06-10-2014, 12:25 PM #1Registered User
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
TR: American Alps Traverse - 16 days, 60k, and 120 miles
The American Alps Traverse
16 days, 60,000 vertical and 120 miles
"By forces seemingly antagonistic and destructive Nature accomplishes her beneficent designs - now a flood of fire, now a flood of ice, now a flood of water; and again in the fullness of time an outburst of organic life...." —John Muir
-June 17th, 2013
Bibles and books of God covered the sun-washed dash of the minivan. “I live off the grid,” the middle-aged driver proudly asserted as he glanced over his shoulder and smiled back at his family.
I had been hitchhiking for hours and this was my second ride. Sixty miles still separated me from my car.
“This is as far as I can take you,” the driver said with an apologetic smile, quickly pulling over outside Marblemount, a speck of a town in northern Washington State.
“Thanks for picking me up,” I gushed, waving a friendly goodbye.
My gaze followed the minivan until it melted into the sleepy shadows. Looking down, I sat and let my thoughts roll over the past sixteen days.
Usually millions of neurons fire off in the process of remembering. I don’t visualize it so literally. To me, memory is more like a meadow and the act of remembering is like a spring rain, followed by sunshine. Instead of flowers springing up, the greens, blues, yellows and reds of individual memories blossom.
It was no flashy color that blossomed first. It was the wet and soggy grey mid-May afternoon. At my house, in Tacoma Washington, I sank into my office chair. Waiting in my inbox was an unread email. The title was subtle, but that subtlety hinted at epic. It read, “Are you busy in June?”
The message included my longtime mountain companion Kyle Miller, a bipedal splitboarder. The sender was Forest McBrian, a euro-crazy but brilliant guide, whose less than sane ideas have always inspired in me the response of, “Yeah that could work?” Not posed as a statement, but always as a question.
Forest was fishing for partners to complete a grand traverse of Washington’s North Cascades.
This is the point at which my memory flashes in another color, this time blue. It is the color in which the jovial sky envelopes our maternal sun, the color that a sprouted seed first sees when it breaks from the earth and the color of dreams becoming reality. My attempts to convince like-minded friends to join me on such an endeavour as Forest was suggesting, had fallen on deaf ears. It was within Northwest ski historian and pioneer Lowell Skoog’s written account of his decades-long mission to ski from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier, a ~300-mile high route, a traverse across the Cascade Mountain crest. Lowell dubbed a portion of that route, which is a third of the length, traveling from Highway 20 through Glacier Peak, the “American Alps Traverse.”
By 1991 Skoog and party had made an attempt to complete the American Alps Traverse, but an uncooperative spring shut them down. In 2000, two locals took up the torch. Both Matt Firth and Bob Nielsen succeeded in reaching as far as Lyman Lake, about two-thirds of the way, but no farther. Since that time no other known efforts have been made.
PART I – Highway 20 to Cascade River Road, Days 1 through 4
-June 2nd: Pyramid Glacier
Red is a passionate and dangerous color. It is the color of fear, it paints the sunrises and sunsets and it is beginnings and endings. Yet for Kyle Miller and me, red was the color of blood-filled mosquitoes being squashed, just like our fears. There was no Forest McBrian. He had joined the National Park Service patrol in Alaska at the last moment. The weather was questionable. One-hundred and twenty miles and sixty thousand vertical feet in one of the snowiest places on earth was hard to grasp. And we were already tired from our preparations and lack of sleep.
We arrived at the Pyramid Lake trailhead, high above Diablo Lake, smack dab in the middle of the North Cascades National Park in northern Washington State, dubious of what we were getting ourselves into.
Above us, the olive-colored evergreens plugged the sky. On the road, an occasional car would hustle by. On all sides, birds voiced warnings to their friends. They know we are not like the deer, not part of the forest. Instead, we are amalgams circling the rim of civilization.
Our adventure could be broken into three parts, separated by food caches. The first is the Isolation Traverse. It was the shortest leg of our trip, expected to last four days. While short, it provided plenty of time for me to remember how to curl up in the moment and feel the heat of life as it happens.
For me, that detachment from the hubbub of city life began at the trailhead, moments before I stepped out of the car. I joked to Kyle, “Are we really doing this?”
To which Kyle smartly retorted, “We can still go home.”
In a matter of speaking, we were at home. We both have spent more time sleeping in the mountains than in our own beds so ‘home’ is quite often made where we pitch our tents and lay out our sleeping bags.
Right then, everything we owned seemed to be on our backs. I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of my monstrous load straddled on my shoulders. I often joke that I am in a relationship with my pack. We bicker, we get into arguments and we heckle each other. In this case, I jested that she had a crush on me. In all actuality, I felt a rising urge to tell her that she is obese and barely fits inside her own skin, but I thought better of it. I was still just feet from the car and would be spending weeks of quality time with her. Best to save her angst for another day.
When beginning, it is best to start like one jumps into a cold lake or in our case, a web of forest. Fully committed, we dove headfirst into the leafy waves and rose as fast as we could toward the alpine zone.
Somehow a vertical mile of climbing doesn’t ever go as fast as you would like, but when we burst from the greenery, our Universe expanded from our feet to the horizon. To the northeast were the massive shoulders of Jack Mountain. To the northwest were the impregnable walls of the Picket Range. In between and further encompassing us were the mass of peaks that make up the formidable North Cascades. Of the eleven hundred glaciers in the contiguous United States, nearly eight hundred of them are located in the northern reaches of Washington State. It is truly a sight one has to witness and experience, especially from a summit.
