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Chainsaws and Mary Ann


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Chainsaws and Mary-Ann


I’m having a nightmare. I’m sleeping in my car and my alarm doesn’t go off at 4:00 am. Where the fuck is Thomas? (pronounced Toe-Moss). He said to just park across from the Chevron station at Government Camp. This town definitely isn’t big enough for 2 Chevron Stations. Certainly he didn’t mean directly across, along the side of the highway. I’m across Hwy 26 in a small clearing in the woods. It seemed quieter here. But Thomas can’t find me and he doesn’t have a cell phone.


My cell phone rings. Groggily I reach for it.


“Where the fuck are you?” He’s obviously found a payphone.

The first words of the day are as crisp as the morning air.

“I’m across the road. Look for a gravel road heading into the woods. You’ll see me.”

A minute later, Thomas’ headlights are blaring in my car window. Quickly I get up and stuff my sleeping bag while Thomas transfers his pack and other personal effects into my car. We park his car across from the Chevron where I was supposed to be sleeping.


“Certainly you didn’t mean here did you,” I query.


Actually he did, he claims, quipping “I thought you were a hardman.”


“Actually, I’m a pussy”, I retort.


Forty minutes later we meet Mark in a campground on the way to the Cooper Spur road. He is already brewing coffee on his tailgate and offers us some. We caravan to the turn- off to the head up the spur and park his Ford F-250. He joins us in the Subaru and we begin the 10 mile drive up to Cloud Cap. We are jabbering and getting excited when suddenly in front of us there is a large tree blocking the road. I slam on the brakes and skid to a stop.


“Oh, shit,” we say simultaneously.


We get out and survey the situation in the light of the headlights. The tree is big, but the top is broken off. We begin throwing branches aside to see if there is room the get by. There is a tree on the edge of the road in line with the fallen tree and the fallen tree is about 14 inches in diameter. There isn’t enough room to get through. I retrieve my ice axe and begin chopping. The tree is dead and the wood is hard. The adze barely makes a dent, bouncing more than cutting. Mark retrieves his ice axe and hacks too. Slowly the chips begin to fly. 10 minutes later we have removed another section about a foot long. I ease the Forester forward and my friends guide me. The road falls away to the left and my fear is if my wheels go off the edge, the car will tilt and hit the standing tree. With some tricky maneuvering, we squeak through. We are relieved because although nobody said it, we knew we weren’t up to hiking an extra five miles.


Fifteen minutes later we are putting on our boots by head lamp. We hit the trail a few minutes past 6:00. The snow is shallow, yet crispy. Even in the dark, we can see the skies are clear. Eventually we break out of the woods as the first deep orange and blue ribbons begins to paint the horizon. Mt. Hood and our route loom above, far away up the massive cirque carved by the Eliot glacier. As we drop off the moraine, the first pink glow of sunrise hits the face. We take photos and remark at the many ice climbs on the cliffs off the shoulder of the Copper Spur. It would worthy of the approach just to climb those. We make it as far as we can on the glacier in crunchy snow from the previous days snow/rain. The snow level had been pretty high. Eventually we reach exposed ice.


“Time for the cling-ons” I say. Thomas and Mark give me a funny look. "Huh?" We put on our harnesses and crampons, eat some food and move up again.


At the base of the first pitch we break out the ropes. The left gully start looks more difficult and appealing, but we stick to the right. I round a corner and the first ice step is short and steep. I put in a screw at the base and clamber over. A bit of hard snow and I reach more ice to make a belay. Two screws, a reverso and my new Trango Alpine Equalizer from the Rope-up raffle and I bring Mark and Thomas up simultaneously on two ropes. I like the set up a lot. Thomas and Mark continue past, up to the next ice step. It’s longer, but not vertical and Thomas dispenses with it as I climb up to Mark. I coil one of the ropes and put it in my pack. Mark ties onto a loop 20 feet from the end and we climb the next pitch together.


