever to get ready, eat some of my food, and prepare to go outside. I shook out my wet outer layers, donned the mercifully still-dry down jacket, and climbed out to the surface just after 7am. Partly sunny, cold but not too cold, and winds light, W 10-15 mph, with visibility past Mt Adams. WOW. The crater rim in the morning. I realized that my cave was about 100 yards west of where the normal climbing routes reach the low point in the crater rim, so it was important to leave a message over there for the climbers who would surely be arriving shortly. So I walked over to the low point, which was marked with 2 wands, and scratched out the words, "Help! 100 yds west", in a smooth patch of snow with my ski pole. I also moved my crossed skis from the original cave entrance to the second entrance, which was closer to the low point. I tried several more cell phone call attempts to MRNP, to no avail. As expected, my outer layers had frozen stiff in the cold air, so I retreated to the steam cave to thaw them out. Looking down into my cave, with the west part of the East Crater rim in the distance. By 9am it was time to head back out again. I thought for sure that climbers must be getting up there already, but in any case I decided that I'd walk around the inside of the crater rim and try to place cell phone calls in each different direction, hoping to get a stronger signal. To avoid the hazard of accidentally falling into thinly snow-covered steam cave entrances, it is best not to walk too close to the inside of the rim, so I walked in arcs passing through the middle of the crater and connecting to points on the east and north rims, and forcefully probed with both ski poles just in case. The floor of the crater was scoured to bare blue glacial ice in many spots, cut in a couple places by thin, 6-12" wide snow-filled cracks that were deeper than I could probe. Each time I reached the rim, still no luck with the cell. By now, I was almost at Columbia Crest, the true 14411 ft summit of Mt Rainier. I walked over to the summit register, located in a steaming area of fumarolic bare ground just below the summit, and thumbed through the old entries. The last entries were from April 17, and before that from autumn of 2007. At 9:50am, I added my own lengthy page, describing what had happened and my worries about my ski partner and about how I would make it down. I climbed up to the Crest, took in the grand views once again, and made several more unsuccessful cell attempts. Columbia Crest, with the West Crater rim beyond. The day was becoming gloriously warm and sunny, with winds dropping to nearly calm and temps rising to near 20 F. Nothing at all like the NWS forecast. My clothes were drying on my body, and I felt really good despite the lack of food and sleep, with no ill effects from the previous day's exertion. So I decided to set myself a deadline: if no climbers or helicopter had appeared by noon, I would simply ski down the upper Nisqually to rejoin our ascent route, and ski the Thumb as originally planned. I hoped that by noon, the snow on the steepest parts of Wapowety Cleaver (50-55 degree SE facing slopes) would be softened enough to hold an edge. If I could get past that crux safely in my probably somewhat weakened condition, the rest of the run down the Thumb and Wilson Glacier would be cake in any snow conditions, even if parts were still breakable crust. At 10:45am, I headed back across the crater to my cave, and carefully repacked all my gear. Everything was disgustingly wet, and much of it covered in a muddy hydrothermally-altered clay which forms the soil within the steam caves. I melted and drank a final liter of water, and planned to eat snow as needed to stay hydrated during the ski descent. If everything went well, I should be able to ski out to Paradise in about 2 hrs, even including the short climb back up to Glacier Vista. 12:10 pm: My pack and gear are all back at the surface, with skis still crossed above the cave entrance. By noon I was back out on the surface with my pack and gear, making final preparations to ski down. But wait - - - I heard a helicopter! And there it was, climbing upwards towards the rim from far below me. It quickly approached and circled around me twice, as I waved a single hand to let them know I was OK. I assumed that it would land in the crater, but then it took off down the mountain, so I thought that maybe the rangers think I'm OK and don't need a ride. Only later would I be told that the chopper had an engine malfunction light of some sort come on, and was forced to descend without me, while MRNP staff scrambled to locate a backup chopper in case it was needed. 