Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Night Hike Training May 15th, 2010

This was another one of our big training events that we looked forward to. It was not so much about training for fitness but more about getting used to doing things in the dark under our headlamps such as doing gear checks, putting on/off the crampons, adjusting the boots, etc., since we will be summitting under similar conditions on our actual climbs. Tonight, we would start our "simulated" climb from the Timberline Lodge and go up about 1,500' to a mountaineering hut called Silcox Hut where we would turn around and come back down.

Some of us had decided to go up to the Timberline Lodge early to get few hours of naps in before the hike. By the time I finished work and managed to get on the road, it was already past 4pm and the traffic on the freeway had already come to an agonizingly slow crawl. It took me over two hours to get to the lodge where an hour would usually be enough. Though the plan was to join everybody at 6pm to have a dinner with them before the nap, this obviously was not going to happen at this point. So I decided that I would stop at Ice Axe, a beer and burger joint in the area, where I had a $12 Philly sandwich, fries and a glass of ice tea to wash them down.

When I got up to the Timberline Lodge's parking lot, the one end of its overnight parking section was lined with cars with climbers in them getting some Zs already. I was somewhat surprised by the number of cars but I probably shouldn't have considering Mt. Hood was the second most climbed mountain in the world (the first was Mt. Fuji in Japan.) I backed my car into an open parking space, made sure it was in gear so that it wouldn't start rolling by accident while I'm sleeping in it, and hopped out of it to go use the facility in the lodge.

As I was walking up the inclined parking lot, I saw Marty and Kristen coming down from the lodge to their car. The weather was crystal clear that night and the visibility was unlimited in all directions. I saw Mt. Jefferson to the south and Mt. Hood looked a lot bigger than usual.

Now the challenge was to create a little nook in my car where I would be able to unroll my sleeping bag and pad, not to mention myself. If you've ridden in a Jeep Liberty before, you probably can see how awkward this arrangement would be. The fact that I had so much junk in my car didn't help either. I folded down one of the rear seats' seat backs so that it would make a small area that somewhat resembled a reclining hospital bed, except that it was only about 5' long. However, once I got settled into my sleeping bag, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact it was surprisingly comfortable even though I was having to curl up in a fetus position in order to fit in the space I just created. Geoff, a friend I met through Reach The Summit program, was also pulling up next to my car as I was fussing with my napping space.

"Quack, quack quack! Quack, quack, quack! Quack, quack, quack! ..." My alarm clock was already... well... quacking. It didn't feel like I fell asleep at all but I must have - two hours went by as if it was merely 15 minutes. In an hour or so, we were to meet up with the rest of the climbers in the climber registration area and start our climb around midnight. Where's the nearest bathroom anyway??

After nursing a hot cup of strong Earl Grey, I was all decked out in mountaineering gear and ready to start the hike. We split into three different groups as usual but, this time, there was no particular category, such as a fast group, an intermediate group or an "endurance group" since it was going to be fairly a short hike. Once we completed this process, we headed out to the Timberline Trail that stretched pretty much straight up from there to Silcox Hut. In 10 minutes or so, we stopped to check our gear and to strap on our crampons. The temperature outside was a bit high at around 50 degrees and the snow felt heavy and mushy under our feet.

Then the usual and familiar slog started. Step by step we started our way up the foothill of Mt. Hood. There were lots of other groups on the trail as well. All probably aiming to summit. At one of our breaks, we turned off our torches to look up and admired the dizzying display of stars in the new moon. I wish I could have taken pictures of them but they wouldn't even resemble any sort of justice anyway.

The major difference between the training hikes we had been doing and this hike was that the snow was so soft and mushy that it was sort of like walking on the beach. The fact that the snowcats had been chewing up the trail earlier didn't exactly help either. We also stopped as often as necessary to practice making adjustments to our plastic mountaineering boots. I think almost all of us hated the plastic boots because it felt much like walking around in ski boots. Not that we had much other choices.

By the time we reached the level slightly above the Silcox Hut, we were roughly around 7,000 in elevation where we turned around and started going down. The gradient of the slope seemed to significantly increase from that point on and many of the groups continuing higher were putting their harnesses on to be ready for their eventual roped traveling.

Going down was much rougher than climbing up. The snow was completely chewed up by then by both the foot traffic and the snowcats making it difficult to make any step even close to decent. Mercifully, it took only about an hour or so to make our way down to the Timberline Lodge. By then, I was ready to head home and to squeeze in few hours of Zs before I had to head back out for the volunteer activities I promised to attend that day. What a hike!!

