Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ah Memories... (Now with 80% more pictures!)

I promised / foreshadowed / presupposed earlier that I would post an entry with the story behind the background image. The shot is a nice perspective of the slope on the Flying Dutchman avalanche path on the west side of the San Fransisco Peaks, here in Flagstaff, AZ. Yes, you heard correct, there are in fact avalanches in the peaks that nestle the AZ Snowbowl ski resort -- I know, weird for Arizona, right? In the photo, I'm looking up towards my Honeywell cubemate Jon. I couldn't have asked for a better engineering cubemate by the way; the fella practically eats and breathes the outdoors. After a few tosses of the idea of climbing Humphreys in the snow, he finally decided to bite and we set off for the northern AZ country.

Mt. Humphreys sat image - Dutchman Glade route

Now if I were to ask anyone what time of year this trip was taken, I doubt any answers would be May. Indeed, what a wonderful wet winter we had! Snowbowl was open for skiing far beyond the typical spring break cramming of final runs on the withering slopes. This past winter we had winter storms through April and the Peaks received record amounts of snow. When the ski lifts finally closed for the season, Jon and I waxed poetic on the fact that there was still so much snow and ice sitting up there... unused. Well, I knew better -- there's actually a small sect of backcountry folk that get their jollies strictly out of bounds in the thick woods and avalanche clearings up in the Kachina Wilderness. At some point, our jealousy boiled over from reading enough about all the latest runs down the various avi paths, skinning up the ridges, split-boarding down the upper bowl, that we decided to head up on our own.

Friday night, May 7, Jon and I meet on a parking garage roof at the university around midnight (a place where I had elected would be a better spot to catch some z's for a couple hours since my new roommate at the time was being himself: half-naked, tearing through the house, slurring random phrases with two bottles of Hennessy in his hands -- another story for another time... maybe). Even though downtown Tempe is a lil' quieter than the house, with all the police sirens and all, I still don't sleep a wink. Jon finally calls at midnight-ish and is ready to go (I don't think he slept at all either). Once he arrives, we make a shady exchange of gear from my trunk to his. Now before we can speed off, [sure enough] an unmarked homeland security agent rolls up in his black crown vic with black tint and inquires about our "dealings". We explain to him that we're not drug dealers, but instead we are going to hike in the snow up north. We show him our ice axes and snow shoes and he rolls his eyes at our strange story, half confused. With a good luck from him we set off on our drive into the dark of night...
. . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Test-driving gear with a weekend camping trip!

Well, it had to happen at some point... I'm sick as a dog. I've been eagerly trying to push this lil' bug out of me for the past two weeks and it feels as though it has its own timetable. There goes marathon training; there goes my mileage for the week; hopefully I still have somewhat of a decent base to get back into it. I've felt pretty crummy since last week, and I think the weekend up in the chilly pine trees was enough to set me back. Boohoo, right? Hehe, anyways, that allows me some time to get back to this work-in-progress.

On the gear front, I've been holding steady to grabbing some good deals on new and slightly-used gear. Since I first started a couple years back, I have kept track of every little purchase from REI, ebay, or the likes to track my effective savings percentage. It helps that I've been patient enough to wait for the big seasonal clearance sales to snatch up some decently-priced items. Up to date, I have managed to save 30.29% on average across the board... which leaves me some extra WAM (walking-around money) to take out my sweet lady now and then. I'm sure she appreciates that! ;-)

Sierra Trading Post
Oregon Mountain Community
and most importantly:
REI and REI-Outlet

I can't even begin to recount the number of rei deal-of-the-days I've jumped in on. They're usually pretty solid if you're looking to snatch up random items to complete your arsenal. And if sizing, style, function doesn't work out, they ALWAYS take it back -- such a wonderful policy. For me, this new adventure is pegged on acquiring reliable, safe, quality gear for my arsenal. I'm not only looking to acquire the essentials to ensure a successful Rainier climb, but to get some good use out of the stuff, locally in our 12,000' Arizona mountains and maybe Colorado, if we (the sweet lady and I) ever happen to end up there. It's been really nice, not having to rush any purchases and hold out for only the best deals.
On a side note, I now have two pairs, yes two pairs, of crampons... so anyone who is willing to try a few Humphreys ascents with me this winter is good to go! Anyone?... Anyone?... :::crickets:::: Bueler?... Speaking of Humphreys, they received their first dumping of snow for the season, which is likely to melt off before I can finish this sentence, but hey, at least it's finally starting to become that time of year! Man, do I love winter!... says the Phoenician who has never shoveled snow in his life or spent an hour trying to defrost the car in the morning for work. Yeah, Yeah :-D
Recently, we took a fun trip with some friends up to the Mogollon Rim up in the high-country. It's a nice 2.5 hr drive from the bowels of sunny Phoenix to reach the crisp mountain air. Leading up to the trip, we were all concerned with how the weather was going to play out, with estimates of heavy rain, thunderstorms and well-below averages in temps. I, on the other hand, was kind of excited, since I had just received my new allotment of shell clothing -- this would be the perfect time to actually test drive the goods in the high-30's, low-40's range. I was able to test the Mountain Hardware soft shell, which worked perfect. I was able to sweat in it while chopping firewood without any resulting chills when I was hanging out afterward. I even slept in it one night while in my +20 degree bag, which also performed well -- unfortunately, I'll be needing something a lil' warmer for Camp Muir and especially the night on the glacier itself, but I can honestly recommend the REI down bags.