12:19 pm: The MRNP rescue helicopter circling around me. So back to peace and silence on the rim. I'd had the summit all to myself for nearly a day, and still no climbers had appeared. As I prepared to click into my bindings, I noticed that the Dynafit fittings on my boots were clogged completely with mud. I used a Leatherman tool to chip the mud out of my boot fittings, which was very difficult since it appeared that the hydrothermally-altered clay had set into something as hard as plaster. Given the steepness of parts of the descent, I could take no chances with the typical Dynafit accidental pre-release bullshit, so I made sure the fittings were super clean and then locked the toes too for good measure. Looking across at Point Success from high on the Nisqually Glacier. (Sorry, bad photo, camera was fogging up.) I skied down the Nisqually Glacier at 12:40pm, a completely surreal feeling given the events of the previous 22 hours. I crossed the bergschrund somewhere near where I had crawled across it the evening before, and quickly located portions of the skin track of our ascent route. The 1-2 inches of new snow during the storm had been heavily windblown, and so only obscured small portions of the track. The ski down to 12500 ft was easy, albeit on an unpleasant mix of crust, windpacked powder, and a few patches of bare glacial ice. Unfortunately, the steepest parts of Wapowety Cleaver had not softened enough, and I was forced to sideslip much of the most exposed parts, using my uphill (right) Whippet as an anchor at times. The steepest step, only about 10 ft high but that had to be 55+ degrees, required sidestepping carefully while anchored with the uphill hand. And then I was safe, or so it seemed. But far below, a marine layer had filled the valleys to well over 8000 ft, and it was thickening. I hoped to avoid another whiteout on the glaciers below. Looking down the vertiginous Fuhrer Thumb, with Wilson Glacier and the marine layer clouds far below. The snow improved greatly below 12000 ft, becoming almost corn-like in spots. In the Fuhrer Thumb, the previous day's breakable crust had solidified enough to hold a skier's weight, and the descent was thoroughly enjoyable on a mix of edgeable crust and proto-corn. Hitting the Wilson Glacier at 10200 ft, I found the nicest snow of the day, fine spring corn on the cruising rolls down to 9000 ft and the edge of the marine layer. This whiteout was as dense as the one on the summit yesterday, but with nearly dead-calm winds and no real problems. I followed footsteps back to the Nisqually, and then the huge cattle-stampede track of a crevasse rescue class back to the moraine and Glacier Vista. Snow conditions were complete mushy glop in the whiteout, but I didn't care one bit. I had made it down off the mountain, alive and well. Corn and ski tracks on the Wilson Glacier. I reached the ski dorm at the edge of the parking lot at 3pm, and a single thoroughly-sodden packet of M&Ms still remained uneaten. I had survived my first major epic, and now I was desperate to make sure my ski partner had, too. To my great relief, there was a note on my car from climbing ranger Thomas Payne, informing me that she was safely off the mountain and that I should contact David Gottlieb at Longmire as soon as I got back. The ski dorm at Paradise. Safe at last. I drove down to Longmire, and went through a lengthy debriefing and interview process with the climbing rangers, a necessary bureaucratic process since an official search-and-rescue mission had been launched. They told me my ski partner had downclimbed the Kautz Glacier from Point Success on foot, in harrowing whiteout conditions down to 12000 ft, and then skied the Turtle back to the Nisqually Glacier and Paradise by 8:15pm the night before, and stayed at the ski dorm overnight. They said I could see her, but only after the interview and timeline of events was complete. As I was finishing my signed statement of events leading to the SAR, she finally walked in and we were both so relieved and overjoyed to see each other again, both safe and sound. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I'm not sure what will happen to me going forward from now on. It's going to take some time for me to process what happened and decide if I need to make some changes in my mountain travel habits and my degree of acceptable risk. Certainly I think the GPS is going back in my pack, for any trip of significant size. The only other thing that would have helped in the whiteout is being roped up the entire time, which is certainly worth considering for any such trips in the future. And at least I lost some weight during the trip: From the morning of May 3 through this afternoon on May 7, my weight has decreased from 144.4 lbs to 140.0, with body fat decreasing from 14.9% to 12.3%. This equals a loss of 4.3 lbs of body fat, which would supply about 17000 calories, and luckily it appears that I managed not to burn a significant amount of muscle mass. That would have changed for sure had I been forced to spend longer up there with no more food. Thanks to David Gottlieb, Chris Olson, Matt Hendrickson, Joe Franklin, and all the other climbing rangers and staff at MRNP who assisted in the planning and execution of my SAR mission. Although I made it down safely without assistance this time, it was only because of an unexpected lucky break in the weather, and my situation would have otherwise become increasingly desperate had the foul weather continued. And thanks most of all to my trusty ski partner and dear friend, for forgiving me and for still wanting to go skiing with me after this. I'm so glad you got down safely. "Hey dude, where are we skiing tomorrow?" -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [font:Courier New]MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA 345 AM PDT SUN MAY 4 2008 SYNOPSIS...AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE WILL BUILD OVER WESTERN WASHINGTON TODAY. SKIES WILL CLEAR AND THE AIR MASS WILL WARM TODAY. THE RIDGE SHOULD PERSIST INTO MONDAY. ONSHORE FLOW WILL INCREASE MONDAY NIGHT AND TUESDAY AS A