Monday, April 26, 2010

Climbers Clinic - Mt. Hood April 17th, 2010

Many of us had been looking forward to our Climbers Clinic ever since we joined the Reach The Summit program few months ago. We had been doing lots of training since then but this was the first time we had a chance to interact with the guides from the Timberline Mountain Guides and to do some mountaineering stuff! We gathered today in a conference room at the historic Timberline Lodge to meet up with the guides who would be instructing us on the basic mountaineering skills.

In the email distributed prior to the clinic, they told us to bring all the gear we have so far that we would use on our actual climb. And everything we brought. I had a 65 litter pack but I ended up using every cubic centimeters of it to fit all the gear in it:

• Backpack - Osprey Atmos 65
• Pack cover - Gregory
• Sleeping bag - Mont Bell UL Super Stretch #1 (15 degrees F)
• Sleeping pad - Therm-A-Rest Toughskin Regular
• Balaclava - Fleece
• Fleece hat - Mountain Hardware
• 3 pairs of Gloves - Heavy warm gloves, Medium weight fleece gloves, and a glove liner
• Snow shovel - Black Diamond D7
• Ice Axe, 70cm - REI (made by Grivel), rented from REI
• Crampons - 12 points, semi flexible, stepin type with horizontal front points, rented from REI
• Climbing helmet - Petzl Ecrin Roc, rented from REI
• Map
• Compass
• Knife
• Small shovel for digging cat holes, etc.
• TP
• A small baggy containing odds and ends such as batteries, band-aids, accessory cords, matches, a lighter, mole skins, an emergency "blanket", a pen and a waterproof pad, etc.
• Packable towel - MSR
• A flask of whiskey
• First aid kit
• A bag of food
• Small cooking pot - Snow Peak titanium
• Insulated mug/cup
• Stove - Brunton
• Stove fuel
• 2 1q containers of water
• Extra cloths, long underwear (top and bottom), underwear, pants
• Outer shells - REI rain pants and Columbia jacket
• Warm insulating jacket: Columbia down jacket - borrowed from Jennifer today
• An assortment of carabiners
• Climbing harness - Black Diamond Blizzard
• An Assortment of runners/slings - 5 singles, 3 doubles, and 2 triples made of 1" webbings
• Prusik cords made of 7mm accessory cords
• Pulley
• Head lamp
• Waterproof notepad & pencil
• Glacier glasses
• Snow goggles
• Fire starter

I'm sure I missed few things but the total weight came to about 45 pounds or so. On the actual day of climb, after adding food, pieces of tents, etc., it might top 55lbs.

As we settled in the conference room, Mat was the first guide to introduce himself and talk to us. He had been a mountain guide for about ten years and he had been volunteering every year for the Reach The Summit program to train and guide the climbers. Soon, Joe, the guide who would be guiding my group climbing Mt. Adams, joined us.

Joe started by laying out few of the concepts that went into mountaineering. One reason why I have enjoyed mountaineering, I think, is because it requires the thought processes that are very similar to those in aviation (I'm a professional pilot by trade.) That might sound complicated but it really isn't. To me, the issue is pretty simple whether I'm climbing a mountain or flying an airplane, though it takes practice to get in a habit of thinking in this term - it is all about not getting yourself cornered into a situation you cannot get out of and making sure that you always have a way out (preferably more than one, actually.) I really enjoy putting together all the elements that goes into climbing mountains, from the initial planning to the actual climb and the descent. Not to mention the Plan Bs.

For example, Joe stressed the importance of keeping the exposure low while maintaining the control high when we are on the mountain. And that in fact it would be one of the guides' primary roles on our trips. The topic of conserving energy in order to maintain high level of reserve was another one. He pointed out the differences between cycling with his friends and climbing mountains with his friends as an example. When bicycling, Joe would go fast uphill so that he could savor the sight of the pain in his friend's face struggling to keep up with him. However, on the mountains, it would be the opposite extreme. On the mountains, he would like to make sure that his climbing partners are well taken care of so that they would be able to take care of him as well.

He talked a little about the equipment unique to mountaineering such as helmets, ice axes, crampons, and mountaineering boots, emphasizing particularly the importance of being cognizant of the sharp parts that could cause injuries if one was not being careful, like sitting on the pack with the crampons strapped on it. He also showed us how to carry the ice axes on our packs, a trick on how to carry the crampons, etc.

