Bonanza Peak, East Face, North Cascades, WA

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Alin at Holden Lake (5200’), looking up at the remote Bonanza Peak (9511’), North Cascades, WA, pretending not to mind getting eating alive by mosquitoes. The Mary Green Glacier melts into waterfalls that spill over the cliffs above.

Bonanza is the highest non-volcanic peak in WA, and the 5th highest overall. We are the only climbers to attempt/summit this year AFAIK.

There are some larger photos on my Facebook page, which you can also follow if you like.

OVERVIEW

Access, route-finding, and general variety + complexity of terrain/logistical challenges were unique for me on this climb, and overcoming them was rewarding. To climb Bonanza, you can’t just drive to a parking lot and start hiking a trail or glacier to the top. There were several stages of this adventure, each with their own unique challenges: Ferry access confusion, transportation challenges from a remote port to an isolated mining village, thick, seemingly impassable bushwhacking through an alder-filled swamp, general route-finding challenges, 4th class climbing over waterfall saturated rocks, heavily-crevassed glacial navigation, 1000ft of 4th to low 5th-class rock climbing to the summit, then navigating back before darkness set in and a mining road filled up with heavy equipment…I enjoyed all of it even when it was difficult. 

I read quite a few TRs on this peak, but they didn’t seem to capture the challenges I faced, nor did any have one map or picture with a line drawn on it. Part of the reason is likely time-of-year attempting the peak. I suspect it’s much easier earlier in the year when the glacier is filled-in and snow covers more of the thick alder between Holden Lake and Holden Pass. One TR from a “County HighPoint” climber seemed especially bitter of the peak and his obligation to climb it, and I can’t say I agree with much of what he says. I’ve come to the conclusion that climbing a peak solely due to peak height within arbitrary man-made borders (counties, states, whatever) misses the point. IMHO, you should climb a peak for the qualities you love in alpine climbing. For me that is primarily the visceral beauty of the landscape and terrain, and a feeling of originality about a place and its surroundings. This is probably why I don’t have a strong interest in climbing Elbrus, or Aconcagua, or other peaks that are merely known for heights within geographical boundaries. This is not to say climbing those peaks aren’t great accomplishments or special experiences for those climbing them, they simply don’t interest me personally based on what I love about the mountains. Anyway, Bonanza def. fit the bill for me in terms of beauty and originality and intensity of the whole experience. 

I’ll provide maps and route descriptions here to help anyone trying this thing in the future. That said, it was fun to figure things out for ourselves. 

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GETTING TO HOLDEN VILLAGE AND BACK IN 2013

Due to a mine remediation project which began this year, communication about ferry access to the remote port of Lucerne (northern part of Lake Chelan) has been a bit confusing. Bus transportation from Lucerne to Holden Village is also now limited, with only Sat. and Sunday options, the last bus leaving at 10:45 AM on Sunday. The road between the Lucerne port and the village is technically closed to all traffic—including pedestrian—and the school bus itself requires a pilot car to guide it up and down the 11 miles and 2200’ elevation change on a rough road. Because it’s mostly impractical to get into the village on Sat at 1pm, climb Bonanza, then catch the bus at 10:45 AM the very next day, nobody has attempted the peak this year. The summit register lists Kristian and Bryce Erickson from Issaquah and Naches as the last to climb Bonanza July 29th of 2012. 

So what is happening in Holden Village, and what is the very brief history of the place? I’ll only relay what a Stehekin local told me on the boat ride to Lucerne. From the 1930s-50s the Holden mine was a very active copper mine, with a lot of the copper being used for ammunition in WW2 (it’s interesting to think of copper being pulled out of this remote place on Lake Chelan and then shot into German nazis almost 70 years ago). After depleting the mine, it was sold to some Lutherans for $1, who made it into sort of a religious, isolated retreat village. Since then the village has been very active for 60 years, with hundreds of people coming to visit or stay on a frequent basis. As I left the boat a man said that Holden village is “a special little gift from god”, and I’m sure for those who have been affected by their stay and the people there, it certainly has had a profound effect. 

Cut to recently when one of the largest mining companies in the world bought the mine and embarked on a large-scale, environmental clean-up project. What was wrong that needed clean-up? According to the Stehekin local, “tailings” from the mine included arsenic which made it’s way down into the Lake. The mining company bought this depleted copper mine in the middle nowhere for tax benefits and to show that they have capabilities to leave mined areas environmentally sound. This will enable them to acquire other large-scale mining projects in other parts of the world.

Anyway, our plan was to circumvent the lack of buses by biking through the night Sunday from the village 11 miles back down to the port before the heavy mine equipment blocked the highly coordinated road traffic starting around 6am. After digging a bit with the Holden staff who just recently have satellite internet after being reliant on snail mail for 60 years, I determined you can access the road after 7pm if you wear a brightly colored safety vest. I also called the Lady of the Lake and determined they still go to Lucerne daily, which I don’t think most people understand. The Holden village bus driver—who also clears 23 feet of snow from the road in the winter—had said that at least one party abandoned their plans due to the new ferry schedules. There doesn’t seem to be a change in the ferry schedules, so I think some misinformation is going around. Anyway these issues seemed to benefit Alin and I as we had the mountain to ourselves and were the first and potentially only party up there this year.

We caught the 9:45 AM, slower Lady of the Lake II ferry from Fields Point Landing and arrived at Lucerne just before noon. We loaded up  on a Holden Village school bus, and I felt like I was 12 again. Not so much because it reminded me of being in grade school, but just because I’m generally immature. I also felt 12 before and after getting on the bus.

In town I really wanted to learn more from the locals about what it’s like living in such an isolated place, but we just wouldn’t have time. I guess I knew the story anyway, having myself grown up in a religious environment that was a bit intense/isolated. I talked to a couple people, one guy claiming to have skied a bit around Holden Pass recently and had some concerns about the Bonanza bergschrund being passable this late in the season. He did not mention—at all—any beta on getting from Holden Lake to the pass, a trek that seems to be underplayed in all reports and verbal relays of the climb, and which turned out to be a mini-epic. He did say we were the first climbers up there this year attempting the peak. 