At a col, I looked down onto the first glacier of the trip, the Neve Glacier. Rain speckled my glasses. “So much for the great forecast,” I mumbled into the grey, murky fog before agreeing with Kyle that we should set up camp there.
After dinner, I scrambled to a high perch. The clouds had cleared and the stars shimmered. It was a perfect first night and exactly what I had come in search of. Before going to sleep, I wanted to watch the liquid blues dissolve into oily blacks. As they did, the stars began to twinkle like the faraway city lights. The night sky inspires humility in me. That perspective, without a doubt, should humble us all.
Last edited by Unemployed; 08-20-2014 at 01:59 PM.
06-10-2014, 12:26 PM #2Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 3: Isolation Peak
Morning has always been coffee enough for me. I have never craved caffeine. Kyle, on the other hand, was adding four to five packets of coffee-flavored Gu to hot water. Although, I was happy to not be so desperate, I realized while watching Kyle consume, that he was rather pleased with his concoction.
Atop the Nèvé Glacier, our morning’s efforts had put Kyle and me between Pyramid Peak and the Horseman. Below and ahead of us, stranded on a narrow ridge attaching the Eldorado massif to the Pyramid Massif, was the lonesome Isolation Peak. It is the namesake of the first portion of our adventure, and appropriately so. Few people have ever visited and even fewer get to see it like we were, stretched out under puffy clouds, blanketed in snow.
Our efforts continued and brought us across rocky ridges and descended us into several small chutes, as we rushed to traverse around Isolation Peak. The few sheepish clouds in the sky were being quickly herded into our small corner of the mountains. As they neared, the sunlight came and went. We hastily made camp atop polished granite slabs. So as to dry what gear we could before the impending rain and snow, we pulled everything from our packs. Eventually, we were strung out on the rock next to our gear.
Kyle must’ve cracked an eyelid to see what those damn sheep-clouds were up too because not long after he cried, “Look, a rainbow!” I rolled over and looked behind me. It was too far away. I had to get closer. Jumping up, I snatched my camera, put on my boots and slid down the snowbanks that clung above cliffs. I eventually arrived at an edge. As I crept closer, I saw treed benches rolling between thousands of feet of cliffs all the way to the miniature looking forest and river below.
The view was perfect. Looking up from the valley to the mountains, I saw the rainbow again, but this time through my viewfinder. Thinking back, I wondered if, like me, Nature remembers in colors as well? Perhaps a rainbow arcing through the sky is her neurons firing off? I’m just seeing her thoughts on a microscopic level. It’s a beautiful idea and who knows, perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was never gold at all.
It was almost an hour before I tore myself away from the rainbow. By the time I returned to the tent, I was soaked through. It didn’t matter.
I was juggling smiles.
I reached the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. I couldn’t sleep. I was too cold, but my chills were only skin deep.
06-10-2014, 12:27 PM #3Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 4: Marble Needle
The gorilla in the room that morning was no different than any other morning. Simply: would it be sunny or not?
As I crawled from our shelter, I had my answer. Sunrays danced feet away and in moments swept over me. It was like a spigot had turned on. I felt weariness, worry and exhaustion fall away. Light is so elemental and moving. I often wonder what demons humanity accepted into their homes when they replaced the wide open sky with four walls, a roof and a door.
Two hours later, my legs strained up a couloir lying between Backbone Ridge and me. More than halfway up, Kyle overtook my tracks and he continued to lead until we reached a high point. Although I’d been there before, my last visit was encumbered in clouds. It brought a grin to life when I recalled my brother, Jessy Hummel, and friends Tom Murphy and Adam Roberts on an adventure in 2011. We couldn’t see a thing through the thick fog and had no idea where to go. Instead of moping, we all laughed.
It wasn’t the weather I had to worry about this time. Just as soon as Kyle and I transitioned onto the western flank of Backbone Ridge, the snow had transformed into isothermal mush. Now in the lead, every step I took forward brought an avalanche crashing down. A water-saturated spring snowpack is dangerous business, but we managed to find a safe enough passage until, relieved, we arrived onto colder, higher snow.
It took hours. It wasn’t easy. We felt like our ‘oh shit’ meter had been pegged for far too long. So we stopped between Marble Needle and Morning Spire. We were wrecked. In order to get some rest as soon as possible, we dug out a camp. When we finished our platform, we pitched our tent. We were both pleased with our home for the night. Even when the bad weighs you down, good could be just around the corner.
Above camp, a rock tower perched alongside Marble Needle. On it, seemingly carved onto its stone, was the face of a husky over a hundred feet tall. “No way!” I scoffed, but the likeness was undeniable.
Eventually stealing my attentions, behind me I felt the sunset tuck itself in, under the peaks. Cool air pulsed through the tent while I prepared to sleep. At that instant, I decided to cast one final look up at the canine visage. In that moment, my heart froze. Was that its cold breath wafting into the air? Could it be howling? Of course I knew it wasn’t but the symbolism was ingrained into my subconscious.
It would soon reemerge in my dreams after sleep had devoured me. By that point, the peaks weren’t peaks at all. They had mutated into wolves. I was nothing more than a man, running. But I could leap over valleys and glaciers and yet no matter how fast I ran, I couldn’t escape them. In the end, they swallowed me whole.
