Climber: Martin Staley
- St. Helens 8,365 ft. / 2550m
- Adams 12,276 ft. / 3742m
- Rainier 14,411 ft. / 4392m
Having spent those lazy days of summer as a kid at my granddaddy's house in
Washington state, I consider the Cascades to be perhaps the best range in the
known galaxy. Rising from the hills near sea level, these rugged mountains
offer some of the finest in climbing, with great scenic vistas and lush flora
to boot. While most of my hiking and climbing objectives have been in
southern Arizona (where I grew up), Colorado and northern New Mexico (where I
live now), and the great Canyon Country of Utah, the Cascades hold a special
charm and I periodically make a point of getting myself to that neck of the
July 24 (Monday)
In the afternoon I arrived at Climbers Bivouac, on the south side of St.
Helens. I spent the evening wandering around and snapping photos, and then
settled in for a good night's rest to be ready for the summit on Tuesday.
July 25 (Tuesday)
After a nice lazy start an hour or two after sunrise, I hiked through the
woods to this mountain's low treeline.
The entire upper portion of St. Helens is loose dirt and rock, probably due
to the mountain's eruption in 1980, and this made the remaining
unaesthetic. Views from the crater rim were fantastic, however. To the
north lay the blasted-out side of the mountain, or rather what remained of
it, spread out over the hills, valleys, and canyons below. The crater walls
experienced nearly constant rockfall, and the lava dome below was an unusual
sight. I spent quite a while on top before descending back to the trailhead,
driving towards Mt. Adams, and camping in the boondocks that night.
Mount Rainier, from the rim of Mount St. Helens
In terms of altitude gain and general terrain, climbing St. Helens is much
like climbing a Colorado 14er but at a much lower altitude. A highly
recommended climb, mostly for the crater views. Views of other
mountains are good as well: Rainier to the north, Adams to the east,
and Hood, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters to the south.
July 26 (Wednesday)
Today I stopped at the ranger station, got my permits for Adams, drove as far
towards the trailhead as the car would allow, packed up my gear, and began
hiking at midday for a high camp along the South Spur route. The high
camp was just below snowline, where a few scraggly trees provided little
shelter against the high winds. I got a good night's sleep in a nice warm
tent, arose early the next morning, slapped on my gear, and set out to kick
this mountain's butt.
The South Spur route is a long walk up the permanent snowfields of Adams'
south ridge. There are no crevasses (unless hidden, that is, and ignorance
is bliss). A few hours and several false summits after setting out from
camp, I sat on the true summit, snapped photos of some nearby Cascade
volcanoes, and got the obligatory summit shots.
Descent on Adams was especially fun. Past climbers had left chutes on the
steeper snowfields, and one could simply sit down and slip, slip, slide down
the mountain! After
reaching base camp and packing things up, I descended back to the car, drove
for a while, and found a nice warm motel with a nice warm bed---a welcome
respite after several days of scrounging around.
July 27 (Thursday)
I drove to Auburn to visit my sister, planning to head to Rainier the
July 28 (Friday)
Rangers at the White River campground said all the permits for Rainier
had been issued for the day, so I left the park and drove southeast to
visit some old stomping grounds where I'd lurked as a kid. Reservations were
available for Sunday, so I snatched one up and looked forward to the climb.
July 29 (Saturday)
The next day I returned to Rainier. The campground was full, so I
camped in the boondocks just outside the park.
July 30 (Sunday)
After a nice alpine start at about mid-day (hey, I needed some supplies, and
stores are sparse in this neck of the woods), me and a ton of gear
arrived at the Inter Glacier at mid-afternoon. Rangers had advised against
doing this seemingly mellow glacier by oneself, as in it lurk hidden
crevasses. I was just by myself and ignored the advice, especially after
noticing that the other teams generally weren't roping up. Near the top of
this glacier, one can reach Camp Schurman by
crossing a short portion of the Emmons Glacier just below and to the left of
camp, or by shortcutting directly over Steamboat Prow with a mild 5th-class
downclimb on rotten rock. I chose the latter route, pitched my tent on the
glacier, and admired the views.
