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!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Smith Rock State Park - Intro to Sport Lead Climbing

Oh man - what an incredible weekend! I headed out to Smith for the first time since moving to Oregon. As I adventure out here, I keep thinking "it can't get any more beautiful!" but then it does. Smith is like that - it's breath-taking... stunning... incredible. Sigh. I didn't want to leave on Sunday. 

I started bouldering back in December at The Circuit in NE Portland. After doing that for about four months, I decided to start climbing at the Portland Rock Gym (PRG). I'm a little scared of heights so bouldering can be tricky for me. At PRG, however, top roping is an option - I have no problem with heights when I'm roped in. So, I had been top roping for about a month and a half when I saw an introduction to lead climbing posted on a MeetUp. I'd been wanting to start climbing outside and was having a hard time getting started so I figured, what better way than to take a class!

I headed down to Smith on Friday night after work. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from Portland. When I arrived, I decided to do a little hike. I hiked on the Misery Ridge Trail and then headed back down to the bivy site where I met up with the other students. There were three women, including myself, and the teacher. We camped on Friday night in the bivy site and then started early on Saturday. I got to test my new tent, the REI Half Dome 2, and it was awesome!

We spent Saturday learning how to lead. We started on Night Flight - a 5.5 route. First we all mock-lead the route meaning the instructor set up a top rope. We tied into the top rope and also tied in to lead. This was a great way to lead for the first time. After one mock-lead, we each lead the route (successfully!) without a top rope backup. This was incredibly exciting and scary! It really put me out of my comfort zone... but in a good way!

leading Night Flight!
After everyone finished leading Night Flight, we went over to Asterisk Pass and practiced rappelling. Next, we set up a route for falling practice. The thing about lead climbing is that the falls you can take can be pretty big - they're called whippers. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), I actually fell for real while doing this. It wasn't so bad - I bumped my knee pretty badly but other than that, it was fine! We also took some time to practice anchor cleaning but I still need some practice with that.

It turns out that one of the women in the class and I got along pretty well - we ended up deciding to stay on Sunday and climb by ourselves. This was such an awesome experience. It was scary because we were climbing without our instructor but it was so fun because we really felt comfortable and confident. 

lead belaying

I lead two 5.6 routes and a 5.5 route on Sunday. The woman I was with, D, did most of the anchor cleaning and rappelling required after a route has been lead because I wasn't comfortable doing that. The last climb we did was my favorite. It was pretty vertical and the first bolt was pretty high up. That meant that I had to free climb without support until I got to the first bolt and clipped in! It was exhilarating  This route went up pretty high but had great handholds the whole way - I loved it! 

We have plans to go again soon! I can't wait! This was one of the best weekends I've had since moving to Portland!

More Photos!

Mount St. Helens Summit - Mother's Day 2013

Climbing Route: The Worm Flows
Distance: 10.8 miles RT
Elevation: 5,700 ft

first view of the mountain!
J&J and some of their friends from Seattle and I had planned on doing this climb on Sunday (Mother's Day) but the weather forecast was more favorable for Saturday so we did it then. I'm really happy about this decision because I wouldn't have wanted to do it in the rain! 

In the first two miles there is less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain - practically nothing! We walked through a forest of Douglas firs and were feeling pretty confident. Once that two-mile stretch ends, the real climbing begins. At the two-mile mark, the mountain was in plain sight. It looked magnificent... and so close! We still had almost 4,500 feet left to climb, though. 

Chocolate Falls (or where it would be if it was falling!)

We passed by Chocolate Falls which is a 40-foot waterfall along Swift Creek. During a talk by Bill Sullivan, it was reported that Chocolate Falls only 'falls' in the afternoons in the summer when the glacier starts to melt because of the sun. It's named 'chocolate' because when it starts flowing it's kind of a brown sludge. 

J and I hiked ahead of the group. We were moving pretty fast and feeling pretty good. I stopped a couple times to switch out my sweaty socks for dry ones to prevent any blisters from forming. I also kept my boots relatively loose - these combined techniques worked! No blisters!

J climbing ahead of me!
We brought along snow shoes but didn't end up needing them because so many people had climbed the route ahead of us. The footsteps were so clear and defined in the snow that it was like we were climbing up steps. At some points along the route, we got off of the snow and climbed on the rocks - this required me to put away my poles so I could use my hands! 