06-10-2014, 12:28 PM #4Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 5: Cascade River Road
Outside, dawn and wakefulness had risen, and I could see that the mountains were still firmly rooted into the earth. That is when I grinned. I realized wolves were not chasing me. In fact, I was not the prey at all.
I was the wolf.
Wet boots met wet socks. That’s never a happy union, but with the deed done, my crampons clanged into morning snow, each step echoing off the walls of Marble Needle Couloir on our way to the McAllister Glacier.
Rounding Eldorado Peak two hours later, we overtook the first person of the trip. Greetings passed between us followed by small talk. It was rude to do, but we sought escape as soon as we could muster goodbyes.
Kyle stopped and packed his snowboard when the snow met rock below Sibley Creek Pass. I pressed on over thinly covered boulders until I felt my edges screeching from the agony of more granite than bona-fide snow. I often tend to push past the point where a wise man would give up. Sure, I’m a betting man, but I like risk, too. So when sparks flew up from my ski’s edges, I was even more thrilled than when I finally slid from the boulders onto the snow and sliced one more sloppy turn.
Next to the river, thousands of knee crunching feet lower, I found a comfortable spot atop rounded river stones. My pack dropped to the ground on the shore, while Kyle continued a few hundred yards to the trailhead. Pleased to be resting, I happily peeled my grimy socks off and hesitantly dipped both feet into the glacier-fed water. My screams of happy agony couldn’t be quelled. Those are the moments I remember. The kind suffering rewards us.
Leaving the river, I rejoined Kyle. Pretty soon our mess of gear littered the entire northwestern corner of the Eldorado parking lot! Skirmishing with us were the orgasmic hordes of biting flies and mosquitoes. Their million eyes converged and zeroed in on our pulsing veins.
Our best escape was to cover our heads with our coats. That’s how we remained until we heard the distinct rumbling of a car, hours later. It was our hero, James Rowe. I had only met James once, so when he offered to drop our provisions off, I felt uncomfortable asking so much from him. When he arrived and swung open his car doors, it was like an unveiling. Inside was our precious cargo, a full week’s supply of food and fuel. He had come through and quickly became our new best friend, especially after he plied us with beers.
A half mile up the road Kyle, James and I found a camp. The night progressed with more drinking and talking with the added bonus of a warm fire. Memories faded into the flames. After the fire died, the coals dimmed, eventually flashing out like microscopic sunsets. It was an otherwise quiet end to a busy day.
06-10-2014, 12:29 PM #5Registered User
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- Jul 2007
PART II - Ptarmigan Traverse to Holden Village – Days 5 through 12
-June 6: Cache Col
Now my memory shifted to white. The color that is the absence of color. The color that blankets the high country. The color that that fills the clouds. The color we were rising toward as we crept up Cascade River Road.
Less than two hours later, we moved from the road to snow, and continued to Cascade Pass (5400’). We climbed slowly. We needed time to fall into stride and wrap our minds around the work. Once we passed Cascade Pass, I felt like I had reached that point. I charged across Mix-Up Arm, leaving Kyle far behind. As soon as we reconnected, it was his turn to leave me behind.
We rejoined at Cache Col. As we climbed over a cornice, we were surprised to meet a large group, since the only tracks we had seen so far were of two guys just ahead of us. As it turned out this was a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) group and they had come up the rarely visited South Fork of the Cascade River.
While we rested, the NOLS leader offered us water,but we kindly turned it down. We were in for a lesson, though. It seems I didn’t have a clue what a solar sink was or how easy you can get water from one in the right conditions. Upon closer inspection we figured it out. Basically it is an upside down cone carved atop the ceiling of a small snow cave. Much like a stalactite, water collects at the point and is deposited into your bottle. Brilliant! The only disadvantage was that it requires a warm, sun-saturated snowpack to work. Any unused water just flows back into the snowpack, so, “Yes, may I have moooore please?”
We sat. We drank. We looked around. We didn’t move. The skies were teaming with clouds and our motivation to join them wilted. We worried the next day would have bad weather. Since the only dry ground in sight was beneath our feet, we decided to find a camp and settle in.
Later that evening, we visited the NOLS group. We shared stories and laughs, and quickly became friends. Maybe just mountain friends, but that didn’t matter. Our love of the outdoors was all we needed to have in common.
-June 7: Cache Col
Much like Kyle’s sleeping pad had done for every night during the past week, our hopes for a sunny day quickly deflated with morning’s stolen glances out of the tent. Regardless of the soggy weather, I tried unsuccessfully, to convince Kyle to pack up and go. He preferred to wait for better conditions and I reluctantly agreed, satisfied for no other reason than that extra rest would do us good.
But rest makes me wary. There’s too much time to think. To escape, I found a nice ridge to sit atop. From there I watched the fog. Over time, I tried to be like the fog. To melt over the rocks, dance above the valley and to be. Remember, being? After awhile I was present.
At dinner my dried vegetables refused to soften, so every bite rang out with a “crack.” Somehow I can get by with eating little, so I didn’t worry about it. Instead my eyes feasted on the fog. They did their best to devour their way through them. My eyes are bigger than my appetite. Instead, the fog opened its mouth and gobbled me up with the night.