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Mt. McGregor, near Stehekin, is seen ahead on the north end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan from the “Lady of the Lake” ferry. Stehekin has 75 permanent residents, including the guy on the right who knew a lot about the mine project and about climbing Bonanza. With 2 bikes and a “Lady of the Lake Express” return trip, we forked over $167 total for the ferry rides. Ouch.

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This is what you will see on either side of Lake Chelan as the “Lady of the Lake” slowly creeps towards Lucerne for a couple hours. Un-populated barren hills that get higher the further north you go. the “Lady of the Lake” made one stop to a private cabin by simply breaching the shore, then backing away. We did pass over the deepest part of Chelan, which is about 1300 feet deep.

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Alin helping to load our gear and the day’s freight into the Holden Village school bus named “Honey”. Holden Village was a copper mine during WW2 that was sold to the Lutherans for $1 in the 1950s after it was depleted. Bullets were made from this copper that were likely used for ‘killing nazis’ (read that last part in your mind using Brad Pitt’s southern accent from Inglorious Basterds).

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Our two bicycles are seen on the right inside the bus as we push of the dock up 11 miles and 2200’ of elevation to Holden Village. A pilot car from the mine escorts the bus, which now only runs Sat/Sun officially.

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Arriving in Holden Village to a group of Lutherans waving at the returning faithful. Were they also waiving at me? I’d like to think so. I’m easy to wave at I think. $20 fee for 2 for the bus ride. We got some help pumping up a bike tire then took off toward Holden Lake. I met a few Lutherans, but didn’t get a chance to find out more about living in such an isolated place. Everyone seemed pretty open though, I didn’t get much of a “cult” vibe at all. Only one goat sacrifice was made while I organized my gear (joking, everyone seemed really nice - great people).

FROM THE VILLAGE TO HOLDEN LAKE

I borrowed my friend Cecil’s bike, he noted the front tire needed air. Alin brought a pump, and while I was inside paying for the bus fare,  Alin was going to put just a bit of air in the tire. When I came back out 10 minutes later he was still pumping, and the tire was now completely flat! Things were off to an interesting start. The bike had one of those super skinny valves we knew nothing about. After borrowing a compressed air hose from the a Holden village workshop and trying to force air into the tire, one of the locals helped us with the adapter on Alin’s pump and within seconds we had the tire inflated. My nightmarish visions of walking the bike 11 miles after hiking 20 straight faded as we rode to the trail head a half mile west of town.

The trail to Holden Lake was actually really pleasant. I was a bit high on the fact that we were actually doing this when some said it was impossible.

There were a lot of large trees, the type that I don’t typically see on my alpine climbs. I wish I knew the name. Anyway, the wind would move through the leaves and the long grass that lined the trail, cooling us off as we made our way up 2000 feet to the lake. It was very peaceful being out there without seeing anyone else, and listening to the wind.

After making it up several switchbacks, through a forest, and then out into an open heavy stream area, I saw Bonanza’s summit far in the distance. Using my telephoto lens I could see the upper bergschrund which appeared to be massive, overhanging, and completely disconnected from the glacier except for possibly on the very far right. There was hope. We pressed on.

We reached the lake in a couple hours, and took in the scenery and scouted our route. The mosquitoes were pretty relentless, so the trick as always is to just keep moving. We started making our way around the north (right) side of the lake per TR beta. Once the trail disappeared, we ran into some trouble. 

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On the trail to Holden Lake. We had a nice breeze for much of the switchbacks and the scenery of Copper and other surrounding peaks were nice. Photo by Alin Flaidar

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Alin making his way through a forest with a grassy floor near Holden Lake. On our way back through here at night we heard something pretty large just off the trail in the bushes. Bear? Elk? Not sure. 

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Before Holden Lake I see Bonanza’s upper mountain appear in the distance for a brief moment. I take out my telephoto and zoom in on the upper bergschrund and see that it looks potentially passable on the far right. My biggest worry was that it was too late in the season to cross this, and it still wasn’t clear if it was doable.

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Arriving at Holden Lake, Alin poses while being eaten alive by mosquitoes. The brush you see across the lake to the right of Alin is Alder, and it’s super thick and really hard to get through or see past once inside. Add a swampy floor to this and you have some of the worst sustained bushwhacking I’ve experienced.

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Marmot guarding the lake. I didn’t dare try to go past him, I mean, look at that guy’s face.

HOLDEN LAKE TO HOLDEN PASS

Of the many cruxes of the climb, this was arguably the most challenging. The trail disappears shortly after you hit the lake, and you’re left to veer a bit blindly up toward Holden Pass. How do you get up there? No one seemed to have a map or good beta. We did the best we could, but were soon encased in alder trees so thick you had to muscle, claw, duck, and jump your way to move a very short distance. Add to that there were streams zig-zagging through the alder/swamp floor at every turn, some of them deep. Add to that alder trees are dirty thieves, and they’ll steal anything off your pack or body that isn’t in total lockdown. Just ask my left hiking gaiter if you ever see it in some seedy alder-sourced pawn shop.

We pressed on through one of the worst paths, but I was able to steer us hard right to escape what could’ve been a slow, mile-long, alder death (see map below). I vowed to make return route-scoping top priority upon reaching higher ground. Little did I know there isn’t any one great path to avoid all alder, and we would end up having to battle even fiercer alder in darkness the following night. 

Sometime later (much longer than I liked), we were moving across talus fields and through less threatening trees and shrubbery. I was moving significantly faster than Alin, which worried me because it was getting dark and there wasn’t much time buffer on this climb. We finally picked up a trail and were at Holden Pass just as the sun was setting. I found a drip from a snowfield where we used my filter to fill up on water. I then scouted ahead solo the path up to the glacier, which was happily fairly straightforward after ducking through some dark trees and up over a steep cliff. 

We buried ourselves in our sleeping bags, our only defense against the mosquitoes who would go for any exposed skin.