I kept forgetting about false summits and thinking "Yes! We are finally getting there!" - each time that happened and I realized it was a false summit I wanted to kick myself. FINALLY, we got to a point where we could see the summit. At that point I was just willing my legs to keep moving and chanting to myself "just keep moving... just keep moving."

Happy Mother's Day! 

There were tons of people at the summit - skiers  climbers, snow boarders - It was really exciting! It was also extremely windy and cold. After spending the last several hours climbing and, consequently, drenched in sweat, the cold was a welcome relief. After about five minutes, though, I was uncomfortably cold and started layering up. My awesome, adventurous and generous uncle had given me a pair of snow pants earlier in the year. He had modified them so that the butt and the knees had waterproof material on them. I figured a perfect time to use them would be when I was glissading down Mount St. Helens!

There were a lot of people standing on the very edge of the cornice so that they could look into the crater. After reading reports and getting lectured by my aforementioned uncle, I opted to stay pretty far back - I figured the view wouldn't be worth it if I was dead. 

What little I could see of the crater (right) and Mt. Rainier 

So, after taking a break on the summit to eat and repack our packs, we got ready for the best part of the trip - glissading (obviously that video is not of me... but it's pretty close to what it was like - except I was smart enough to hold an ice ax instead of a camera)! Luckily, by the time we were ready to start, so many people had already descended that there were tons of glissading tracks. 

This was my first time doing anything like this and I was a little nervous. I had my ice ax which I rented from REI and I knew what I was supposed to do with it. Wow! What an incredible experience. Thanks to my reinforced pants, I wasn't able to go very fast. In fact, at times, I had to push myself down with my hands. I used the ice ax to control my speed - I only needed to use it once or twice to slow myself down. We were able to glissade almost all the way down to Chocolate Falls. It saved us a considerable amount of time and much discomfort in our knees!

This climb was a blast! It was really challenging but not as tough as I thought it would be. It really made me want to climb more mountains! I can't wait for my next adventure.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marmots, Desert Parsley and Blisters the Size of Plums!

I had been wanting to hike the Klickitat Rail Trail for some time - I figured yesterday would be a beautiful day for it (sunny and 75 degrees!). I made the nearly 2-hour drive and started off at the Harms Rd. trailhead at 9 am. In preparation for a long day, I brought a gallon of water and lots of food. I also wore my relatively new hiking boots as I had read reports that the gravel can be extremely painful after a couple hours. I had worn these boots on two other long and strenuous hikes - they'd been very comfortable so far! The swale canyon, the portion of the rail trail I completed, is closed from July through September because it is so dry and hot and the risk of wildfires is high (hence the gallon of water).

Harms Rd. trailhead. It was locked on my way back so I had to climb over!
The swale canyon portion of the Klickitat Rail Trail is approximately 13 miles. It starts off in the high prairie - very open. On the drive there, I saw amazing views of Mt. Adams. As I started walking, I heard and saw many meadowlarks. I also heard frogs! I started off ahead of a group of mountain bikers and hikers. The bikers passed me after several miles and I didn't see the other hikers till the end of my hike!

Many parts of the hike were extremely windy - the beginning part, in particular, was so windy that I couldn't wear my hat because it would have blown off. In fact, I had wanted to do this hike earlier in the year but when I arrived, the wind made the 50 degree weather so cold, I quit before even starting. 

As you walk, the high prairie begins to change - you begin to see more rocks and trees. You can't tell from the picture above, but those rocks were swarming with marmots! 

I saw a bald eagle, butterflies, grey squirrels and lizards. I also saw and smelled a ton of desert parsley which was incredibly beautiful and fragrant! The trail includes 8 bridges or trestles. Some of these have been renovated but others haven't. While crossing one of them, I stepped on a rotten log and almost fell! I finally walked far enough that I began to see trees. I was very excited because I thought they might offer some respite from the wind (they didn't). 
The desert parsley is everywhere on this hike. It makes for beautiful scenery. It also gives ticks a more convenient way to find and get on you! I read several reports of hikers finding ticks on them after finishing this hike but I didn't have any problems. I wore long pants, high socks and Velcro around the bottom of my pants to keep anything from getting in.

Parts of the trail were packed dirt but most of it was gravel. By the end of the hike, I was elated when I'd hit a patch of packed down dirt. It felt like a vacation for my feet. 