Then it was time for Jennifer to split us into three groups. Joe led the group that would be climbing Mt. Adams plus Charles who would be climbing Mt. Hood. Jennifer took the "girl power" group's helm. And Mat took charge of the rest. Once this task was completed, it was time to have our gear inspected by our respective leaders.

When my turn came, I dumped everything out on the floor and Joe looked at them one by one. He seemed mostly happy with what I had. Particularly my whiskey flask. About the only thing he mentioned was that I would not need to bring any of my webbings, pullies, carabiners, Prusik cords, etc. as each guide would be carrying a set. However, he also left it kind of up to me. I have not decided yet but I think I will probably carry a minimal set of things at least anyway. It's sort of a security blanket thing for me - I remember there were more than one occasions in my past when I wished I had certain equipment with me that I didn't take with me. They wouldn't do any good just hanging in my closet for sure. Joe also showed me how to tie cords and webbings into small bundles to keep them from flapping around in the wind.

Once our gear inspections were complete, we put on our plastic mountaineering boots and headed out to meet back up by the training ground. I remember when plastic boots were just starting to become popular in Japan. The first double mountaineering boots I had had leather outer shell, actually. Plastic boots are well suited for snow/glacier travels in very cold temperatures as they are very stiff soled and your digits would be well preserved in the dry, toasty warm inner boots. They are not particularly suited for more technical stuff like trips involving rock/ice climbing because they do not give you very good feels for what's underneath your feet. It kind of feels like you're walking around in ski boots actually. On such occasions, leather or synthetic single boots typically work better. If you need warm boots for technical trips, nowadays you can actually find boots that are compromise between the plastic and the leather/synthetic kinds.

We marched out to the bottom of a small gully next to the Timberline Lodge's overflow parking lot where we could practice safely. The snow was very soft, loose and heavy as my thermometer was threatening to shoot past 60 degrees. Joe had explained to us earlier what boot penetration meant, which basically was the measurements of how far your boot would sink into snow as you put your full weight on your foot each step. The boot penetration was probably nearly two feet or so in some sections.

From there on, we spent few hours learning and practicing various basic steps that are used in mountaineering such as kick steps, duck steps, traversing, climbing/descending in balance, plunge steps, etc. Mushy snow made it more difficult but the conditions in the warmer section of our actual climb probably is going to be similar anyway.

Now that we knew how to maneuver in snow, we strapped on our crampons to try some of the same steps we just learned. It felt much more secure as my feet would not slide each time I took a step. I was thankful that our crampons came with antiballing plates that prevented snow from sticking to the bottom our feet. Without them we would have been turning into a bunch of snow balls ourselves in a condition like this.

Then it was time to play with our ice axes. Joe explained what each part was and how it worked. He demonstrated the two ways to hold the head, the self belay mode and the self arrest mode. There were two schools of thoughts in general as to the uses of leashes on them. One was that a leash would prevent you from loosing the ice axe in the mountain and also it could function as a self belay clipped into your harness. The draw backs were that the ice axe could become a hazard in the event of a fall if you lose the grip on it and also that it could become a source of entanglement as we switched hands back and forth while roped. In general, I guess it's a judgement call but, as a matter of the Timberline Mountain Guides' policy, we were told not to use our leashes on our ice axes. Once again, we practiced climbing, descending and traversing using the steps we have learned already with our ice axes held in the cane position and the stake position.

Now the last item on our syllabus for the day. With Josh, Marty, and Heather's help, Joe briefly demonstrated how we might be climbing roped up together on the mountains. Joe showed us the equipment such as the rope and the carabiners and how they worked. Once Josh, Marty and Heather strapped themselves up in their harnesses, they tied into the rope with Joe in the lead to demonstrate how a group of climbers would proceed without belay, with running belays, or with a quick belay. In the middle of all that, a dog showed up from nowhere and poked his head over the edge of the practice slope, obviously amused by the sight of people tied to a rope for a change..

Next week, we will be coming back to the foothill of Mt. Hood on the east side of the mountain this time to get more experience in climbing in snow. With a little cooperation from the weather, we might even get a closer look at the top half of Mt. Hood where many of us will be climbing in a couple of months. Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

7th Training Hike - Dog Mountain

Now that my taxes have been signed, sealed and delivered, I can get back to more important stuff now!

Much anticipated Dog Mountain hike took place in wonderful gentle sunny weather with the temperature starting in the mid 50s in the morning. Many of us looked forward to this hike because of its reputation for the views from the top that any photographer would die for.