WEATHER SYSTEM REACHES THE AREA. AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH WILL DEVELOP OVER THE REGION MIDWEEK. SUN SUN MON MON TUE NIGHT NIGHT SUMMIT (14411 FT) 11 15 15 14 9 E 9 W 25 W 30 W 28 W 35 CAMP MUIR(10188 FT) 25 27 27 28 20 SE 10 W 14 W 20 W 11 W 25 SUNDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 7500 FEET. SUNDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 8500 FEET. MONDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET. MONDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 8000 FEET. TUESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH SCATTERED SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5500 FEET. TUESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH SCATTERED SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 4500 FEET. WEDNESDAY AND WEDNESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. SCATTERED SNOW SHOWERS AND NUMEROUS SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 3500 FEET. THURSDAY AND THURSDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 3500 FEET. FRIDAY AND FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5000 FEET. [/font]
  2. best of cc.com Fun when it's done

    Fun when it’s done Methow Valley News Dec. 7, 2005 Adventures don’t always have to be "fun" to be fun. For example: # A few years back, three friends and I decided to attempt "The Inferno," a rarely climbed route on South Early Winters Spire. Still suffering from the previous night’s debauchery, we trudged upward toward the spire, our brains baking under the July sun like slugs on blacktop. Soon, we discovered whoever was supposed to bring the water, didn’t. We were so thirsty we simply wrung out our sweat-soaked T-shirts to get a drink. At the base of the route, we discovered whoever was supposed to bring lunch, didn’t. All we had was a pound of beef jerky which, when you are dying of thirst, is as appealing as a sand sandwich after crossing the Kalahari Desert. The first part of the route was steep and loose enough to qualify as exciting. Imagine climbing a teetering stack of refrigerators as tall as the Space Needle. Then we arrived at the hard part: a "5.10c overhanging, flaring five-inch crack." Translated into regular language, that means, "Run screaming in the other direction." There, already 500 feet off the ground, we discovered whoever was supposed to bring the big gear necessary to climb this section, didn’t. Covering oneself in bacon grease and throwing slices of Spam at a starving grizzly bear seemed like a sane idea compared to continuing upward. Fortunately, we brought along a madman – I’ll call him Mr. Peru – who volunteered to lead the pitch. Grunting like a constipated wildebeest while screaming self-motivational profanities creative enough to make the saltiest of sailors blush, Mr. Peru climbed. Although more dehydrated than our beef jerky, we survived and now laugh about the time we got singed by The Inferno. # The first couple of backhoe operators I approached to dig a waterline up the extremely steep hill behind my place looked at the job, laughed, and told me it was impossible. Finally, I found someone willing to dig the trench. But, he cautioned me, it was much too steep to backfill – I’d have to do that by hand. No problem, I thought. "Help wanted backfilling the Infinite Ditch of Woe," said the signs I posted on bulletin boards around the Methow. I figured it was truth in advertising: 500 cubic yards – or 50 dump trucks worth of dirt – would need to be moved by hand. By the next morning I had assembled a crew of seven people eager to make some money. Upon seeing the Ditch of Woe, one person quit before even picking up a shovel. By lunch, the crew had shrunk to five. The next morning, only four people showed up for work. At noon on the second day, two more workers suddenly remembered a bunch of other pressing commitments they had to attend to, and left. Some four days later, when the last shovelful of dirt was thrown into the trench, only one woman and I remained. The Infinite Ditch of Woe broke some spirits, but also created a lasting friendship. # As the rains of last January pounded down, our dreams of snowboarding powder melted faster than an ice cube in a hot tub. But we were determined to make the best of our weeklong trip to British Columbia’s Kootenay Mountains. Sure, the area has a bunch of fancy commercial hot springs – but who wants to pay 10 bucks to soak amongst a crowd of blubbery Canadians and screaming kids? We decided to hike in to a backcountry hot spring, which was why we were now lost in a forest in a heavy downpour, wallowing through chest-deep snow. After wading two waist-deep creeks, we finally found the hot spring. We shed our soaking clothes and plunged our hypothermic bodies into the hot pool. The hot sensation lasted only three seconds. A torrent of icy melt water pouring into the hot spring made the pool about as warm as the Methow River in March. The soggy, snowy trek back to the car was a character building experience. "O-o-o-one, p-p-p-please," I said. Shivering uncontrollably, I handed my 10 dollars to the cashier back at the fancy commercial hot spring. "Pretty nice, eh?" said a well-fed Canadian as I eased into the steaming hot pool amongst a crowd of shrieking children. "H-h-h-heaven," I replied. # Looking back, it’s often the worst of times that make the best of memories.