Despite being tired, I set my alarm for 11pm and got up under a full moon to take pictures, before returning to sleep. The moonlight glistened off of the waterfalls below the glacier, and a crack and thud of seracs and settling ice could be heard above. A heat wave passed through Holden pass, and I soon found myself in just shorts in my bag.

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We reached Holden Pass (6400’) just in time to see the sunset and a full moon come out over what I think is Copper Peak. Thank god because if we had to find Holden Pass from the lake in the dark, I fear our climb would be over.

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Alin staring up at the Mary Green Glacier and Bonanza’s summit from a cliff on Holden Pass at dusk.

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Despite running on 3 hours sleep, I woke myself up at 11PM Sat night to get some night shots and a time-lapse. Alin graciously loaned me his Pentax camera to get the time-lapse as I didn’t bring Canon’s external timer (stupid Canon, build it into the camera like everyone else). This is me looking up at the Mary Green Glacier, it’s waterfalls, and Bonanza’s summit block.

HOLDEN PASS TO THE MARY GREEN GLACIER

We left camp around 4pm and cruised up to the waterfalls. I found a good place to cross a fairly dangerous moat and started climbing up the 4th class waterfall ledges. At the top we took pics/video and geared up for what I thought was going to be a mild glacier. 

We lost a bit of time on the video/pics, but that’s all part of the game. I sometimes envy people who don’t even bring a camera, so much less to worry about in terms of getting compelling shots and carrying extra equipment that’s bound to fail at some point. 

On the way back these waterfalls would become very problematic as the sun disappeared and there wasn’t a clear, safe way down to the very bottom.

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Me in the morning making my way up to a moat crossing to some 4th class waterfall climbing to take the glacier. Photo by Alin Flaidar.

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Holden Pass from on top of the waterfalls, at the foot of the Mary Green Glacier (7200’).

THE MARY GREEN GLACIER CROSSING

Mary Green definitely takes a beating in mid-late July forward. Someone should call her the “Tina Turner Glacier” this time of year (too soon?). She was so tattered I was convinced early on we’d never make it across. An impressive icefall guarded the lower glacier, and the upper glacier looked like one large crevasse after another would deny passage. On top of that we were jumping crevasses with regular frequency, one jump was def. a bit sketchy due to the width.

We decided to head for a notch in the icefall and get an up-close-and-personal look at our options. Maybe a  ramp behind one of the giant, arched seracs would appear. We got there. It wouldn’t go, well not without stepping into some serious shit with the sun coming up. Giant seracs with holes and arches that called to mind icy cathedrals loomed over this section and dared us to enter.

Retreating, we then zig-zagged around the icefall finding promising, previously hidden passages with each white hill we crested. By this time I was blow away at the scale of this “little” glacier. bottomless crevasses 50 feet wide spanning hundreds or thousands of feet kept appearing. Still not certain the glacier would go, we were pretty determined to exhaust every possibility. As we headed up the steep section toward a series of 2 bergschrunds, the navigation was looking more and more doable. 

After crossing a massive crevasse at bergschrund #1 on a sketchy bridge, we headed up even steeper terrain toward bergschrund #2, which I’d seen earlier from below Holden Lake. As Alin got closer it appeared it would indeed connect to the rock. Minutes later we were taking off crampons on solid rock and putting our hard scrambling faces on (mine is sort of a cross between Duane Johnson from GI Joe: Retaliation and Jessica Tandy from Driving Miss Daisy). Excited that our worst fear of a likely un-crossable bergschrund wasn’t coming true, we were more and more convinced we’d reach the top. Crossing that bridge on the way down, however, wasn’t something I was very excited about. 

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An icefall on the Mary Green Glacier we explored passing through, before finding a way around up high. Notice the arch in the center-right, there were many of these cathedral-like arches in this extremely broken up icefall that cut across most of the glacier. Photo by Alin Flaidar.

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Alin traversing around a very deep and wide crevasse that cuts across the entire glacier. Only a 20 foot-wide snow bridge crosses it just over this hill. Stay off the right side of the snow bridge as it’s thin and undercut as we saw from above. I doubt the bridge will last another week, then you’ll have to find another way across. It may be possible to do some steep crevasse-wall climbing further toward the south peak. We brought a second ice tool just in case we had to get creative to get off the glacier or cross a bergschrund, turns out we didn’t have to use it.

ABOVE THE GLACIER, 1000’ OF SUSTAINED 4th/5th CLASS FREE SOLOING

The rock was solid down low, and overall it wasn’t bad. There were definitely loose pieces, and soloing the thing meant you can’t make a mistake or you would die, so we climbed carefully testing pieces and not putting all of our weight in one basket (metaphorically, we didn’t bring any baskets, although one full of KFC wings would’ve been nice).

The climbing was sustained, and it did get into low 5th class here and there that we didn’t feel comfortable down-climbing, which concerned me a bit. What mitigated this concern were the rap stations we kept seeing on the way up. I marked all of them on my GPS, and we used this as a guide when descending. Unfortunately they were mostly setup for people using a 50-60m double rope rap, but we tried to fix that on the way down as we had one 60m rope. 

One axe and one pair of cramps came along just in case we hit a dicey snow patch (learned that lesson on Horseshoe 2 weeks ago). We did hit one or two patches, but they were easily avoided.

I ended up leading and protecting a final pitch below the summit, although it wasn’t much different from the pitches below it. Probably just a bit chossier if anything.

When we reached the summit it was such a relief and a feeling of accomplishment I don’t often feel on peaks. It felt like we had overcome a lot of odds, and pushed ourselves responsibly on this peak and deserved to feel a bit proud. Glacier Peak to the southwest was huge, the biggest I’ve ever seen it from another peak. We could see Rainier and Baker in the distance. I had climbed all three of these previously, and I guess it was kind of nice to tag the 5th highest as well. 

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The massive overhanging chunk of snow on the upper glacier connecting to the summit block at 8500’, now fully split from the lower glacier. Thankfully on the far right the snow connects to the rock (or enough to jump). Beware of a deep moat below the lower section, and the upper looks like it needs just a good kick in order for several tons of snow and ice to fall on the lower.