06-10-2014, 12:30 PM #6Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 8: White Rock Lakes
Sometime in the night the fog slithered its way into the valleys. Warm air escaped. The cold took hold. The snow hardened to a sheet of ice. Not even Kyle’s half eaten and refrozen freeze-dried dinner from the night before could compete! When he attempted to consume it, the scales were nearly tipped. Was he a bear? Perhaps I’m just too picky for my own good. Kyle would outlive me for sure if we were ever stranded in the wilderness without food. He’d be eating grubs and whatever it took. I’m sure they’d be given names too. That’s Mr. Miller for you, ever the dark comedian. I can see him now, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Grub….”
The morning’s progress across icy slopes was completed in moments, at least for me. Kyle’s snowboard edges wouldn’t hold, especially on such a long toe-side traverse. He was better off cramponing. While I waited further on, lying on my back, I watched the blue sky twist itself around the sun.
On the other side of Red Ledges, with both of us riding, I traversed most of the way to the Middle Cascade Glacier. I itched to continue, but I waited. As suddenly as Kyle popped out of a nearby runnel, he was flying out of control down the slope, falling!
Jumping up, I rushed over the brow of a nearby hill just in time to see Kyle’s board blowing up ice and arms flailing against the snow. He had just missed the cliffs. Some moments later, safe but frazzled, Kyle crested the hill frightened and embarrassed. We didn’t talk about his fall besides my saying something about being more careful in the future.
It wasn’t until views of White Rock Lakes smiled up at us that the stars in Kyle’s eyes began to sparkle again. He led the way and in less than a dozen big turns reached the shores of White Rock Lakes. Savoring the moment, I stashed my camera and followed suit. It wasn’t until my last turn, after I had shuttered to a stop that I could make out my howls ringing off the rocky escarpments.
The next few hours were spent lounging. Gear circled the food. That’s when I began calculating. Could I eat my chocolate today? Should I conserve it instead? One nibble led to another. I felt like the overweight bean counter hiding in his claustrophobic cubicle. I peeled the wrapper back and in moments, there was nothing left but chocolate dust and garbage.
-June 9: Gunsight Notch
I studied my worn and crumpled hand-drawn map of a decade ago. The line curved up the Chikamin Glacier. It led into one of those silent corners of the Cascades that I’d never heard of anyone traveling into; although I’m sure many had.
Privileged, that’s how I felt as I climbed beneath the towering shoulders of the immense and breath-stealing Chikamin Glacier.
Two thousand feet higher, I stood eyeing the cloud-shadows rolling beneath the North Face of Sinister Peak. Years before, Lowell Skoog, his brother Carl - also a photographer - my brother Josh, Jon Mauro, and I became the first to ski Sinister. For one run, there was a merging of the old guard with the new.
It would be the last time Lowell ever skied with his brother. Together and separately they had pioneered dozens of descents and traverses in these mountains. Sadly, a few months later, in 2005, Carl tragically fell to his death on Cerro Mercedario in Argentina.
Before his passing, back on Sinister Peak, Carl’s exuberance was contagious. Like a star-struck kid, I asked all I could about imagery, and he shared what he knew to a rank amateur. What would I have asked him if I knew it’d be the last time we’d talk? Nowadays I know better than to ask for more. Like me, his tales are told in his images. In the shades and shadows. Between the curves and shoulders of mountains. Within the waves and flow of streams, and glaciers. From the moods wrung from darkness and light. Bled at last, in finality, from the reds that crackle on the horizon.
We dug out a spot and pitched our tent at a notch below Gunsight Peak. Once I set the final anchor and seduced silty water from a crack in the cliff face, I crept up to a pinnacle to watch the sun go down. The cold and the loneliness got me to thinking about mountains and how they have a way of expelling us like great lungs as they had done to Carl. When my final breath is released, I wish for it to be in a place like this, as an old man with just enough strength to make a one way trip. Not to go there to throw myself from the top, but to have my heart shake loose from my body and sink into the stone, the raw beauty too much for it.
I set my alarm for three in the morning. With my camera and tripod, I left the tent. The cold parried with my fingers. Above me the stars were so bright. I froze and pondered, “Could I reach for them?” Stretching my hands out, my palms cupped worlds like water. I felt like some great star-monster.
My life has had many memorable moments. When they happen, they surface in a magical, mystical way that my mind cocoons like a bent page from a favorite book that hides a special passage. I don’t know how many hours I stayed in the open air, but outside my tent, hanging from the ridge, perched atop boulders, I sat, freezing the seconds.
06-10-2014, 12:31 PM #7Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 10: Bannock Lakes
For days we had been agonizing over access to Bannock Lakes. Even as close as we were, it was hard to tell if we’d be able to arrive there, without difficulty.
That morning sunny skies led us above Blue Lake on a downward traverse. It appeared wise to cross over the ridge, so we continued over a pass onto the Garden Glacier. The grandiose views of faraway Glacier Peak and the Dakobed Range reminded me that no cityscape would ever move me as much as a mountain range could.
When we arrived at Ross Pass, steep snow and patchy trees led us through steep, snow-covered boulder fields to the shores of the lowest Bannock Lake. I remembered sitting there laughing. “Did that just happen?” It was all too easy. We stretched out on the boulders with relief washing over us. I watched a nearby waterfall ricochet through a cataract from atop a massive boulder. Had we worried for nothing? Perhaps, but overcoming perceived challenges prepares you for those you least expect.
With our camp pitched between the higher Bannock Lakes and with daylight to spare, it was time to clean up after a week marinating in my own juices. At a stream that flowed through a split in the six-foot high snow banks below camp, there was a clear pool beneath a waterfall. It was the perfect place for a bath.