  3. TWISPTED REALITY (A monthly opinion column) Snafflehoundus terriblus Methow Valley News / July 6, 2005 The shenanigans of snafflehounds can drive even the most pacifistic of people to a state of rodenticidal rage. Two climbers apparently coined the term snafflehound in 1938 while climbing in the Bugaboo Mountains in Canada. During the night, cat-sized rodents ate their rations, their ropes and their boots. They named these voracious animals “snafflehounds.” The same species of snafflehound that terrorizes climbers and campers is the most notorious rodent in the Methow. Technically, snafflehounds are bushy tailed wood rats, or Neotoma cinerea . Most in the Methow simply refer to them as pack rats. Because of their nocturnal noisiness and petty larceny, pack rats are undesirable housemates. However, they tend to move in uninvited. As anyone who has ever tangled with a snafflehound will attest, evicting these wily and tenacious critters is no easy matter. My first snafflehound experience started out subtly enough. Coins, silverware, carabiners and screwdrivers started disappearing. Lacking faith in my short-term memory, I figured I’d just misplaced the items. One night I looked out my window and witnessed a huge rodent with big ears and a furry tail dragging my cordless drill off the deck. It all started to make sense. Then the snafflehound moved in. I hardly slept the next week. Each night, all night, I lay in bed while the snafflehound inside the walls and ceiling scratched, chewed and made a racket louder than a dance troupe of drunken cloggers brawling on a tin roof. Intending to relocate the snafflehound, I bought a “Have-a-Heart” brand live trap. The rodent ignored it. Instead he chewed a hole through the mosquito screen on my window, pilfered my alarm clock and proffered a huge pile of pack rat scat on my pillow. Murder in my heart, I returned to the store and bought a supposedly lethal device called “The Better Rodent Trap.” I baited it with peanut butter and dog food. As evidenced by the yellow puddle next to the sprung (but empty) trap the next morning, all the trap did was scare the piss out of the snafflehound. As if to mock me, the snafflehound chewed apart my phone cord, stole an engraved compass with sentimental value, peed on my favorite chair, and ate the cover plus the first 47 pages of Mammals of the Northwest. Once again I returned to the store, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. This time I bought an old-fashioned rat trap: nothing fancy, just time-tested, spring-loaded death. Or so I hoped. Each night I would bait it with tasty treats. Each morning I would discover the trap sprung, the bait gone. Out of respect for the snafflehound’s escape artistry, I named my elusive nemesis “Houdini.” Nearing wits end, I turned to Sun Tzu for advice. “Pretend to be weak, that your enemy may grow arrogant. Hold out baits to entice him. Feign disorder, and crush him,” wrote the ancient Chinese military philosopher in his book, The Art of War . As if conceding defeat, I abandoned my cabin to the snafflehound and slept outside on the porch. Inside, I scattered dog food on the floor to lure the pack rat and lull him into complacency. Sensing an ambush, Houdini kept a low profile for several days. I sweetened the bait, laying out a shiny galvanized joist hanger, a pair of dice, a socket set and some chopsticks. That night, I heard the snafflehound dragging something across my floor. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and through the open door into my cabin. Momentarily startled by the sight of a sleep-deprived madman naked as a plucked turkey and wielding a .357, the pack rat froze, eyes wide, nose twitching. Before I could shoot, Houdini darted behind the books in my bookcase. Intent on rodenticide, I slowly pulled book after book off the shelf. Finally, the rat was cornered somewhere between Desert Solitaire and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas . I split the difference and shot Mark Twain through the spine. Huckleberry Finn and the snafflehound exploded in a deafening blast of blood, fur, guts and literary greatness. I had finally succeeded in relocating the snafflehound - to another plane of existence. I slept well for a month. Then the next snafflehound arrived. But that’s a different story.