Once again, with my pack loaded to 35lbs, I joined the intermediate group led by our training leader, Kelly. From the large parking area, the trail began steeply. In several minutes into the hike, I tried to take a sip of water from my hydration tube when I realized that there was no water coming out! I thought perhaps the mouth piece was malfunctioning so I dug out the spare mouth piece and replaced it during our gear check break. Ugh, still no water!! Luckily the problem was pretty simple - somehow the tube got twisted when I put it in my back pack the night before. Thank goodness!! Though I had another bladder of water in my pack as a weight, it would have been a major hassle if I had to use that.

After gaining about 700' already in the first 1/2 mile, we came to a fork in the trail. There was a Roadrunner cartoon style sign post with two planks of wood nailed to it. One read "More difficult" that pointed to the left, and the other "Less difficult" etched on to it. Both trails before us would lead to the top after 2850 ft of elevation gain. On normal hikes, your choice would be dictated by whether you liked pain in your lungs better than in your knees or vice versa.

On any Reach The Summit hike, there was only one choice for us by default. The left fork climbed steeply up the northern flank of the mountain (the brown dotted line) with only few brief, relatively flatter sections. Though I felt like my level of fitness has regressed somewhat in the past couple of weeks as I had not been able to do much of physical exercises during that time due to some family stuff going on, I was actually surprised by how quickly we ascended this steep mountain.

After an hour and fifteen minutes or so of pounding this wickedly steep trail, we were already popping out of the woods and were rewarded by the incredible panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge as we emerged into the summit meadows. In fact, the view was so amazing to the point of distraction that I really had to remind myself from time to time to bring my focus back to the task of climbing at hand. At this point, we had only another 500' in elevation to go to get to the summit.

We enjoyed our lunch sitting near a small patch of snow. Mt. Hood (left) was showing off its gnarly summit blanketed in clouds behind the Gorge. Mt. St. Helens (right) was probably the most prominent of all - even though its east half had been blown off by its last eruption, it exerted its massive presence. I almost missed Mt. Adams (left) as it was sort of hidden behind the trees from where we were sitting. I couldn't wait to set my foot on it this August!

Mercifully, we descended via the "Less difficult" route that took us to the east side of the mountain that was supposed to give us a little break from having to jack hammer the dirt with our poor knees. Notice I said "was supposed to". As tough as going up was on our quads, going down was torturous to say the least. But it's true, though, that the most important part of climbing is the going down part. I was at one of the REI's seminar, "Climbing the Cascades," last night and the guy who threw the talk put it best: "The best place to be on any mountaineering trip is the parking lot."

This weekend, we are going to have tons of fun at Mt. Hood!! The guides from the Timberline Mountain Guides, who are volunteering to provide us with the technical training and guide services, are going to spend all day giving us instructions on basic mountaineering techniques. Stay tuned!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Early Bird Special Contest Winner

And the Winner Is.... Click Here

Friday, April 2, 2010

non-RTS Training Hike - Saddle Mountain

April 2nd, 2010

Today's training hike to Saddle Mountain was postponed to 4/5 (Mon) due to hazardous weather in the area.

Stay tuned!!

April 5th, 2010

WOW, what a hike we had today!!! I was really itching to do something since I had not had a chance to hike at all for the past couple of weeks due a series of family events. On top of that, our postponing this hike due to the storm this past Friday had added to my itch like poison oak rubbing on already a raw spot.

Geoff, Charles and I met up at Target at the usual time this morning to hike Saddle Mountain. It was raining lightly when we left the Target's parking lot about 8am or so. The trail head was located about 10 miles inland from the coast near the highway 26 that ran westward from Portland. We started to see some traces of snow on the ground just as I made a remark about how we were lucky that we did not to see any snow when we were passing the 1,000' elevation marker. After driving for about an hour, we turned off onto a paved road that took us north for about another 7 miles to the trail head. After about a half way into this road, an awesome view of Saddle Mountain all of sudden appeared through the beautiful evergreen trees as we came around a curve in the road. We were the only ones in the parking lot.

So the plan was sort of to follow the regular regiment, i.e. to take a gear check break after the first 20 minutes and a break every 45 minutes or so thereafter. All three of us were dressed in layers with full rain garments that gave us protections from the elements. The trail on Saddle Mountain stretched only about 2.5 miles to the top but it gained respectable 1,700' in elevation altogether.

It was amazing how much I could go out of shape in a matter of a couple weeks though. I struggled to maintain a decent pace until we took our gear check break. But then it got much easier from there on. I guess my body needed a little jump start to get going again.