Camp Schurman's climbing rangers were mortified at the idea of somebody
climbing solo above camp. Apparently, climbing this puppy by oneself
requires advance permission from the Park Service. Why climb solo? It's
somewhat less safe, and usually less interesting. If you have to ask, you'll
never understand! Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait pas.
Climbing with others would be fun, so I planned to remain at camp on Monday
and attempt to meet up with another team.
July 31 (Monday)
I spent this morning relaxing, admiring the views, and BS-ing with the
At about midday I met up with Kathleen "Kat" Michaud and her brother
Frederic, who were here from Quebec to climb mountains. I'd run into them
the previous day at the snout of the Inter Glacier. They were speaking
French, so I figured they MUST be good mountaineers!!
Fred was new to mountaineering but was clearly a "natural." Rainier is quite
a peak to do as your first real climb. And Kat was no dog, having
already spanked Denali (Mt. McKinley), Aconcagua, and similar objectives.
We practiced our rope work, to be sure we were all on the same wavelength,
before settling into our tents for a largely-unsuccessful attempt at getting
some sleep before our early start the next morning.
August 1 (Tuesday)
We left Camp Schurman at about midnight, anxious to reach our lofty goal.
Temperatures during previous nights had barely reached below freezing, and
Camp Schurman had been darn near a sauna on Monday, but as luck would have
it we picked the coldest night for ascending this thing. What kind of luck?
Take your pick:
The Good: snow bridges would be sturdier and the glacier safer.
The Bad: it was C-O-L-D with a capital "K," with the wind howling across
the glacier and constantly threatening to knock us over. Kat found it
colder than Denali or Aconcagua---which surprised me, given the
reputations of those mountains.
The Ugly: not even a mile into our trek, the route crossed a very steep
slope which dropped off ominously below. With the wind howling straight
down the mountain, we had to practically get down and crawl to avoid being
blown by the wind down into the abyss. A fall here would have resulted,
at best, in a very nasty pendulum. I kept thinking, "what am I doing in
a place like this?"
What was I doing in a place like this? The answer, of course, lay in the
sunrise a few hours later. Now THAT'S why I climb these things. The orange
glow of the morning slipping slowly down the mountain, the stars
disappearing one by one, and a sea of fluffy clouds far below. What a sight!
Fred said he'd be climbing more mountains.
Further up the glacier we encountered what may have been the climax of our climb,
perhaps even greater than reaching the summit. The route avoided a crevasse
by snaking waaaaay down and around, but Kat, an avid ice-climber, looked at
the crevasse and at the higher, icy wall on its upper side, and said, "why
not?" We had only regular axes and crampons, not ice-climbing gear, but hey
what the heck. With a boot-axe belay from her brother, Kat approached the
lip, got her axe into the ice as high as possible, and pulled herself over
the gaping crack and up the other side. Fred and I followed, and we all wore
large grins after completing the climb. Everybody and his dog climbs Rainier, but
not everybody and his Kat climbs crevasse walls to get there.
Perhaps this is only because I've never climbed ice before, but this was for
me the finest of the fine, the funnest of the fun; the grandest of the grand,
and the gnarliest of the gnarly. Stepping over the crevasse, climbing the
opposite wall, and upstaging all the walk-around bozos: definitely a great
part of a great day on a great mountain.
The wind had calmed down after sunrise, and our remaining hike to Columbia
Crest was pleasant and scenic.
|Kat and Fred Michaud, and Martin Staley (behind the camera),
on the Emmons Glacier
The top was as cold as a witch's teat, with the wind howling again. We
took refuge a bit below the summit, ate some breakfast, congratulated each
other, and admired the views. After returning briefly to the tippy top for
our summit shots, we high-tailed it down the glacier and back to Camp
Schurman, where the Michauds and I traded e-mail addresses so we could keep
in touch for future gnarly mountain climbs.
I wasn't in a hurry, and the views from camp were spectacular, so I decided
to remain on the mountain for another day.
August 2 (Wednesday)
Today I packed my gear, scrambled back up the upper end of Steamboat Prow,
and descended the Inter Glacier, making several diversions to get around
those big pesky cracks. After reaching White River campground, I drove back
to Auburn and later went to the coast.
So there you have it: one day spanking Washington's finest mountain, the next
day relaxing at the beach. And best of all, meeting two great people in the