Prior to leaving town, I also scored another good deal on an insulated, inflatable sleeping pad. I had some serious doubts in their claims, but apparently the insulation R-value is 6... which is nuts for airpads (to put into perspective, most of the other inflatable pads are in the 2-3 range). The Exped SynMat 9 collapses down to small coffee-can size, isn't too heavy, and at 80 bucks I had to jump on that (well, softly, as not to puncture it). My lady liked it enough that I went ahead and reserved one for her too -- they sold out pretty quickly thereafter.

Here are a few snaps from our weekend away...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some perspective on Mt. Rainier...

Here are a few routes along the eastern face...

I will be climbing via the Muir Route, a 3-day climb with 2 nights on the mountain, essentially passing through Camp Muir at around 10,000 ft. To get to Camp Muir from the Paradise Trailhead at the south, we'll likely be ascending the Skyline Trail (in green) until it intersects with Pebble Creek. Once we hit the snow field, there is no 'established trail' and the route becomes more dynamic. We'll head straight up the Muir Snowfield for about 3,000 ft until reaching the rock out-cropping known as Camp Muir; this is merely day one. The next day, we'll set out across Cowlitz Glacier until reaching the next major dividing landmark known as Cathedral Gap. Night two will consist of tents placed somewhere in the vicinity of Ingraham Flats, a relatively 'flat' spot on the Ingraham Glacier. Camp will of course be set up only after a methodical inspection for hidden crevasses has been conducted - this usually consists of a roped-in member probing the snow with his ice axe and then marking the safe territory. Finally summit day starts bright and early at midnight-ish, with another 5-6 hours of steady climbing over to Disappointment Cleaver and up the remaining terrain of the Ingraham Glacier to the Columbia Crest via the Ingraham Headwall or DC variation. Finally, after traversing the crater to the high point at 14,411 ft, we'll make the slow but high-spirited descent in reverse, back through high camp to tear down, then to Camp Muir and finally down the snowfield to Paradise.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Settled on Climb Date & Expedition Group!

I have been considering a few different guide groups to climb Rainier with including Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI), Alpine Ascents International (AAI), and International Mountain Guides (IMG), to name a few. I believe I have narrowed my final choice down to Alpine Ascents. I spoke with one of their reps yesterday over the phone and had an awesome conversation. One of the biggest sellers about their group is that on the second day, they go beyond the usual camping spot of Camp Muir and pitch tents higher up at Ingraham Flats (a flatter section before the last 5-hour ascent up Ingraham Glacier. This means that on summit day, even though the start time is just past midnight, they start about 2 hours in front of the other groups, essentially ensuring the first shot at the summit at sunrise.

In the mean time, I have been keeping track of some data for next summer regarding sun and moon phases. For anyone who can't nerd out for a few minutes, I implore you to skip over this lil' entry. Without really knowing how to best narrow down my choices for the climb date, I reached inside my inner-geek self and got down to the minutes, start and end times of the moon and sun patterns for next year. Behold, my plot of sun and moon patterns for Paradise, WA, Summer 2011:

Sun and Moon Patterns - Summer 2011
Now in selecting a date, I figured I would want to climb mid-season when there is still a good amount of snow and the days are longer. Next, I factored in the phase of the moon. Since the final summit day begins at midnight, I am looking for a date when the moon is near full. Now I'm sure we'll still use headlamps, but hiking in full-moonlight is something to be treasured -- In my past endeavors, I've usually gotten by with only the bright moonlight illuminating the trail and the experience is nothing short of awesome! Now comes the trade off. Being out on the south-east side of the mountain, shielded from the major cities, how awesome would it be to have a pitch-black sky so that all the painted clusters of stars can be seen in their complex beauty? That narrows it down to selecting a date that has a waning moon, so that it rises later in the night, allowing for some stargazing just after sunset (which would likely only be possible on the first night, since the sun sets at about 9pm. Now I'm looking for a waning gibbous moon that rises at about 11pm... May 18, June 17, and July 19. Of those dates, June 17 actually occurs on Friday, which works out perfect for a weekend trip that minimizes the deep cut into my two weeks of allotted vacation time for work (ugh).

With that, I think I'm all set to shoot for a June 17-19th climb date. I submitted my paperwork last night to AAI and hopefully I hear back soon :-).


Oct 4, 2010 Update: 
 Yep! Just got my approval packet via email! I shall officially be climbing with Alpine Ascents next June. Hooray :-D. I know I'm foolish in even trying but... any takers?? ::::crickets::::... Didn't think so. I'll have to go bug my cubemate at work ;-) Cheers!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A few words...

An excerpt from AA's Rainier packet...

"Here are some facts about Mount Rainier. Its height is 14,410 feet, making it the fourth highest mountain in the continental United States. Its glaciers hold more snow and ice than the twelve other Cascade volcanoes combined. About two million people visit the mountain every year. In that same year, ten thousand attempt to climb it and a little more than half succeed.
Those are the facts. They don’t begin to tell the story.

Mount Rainier occupies a unique place in the culture and lore of the Pacific Northwest. People here develop a personal relationship with the mountain. They call it “my mountain” and when it shrugs off its misty shroud they say “the mountain is out.” People who have lived in the Northwest all their lives still stop and stare when Rainier reveals itself. The moment crackles with the thrill of nature being caught unaware, like seeing an eagle snatch a sockeye from Puget Sound. Mount Rainier is at once the most public symbol of the Pacific Northwest and its most sacred private icon. We look at Rainier and feel love for a mountain. It inspires in us a feeling akin to spiritual awe: reverence, adoration, humility."
- Bruce Barcott