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Looking down at the upper Mary Green Glacier from rap station closest to the glacier. You can see the glacier-wide crevasse cutting across with a snow bridge directly in the center. The bridge is very thin on one side and would likely collapse if weighted. The crevasse it bridges is wide and deep. We free solo’d the next 1000’ except for a mini pitch before the summit.

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From a chossy narrow ridge just before the summit, I believe this is the North side of the mountain which flanks out west. Is that Dark Mountain? I’m not sure. The Company Glacier is below.

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Summit shot of me looking out at Glacier Peak’s North-east side. I climbed Glacier Peak 3 years ago. Photo by Alin Fladair.

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Me signing the summit register which appeared to be inside an old WW2 ammunition metal box? Someone might know more about this. Photo by Alin Fladair.

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Just in time for lunch. Gu, salami, and wheat thins. Yum. No other entries from this year.

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The last entry before ours from July 29th of last year, which I believe was a significantly higher snow year. What a way to spend your birthday, certainly special.

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Alin on the summit looking out at Baker, whose North Ridge we finally conquered last month. I think of that route in the same league as Bonanza. A different set of challenges, but has some of the same intensity/higher risk factors. 

AND BACK DOWN 

After singing the register we started heading down. We decided to primarily rappel due to fatigue and some tricky down-climbing. Intermediate rap stations needed to be improvised, which honed our technique/efficiency, but about 10 or so raps later we were at the last rap station before being forced to down-climb the rest. On the way down I kept looking the gear we had stashed at the top of the glacier. It often looked so ridiculously far away I thought we’d never make it down.

There were a couple sketchy rap stations, one of which was on a smaller boulder that had been wedged into a large crack. I didn’t trust it, so I gave up a #6 DMM nut in a perfect, bomber neighboring crack and rapped off that with the boulder slings as backups. $10 is worth my life for sure. 

Now that the steep rock section was over, we still had many stages of danger and physical trials to go through to get back to Lake Chelan. Next was getting down the crevasse and bridge-ridden glacier, then the waterfalls, then getting back to the lake through the wild terrain below Holden Pass. Once we hit the Lake the only challenge would be staying awake and getting down to the dock on bikes before the heavy equipment hit the road at around 6 AM.

We handled the glacier descent pretty smoothly, except for Alin’s crampon coming off on a steeper section. A debate ensued about going back the way we came, or traversing the glacier high above Holden pass, then rappelling off a tree over a cliff to avoid the waterfalls. There was a rap station on a large boulder above the waterfalls, but it seemed sketch to me and I knew there was no way our rope would be long enough. Plus the hardest down-climbing was at the base of the waterfall. 

I relented and we went back the way we came. I had forgotten how many crevasses we jumped and weaved around…there was a lot. If we would’ve went the other way I could easily see it being blocked by large crevasses. It was getting dark, we needed to reach the base of the waterfalls before the lights went out.

We reached the top of the waterfalls and scouted descent routes. The boulder rap station indeed was too high to be useful. We filled up on much needed water and finally decided to start down-climbing, looking for rock that would take gear. The upper section’s down-climbing was easy, but the last 50 feet or so was a bit tricky, so I scoured the landscape for cracks that would take gear for a rap. We found only one rock horn in a faster moving waterfall that emptied out under a deep moat below with a lot of white water. 

Down-climbing a bit lower got steeper, wetter, and more sketchy. We were so close to getting out of the vertical danger zone we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. I was leaning toward the wet rock horn + trying to control the rap descent to avoid the sinister deep moat. Alin then spotted a ledge above across several waterfalls that appeared to go right toward the base of the cliff that emptied into more moderate terrain, just below the tree high above I wanted to rap from earlier.

This ledge worked. It added a shorter section of sketch down-climbing into a moat, but the vertical drop was much lower. We were elated to be out of that situation before the darkness really set in.

Cruising back to camp at Holden Pass, we knew the difficult route-finding through alder was coming. We also accepted we’d be descending in the dark. After packing up and unintentionally taking a 20-30 minute nap, we were off toward the lake. I knew we wanted to hug the cliffs to our left high for a long time, before passing through two fir/pine (?) section tree sections, then after hitting the 4th-5th talus crossing, head down to the lake. I also knew we couldn’t completely avoid alder, but I wanted to minimize exposure.

Alin was getting very tired and moving probably a quarter or less of my speed. I knew it was going to be trying to find the lake trail, but I knew once we did we could go on auto-pilot back to Holden Village. Once we hit alder patches I had to do a lot of convincing for us to continue. It was dark, the alder was thicker than the day before, and at times it felt literally impassable. I kept pushing through, then leaning toward the lake. I leaned too early and discovered myself on a cliff above the lake. Holding onto the alder I climbed back up and decided to go high instead (I’m a genius). Just when things looked their worse, we broke through to a clear pine/fir forest. After enjoying the fast movement, I found something resembling a trail. Then I found remains of a campfire. This was a good sign!

Before long we picked up the Holden Lake trail and were headed towards the village. Fatigue set in hard, and I found myself tipping over on the trail at times, falling asleep literally while hiking. Somehow we stayed upright all the way back to where we’d stashed our bikes at the trailhead around 4:30 AM. 11 more miles on bikes, downhill, we could manage this. I asked that through the village we don’t stop or talk to anyone. The last thing I wanted was someone telling me it was too late to use the road, I wouldn’t hear it. After going through all of that I was going to make it to the lake to catch the ferry, or die trying. The thought of staying in the village an extra day in that heat sounded miserable to me, it simply wasn’t an option in my mind.

I rode past 5-10 large rabbits, probably the largest I’ve seen. They’d stare at me in the early morning, blue light, then run away just as I passed. I thought of the film Watership Down. The bike was uncomfortable, I was cold. There were mile markers every .3 miles, and I kept saying after this mile marker I’d stop and put on my coat, or I’d stop and rest. I wanted to get far enough along where a miner couldn’t reasonably ask us to turn around. Finally at mile marker 4ish I stopped and put on my coat to curb the bitter cold wind. Alin was much more exhausted and was pretty far behind me. The tires on this little bike could not take much in terms of bumps, so I had to be super vigilant in avoiding all rocks and potholes.