I was walking pretty quickly for the first half of the hike - probably a little less than 4 miles per hour. However, by about mile ten (a little less than halfway), my feet were really tired and I had developed a couple blisters. I patched these up with moleskin and band aids and continued on. I probably should have turned back at that point but I didn't. Stubborn, as usual, I pressed on thinking it would be silly to hike ALL THAT WAY only to stop before the end. In retrospect, that was a poor life decision.

Before hitting the turn around point, I passed by several abandoned cars, cabins and many pieces of trail artwork. I also saw a lizard!

This car was a little ways off the trail.
Trail art!

By the halfway mark, my feet were aching and I was ready to be done. But, I had to turn around and hike four more hours. The last four hours were brutal. The Achilles tendon on my right leg started aching. I had to limp in order to avoid experiencing unbearable pain. I couldn't tell as I was walking but huge (plum size) blisters were forming on each heel. At one point I felt a stab of pain on my right heel and then felt a rush of warmth as all the fluid leaked out of my blister. To be honest, I don't know if I've had a more miserable four hours of hiking. HOWEVER, I persevered and made it back to my car (limping and almost crying from joy). I was probably walking at a rate of less than 2 miles per hour towards the end. I was also talking to myself - alternately berating myself for being stubborn and encouraging myself to continue onward.

Life Lessons Learned:
  1. I need to pace myself. I think if I hadn't been moving so fast at the beginning, I might have saved my feet, at least a little.
  2. I need to bring extra socks to change into when the ones I'm wearing get sweaty - damp socks cause more friction than dry socks and friction causes blisters (I usually bring socks if I think I'll be crossing streams. I never thought to bring them in the case of my socks getting sweaty). Even if I had had a change of socks, I wouldn't have thought that that would have ameliorated the situation.
  3. I need to know when to throw in the towel. If I had turned back a couple miles earlier, I probably would have saved myself a considerable amount of pain. 
Overall, this was a BEAUTIFUL hike. It was warm and sunny (I'm glad I brought as much water as I did - I drank it all!) and the wildlife was incredible. I didn't really get to enjoy the beauty of the hike for the second half of it but that's ok. I don't think I will be doing this again anytime soon but I'm glad I did it - it was an experience I will never forget and I learned some important lessons.


Miles: 25
Time: 7 hrs, 45 mins (total time including breaks)
Elevation: 900 ft 

Click here to see the rest of my photos!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

12.2 miles, 5,000 ft, 5 pieces of pizza and 1 delicious beer!

In preparation for the Mount St. Helens summit on Mother's Day, J&J and I decided to do the Starvation-Defiance Loop. This hike, considered one of the hardest in the gorge, did not disappoint. We were all dreading the hike but once it got underway, it wasn't that bad - in fact, the hardest part was the descent!

The trail is mild (paved) at first but quickly becomes rugged and steep. We went up Starvation and down Defiance so we started to go up right away. We trudged up switchback after switchback... It was never ending (at least, that's how it seemed!). While I had been warned that this hike doesn't have any redeeming qualities, I found it to be quite beautiful at points. We got some great views of the gorge at the beginning of the hike and towards the end. We also saw several different types of wildflowers and some HUGE banana slugs! Also, because the hike gains so much elevation (approximately 5,000 ft.), we were able to go from beautiful, warm spring weather to blustery, cold winter weather within a matter of hours - so cool!

This sign is usually at eye level - the snow was high enough that  we were looking down on it!
We anticipated some snow but weren't prepared for five or more feet we found at the top! When we had about 1,500 more feet to climb before reaching the summit, the snow covered the trail (and everything else) completely. Luckily, it was packed down enough so that we didn't need snowshoes. It's amazing how much more difficult it is to hike in the snow, even when the snow is packed down. There was quite a bit of postholing near trees and on the talus fields but it was such a refreshing change of scenery that I didn't mind!

Speaking of talus fields - these reminded me SO much of hiking in Rothrock in central Pennsylvania. It was so fun packing away my trekking poles and climbing (hand-over-hand in some spots) all over those rocks! The talus field that we scrambled up on Starvation didn't have much snow... but the field we went down on Defiance was completely covered - this actually allowed us to get down Defiance much more quickly than we could have had the talus been uncovered. The three of us jetted down the snow covered field - it was only when we got close to exposed rock or trees that we slowed down to avoid postholing.