After my body chased my toes into the frigid water, I rose back to the surface. My vision freckled with white. I leapt onto an outcrop of rock and danced around. Life rarely feels more alive than in moments like that one, when every fiber of your body is screaming, “Enough!”. Makes me smile just thinking about it.
-June 11: Lyman Lakes
In the early morning, at a pass high above Bannock Lakes, Kyle and I glared through spaceship flakes of snow. Some hovered but most just darted away. We were hoping to see through the fog into the valley below. Eventually we would. And when that small break arrived, we dove into the forest. Within moments, we had descended thousands of feet and were scrapping over the last pine-needle and tree branch riddled patches of snow until, ahead of us, we could see only dirt.
Three hours later, far below in the valley bottom next to the South Fork of Agnes Creek, near Hemlock Camp, Kyle and I weren’t talking. We were at a low point. My memory was now a caldron of blacks and reds. Blacks for the disappointment and exhaustion. Red for the anger and frustration. This wasn’t just the low point of the day, but of the entire trip to that point. It had begun with an earlier route disagreement. Kyle’s idea had been to descend into the valley, a route I vehemently disagreed with. My plan was to stay high and return to the snow. Kyle was persistent, so I backed down, but not without insisting that his idea was foolhardy. At the river, there was a partial snowpack with heinous bushwhacking in all directions. Worst of all, it started raining. While I had been right, I didn’t feel good about it. Neither of us were pleased and we still weren’t talking.
Kyle hid under a giant rock and regrouped while I turned my head toward the miles of backtracking. I shook loose the disappointment, shrugged my pack closer and began climbing. For awhile my mood mirrored the dark and gloomy weather.
At Cloudy Pass, my anger had faded, and I was exhausted. My legs teetered like the tree-giants dotting the landscape below me. My transition to downhill mode was quick. Earlier, my skins failed due to pollen and wet snow, and I had been forced to boot the entire way.
Relief lay below me, and Kyle had long since passed me by.
On the shores of Lyman Lakes, I was happy. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Moments before, I had pushed off from the pass, allowed the grip of gravity to wind her fingers around me and felt her tug my skis downward. I didn’t resist. I rode the stream bed that led down to the lake like it was a luge. At one point I flew past a waterfall, grumbling and groaning, before it burst from the snow. I swung by it at full speed, as if I were borne by the current and flung from its lip. Yes, Gravity, she is two-faced, impetuous and burdensome, but I am enamored and have always had a teenage crush on her.
Kyle and I pitched camp and scrounged up the remnants of food we had passed on every other night. This brought back reminders of a week skiing in the Olympic Mountains. In the days leading up to that trip, Kyle had found what we called ‘laundry detergent’ at a grocery outlet. Basically, they were these circular-shaped, lime-flavored energy gummies with a sugar coating on top. They tasted terrible. At the time, when I asked Kyle why he ate them. He replied, “They are just calories.”
That’s one way of looking at what we had in front of us then, a spread of ‘just calories’. I laughed and counted down the bites while huddling next to a tree, hiding from the falling snow and biting wind.
Last edited by Unemployed; 08-21-2014 at 12:30 PM.
06-10-2014, 12:32 PM #8Registered User
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- Jul 2007
-June 12: Holden Village
Above Crown Point Falls, Kyle and I hid our skis and hung our other unnecessary gear from an old snag. The views from our high vantage wiped the tiredness out of our eyes. The excitement was palpable. We were about to detour to Holden Village, where we had food and fresh supplies waiting.
As we descended into the valley, the colors and the seasons brightened. At each creek crossing I drank my fill. At each viewpoint I feasted my eyes on the green hills, high peaks and thundering waterfalls. To pass some time, I took a swim at Heart Lake while waiting for Kyle. Neither of us were in a hurry. Our hunger was forgotten. Maybe the mind requires more nourishment than the flesh?
Either way, the hike soothed me. Weariness blew off me like the leaves from the vine maples that leaned over the trail.
Four hours passed. We slipped from the meadows into the forest and from the forest into Holden Village. It would be my fourth time there in three years. Prior to the 1960’s the town was a home for miners who worked one of the biggest copper mines in the nation. In the fifty years since, it has existed as an idyllic hamlet, owned and operated by the Lutheran Church as a retreat. This had changed little over the decades, until recently. In 2009 hundreds of workers were sent in to stabilize tailings and contain toxins from entering nearby Railroad Creek. The old mine is a superfund site and for good reason. Railroad creek eventually flows into Lake Chelan, the 26th deepest freshwater lake in the world. While troublesome to see the changes, they are for the best in for the long term.
Bringing my eyes back down from the mine above, I imagined what other people saw when looking at me and Kyle. We didn’t have street clothes, just ski attire. We carried the mountains in our skin and bones. The valleys furrowed our faces. The summits shone in our eyes. We most certainly were an unsightly lot.
Our first stop was the cafeteria, in the main lodge. Once inside, our hunger-crazed eyes feasted on the plethora of meats, cheeses, pies, and more. I’d never been so famished as I was then. Living off a diet that rarely exceeded fifteen-hundred calories a day had taken its toll. Even though Kyle had carried twice the calories, what we burned per day per person far exceeded what we had combined.