I passed a miner near his truck, he was super friendly as was I. Passing a few more smaller trucks as I started down the steep switchbacks didn’t spark any incidents. I nodded at the drivers. It was approaching 6am and I picked up some speed. I didn’t know exactly when the heavy trucks would start using the road, but I knew it was soon. The switchbacks were numbered. 10, 9, 8…finally I reached 1, then the bottom, so I pulled over to wait for Alin. I fell asleep waiting, the sun started coming out , the heat was uncomfortable. Alin showed up, big trucks started making their way up the road, a speaker system blared road coordination conversations. We slept uncomfortably and set our alarm for 11:30 AM. The ferry would show up at 12:20 PM. The heat worsened, I got up and found a perfect location right by the shore, in the shade, with access to the water.

Soaking our damaged feet in the cool water, we then napped until 11:30 AM before heading around the corner to the dock. The first ferry showed up. To my surprise the bus driver was there with a van, and other Holden Village residents said that even the bus still comes down if enough people are coming in on the weekdays. I guess it just doesn’t run for non-Holden Village affiliated people. I bet you could pay the guy to pick you up on a weekday…perhaps. I wondered if that bike ride was even necessary. He was coming down there anyway in a van Monday morning, but he never offered to take us. I bet if we would’ve asked/pressed more he might of given us a ride and lessened the epic. Possibly.

Boarding the Lady of the Lake Express 30 minutes later, we immediately noticed you trade comfort and money for speed on this ferry. Fine with me, a shower and sleep was all I wanted at this point. Fields Point Landing was scorching hot. I waited with the bikes in the shade for Alin to bring the car around, then we took turns driving on the 3-hour stretch home, somehow not falling asleep. Alin must certainly be in therapy right now for post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with 1am alder bushwhacking J. That said it was a great mini-adventure, not to have been missed.

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Dying of thirst, I climb under a tenuous moat piece at the top of the glacier and wait under 3 drips to fill up Alin’s plastic water bladder. It took forever. I downed half, and gave him the other half, only to find out later find he hadn’t drank any of it 1000ft lower. Murder was contemplated :). Photo by Alin Fladair, who didn’t drink his water :).

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Making our way back over 15 miles in the dark was certainly trying. By the time we reached the unavoidable alder and were lost, Alin was done. I kept persisting and finally found our way out, not before almost falling off a cliff in a nasty alder section. Once it cleared and we were in a pine/fir forest, it felt like we were walking on a cloud.

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Feet in Lake Chelan while waiting for the Lady of the Lake Express. This …felt…good. I also had a pair of clean socks, deodorant, a clean shirt, and a tooth brush and tooth paste. Damn all of those things really put me in a good mood. I was expecting a swarm of mosquitoes eating us in the hot sun while we waited 6 hours for the ferry. Instead we found a shady camp spot with no mosquitoes and access to this sandy shore.

APPENDIX: ROUTE MAPS/DESCRIPTIONS 

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Steamboat Prow on Mt. Rainier

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Brendan on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Winthrop Glacier at about 9700ft, ‘round midnight. The Puget Sound lights up the horizon to the north. Taken with an impromptu tilt/shift version of the Canon 16-35mm lens (the left foreground and right background are in focus). Larger pic of this and a few others on my Facebook page. 

Steamboat Prow…mysterious, kind of high up…steamboat-y. Can blog entries be nominated for Pulitzer’s? 

Brendan and I made our way up there Saturday for the sole purpose of taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. Brendan hadn’t been to this side of the mountain, and when I told him it was more visually striking than the Muir-side, he spit in my face and called me a liar. That left me with one option: Pretend not to notice the spit to avoid any awkwardness, then take him up there to prove it’s a cool locale.

I also wanted to get some pics of him snowboarding in this terrain, but fear of too much weight killed that plan. Next time. Before we left the parking lot I also figured I should test my motion-controlled time-lapse dolly. I hadn’t used it in a while due to my ankle injury. Good thing I did that, I realized I forgot a power cord from my battery to the Oracle controller, rendering the whole thing useless. Testing saved me from carrying 10-15 extra pounds up around 6,000ft. of gain. I can only imagine my anger and disappointment finding that out around midnight on the side of some cliff, exhausted. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I don’t think my ankle can yet take carrying over 50 pounds. Anyway I brought my steadicam instead as I still need footage for my film project. I ended up getting some decent shots of cliff edges over large drops to the extremely broken up Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. 

Cut to us on the top of Steamboat, having ascended the Inter Glacier, which had no open crevasses up the middle…very tame. Rope/harness never came out. We passed a couple guys half-way up who were going super slow. One had a hunting pack, and I guess they had a full grill with charcoal and big steaks. We found out later his pack weighed 95 pounds! They had been carrying that pack and another 70-pound pack since midnight the night before. The whole thing was an homage to a buddy of theirs who had passed on the Emmons last year, which I thought was a really cool gesture. 

I was doing laps up and down the really sh$%tty rock between the top of Steamboat and Schurman for different shots. Climbing this 4th class terrain with awful loose rock started to get old quick. I finally setup my time-lapse halfway down and freed myself from camera responsibilities for the night. We hung out with the grill guys and watched the northern lights come out briefly. This is probably the worst location to take pictures of the aurora as there are no features and a ton of light pollution north of Steamboat. It was still cool to see them,however, and Brendan took some pics that might turn out.

I went to bed on the ground and realized that I really didn’t have enough warm clothes, so sleep quality wasn’t great. We woke up at 7am to leave. It’s always a bit surreal to wake up with a massive glaciated peak right in front of you. We painfully glissaded down the entire icy Inter Glacier. Looking back up after about 1000 feet I did notice one crevasse we narrowly avoided that spanned half the glacier. There were a couple other small ones you easily avoided by just staying in the center. Glissading the last several hundred vertical feet was fun as it started to soften and there was a glissade track. Unfortunately Brendan lost control a bit here and I barely jumped out of the way in time. He got pretty scraped up, but he’ll live (although probably not w/o nightly flashbacks and night terrors for at least the next 7 years).