  4. Journey to the OP

    The OPC, yeah you know me. Who's down with the (O)lympic (P)eninsula ©rew? Got a late start and wasn't on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry till 11 o'clock. I've always enjoyed riding the ferries. Its a chauffeured trip where you can do whatever you want--get out in the fresh air and watch the organized chaos of the wake or sit inside and check out the people. If you make an effort, you can corner one of the couch style seats and let the vibration and humming of the engine lull you into a short nap. You get to turn over responsibility for your travel and become a willing captive for an hour or so. Unlike a bus or a plane, though, there is none of the stale air and claustrophobia. Generally on a ferry you can be as alone as you want or you can relate to people without being stuck in a situation where either is compelled. When we were young, our dad the captain told us the fire axes attached to the walls around the ferry were for fighting off huge sea serpents. Though rare, he said the sea serpents would occasionally wrap their coils around the whole ferry and try to drag it under. The axes were for chopping off the tentacles. For a long time, I believed this and repeated it as gospel to my friends, who also became believers in the serpents of Puget Sound. At some point I realized that there weren't such things as huge sea serpents and I was disappointed. Any less use for axes seemed mundane by comparison. One by one the mythical mysteries of childhood are revealed to us and magic leaves the world. True in one way, but at the same time there is no shortage of the mysterious, wondrous and awe-inspiring in the world here and now. Its just that we lose the sight to see it, our imaginations repressed by the scientific method, a culture of cool calculated contempt for that which falls outside the bounds of our understanding. We are resigned to not knowing and lack the child-like audacity to make it up. But what the fuck am I talking about the ferries for? The engine slowed and I returned from my reverie to the lower deck. The unloading began--always a good spectator sport. First, the bicyclists are freed and they sprint for safety like spooked deer. Having given the poor peddlers a sporting lead, the deckhands let loose the snarling pack of hawgs, ninjas, phantoms and other rice-burning crotch rockets, which blast up the ramp in hot pursuit of the terrified cyclists. Lastly, the four-wheeled superpredators of the pavement rumble off the ferry: the Ford Super Duties, Peterbilts, Komfort Kampers, etc. Each piloted by a twitching, traffic-twisted, caffeine-crazed commuter. And thus carnage commences! Blacktop Darwinism in action! I hurtle westward into the foggy forest and smell the smell of wet wood burning from the few unseen shacks tucked back in the dark caves beneath the trees. The further westward you go, the more you get a sort of creepy feeling unique to the Olympic peninsula. Remote, wild, shrouded in rain and fog, the Olympic Peninsula is haunted. Its more than just the edge of a continent--it’s the edge of reality, a border of sanity. I pass through a portal of dark towering trees and oppressive gray sky and I entered a world tweaked in some fundamental way. The sound of a forest: respiration. Rural poverty, the drip of water, angry loggers, alcoholism, guns, stumps, the ghosts of Indians dead, the smell of wood smoke, rot and rain. A while ago I met a girl in Forks who collected mushrooms and moss in the forests of the Olympic peninsula. She would spend days at a time wandering alone in remote areas of the peninsula forests. She says there were many times that she could feel somebody watching her. She said there were many people who lived way out in the woods, even whole families who would live for months at a time without contact with the outside. You occasionally spot the "tree people" as they were called walking along a deserted road. If you turned around, they are gone, vanished into the darkness of the trees. Don't believe in Sasquatches? Evidently you haven't been to the Hang Up Tavern in Forks, WA on a Saturday night. I witnessed a charming act of kindness at that particular establishment: After beating a uniformed military officer silly, a huge hairy cranked-out logger was kind enough to put the guys missing teeth into his front pocket of his bloodstained dress whites so that when consciousness found him, he would find his teeth. Thus the stage was set for our climb that weekend. A climb which turned out to be every bit of a vicious, knockdown, dragout street brawl like the one we witnessed in Forks. More coming later...
  5. S(h)itting in the Dark

    Hey ya'll, thot some might get a laugh outta this piece I wrote for the local paper. Bring your headlamp if you want to take a dump in Twisp! ------------- Sitting in the dark Methow Valley News January 7, 2004 As a prolific pooper without a proper crapper, I greatly appreciate the public restrooms scattered about the Methow Valley. Wherever you need to go, there they are. Aside from the restrooms that have been hidden away at the Community Center, Winthrop started the trend of providing bathrooms for the people. In 2002, a set of primitive but stylish public restrooms sprang up in Mazama. Not wanting to be left out, Twisp added public facilities in The Merc Playhouse building last year. I remember my first visit to the Twisp restrooms. There I was, doing my business and appreciating the bright, sparkling new construction. Then the lights went out. My first thought was, "Shoot! Perhaps a tree fell on the Loup powerline, causing the Methow electrical grid to crap out." Then I realized the restroom lights were on a timer. You see, in order to save energy, Winthrop and Twisp installed the restroom lights on a