You could imagine my sadness, when, halfway through a sandwich I realized something was wrong. My least favorite food is mustard and I didn’t need to look to know the bread was slathered in that vile, yellow poison. My brothers and I often joke that mustard is ‘Hummel Birth Control’. All a girl has to do is eat mustard and we will have nothing to do with her for sometime after.
A liter of water, then a refill, some gurgling and I was recovered, at least physically. Kyle laughed at me as he consumed the rest of my sandwich, along with his.
On the far wall was the daily forecast, pegged among the other community fliers. I swept over to it, scared. As I read down the page, my hands stopped shaking. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. “The bad news,” I told Kyle as he polished off the last bite of my sandwich, “we have to leave in the morning. The good news, I think we may just be able to pull this off!”
Well past darkness, we sauntered out of town and pitched camp. I felt like I’d won the lotto, even as I kicked the ants from my bed. Struggle and effort had brought us here, but nothing had gotten us further than luck. No June I could recall had ever been as forgiving as this one.
06-10-2014, 12:33 PM #9Registered User
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
PART III - Holden Village to – Days 12 through 16
-June 13: Upper Lyman Lake
Holden is an oasis surrounded by wilderness. We returned to town that morning to pick up our resupply. Now we were rounding the first bend outside town, leaving for good. I sighed and dug my toes into the dirt, forcing myself to leave the homely comforts behind.
The miles back to Lyman Lakes melted away like the countless meadows. Hardly a word passed between us until we were reacquainted with our gear stashed the day before above Crown Point Falls.
Another hour later, we found respite from blowing snow in a tuft of trees near the uppermost Lyman Lake. I laid against a cold tree again. I ate a plain meal. I made faces at the fog and it made faces back.
And so went the evening.
-June 14: Fortress Mountain
I arose to fog the next morning. It scraped down the faces, hung on the sleepy shoulders and sank into the valley. The same valley I stood in looking at the blue-eyed waters of Lyman Lake.
Halfway up Chiwawa Mountain, I stopped. The sky was staring at me. Light and shadow shot through clouds, leaving sapphire holes behind. Turning my head to the climb above, I continued and met Kyle at a narrow ridge. By then, we had been submerged. The fog had tied its shoelaces.
We couldn’t outrace the white nothingness.
Atop Chiwawa Mountain, I kicked snow from my crampons onto the melted out rocks. Boot packing up the remaining five-hundred feet from the ridge was difficult. Thinking about it made me grimace. While I love to suffer, it is only because I eventually overcome. There was a few moments when struggling up that I wanted to throw my hands up in the air. These conditions were ridiculous. The breakable crust was just strong enough to hold my body weight for a step or two. Or five? There was no predicting your eventual collapse. Without warning we’d be postholing. Kyle and I took turns. Those grimaces evolved; they became smiles.
We were winning.
Leaving the summit, through the smoky skies, I rained snow down the mountain in search of a way through. Was my map lying? Was I lying to myself? Like a sphincter, the cliffs closed in. “Shit,” I thought. I really didn’t want to climb back out. So I kept going. And I won, again. The rocks vanished and all I could see were fields of white snow. I beckoned Kyle down by yelling as loud as I could.
We descended and stopped, struck like a nail between Fortress and Chiwawa Mountains. My eyes strained. I searched the fog. I didn’t know where to go from there. With only bad options, I chose to take the high route over the summit of Fortress Mountain. It was the most risky of the options, but I was convinced it would go. Kyle was doubtful and rightfully so, but I didn’t need to remind him of our adventures in Agnes Creek and our descent into that misbegotten hag of a valley to win this argument. This was mine. Fortress Mountain and I had history.
Everything Kyle had feared was staring him in the face a short time later. I was only getting more determined. I laughed as I reached up for a rocky handhold. Instead of stone, I found a rappel sling to hang from. Looking down I saw Kyle. He looked up at me and groaned, “How does it look?”
Was it more cruel to lie or to tell the truth? I leaned to the side of optimism; I lied. “It looks way better,” I threw down like a bomb. I lit the fuse. “If we can traverse this rock slope, I think we can get there,” I added. Kyle’s eyes erupted in fire, but he said nothing. He was as determined as I was.
To either side of us were long-faced cliffs, looking sad and dejected. I felt their hunger and teeth. They were starving. I fed them scraps of stone as I grappled with my crampons. I then crossed ice-layered boulders, pivoted across smooth granite and finally leapt lightly to the snow, and only then did I feel success creeping in for a kiss. Ten dangerous steps on a porous sixty-degree snow slope and I was onto rock again. A few vertical moves and I was there. The clouds melted away, the peaks turned to look at me and the sun put her lips to mine. This was among the happiest moments of my life.
I watched my shadow dance within a Brocken Spectre, a natural phenomenon I’ve only seen three other times. How could it get any better? If it could, I didn’t know how. I couldn’t take my eyes off the spectre and its kaleidoscope of colors. They circled as if submerged in oily water.
Only when Kyle squeezed by me, did I join him in our march along the narrow ridge. First to the summit, Kyle stopped and raised his hands. He let escape the loudest yell I’d ever heard him make. Was he roaring a challenge at Glacier Peak? It was our last great obstacle. I liked to think he was.
On the descent, I was ready to meet a demon. Remember, Fortress Mountain and I had history. It goes back to 2008. Mere feet from the summit, an avalanche swept me up and carried me a thousand feet down the steep, cliff-riddled flanks. I was lucky to survive.
This time, I fully expected that old demon to raise hell. It didn’t. There was nothing. No fear in my head. No shaking in my bones. Just joy as I raced down the entire route, stopping only twice for pictures.