I was really hoping to see a bear as they frequent this hiking route, but I’d have to be satisfied with a few sightings of bear sh$t only (one pile pretty fresh). As we shared the two beers I hid in an icy creek near the trailhead, we did get a visit from an animal I’ve never seen before. It looked like a ferret, or weasel. It cruised right up near us, stared a few times, then bolted off into the wilderness. I wish I could’ve taken a picture, but the camera was unwisely tucked away in the pack. 

Overall a great mini-trip for pics and video. I realized too late, however, my lens was broken and therefore many pics and my time-lapse were sort of ruined, but oh well…there are more adventures to come.

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Camp Schurman can be seen as a rock outcropping mid-right. Another slightly higher camp can be seen upper left. The visually spectacular surroundings resemble something out of a fantasy epic IMO, and make Camp Muir look plain by comparison. 

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Burroughs Mt. area as seen from the Inter Glacier, which despite it’s seemingly small size has a volume of .6 billion ft of ice, per Wikipedia (“actually, it’s pronounced ‘mill-e-wah-que’ which is Algonquin for “the good land.” —Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World).

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Climbers, dwarfed by the massive scale of the Emmons Glacier, return to camp late in the day. Hopefully they all brought jackets, all that ice looks kinda cold?

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The Schurman ranger hut from Steamboat Prow’s overlook. This hut boasts the worst bathroom experience I’ve ever had in my life (2 years ago when I did this route). They don’t even have a bathroom attendant or cologne samples!

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Brendan high above the Winthrop watching the sunset. Cell phone picture. 

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Self-portrait after dusk, watching climbers below prepare to summit the mountain. One week ago my understanding is that a skier fell on this route from above 13,000 and later died from his injuries (RIP). 

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Mt. Rainier lights up under the stars. The moon set behind the summit a hour or two ago.

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Brendan, Steamboat Prow, Russell Cliff, and lights from the Puget Sound to the north.

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Still photo from my compromised time-lapse which required some sketchy class 4 climbing on sh$# rock. My broken lens causes a tilt/shift effect, the left side of the frame is out of focus. Pain and disappointment were felt yesterday when I saw the results. These trips are never easy, so when I hit unexpected gear issues it can be a bit disheartening, especially when I don’t realize them until after-the-fact.

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Photo of me acting as shutter-button-pusher for Brendan’s composed self-portrait on Steamboat Prow.

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Cell phone photo of my rig on the edge the Steamboat Prow cliff several hundred feet over Schurman. I got a pretty cool time-lapse of shadows cast across the glacier as the sun set.  

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I took apart my lens to see that 2 places where the rear electronics piece screws into the lens body were broken, causing the lens to shift slightly and f-up focus. The lens gets to go back to Canon for probably the 5th time tomorrow.

Buckner and Horseshoe Mtn, North Cascades

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Linsey on the summit of Buckner Mountain, WA’s 10th highest peak (not counting Little Tahoma). Sahale, Boston, and Forbidden Peak are just ahead. Click for a larger version on my FB page.

I’m going to keep this one short as Linsey has a detailed report I hope she’ll post. The annotated map below should give you the high-level summary. Aside from stats and route beta, however, I have to say that this definitely a memorable climb as we stayed out for over 24 hours with only a short 1.5h nap literally in the dirt around 3am. We passed out on the Sahale arm as our headlamps and eye-lids gave up, but not before eating wheat thins and salami like zombies, and leaving it strewn about savagely as we curled up in the dirt. Somehow the open salami did not cause a bear to find and eat us. When I woke up shivering the next morning I thought about this picture of a grizzly taken probably right around where we passed out.

I only took a few pictures, the first being me and Linsey waiting out a fierce downpour Saturday morning while watching some Ali G. I’m glad we did because it was over in an hour and things were fairly dry for the next 6-8 hours. 

Linsey also tagged Horshoe while I belayed. Leaving our crampons/axes lower on this route caused this little climb to extend the epic nature of the whole adventure (a steep, small snow patch became the crux). We primarily did Horseshoe because Linsey is trying to climb the 100 highest peaks in WA and she’s in the sixties I think - pretty darn cool.

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Mt. Rainier - Solo - Single 8h Push - Ski Descent

Some cell phone videos I took while heading up/down the mountain, put together in what I hope is a slightly interesting way. I didn’t feel comfortable skiiing while holding a phone on the upper mountain, however.

NOTE: All pics/video are unprocessed from my cell phone.

For a while now I’ve wanted to do a) A single push from car-to-summit on Rainier, and b) a snowboard or ski descent of Rainier.

I finally did both—sort of casually—this past Sunday, adding a twist of making it a solo mission. I wasn’t going for speed—and I’m def. not in the shape I was in last year. I injured my ankle pretty badly in Oct and have only done a couple climbs since, so really I’m just glad to be climbing again.

I snowboard—not ski—so I’ve been learning by watching youtube videos and going the last 2 days at Alpental, and the last-ish 2 days at Crystal and doing laps. I bought a mountaineering ski setup because my snowboard/splitboard setup is just too heavy and not as flexible. Typically I’m carrying a ton of heavy camera gear, adding a 12-13 pound splitboard + binding + skin setup isn’t practical. After the 9th or 10th youtube video I felt like I got good enough as to not kill myself in the backcountry. I skied down a chunk of Baker and from the summit of Adams over the past month to warm up for the big daddy, Rainier.

Saturday afternoon I drove out to Paradise to get a permit before the ranger station closed. I had a solo permit from last year, but I think you have to renew each year. Anyway the young ranger couldn’t get into the computer system for solo permits, so after cursing at every computer in the place he just let me go. The guy looked really young and seemed really nice/shy, so it was kind of entertaining listening to his frustrated “fucks” and “goddamns” as he fumbled around on the keyboard.

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My route - left parking lot at ~1am, arrived at the crater rim at approx 9am. Took my time getting down (I suck at skiiing).

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Park pass I buy almost every year.