motion-activated sensor. When you walk in the door, the sensor detects your movement and the lights click on auto-magically. But once you enter the stall, the sensor can no longer "see" you, and the clock starts ticking…. Sitting there in the darkness, I realized I had exceeded the allotted time to do a number two. Now I don’t linger, and I do eat my share of fiber, but subsequent visits to the Twisp public bathrooms almost always ended the same way: me sitting in a stall as black as the proverbial bowels of Hell. In an effort to achieve enlightenment, I’ve tried waving my arms over my head to get the attention of the motion detector. It doesn’t work. Standing up in the darkness with pants around ankles while waving one’s arms in the air is also futile and fraught with potentially messy peril. Trust me. Inevitably, just after the lights go out, someone else arrives to use the restroom. They open the door and step into the darkened bathroom, which causes the lights to turn back on. Whereupon they immediately notice two boots visible under the stall wall. I can practically hear their thoughts: "Why is someone sitting in the public bathroom in the dark?! How long have they been there? Are they even alive?" This recurring experience raised some profound questions, such as "Has the Town of Twisp imposed comically unrealistic time limitations on illuminated defecation? Or am I just a slow go-er?" Clearly some scientific research was necessary. I recruited a female assistant who owned a stopwatch. This allowed me to get precise time measurements for all Methow public bathrooms, while avoiding the difficult task of explaining to the police why I happened to be sitting in a women’s public restroom with a stopwatch…in the dark. Measuring the time for the Mazama bathrooms was easy. They have no light or heat, so just remember to dress warmly and bring your own flashlight. Winthrop is the land of equal pooping opportunity. The automatic timers in both the men’s and women’s rooms are set to allow visitors a generous 17 minutes of light. By contrast, the Town of Twisp gives women 11 minutes of light to do their business–less than Winthrop, but still plenty of time. However, if you’re a guy in Twisp, you get a mere 2 minutes and 31 seconds before the automatic lights go out. I’m not shi…uh…kidding you: 2 minutes and 31 seconds. My suspicions regarding the timed lights in the Twisp public bathrooms were confirmed, but this only raised more profound questions. Why do men and women receive the same amount of time in Winthrop, but wildly different amounts in Twisp? Is the town of Twisp simply more zealous about saving energy? Or are those who use the Winthrop bathrooms on average six times more constipated and thus need more time than those who use the Twisp restrooms? I don’t know, but these are questions to consider next time you use the public facilities in the Methow. Should the Town of Twisp reset the timer in the men’s room to allow for a more leisurely and gender-equal public bathroom experience? Definitely not! Every town needs unique and distinguishing features. Instead, Twisp should install a one-word sign in the men’s room stall: HURRY. First-time visitors would sit there pondering its meaning–for exactly 2 minutes and 31 seconds–at which time the lights would go out, and sitting there in the dark, they would see the light.
  6. Disco Inferno

    So I was partnerless, bumming around the Blue Lake parking lot, wondering about the wherebouts of Mr. Peru. As good luck would have it, bivied in the lot was another partnerless climber from Maine. He'd never climbed in the area, so I thot the NW Corner would be a good into. We put together a rack and headed up the trail. Maine was just heading up the first pitch when we heard what sounded like a crazed snafflehound whistling, hooting and hollering up through the basin below the spire. Sure nuff, Bobbyperu shows up a few minutes later. Instead of jumping on the NW corner, he opted to meet up with us later, instead entertaining himself on a solo the SW Rib of SEWS. Meanwhile on the NW Corner, I grabbed the lead for the zig-zag lieback flakes pitch--one of my favorites anywhere--which of course left Maine with the shoulder-eating offwidth. I've had the pleasure of leading it, and told Maine I'd feel guilty if he didn't have a chance to lead the OW, because I'd be cheating him out of the full NW Corner experience. He looked at me skeptically, searching for signs that I was sandbagging him, and then gamely thrashed up it. That evening the three of us met up at the newly re-opened Twisp River Pub where Mr. Peru was staffing the bar. Maine and I hung out and sipped a beverage or two while waiting for the arrival of Szyjakowski. He was making the trip up from L-town so we'd have two teams of two the next day. (Commercial side note: climbers, go patronize this place! Formerly the Methow Valley Brewing Co., which burnt down a couple years ago, they have employed a lot of talented local builders and artists in the rebuilding. They have fine brews, good chow, frequent music and a nice deck right above the river.) The next day the four of us parked at the hairpin below WaPass and headed up the gully towards the South Spire, each suffering somewhat from the late night before. While I would generally run screaming in the opposite direction of "5.10c overhanging flaring 5-inch offwidth," Bobbyperu had a wild hair to get on the Inferno Route, a rarely climbed line (I found no references to this route on cc.com?) on the SE face of SEWS. According to Beckey, the route was named for the scorching August day on which it was first climbed in 1966 at 5.9 A2, and was first freed back in the 80s by Yoder. Seeing as how the forecast was for a windless day of mid-90s, it seemed an appropriate day to get