Above is the long slog up the 45 degree gully. Mark ties into the middle of the rope and leads up. Thomas and I climb side by side. Mark tries to put in a screw for a running belay, but Thomas and I reach him by the time he futzes around. We just simul-climb the rest. We are talking, laughing, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. The view is incredible with Rainier, Adams and St. Helens looming in the distance. Temperatures are perfect, no wind, blue skies. An ice chunk hits me in the arm. The momentary pains snaps me back to reality. We are not using pro, but our crampons bite the hard neve/ice perfectly and we feel secure. We mostly use our tools as canes, only occasionally making regular swings on small bulges. It’s much longer than it looks to the base of the final ice step. Our calves are feeling it. We are sweating when we arrive.


Thomas leads off with Mark still tied to the middle and me on the other end. It’s steep and technical, but goes with 2 screws close to the bottom. Thomas likes to run it out when he gets near the top. We can’t hear him, but the rope is taut on Mark. From above comes something about a “shitty belay.” I tell Mark I’ll belay him too, as if he’s leading. He back clips the pro and adds another screw near the top. I clean the belay and follow.


It’s easy slopes from there up to a notch. Mark leads and Thomas unties while I just follow the rope. At the notch we coil the rope and Mark stuffs it in his pack. It’s all beautiful rime ice now and it’s like climbing on Styrofoam. We solo up through the rocks and I wonder how shitty this would be if everything wasn’t frozen. But it is and it’s just really fun with some exposure. We meander and then suddenly we are on top in the Sunshine! We woop and laugh and take photos. We eat and then we have to decide. Which way down?


The night before I visited Charlie’s Tavern in Government Camp. It was there that I met Mary-Ann. She was a total babe. We talked about skiing. We talked about really old equipment, leather boots, alberg bindings, long thongs, wooden skis with screw-on metal edges. We discussed the various techniques; counter-rotation, ski racing. She had been a professional instructor and had actually tried out for the Olympics. We laughed about us both starting our skiing at places with no lifts, camps with no heat or running water, hanging the toilet seat by the pot belly stove so it was warm when you went out to the out-house. She was single, easy to talk to and I secretly wondered if she would invite me home that night. She asked me what I was doing in Government camp. I told her I was here to climb the mountain. It was my first time. She seemed concerned.


I told her we were planning on coming up the north side and back down the south side to here. She asked me to call her when I arrived. All I had to do was come into Charlies and they could call her and she’d come down. I promised that I’d call her.


The discussion on the summit revolved around the log in the road. If we went down Sunshine it wouldn’t be fun. But we knew we could sneak by the log again. If we went down through Pearly Gates and Palmer to Timberline we would need to drive back around. We would need a chainsaw to get Mark’s truck through to get back to my car. Where would we find a chainsaw?


“Mary-Ann”, I announced.

“Who the fuck is Mary-Ann?” they both asked.

“She owns the water company in Government Camp. She’s got to have a chain saw or know some one who does.”


We went down the south side which was really quite pleasant. Some balling of crampons, but warm in the sun. We arrived at Timberline at 4:00. Car to bar: 10 hours.


At Charlie’s, I called Mary-Ann.

“Hi”, I said. “I’m at Charlie’s”

“It’s so good to hear your voice.” She said. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”

“Can you come down. I’ll buy you a drink.”

“I’d love to.”

“Oh, and Mary-Ann, I have a peculiar request. Can you bring a chain saw?”


Mary-Ann wasn’t sure if her chainsaw worked. But she knew everyone in the bar and they knew her. After all she’d lived in Government Camp since 1932.


We sorted our gear in the bar and had a few pints of Ice Axe amber. Mary Ann secured a chainsaw from Craig. Thomas drove him to his house to pick it up. I said my goodbyes to Mary-Ann and asked her if I could look her up if I ever came through again. She said she’d like that. She’s 82. I hope she’ll be there.


Back at the log an hour later, someone had already cut a path through. We didn’t need the chainsaw after all. It was going to be a long drive back to Seattle, but I was already re-living some very fond memories. A great mountain, a great route, some great conditions, great weather, great partners. What more could I ask for?


Oh yeah……Mary-Ann!


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