We made it to the summit of Mt. Defiance and it started snowing! We didn't get any views but it was still really amazing. At the top, I put on extra layers and my winter gloves. Brr – it was cold up there.
So, the descent was the worst part of the hike - but only after we got out of the snow. I would rather ascend another 5,000 ft. than descend that much, any day. We spent a considerable amount of the descent running; it often seems easier to do this than to walk… also, we were extremely eager to be finished with the hike at that point. I think the descent would have been tolerable but at about 1,500 ft. (approximately 1,200 ft. before finishing the descent) I started getting a blister on my toe. This made things a little less comfortable but considering I was wearing new boots and I was only starting to get a blister after a 12-mile hike… I’d say I lucked out! 
                                                                                                                                                                  Overall, this hike was awesome. I’d like to do it again when the snow is melted to see how much more quickly I could do it. It took us 7 hours – 4.5 to ascend and 2.5 to descend. We kept a steady pace throughout – approximately 2.3 miles per hour. We were moving for 4.5 hours. I never understand how those shorts breaks to change gear and eat snacks add up to as many hours as they do!

To see the rest of the photos, click here.

Oh! After finishing the hike, we drove several more miles to Hood River. We got pizza and beer at Double Mountain. Oh man, it was so delicious. J and I decided that we don’t know if the pizza was really as good as it seemed or if it just seemed so good because we ate it after doing such an exhausting hike… I guess it doesn't really matter!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Seven months in the Pacific NW...

and I can't imagine ever leaving. I've neglected this blog but I'm going to try to keep up with it from now on. Moving to the other side of the country on my own is the biggest challenge I've ever had the pleasure of overcoming - I mean that - it's been a pleasure even when it hasn't been fun. If you haven't put yourself out of your comfort zone for a while... I highly recommend it. Besides all the outdoor adventures I've had, I've had countless adventures related to moving, my new career and dating/relationships. All those are less interesting than the outdoor adventures, though.

I'll just give you a taste of what I've been doing based on my adventure-tracking document. 

2012.08.31 - Crater Lake: an amazing way to start my time in the Pacific NW. I went on this trip, spur of the moment, with a group of people I met earlier in the week. We climbed to the top of Mt. Scott and down to the water - I jumped off a cliff into Crater Lake - click here to see a video of it! I don't think I've seen anything as beautiful as the views I saw on this trip.

2012.09.14 - Early Saturday morning, we drove to the parking spot on the south end of Ecola State Park. I couldn't believe we were actually seeing the ocean! Then we all jumped into my car and I drove us to the starting point of the hike 8 miles north. Most of the hike was forested but we occasionally saw the ocean through the trees. It was like we were in a jungle... I guess we kind of were? We stopped for a while when we got to Indian Beach.

It was so amazing and sunny and beautiful. Oh man. We walked along the entire length of the beach before we finished the hike and got to the car. On Sunday, we went to the beach right by our campsite in Ft. Stevens park. We saw the shipwreck there and it was really neat. That beach was so peaceful in the early morning.

2012.10.07 - Indian Heaven Wilderness: What an amazing hike! 14 miles; 5.5 hours. Not too strenuous. I used my new day pack which I love... I have to be careful not to lay ON the drinking part of the hydration system, though, because I accidentally squeezed all the water out of the container 3/4 through the hike. Sigh... amateur hour. This area really reminded me of Dolly Sods, WV!
2013.03.29 - Coyote Wall: First hike with EB! Ohmygod it was so beautiful! This hike should be done when it's sunny as long as it's not too hot - it's very exposed. The wild flowers were just beginning to bloom... and they were so lovely! We stopped for lunch and took our time and it was JUST what I needed. We saw many mountain bikers.
2013.03.30 - Mount St. Helens: Wow. What an amazing hike. It was worth the four hours of driving (round trip). We started at Hummocks and walked for about 1.8 miles. Then we reached the start of Boundary trail which gained almost 2000 feet of elevation in about 4 miles. This trail was SO windy - I mean, my hat blew off and I had to chase after it! Keep in mind that the trail was on the side of a cliff... if you fall, you're dead. 
We weren't sure if there was going to be snow so I rented snow shoes from REI and strapped them onto my day pack with bungee cords. I didn't end up using them even though we definitely hiked through some snow. Most of it was packed down pretty well, but I did sink in to my knees a couple of times. At several points we lost the trail; however, the area was so open and exposed it was easy to stay on track. 
There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day and it was just amazing! Oh! We saw a herd of elk up on the mountain - about 8 of them! We decided to walk back via the road which was closed to all cars for the season. This was a really long walk. We were exhausted and the sun was beating down on us. Overall... an amazing, wonderful, awesome hike!!