cooked on the Inferno, a corner which closely resembles a solar oven. The first pitch is vertical, juggy and loose--but at least there's uninspiring protection. BP led this while the rest of us hid in the cave at the base to avoid the rocks that came whistling down. The second pitch is the hardest 5.6 I've ever come across. It climbs a steep chimney filled with stacked loose blocks of all sizes then cuts out onto a slab, where you pass a steep bulge on shallow finger pockets. I moved carefully to avoid annihilating the three people below me with one of the car-door-sized blocks. Although I had some rope drag issues, the last few fingery moves before the belay are certainly thot-provoking "5.6." The third pitch is solid and clean and features a nice crack, followed by a spicy 9+ face traverse/step-across move to reach the base of the hanging offwidth. BP cruised it, and Maine and Szyjakowski led up on a separate rope right on our heels. The fourth pitch is the business. You see this intimidating feature coming for two pitches, and it just looms over you like "Come and get some of this you jokers, poseurs, hosers and wannabees!" As you get closer, it only looks steeper and wider and wilder. Below, a sharp dead tree we dubbed "Vlad the Impaler" juts like a spear right into the fall zone below the crux. The direct sun was baking our baked brains at this point. (This is you brain on drugs on the Inferno!) BP, maniacally enthusiastic as usual, launched up the hand crack that widens quickly to fists and then becomes wider still where it bulges out into a weird flaring overhang. He buried the 4.5 cam deep in the crumbly flare, and moved up and down a number of times, trying to figure out out to approach the section. There was no obvious gear above, and the nearest rest was a somewhat distant flake for a foothold on the otherwise featureless face next to the unrelenting wideness. After up and downclimbing several times trying to figure out the best way to tackle this monster, he took a short rest, then launched into a committing layback off the insecure edge of the crack. After reaching the flake and whooping it up, he realized that it wasn't over yet. There is another difficult move to get back into the 5 inch crack to top out, the nearest gear being the 4.5 left down below the 10c layback crux. Heady fer sure! Out of respect for the women and children that may read this site, I hesitate to detail the sweating, swearing and psycho-physical scarring that followed as the rest of us did battle with this beast. But we made it and finished the route off with a couple hundred feet of 5.6 tree wrestling and dirt climbing. By which time the water content of our sun-fried hides was approximatly that of the "Hey Dude" brand of beef jerky I'd brought and could not eat for lack of water and a dying-in-the-Sahara-Desert-case of drymouth. Let's just say we all got a little bit singed a bit by the Inferno.
  7. 6:00 AM Myself and a first (and last) time climbing partner I'll call "Elmer" met up at the parking lot in Squamish to climb Diedre, a classic 5.7 on the Apron. He is a cc.com lurker who said he is a "safe, all around 5.10 leader" who's been dying to climb this route forever. I've climbed the route before and led all the pitches, so I agreed to let him do the leading. 7:00 AM We arrived at the base of Diedre. The approach took somewhat longer than usual because Elmer insisted we rope up for the steep approach through the trees. There was a festival-like atmosphere at the base of the climb, with people of all ages from around the world. We found ourselves waiting for the party ahead of us, which was waiting for the party ahead of them, who was waiting for the party above them, who was waiting for the party above them--who was apparently superglued to the rock. Or perhaps they were just a pair of immobile manniquins that some jokers hung from the anchors of the fifth pitch to create a traffic clusterfuck. 8:00 AM After an hour, nothing had changed, and I suggested we climb a different line up the Apron. "Hell no!" said Elmer, "I've wanted to climb this route forever!" 9:00 AM The top party showed some signs of movement, thus proving they were, in fact, not manniquins. Elmer started taping up (?) and racking his gear, which included a double set of nuts, a double set of cams to 4 inches, 4 tri-cams and 7 hexes. 10:00 AM The sun cleared the top of the Chief and the day turned HOT. Elmer set off on the first pitch up to the little tree. 11:00 AM Elmer arrived at the tree and put me on belay. I walked up to the tree. 1:00 PM We reached the belay at the base of the corner. Elmer was--as advertised--a very safe leader. I returned the 11 pieces of gear I cleaned on the pitch leading up to the corner where the fifth class climbing starts. 1:30 PM The parties ahead of us had moved up sufficiently that we were clear to climb with no one slowing us down. Elmer started up the dihedral. Judging by the severity of the sewing machine leg he had going, he appeared to be a little nervous. But he protected the pitch very well. 3:00 PM Elmer arrived at the belay. Shortly thereafter I arrived and handed him back the 19 (!) pieces of gear he placed on the pitch. The insufferably slow parties ahead of us had by now left us far behind. We had clear sailing ahead all the way up to Broadway! However, now we appeared to be slowing down the pack of anxious climbers below us. 4:00 PM The scorching day got hotter. We drunk all our water. Elmer was showing signs of physical and mental strain after leading the first three pitches of 5.6 or 5.7. A noticable tick has developed in his left eye. I offer to take a lead or two, but he responds with surprising vigor: "No fucking way, I've wanted to climb this climb forever!" 