We started to see gradual increase in snow accumulation as we ascended through the wood. Little did we know that we were about to walk into a blizzard and near white out condition as we got above the tree line. The wind was blowing furiously up the side of the mountain and the trail had completely disappeared under two feet of snow in front of us. We could barely make out where it used to be.

We were at the decision point. After few minutes of observing and discussing, we decided to proceed another few hundred feet or so to see if the condition on the other side of this section would be better, or at least good enough to go further. Don't ask us why but there we went.

Where were the goggles when we needed them anyway?? We might as well have stuck our heads in front of a sand blaster actually. The wind mercilessly drove ice pellets into us like machine guns. Any exposed portion of our skin got thoroughly exfoliated in the process and, by the time we got to the other side of this section and took refuge behind a lone evergreen tree, there was no doubt in our minds that we were at the end of our little adventure for the day. Not to mention the fact that we were starting to follow a false trail (right) that led off a cliff. Great!!

After a few Kodak moments taking pictures of each other for the record, we turned around and reversed our direction to trace our foot prints back to the beginning of this section where the trees would give us some protection. To our amazement, our foot prints were almost completely gone. They had been blown over by the wind and snow to the point where we could barely see them in a matter of five to ten minutes. We proceeded step by step VERY CAREFULLY so as not to end up sliding down into an oblivion.

Even after we were back under the trees' protection, snow had accumulated as much as about a foot or so on the trail and we had to be very cautious about our footings on our descent. But the sights were gorgeous in sort of surreal ways. On one of the sections, the snow covered tree branches formed a tunnel like path for us to walk through. I had always loved hiking in snow despite its unique challenges. About a half way down the mountain, we saw another set of foot prints leading down the trail. There must have been somebody set off on a hike but decided to turn around and go back. Smart!

I had always wanted to check out Camp 18 Restaurant on highway 26 which had a lot of memorabilia from the old days in the logging industry on display in a log cabin style structure. I finally got my chance on our way back when we stopped there for a lunch. We were in awe of the purely enormous sizes of everything, such as the chain saws that were at least 10 feet in length with handles on both ends, the bar counter downstairs made of a wood slab at least two feet thick and twenty feet long, and the front register carved out of a tree stump several feet in diameter. Pretty cool.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Climbers ascend Mount Hood in memory of woman

This article appeared on a Butte, MT paper on 3/9/10. (Click here for the link to the article.)

In 2005, Cathy Davis was a healthy wife and mother, a Boeing employee who had recently been promoted to a new position in China.

The wife of Butte resident Tom Davis, Cathy ate healthy, exercised and never smoked. And she never suspected the nagging back pain she suffered could be lung cancer.

But four months later, Davis fell victim to one of the deadliest cancers in the country, one which killed more than 160,000 Americans last year.

"It really came out of nowhere," said Tom Davis, a 1984 graduate of Butte Central, in a phone interview with The Montana Standard. "By the time Cathy knew she had it, it was too late." Tom and Cathy met at Carroll College in Helena, where she was a star athlete. They moved to Oregon, then Seattle and then to Beijing. It was there that she got sick.

For Tom it was a tough introduction to the disease, one that carries a taboo when it comes to fundraising and research efforts.

"There is this feeling like you did it to yourself, or it's your fault if you have lung cancer. Cathy never did anything, she never smoked, she ate healthy, she was very active," said Tom.

It's in memory of people like Cathy that the American Lung Association started its "Reach the Summit" program, which trains people in mountain climbing. The program includes guided trips to the summit of Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Adams in Washington State, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, and summits in Ecuador, including the Cayambe volcano. The climbers all raise money for the association.

Patty Unfred, of Oregon, Cathy's sister, ascended Mount Hood in 2008 as a way to honor and stay connected to her sister.

"It's hard to make sense of this kind of stuff," said Unfred. "This was a way for me to feel close to her." It wasn't something that she could imagine herself doing.

"Cathy was the athlete, not me," Unfred said with a laugh.

But she persevered with the help of her climbing group, and since conquering Mount Hood she's been motivated to continue the sport on her own.

"It really inspired me," said Unfred. "It's become a passion of mine." Alison James, Helena, development manager for the lung association's Montana and Wyoming branch, said they are still looking for people to take part in the program.

"It's a really cool adventure," said James. "Most people who join with us have never climbed before, and we will be doing a lot of training as a group." The climbs occur from June through December. The climbers are asked to raise money to take part, from $3,000 for Mount Hood to $10,000 for the South America trip.