We made camp near the base of Fortress Mountain after skiing to the tail end of the snow. We were happy to be on dry ground. The Buck Creek Pass trail was a few hundred feet away. We were lucky. We had found an established camp. After our routines, we made a fire. It wasn’t long before I felt the heat sink into my bones. I didn’t want to head back to the tent. Somehow I felt this day had to end with an exclamation mark.
Last edited by Unemployed; 08-21-2014 at 12:33 PM.
06-10-2014, 12:34 PM #10Registered User
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
-June 15th: Tenpeak Mountain
When I was a kid I completed a sixteen day hike around Glacier Peak. I was joined by my parents and two brothers. There were a handful of places I remembered from that adventure. One was Buck Creek Pass and the surrounding flower fields. Another was High Pass.
When I stood at High Pass, looking down into Triad Lake, I smiled. I smile a lot. More so when memories from past and present collide. They enrich my experiences. I am fascinated by the evolving nature of a place. The change of seasons. The march of years.
Kyle and I turned the afterburners on once we reached the Napeequa Valley. Kyle had been there just a few months earlier. He was familiar with where to go, so we dug deep and pushed down the throttle.
At Tenpeak, we pitched our tent near where Kyle and I had camped when we completed the Dakobed Traverse in 2010. Snaking down to camp was the couloir I had skied solo. I ached to do so again. But so close to the end, I knew we simply couldn’t afford the time.
After so much effort, our success hung in the balance. “Just one more day,” I whispered. The wind fluttered the tent, as if to answer my question. I didn’t hear what it had to say, but I hoped it was good.
06-10-2014, 12:34 PM #11Registered User
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
-June 16th: Whitechuck River
When the tent flap opened, sunlight swept in. It bashed through the doors like a gunslinger into a saloon.
On the shores of the Honeycomb Glacier and terminal lake, we stopped. We didn’t need to. We certainly could’ve just kept on going. But beautiful places deserve a handshake and small talk at the very least. It would be rude to just drink, eat and leave.
Atop the Honeycomb Glacier, we stood looking at another glacier, this one was the Suiattle Glacier. Kyle went low and I traversed high. We both met on the ridge above the Cool Glacier and took another break, but it was shortlived. Up ahead was our goal, the one we had been focused on all this time - Glacier Peak.
And we were impatient. But it wasn’t just us, so was the weather.
Two hundred feet before the summit, I was on my knees. Kyle was right behind me. We had been going so fast. Too fast. My legs threatened to buckle. Can you believe that? Weeks of touring - I was as strong as I’ve ever been. While mentally I could push on, physically I was at my limit. I had nothing left. Then I heard the buzzing. I know that sound. Above me the sky had a dark expression. I saw lightening dancing on the peaks in the distance. The buzzing? It was the electricity in the air crackling on my ski edges!
Thunder fell onto my ears, shook my soul and you know what, I was excited. It was like fireworks. It was bombs bursting. It was a celebration. Yeah, there was no one else but us, just mountain peaks leaning in.
Then, like that, we were on the summit. Never had I put so much physical effort into completing a singular goal in my life. I fell to my knees again. I took in those feelings of success. I swam back through the memories. The colors. The blue sky. The blue-eyed lakes reflecting back. The white clouds. The white snow. The yellow sun. The yellow meadows of glacier lilies. The black sky poked through with starlight. The rainbows. The spectrum of memory. The melting pot.
The wind stopped. The snow petered out. Then the sunlight slipped out between the fleshy folds of dark thunderheads. I took my camera out. I took a picture of Kyle holding his board in the air. I took a picture of both of us.
Then we left.
I wondered if the mountains even noticed our passing?
I looked at our exit route down the Sitkum Glacier. For Kyle and me it was the obvious route. The White Chuck Trail had long been wiped out for most of a decade now. It was a horrible exit. Perfect, we thought. That’s the standard we wanted to set. Why make it easy? Plus, it was logical to go up and over the summit, not to backtrack.
My last time on the Sitkum Glacier was in 2001. The road was snowed in. I had to graduate from college the day after the climb. My whole family was coming. Somehow my friend, Ben Manfredi convinced my twin brother Josh and me to make a one day push and ski descent of the Sitkum Glacier. Nearly thirty miles with the added road. It was brutal. We made it though. The worst part was the drive home. I remember yelling at my brother, exclaiming, “There’s a barn in the center of the road!” It was the first time I ever hallucinated. Somehow I thought the barn had ripped loose from the slope above the highway and crashed down to the pavement. My brother wiped his tiredness from his eyes and drove. I can’t blame him. We both arrived at our graduation in the morning, a little worse for wear.
In our escape down the Sitkum Glacier, we enjoyed over five thousand feet of descent. At Glacier Meadows, Kyle and I negotiated steep forest, waterfalls and cliffs and didn’t come upon any trail until we arrived at the valley bottom. Somewhere in-between it had begun to rain.
With tired feet, sore knees and crumpled motivations, we took a poorly maintained trail down to the White Chuck River and pitched camp. Next to a log, we lit a fire. The warmth of the flames pulled the cold from our bones and re-energized us. We shared stories and laughed about the highs and lows.
06-10-2014, 12:37 PM #12Registered User
- Join Date
- Jul 2007
-June 17th: White Chuck River
The rain had shaken itself out of the clouds by morning. Today I feared would be interesting. On a sign the day before, we had seen scratched into the wood, “Trail does not exist.”
