| March 12, 2018 |
KConn’s Adventure Reports from April 2017, Part One
As I mentioned in my last post, 2017 brought the realization that my wanderlust soul is most satisfied in Washington state at this time. The mountains offer a constant challenge and opportunity to travel outside of my comfort zone, and the people I’ve journeyed with are surely a reason to be grateful! I guess I officially have a shitty track record for writing about my adventures in a timely fashion. Maybe I’ll get better, but it’s always fun for me to go back and write about a trip, decide which pictures are my favorite, and relive the moments.
Unfortunately, in the case of some 2017 memories, I just couldn’t seem to write fast enough because everything changed so quickly. It doesn’t serve me to write about the details (will it ever? Still unsure of this.), but early May brought my outdoor crew and I a lot of hurt and deep contemplation about our places in the mountains. The next few posts in this wee little blog of mine will, over and over, prove how important it is to have the right people to make all journeys worth it–no matter how joyful or painful they may be.
Well, April 2017 sure was busy! From an extremely fun fail at Mt. St. Helens summit, a pond skim, tulips, and whale burps, my heart felt oh-so-full. I’m delighted to sit here today and recount these moments that mean so much to me–starting with April 1 on a beeeeeautiful day on Mt. St. Helens National Monument. I was so ready for an up-close view of the volcano…
Mount St. Helens
Length: 12.0 miles R/T
Elevation: 5,699 ft (gain), 8,634 ft (highest point)
Location: National Forest Road 83
Parking Pass/Entry Fee: Sno-Parks Permit (permit-free November 1 to March 31, so we just missed the cutoff), National Monument fee
Weather: Windy, cloudy, misty/rainy/just plain sloppy
Means of Uphill Travel: Snowshoes for me!
No April Fool’s joke here – this was one of the best days of my mountain life.
This has taken me a particular long time to write about because it’s almost impossible to describe how much this trip meant to me. I don’t know how life has been so kind to me with the company I keep. My friends Sarah and Simon (remember this trip?) brought me further into the circle of “Mountain Bastards” on a journey to Mount St. Helens! The three of us joined John and his girlfriend Shawna, plus their respective friends Robert and Laurie (known as “Tentmate” to most) on the first day of permit regulations on the volcano in an attempt to summit! (Spoiler alert: didn’t summit).
Sarah, Simon, and I met on Friday night at Lone Fir Resort in Cougar to sleep in comfortable beds en route to the Worm Flows trailhead (rather than pitch a tent in the parking lot – which in retrospect would have been much more my style). Both Sarah and I had to work on Friday, and we figured our late arrival to the parking lot wouldn’t lend itself to a good night’s rest. We also didn’t expect road redirects due to closures off I5’s Exit 22—thank goodness we had service to communicate! Sarah and I arrived quite late and were thankful we opted for comfort over adventure (seriously… that bed was so damn comfy!) and met the rest of the crew at the trailhead on Saturday morning. Our sleep initiation was slightly delayed by the visitation of a particular beetle on the wall who was not invited! Sarah was unpleasantly surprised…
We aimed for a 0530 arrival time at the trailhead, which we in the ballpark of (plus/minus 1 hour). With our bellies full of hotel coffee & instant oatmeal (for me, the two were combined, OHMYGOSH coffee/maple/brown sugar is so good), and packs (mostly) packed, we drove to Marble Mountain Sno-Park! I was definitely a bit jittery as we pulled into the parking lot being that I’d never met the other half of our crew: John & Shawna, Robert, and Laurie!
Sarah and I emerged from my Subaru to meet our fellow Mountain Bastards who “caravanned” their way from Seattle to the TH. I had never met these people before, but knew who they were immediately. John had been a legend in my mind—one of the OG in the Mountain Bastard crew. I’d seen him in photos always smiling, so I recognized his joy from the second I pulled up to the TH. I walked over and we gave each other a warm hug, as if we were old friends reuniting. Shawna and Laurie were no different – I could sense their true friendship, as they’d developed their relationship as tentmates during their OSAT course.
Our crew had communicated on Facebook messenger a bit before this trip, so we were slightly acquainted! My lonely Yakima heart was needy of snow baskets for my trekking poles, which Robert had agreed to pick up for me from the Seattle REI. I wasn’t going to be able to drive to any REI before our trip (yep, none in Yakima), so the mystery man saved the day! Per John, Yakima is God’s country, so I didn’t feel so bad. And, well, Robert just emerged from behind the ‘caravan’ asking, “WHERE’S KRISTEN?” As he waved the snow baskets in his hands, I was there ready to accept them! When I asked how much they were, he said $150. Haha, Robert… haaaaa haaaa.*
We started getting ready to go, and I was so confused where to put everything in/on my pack. Simon helped attach the shovel to the front of my 65L Osprey pack (wayyyy aggressive for a one-day “hike”/climb). I was watching everyone else layer up, as I Velcroed (is that a verb?) & zipped my eggplant purple bibs and donned my waterproof boots. Most importantly, Sarah and I contemplated which flavors of m&m’s I should include in my pack. I asked if she wanted milk, dark, or peanut m&m’s… holding up my GIGANTIC Ziploc of all combinations! While deep in contemplation, Robert held up his own pack of peanut m&m’s with a smirk of acceptance from a distance. Not bad taste, huh?