5:00 PM Elmer is still within spitting distance of the belay, swearing and sweating as he tried to fiddle in an RP, his 6th placement on the pitch thus far. There were approximatly 8 frustrated parties jammed up beneath us now. I was starting to feel like the stubborn turd that's clogging the toilet. 6:00 PM Elmer arrived at the fourth belay. The climbing was taking its toll on him. Our water long since gone, I started to wonder how long it takes an average person to die of thirst. After resting for a half hour, his twitching had subsided somewhat and Elmer started up the next pitch. 7:30 PM Inexplicably, Elmer was building a gear belay 3/4 of the way up the pitch instead of continuing on another 40 feet to the bolted station. Gently, I queried him about his intentions. All I heard is a stream of angry profanity echoing across the valley and something about running out of gear. "I'm fucking leading this fucking climb...blah...gear...blah...fucking forever blah...blah..." I wondered to myself how it would be physically possible to place all the gear he was carrying (enough to stock several small retail shops) on one 5.7 pitch. And as the sun cooked me like a worm on pavement, I wondered idly if he was afflicted with Tourette's or perhaps some sort of degenerative brain disorder like Mad Cow disease. 8:00 PM Elmer finishes building his anchor and brings me up. The tick in his eye has deteriorated noticably and his pupils are dialated in a worrisome way. I can't help myself and comment on his anchor, which is clearly a work of art--if you're a Celtic knotsmith or some sort of mad engineer. The anchor consisted of 4 cams and 3 nuts each qualized with double clove hitches and backed up with a secondary anchor composed of two tricams, a hex, two RPs, a cordellete and four slings. Granted, I'm a fan of bombproof anchors, but this one could have survived a direct napalm airstrike followed by a nuclear holocaust and still held a factor 5 fall. He didn't appreciate my kind comment. "Are you questioning my fucking abilities you goddamn pissant?" Judged by his full-body spasms and the way he kept grinding his teeth, he was physiologically unstable and psychologically unbalanced. 8:30 PM After his outburst, Elmer calmed down a bit and started apologizing profusely, weeping and blubbering like a schizophrenic on a bad acid trip. I didn't want to say the wrong thing, so I just wrung out my sweaty shirt into our empty nalgene bottle, took a swig and offered him a drink, which he accepted gratefully. 9:00 PM We were still hanging awkwardly from his armageddon-proof anchor. Elmer had stopped crying and appeared to be in some sort of meditative state, perhaps visualizing the sequences or protection on the pitch above. An angry mob of climbers hoping to get off the Apron before nightfall had gathered below us, wondering what the delay was. (I'm sure they were also curious about all the yelling and wailing.) While we hung stationary at his gear belay, several parties simply climbed by us, including a grandmother in flip flops who was soloing with her grandchild in one of those kiddie backpacks, two hikers who apparently got lost on the Stawamus Chief trail, and a surprisingly speedy team of quadriplegics who were aiding the climb by placing gear with their mouths. 9:35 PM I was hesitant to disturb Elmer while he was concentrating on preparing mentally for the next pitch. However I was getting concerned about our pace--we were only about halfway up the 7 pitch climb, and I had to be back in Washington by tomorrow afternoon. I nudged him and once again I casually offered to lead a few pitches for the sake of efficiency. This threw the previously-peaceful Elmer into a blind fury: "No fucking way, I've wanted to fucking lead this goddamn climb for fucking forever! What the fuck do you think I am, some sort of fucking incompetent?! If you ever again try to take one of my fucking leads on this fucking climb I will take this fucking knife (brandishing his Swiss Army knife), saw your fucking ears off, then cut you loose to plummet to your death you fucking miserable condescending piece of shit!!!!!!" He emphasizes each word by puching the rock until his knuckes bled. One of his eyes rolled eerily back in his head. He was foaming at the mouth. 9:36 PM Hmmm. Fight or flight? That was the question. I figured pacifying this maniac was perhaps the best approach to the situation--or at least preferable to brutal hand-to-hand combat while tied in to a common belay 500 feet off the ground. 9:37 PM I put on my most sincere smile and said "Sorry, Elmer--you're the leader, you're on belay, climb when ready!" I said as cheerily and nicely as possible. Meanwhile I casually repositioned my nut tool on my harness for easy access in case I needed to kill this raving lunatic before he killed me. 10:00 PM It was getting quite dark. Elmer was finally ready and headed up the next pitch of Dierdre. I breathed a sigh of relief as the rope ran out (very slowly) and he put some distance between us. 11:00 PM Elmer finally reached the next set of bolts. Once I saw he was safely anchored, I yelled up "You're off belay!" 11:01:30 PM In the fading twilight, I untied from the rope, tossed the free end into space, waved up at a perplexed Elmer, turned and ran down the Apron (roughly along the line of Sparrow) as fast as I could. 11:15 PM I reached the parking lot, quickly disabled the alternator on Elmer's car, gunned my van towards the border and never looked back. Epilogue: "Elmer" apparently survived, because he is back in the Partners Section looking for another poor sucker to attempt one of Washington's classic routes. The moral of the story? You never know what kind of psychotic you might get hooked up with when browsing for a climbing partner on cc.com...
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