“How bad can it be?” Kyle and I joked. “It’s a trail and we hadn’t been on one of those in days.”
Well, the simple answer was “Bad!” At one point I wondered if it would have been better to beeline from Glacier Peak to the nearest town, but no that wouldn’t have been good. Why rob myself of this adventure?
Steep hillsides had torn away into the river. The trail had crossed through these hillsides. It remained clinging, here and there, between mudslides. Otherwise, it was gone. I can’t tell you how many times we were nearly crushed by a boulder or ripped the brush loose from the hillside, only to be spared by another boulder or more brush.
The cuts and bruises added up.
After hours, we left the river and its torments behind. New ones presented themselves. We crawled under, over, up, and around giant old growth and eventually we came to the trailhead, where the road met us. Even that was anticlimactic. The road was overgrown with grass. Even trees pushed up through the gravel. Ahead was eight more miles. We hiked past more washouts and fallen trees.
We arrived at the gate. On the other side, Kyle and I dropped our packs. The weight slid from our shoulders, the weight of weeks of effort. The bugs swarmed. We didn’t care.
My car was still at the Pyramid Lake trailhead, over a hundred miles away. I volunteered to run a further ten miles out to the highway where there’d be a chance of flagging down a passing car. My plan was to drive back, once I arrived at my car, and pick up Kyle. Until then, he would wait for me.
I took only a coat, flashlight, water and camera. I didn’t think I could run. My legs were too tired, weren’t they? I picked up my feet and began to jog. The wind, the sounds of the river, the rustle of leaves, these sounds all reverberated in my head. Somewhere between Darrington and Kyle, I stopped. I didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to go forward or backwards. I wanted to stay, but I couldn’t.
Hours later, I was stuck in the darkness alongside highway 20. Cars didn’t pass by. It appeared that my luck had faded when the minivan with the ‘bibles and books of God’ had pulled away. I tried to pace, but I didn’t have the energy anymore. My feet were too tired. Sitting on the pavement, I reached down and peeled a chunk off the sole off my shoe. I grinned. Would a chunk of me come off if I tried? The thought scared me back to paying attention to the passing cars. No more passed as the hours ticked by.
Just when all hope evaporated, a mangled car pulled up, a dog shoved his face out the window and an old man hollered, “Where are you going,” the driver asked.
“I’m heading over the pass,” I said, still optimistic that someone would be going over it so late in the day.
“I’m heading that way, jump in,” he offered as he reached over and opened the door. “It will be nice to have company.”
After introductions, I noticed a pair of skis in the back of his car. They were from the 70’s, perhaps the early 80’s. I mentioned them and he groaned, “I tried to get a job at a ski area this year. I used to be a part of the ski patrol down south, decades ago.” I couldn’t imagine him skiing, let alone joining the patrol in the shape he appeared in then. My opinion changed when he added, “I live in my car now, not sure where I’ll be going.” To me he hung his dreams, however ill-conceived, on those skis, something a younger man would do and we’d celebrate him for doing.
As we pulled up to my car, I shook the old man’s hand and told him how much I appreciated his stopping for me. And as he drove away, I shouted, “Best of luck,” while his hand waved back at me from his window. When his lights vanished there was only quiet and me left in his wake.
Looking up into the dark forest into where we began our journey sixteen days before, I shuttered. There was no color at all, just darkness, but not so for my memories. They were a vibrant meadow stretching in all directions, full of the blues, greens, yellows and reds, and every color I had remembered. When I looked back down at the black pavement, I closed my eyes. In my head, the sun was setting, but I knew that a new day would rise. Any adventurer knows that life is not measured in weeks, months or even years, but in adventures realized.
With that final thought, I grappled with the keys and cranked the ignition, returning down highway 20, back into civilization, on to my next adventure.
THE END (five cups of coffee later).
Thanks for reading. This was a work of love. A lifetime of passion for the Cascades fueled the effort. I wanted to share our experience as best I could in imagery and words, each as colorful and beautiful as these peaks I call home.
06-10-2014, 12:43 PM #13
06-10-2014, 01:00 PM #14
06-10-2014, 01:12 PM #15
So much awesome.
Inspiring."You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning".
06-10-2014, 01:12 PM #16
06-10-2014, 01:23 PM #17
Pretty much the raddest thing ever.god created man. winchester and baseball bats made them equal - evel kenievel
06-10-2014, 02:35 PM #18custom user title?
- Join Date
- Oct 2005
yeah, defining radness, kind of
06-10-2014, 03:17 PM #19
hummel, you've just posted more stoke and adventure in one thread than 99% of the forum's posters combined
nice shots all the way around!
06-10-2014, 03:35 PM #20
wow wow wow. this was a labor of love. thank you!!
06-10-2014, 03:43 PM #21
06-10-2014, 04:49 PM #22
OMG, that's enough stoke to get me through the off season! Outstanding!
Gracias!Johnny's only sin was dispair
06-10-2014, 04:53 PM #23
WOAH! Thanks for sharing in such vivid details. Looks like an incredible experience.
06-10-2014, 05:45 PM #24
Haven't gotten through the whole thing yet, but awesome story telling so far with incredible pics. Nice man!
06-10-2014, 06:46 PM #25
I enjoyed the words as much as the pictures, thanks for posting this up here.Move upside and let the man go through...