Monday, August 12, 2013

Mountain Stewarding with the Mount St. Helens Institute

In June, I started volunteering with the Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI) as a mountain (climbing) steward. There are two types of mountain stewards: climbing and recreation stewards. The climbing stewards assist on guided climbs to the summit and rove the summer and winter climbing route (depending on the season). The recreation stewards rove the trails below 4,800 ft (treeline) and assist on hikes on those trails as well. Being a mountain steward been such an amazing way to get out onto the mountain, learn some new skills and meet new people. 
In order to become a mountain (climbing) steward, one must be CPR certified and be physically able to summit Mount St. Helens. In addition, each year, the MSHI hosts a weekend-long training that all new stewards are required to attend. The training weekend involved training on soft skills like packing a pack, using a radio, proper hydration and nutrition while hiking, etc. and hard skills like self-belay self arrest with an ice ax and glissading. To see more photos from this weekend, click here.

Up, up, up to the summit we go (steward training climb)
Roving involves roving (big surprise) on the climbing route and making sure people are being safe (e.g., glissading safely, wearing proper shoes, staying hydrated, staying on the route, etc.) and answering questions about the route and the mountain, in general. Roving allows more flexibility and independence. Assisting on guided climbs involves working with a group of approximately 12 clients to ascend to the summit and descend safely. I enjoy the guided climbs because volunteering in this way facilitates meeting new people and making connections over a longer period of time. At this point, I would not feel comfortable roving on my own as I am not completely comfortable using a radio. In addition, I am not confident I would feel comfortable responding to an emergency in the proper way (i.e., providing assistance up to my level of certification, calling it in on the radio, etc.).

It has been really fun to interact with the climbers this summer. Each day during the peak climbing season (May to September) only 100 permits are issued for each day. Usually, by the beginning of the summer, all of the permits have been sold for the entire climbing season. Each day on the mountain, there may be up to 100 climbers. Many of these climbers have never climbed any mountains... it is such a wonderful experience to ask them about their experience, give them suggestions, and explain the volunteer role. Most people are excited and happy to see volunteers on the mountain, especially if they have never climbed it before.

View of the Crater Glacier from the edge of the crater
In addition to the guided summit climbs, I was able to go on a guided crater view climb. This climb started in the pumice plains and then went up and off the trail on the north side (the blast side). We traveled off trail for about a mile to the very edge of the crater. It was incredible! This climb costs 300 dollars for clients. It was free for me because I am a volunteer. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to see the mountain in such a unique way! From the edge of the crater, we were at eye level with the glacier. The weather was very overcast and so we weren't able to see as much as we would have liked but it was still amazing! Click here to see more photos from the crater view climb!

I look forward to doing some volunteering on the mountain in the winter!

Sweat, Dirt & Adventures: Nothing Better

Oh my gosh. So, after a lazy Saturday morning, Colin and I went grocery shopping for food to sustain us during our adventure weekend. As usual, we bought a gazillion veggies, a block of cheese and some delicious sweet potato chips which were AMAZING. We headed out to Ozone hoping we wouldn't get rained out.

My first time at Ozone was incredible. It is such a beautiful place and it's so close to Portland! As we headed to our first route, we unknowingly walked by a wasp nest that was in the ground next to the trail. I got stung on the back of my leg but we didn't actually realize there was a nest until later. - I thought it was a fluke. I think the last time I was stung by a bee or a wasp was years ago! It hurt but not terribly.

Colin lead Night Owl (5.6 trad route). I climbed after him and cleaned it. Then I climbed Rude Boy (5.8). After climbing that, I went to the bathroom and tried to avoid the recently discovered wasp nest. I must have brought attention to myself, though, because when I got back from peeing I found a wasp on me. It stung me twice on the butt and once on my ear. By this point I was in panic mode... running around, screaming, crying. It was pretty awful. Colin and I ran away from the wall and took a walk around Ozone to calm down a little. I was so freaked out by the wasps that I couldn't bring myself to return to the wall to belay Colin so he could clean the anchor. He offered to ascend the rope, clean the anchor AND rescue our gear while I waited on the other side of the wall! It was so nice of him!

After Colin took care of business, we went down to Heaven's Wall. Colin lead Stairway to Heaven which I then climbed and cleaned as he belayed me from above. We hung out on Heaven's Ledge, ate snacks and watched the sky grow darker and darker.

Colin with the Starbucks pastries a fellow climber gave us
Eventually it started raining but never badly enough that we needed to stop climbing. After rapping down from Heaven's Ledge, I climbed Jacob's Ladder (5.9). This route was pretty easy until the crux move (of course)... I really thought I wasn't going to be able to do it but after a bunch of yelling, swearing, sweating and falling... I made it up! I was really proud of myself. This seemed to be the trend for all the 5.9 routes I climbed this weekend.

The view from Heaven's Ledge
We headed out of Ozone and began to make our way to Bulo Point. Spur of the moment, we decided to stop at Beacon Rock and do the trail to the top. A discover pass (10 dollars) was required to park at the trail head. We didn't have one and decided not to buy one (fools!) because we thought we'd be back in about 30 minutes because the trail is only a mile and 650ft elevation gain. Well, we were wrong. We walked/ran up the trail, made it to the top, snapped some photos, ran down, believing that we didn't have a ticket, we highfived and then started driving. Two minutes after pulling out of the parking lot, I spotted the 99 dollar ticket under my windshield wipers. So, that happened.

Top of Beacon Rock - looking ragged!
We drove to Bulo Point and watched a thunderstorm with some pretty amazing lightning along the way. Colin said it reminded him of Colorado. It reminded me of Illinois. We figured we'd be the only ones at Bulo because it isn't well known and because of the weather...we weren't! There were so many people we couldn't even camp in the best spot. We went to sleep in the rain and woke up in the middle of the night below the stars. It was lovely.

11a - the face on the left
Colin - feeling proud that he did the 11a cleanly!
Sunday was an epic day of climbing. I climbed 8 routes which included leading a 5.6 sport route and set up my first rappel independently after climbing a 5.9. I was glad to have the opportunity to lead something since it had been months since I learned. Colin climbed 11 routes including an 11a that he thought he wasn't going to be able to do - he did it twice cleanly in a row and the second time was a mock lead. Well done!

We finished the day covered in sweat and dirt. I also had sap in my hair which was a result of the flailing that occurred during the wasp debacle. On the way back to Portland we stopped for burgers at Calamity Jane's and a Huckleberry shake at Huckleberry Inn.

Overall, a wonderful, adventurous, exciting, unbelievable weekend with Colin! Click here for the rest of the photos!