Simon lent me a pair of snowshoes for the day, which I fumbled a lot with at the trailhead. There was snow right down to the parking lot, so everyone was pretty stoked! Simon & Sarah joined me on snowshoes, John and Robert were on split boards (Robert’s first day!), Shawna traveled via skis, and Laurie had the best of both worlds: snowshoes… with a board on her back!
We started hiking through the trees in a conga line led by John, and followed by Robert, Simon, me!, Sarah, Laurie, and Shawna!
At this point, it was pretty misty out, and our bodies were producing good amount of heat so we stopped to take off some layers. Being between the trees was a blessing though, as later we got hit with more powerful sky water. Our trail meandering was jolly, as Robert and John sang, made ridiculous references, and kept the energy high. On our way up, we ran into a park ranger who checked our permits. Day one of permit season, and nobody was messing around!
Once we got into the open air, things got a little more interesting. I was now behind Robert as he awkwardly walked on his new skins, listening to John’s advice to successfully navigate around rocks. We saw a few slides, and the conditions weren’t really getting better. Allegedly, Mt. St. Helens was right above us… but we couldn’t see her! The cloud cover was as such that we couldn’t see any part of the mountain! (So much for an up-close view!)
Basically, we kept climbing, laughing, singing, quoting movies… and paused every so often to re-evaluate. I was really impressed by the way we were able to discuss the changing conditions: It’s getting rainier, is everyone dry? Do you guys feel safe? Did you see that slide – let’s stay to the right over here, watch out for that edge! Is everyone together? Let’s wait ‘til she catches up.
It really felt like we were a team. Nobody was letting egos get in the way. We made it just past the permit zone, and saw a few people climbing down. We asked if they summited, and they said no—conditions were only getting worse the further up they went. Maybe 1 or 2 people were trying for the summit, but everyone else was turning around.
Eventually, we came to the executive decision that going up just didn’t make sense. We were all getting wet (some people had water pooling in their boots), and we wouldn’t have a view anyways (why do we do it???). John was pretty crucial in making this final call, and I respected this decision wholeheartedly. Even though we still had energy to push on, it was not in our best interest. This was so powerful to me—I knew I was surrounded by accomplished climbers, and yet we were turning around on Mt. St. Helens – this has stuck with me every since! Don’t ever get too hungry for the summit, my friends! Even though our safety wasn’t entirely on the line, we weren’t exactly headed in a fantastic direction.
And so, Robert and John switched their skis to snowboards (AWESOME). Hearing the skins rip off of Robert’s splitboard for the first time was so exciting! Let ‘er ripppp!
Shawna put on her skis, and I was instantly jealous! I wanted to ski!! (I made immediate mental plans to get a backcountry setup.) Laurie opted out of putting her snowboard on (training weight!). Sarah and Simon were still on snowshoes! We all got a little jumbled on the way down, but met at various points on the descent. Robert and John led the pack on their snowboards, and my little skier heart chased them down the mountain! They’d stop every few hundred feet, pass the whiskey flask back and forth, and I’d come up running behind them JUST IN TIME for them to… close the whiskey bottle and continue down! We played this game for the whole way down, and I was hysterical. Sarah and I weaved between the boys and their shenanigans, and I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
This is the good life.
Well, I don’t think I ever got a true swig of that whiskey, but I was feeling drunk on luck to end up with this crew.
Though it wasn’t a successful summit, it was certainly a successful day. Laurie asked me on the way down when I’d summited Rainier, because I seemed in shape for it. I was flabbergasted, and started really thinking my dreams could become reality sometime. There are so many mountains to climb, and I really started feeling like I was surrounded by the people I could climb with…
Thank you, John**, Shawna, Robert, Laurie, Sarah, and Simon. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
- Singing songs and quoting the Simpsons alleviates any dismay from gross weather.
- Gore-tex is my friend, and I don’t need to spend $700 on a jacket to stay dry. I was bone-dry in my Marmot rain jacket and North Face bibs. BOOM!
- Running on snowshoes is really fun until you get to your destination and people run away with the whiskey… grumblegrumble.
- It’s not about the summits. It’s about being safe and making team decisions. Thank you for this lesson, John.
- I need to hang out with these people more.
Highlight of the Day
If climbing itself wasn’t enough, we stopped at Cougar Bar & Grill for an epic meal before heading our separate ways home. It was a wee bit chilly (no heat), but luckily our waiter also started a fire for us! Once cozied into our table, we were in for a REAL treat. In the middle of our delightful meal and conversations about sprinter vans, the disco lights turned on, and KARAOKE was initiated. A young girl got up to sing 21 Pilots for the crowd… and then our waiter/fireplace starter secretly performed his own song… from the back room? It was seriously ridiculous. The song came on, and we heard someone singing… but couldn’t see where they were. Our waiter was just lurking in the storage room, emerging intermittently, as he bashfully sang along. I wish I could remember what song it was, but holy cow was it hilarious.
I seriously felt sad when we said goodbye. Would I ever see these people again?! WHEN?!? I know good people when I meet them, and I knew these people were the kinds I’d like to keep around a while longer…
What a day. Can’t believe it’ll be a year since I met these lovely humans soon, but I will forever be grateful for memories like these. <3
*I still owe Robert $150 for the snow baskets 🙂
**Thank you, and we miss you, truly.