I tried to sleep in the back of my rig listening to comedy CDs from Todd Barry, Steven Wright, and Anthony Jeselnik. The comedy actually helps calm the fear and negative thoughts about doing something that sounds kind of crazy and dangerous to a lot of people (well I guess to non-climbers/mountaineers). I couldn’t sleep and almost considered bailing in self-doubt, fear, and rationalizations that Sunday would be much better spent in more casual, relaxed ways. But I knew when Sunday night came around and I hadn’t done anything truly interesting with my 4-day weekend, I’d regret it. I also knew I solo’d the route last year around this time and it was pretty straightforward. I pushed everything else down and finally fell asleep sometime around 10 PM.

Midnight arrived and I snoozed a bit more, then drove from the overnight to the to the day parking lot, right up front (I’m lazy). It felt a bit surreal putting skis on my back and walking out into the dark woods—alone—at 1AM. Feelings of fear and loneliness are contrasted with feelings of confidence and pride from conjuring up the self-motivation to try something like this. Those feelings then fade and are replaced with the sensations that go along with being out in nature, under the stars, facing a towering silhouette of rock, ice, and that sense of fleeting freedom. Those feelings dull and you’re left with the sound of your footsteps in the snow, one-thousand times. I see headlamps up near Camp Hazard on the Kautz route, a route I’d rather be on. Then ski skins against snow. Then at 8,000 ft ski crampons and skins scraping the snow. It’s getting really icy. I pass a tent. I hear two people glissading down from Muir at 3AM. I’m happy because this is strange and interesting and abnormal and other things I could’ve done are not, like watching golf or something painful like that.

I reach Muir at 4am – 3 hours with a ~15 pound pack wasn’t breaking any speed records. I did that last year with 60 pounds. Who cares, the light from the sun is coming out and I’m now on the Cowlitz skinning across a few deep, but very narrow cracks in the glacier. I didn’t grow up knowing much about mountains, skis, or any of this. It’s still very new and exciting for me and I’m really enjoying being here for the first time with barely any weight on my back to slow me down.

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Cathedral Rocks, 4:30 AM, 10,500ft.

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Top of cathedral rocks.

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In the most rockfall-prone place on the route, right before taking the Disappointment Cleaver in “the bowling alley”. People have def. died on the cleaver from rock fall.

I’m off the Cowlitz now, taking pictures and video from Cathedral Rocks, enjoying the light and colors from the approaching sunrise. I reach the top of the rock scramble and look across to the Little Tahoma, fondly recalling camping on the summit last year with my friend. Onto the Ingraham Glacier for the 7th time, and it still always makes me smile in awe at the huge crevasses and seracs falling down the mountain in slow motion with little tents on top. I remember seeing it 3-4 years ago for the first time—having not really ever seen a glacier up close—and feeling like I had been transported into a completely new world. More cell phone pics and video, then I’m jumping the largest crevasse crossing on the route (which wasn’t that large) just before the bowling alley, skis now on my back. No crampons or ice axe – the boot path is so nicely chewed up by crampons that the grip is fine. Getting onto the cleaver—once feared greatly by me—now it feels trivial. I reached the top of Disappointment Cleaver (~12,200 ft) at 6:30 AM to some blustery winds. I had eaten nothing yet, and was forcing down electrolyte-laced liquid from my camelbak. I took a 20-25 minute break here, but I was just too cold to sit still so I pressed on. I didn’t bring a lot of warm clothes on purpose because I had the intention of continuously moving and saving weight. The only food I could eat was one square of Tillamook cheese I bought at the gas station outside of Ashford.

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Sunrise behind the DC and shines on the Emmons, Ingraham, and Little Tahoma (11,200 ft).

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Emmons Glacier.

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Icefall on the Ingraham Glacier above the DC. The most interesting part of this route terrain/visual-wise. I met another French solo climber on the route who took scary fall a few minutes later in this section, but was able to grab a fixed line.

I jumped the second largest crevasse on the route around 12,500ft, then made my way through the “crux” of the route – a large icefall that is visually a bit stunning. I caved and put on crampons, traded pole for axe, just to be safe due to exposure and some uphill crevasse crossings. The route went close to the top of Gibraltar Rock, and I was tempted to actually go out on top of the rock to the very edge. There was a knife-edge ridge that looked doable, and I wondered if anyone had actually ever done that. I’m sure they have.  I’m a bit fascinated with Gibraltar Rock due to the stories about Cadaver gap, and from witnessing some humbling, giant boulders fall off of it while on the Ingraham. The most intimidating rockfall I’ve ever seen that close. I’m in awe of things I fear the most.

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Tents on Ingraham Flats.

13,000ft to the crater rim was tough, it always is for me. Half the oxygen vs. sea-level + fatigue def. slows you down a bit.  I reached the crater rim just after 9am and immediately tried to nap behind some rocks to wait for the snow to soften. The wind was cutting, and even after putting on all of my layers I couldn’t stay warm. At 10:30 AM I finally said f-it, put on the skis, and started to descend. I still had to get some “work work” done that night, so I couldn’t be back too late. 

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Crater rim 8 hours after leaving the car. After putting on all my clothing, I was still cold so I eventually headed down on rock hard snow.

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Lightweight ski boots with lightweight crampons while I try to nap—unsuccessfully—on the summit crater. I love these crampons. 

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I didn’t bring a lot of food, and I ate even less. Little Tillamook Cheese blocks and almond butter saved me, I couldn’t eat much else. 

The snow was rock hard and sun-cupped, making holding an edge close to impossible for me. Once the snow steepened and emptied into a crevasse crossing, I knew I had to climb a bit lower or die. As I descend I kept poking at the snow, waiting to get to an elevation where it would be soft enough to put the skis back on. Somewhere above 13,000 ft it seemed doable again, so I re-mounted and was off. The snow was still hard, crusty, and bumpy, and I skied it without much grace (read: I probably looked like a complete idiot to good skiers). I skied over a snow bridge on a crevasse and made it to the “crux” I mentioned earlier, which was not skiable. After climbing through that short section and jumping the route’s second biggest crevasse again, I put the skis back on and headed down the DC. It gets pretty steep here and the snow was much softer, but it still had all of those reverse-tear drop shapes that didn’t always cut nicely against my edges. It continues to get steep until it cliffs out, so I skied down the whole thing with no poles, clutching my ice axe, until the route turns to rock again about 2/3rd -3/4th the way down. I remember thinking that I should’ve practiced turning right more at Crystal, I’m not as comfortable that direction on the steep stuff. Like Dereck Zoolander I’m not an ambi-turner.

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Upper mountain, skiiing down in crappy snow that made me look like the noob I am.

Back on the lower Ingraham I meet an AAI and IMG guide. They just put in a ladder on the first largest crevasse crossing at about 11k ft. on the Ingraham. I stripped to a t-shirt as the heat was dialing up.  I walked across the ladder a couple times for novelty video, then skied down to the Cathedral Rocks, somehow avoiding falling into the comically large Ingraham crevasses and rock fall debris despite my lack of ski chops.

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Upon returning to this crevasse at 11,000ft, a ladder had been installed so I had to test it out.

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Skiiing on the flats avoiding rocks and crevasses. My Cowlitz Glacier run where the snow actually gets nice and corny was coming up.

Once I reached the Cowlitz the real fun began. I pretty much just tucked and made it across that thing in what felt like 20 seconds. Dodging rocks and cruising over crevasses too narrow to swallow me up. Easily the highlight of the trip was rocketing across this glacier! My dream of a ski decent of Rainier was finally getting really fun. The snow past camp Muir was even better. I actually felt like I knew how to ski on this snow, and I cruised down to the top of Panorama Point in no time where I immediately lost a glove messing with my pack at the creek crossing (black OR stormtracker if you find it). Once at the bottom of Panorama Point you can still ski almost to the parking lot, which is awesome because I hate walking back to the car.  I turned in my permit stub at the climbing station and headed back to the Issaquah to refuel on a Chipotle burrito.

I can’t imagine anyone read this whole thing, but anyway…it was an experience I’m still feeling a bit high on happiness and satisfaction from, even today.

Gear and stuff

Skis and hardware

La Sportiva GT Skis 184 and RT bindings (7 lb, 14oz)

Skins/crampons (~1lb for skins, 77g/crampon)

Sportiva Spitfire boots (6 lbs for the pair)

Grivel Air-tech light crampons (switched from Stubai, happy I did)

Camp Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe (~9oz)

Didn’t use cramps/axe until close to 13k.

Pack

Camp Rapid 260 backpack (awesome ski carry system that doesn’t require pack removal, I’m super lazy so this is nice, but probably also easy to build onto any pack with 2 slings and 2 biners)

Full pack w/o skis/skins and only 1 L of H20 was about 12.5 pounds. Add skis and the extra water and maybe closer to 25 lb.

Clothing

This is the first time on Rainier I brought lightweight puffy vs. a huge Denali-ish puffy. I wasn’t warm enough to take a real break on the summit, or any break on the upper mountain until after maybe 9am though.

Food

3 Tillamook cheese squares, 1 pack of Almond butter, a few packets of Gu (or the Cliff version), and a bunch of Cliff blocks, 1 Snickers, 1 Milkyway (the candy bar not the galaxy full of billions of stars).  I ate maybe a quarter of this.

Live chicken (let go in the wild around 9000 ft).

Liquid

1 liter to the river above Panorama Point, then 4 liters to the summit, bringing almost 2 back down to Ingraham Flats :S, Camelbak Elixir added for electrolytes, taste.

Camera equipment: Cell phone

Reading materials: 2 large hardcover Holy Bibles.

Above and Below

I’m sharing two photos I’ve reprocessed while still recovering from my annoying ankle injury. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to get back out in the mountains. Also I now have a Facebook page where I’ll also be posting any new creative work, like it if you want to stay in the loop: http://www.facebook.com/lukeallenhumphrey. Facebook does currently support larger images when compared to my personal site and 500px, which is nice. I plan to update my personal site to accommodate larger images, video, and social integration…at some point.

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"Midnight stroll on a quiet evening to the edge of a cliff". Sahale Mountain, North Cascades, WA. 

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"Into darkness". Cowlitz Glacier, Mt. Rainier, WA. 

The first image shows my friend Brendan and I near the edge of a cliff above our campsite, which is near Sahale’s summit. The camera is sitting on the edge of another cliff on a rock saddle that stretches toward Boston Peak and Mt. Buckner. It took some time to walk from the camera where you see the headlamp, and it began to get really dark, therefore underexposing the images once the Milky Way became visible. This resulted in either an image that was much too dark to appreciate the landscape, or an image that was far too noisy if correcting exposure in post. The reprocessing involved transplanting stars from other images to match how the Milky Way and stars were displayed here (exact overlay, no elements were added/changed), and trying some new experimental Photoshop techniques to remove more noise from the stars. I also replaced the tent with another exposure where the tent was lit more evenly (same tent, same exact location, just a different exposure from the same setup). No additional elements were added to the photo - all the elements are how they were naturally, just enhanced to work around technical issues, etc. 

If I would’ve adjusted the exposure to miss twilight and instead target the darkness that would come later, much of this post-processing may not have been necessary, but I liked the composition/colors so much I thought it was worth saving. Plus I believe all milky way photos a prone to suffer from noise due to sensor technology, so devising techniques to remove that noise goes introduce a more natural effect (your eyes don’t see “noise” per se like a camera sensor). Behind me the Aurora Borealis began to emerge and I was able to capture it via a  motion-controlled time-lapse sequence later this same night (here as many have seen).

For the second image, my friend Cecil and I set out to create an interesting image after finding we had time at Muir before a Rainier summit bid. We rappelled into this crevasse separately because we did not have two ropes long enough to do this simultaneously. The resultant image is a composite of these two separate rappels to this depth. The view/scale/distance into the crevasse/all that is unaltered. If you’ve ever hiked up to Camp Muir, you’ve been a couple hundred feet from this black hole. I dropped my 5D MKII lens cap while taking this photo and I did not hear it hit the bottom. Fear and awe stayed with me the entire time inside of this thing. Does that make me a giant baby who’s easily amused? You be the judge.