As if this was not enough this weekend, our next hike is scheduled tomorrow, a day after this night hike, at Nesmith Point in the Columbia River Gorge. This will be our longest and toughest hike yet with the vertical elevation gain of 3,800 over a distance of 10 miles round trip. Stay tuned!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

10th Training Hike - Dog Mountain May 8th, 2010

The location for this lung and quad burning session was changed to Dog Mountain due to the winter like condition in the Mt. Hood area.

Under the crystal clear sky that would warm us up in its 70 degrees air today, we sucked it up and started pounding the trail that launched steeply via a series of switch backs until we reached a split in the trail where, once again, it offered us a choice between "More Difficult" and "Less Difficult." At glance, it would be somewhat deceiving to first-timers as the "More Difficult" trail continued from that point with a short flat section while the other one climbed on. I'm sure you can guess by now which way we went.

Jason led my group, the intermediate group, with good spirit. From the beginning, he did a great job of reminding us about the abundance of poison oak on both sides of the trail whenever we made brief stops to adjust our gear, etc. We were also very wary of any dog dragging a hiker as it most likely had been going in and out of the poison oak bushes and looking for some victims to brush up against.

Since we had been on this trail before on one of our training hikes, we were more zoned into the task of climbing than the last time and not getting distracted by the gorgeous scenery, I think. Not that that was much possible at the pace we were going. I was actually hoping to see a knoll covered by spring flowers as we broke out of the wooded section but it was obviously premature despite the warm weather today. There were some flowers blooming but not to the extent Dog Mountain was known for.

But we thoroughly enjoyed the panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge while we devoured our feed at the summit. Especially after beating the time from our last hike here by 15 minutes, at 1:45 to slither up from the trail head to the top, gaining 2850' in elevation. That's 1,629'/hour!

Now the only carrots hanging in front of our noses were the nice tall cold ones down at Edgefield which had become our regular hang-out in this area. We were thankful that we started our hike early enough in the morning before the temperature shot up to bake anyone going up that south facing trail. It also helped that we descended via the "Less Difficult" trail flanked on the shadier side of Dog Mountain. About a half way down the mountain, we found Jennifer, Abby and Hilary sitting at a nice little trail side bench enjoying their lunches.

Edgefield was packed with weekend warriors and alike outside. Every single table was taken so we planted ourselves on the lawn just behind a huge water tower. The cool grass felt great after the rigorous exercises. Our waitress was nice enough to accommodate us there for much needed beverages and even some real food. Couldn't get much better than that!

Now that our climb dates are getting closer, we will be going back to Mt. Hood next weekend to get some night hike time under our belts. We will start climbing around midnight from Timberline Lodge to Silcox Hut where the Mt. Hood climbers will be spending a night just before their summit. Stay tuned!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

8th Training Hike - Tilly Jane April 24th, 2010

With only few hours of sleep after a rough night out in town, I once again whipped myself out of my bed at 5:15am to strap on a backpack. It's going to be a looooooooong day today - I had a fundraiser event that I promised to go to after the hike too!!!

It was rather a long drive to the trail head. I was thankful that I did not have to drive that morning. The trail head was located on the east side of Mt. Hood right next to Cooper Spur Sno-Park. Marty had a flat tire on his way up so we waited a little while until he and his occupants rolled into the parking lot. Today, I decided to join the "endurance" group to mingle with them as I had been hiking in the intermediate group on most of our hikes.

Tilly Jane Trail would take us way into Mt. Hood's alpine backcountry via a 3.5 miles trail that ascended 2,000' until we eventually arrived at Cloud Cap Inn. This Inn was originally built in 1889 as a resort for tourists with lots of money. Today, it serves as a headquarter for Crag Rats Alpine Club that offers itself as a mountain rescue group when needed.

This hike was originally meant to be a snowshoeing trip. And, as far as we could see, it looked like the trail was going to be kind of icy so we strapped on our snowshoes from the outset. However the snow/ice on the trail vanished only after few hundred feet or so and we were forced to take off the snowshoe to lash them back on our backpacks.

Because the temperature was in the mid 40s already, the run off from the snow was making the trail quite muddy and slippery in some parts. We meandered through the woods typical of the northwest dominated by the evergreens for the first half of the hike. I felt unexpectedly well once we were on our way up the trail despite how tired I was feeling at the meetup point earlier. As we ascended through the woody area, we found ourselves walking through a section that was charred by a fire few years ago. Some of the burnt trees looked quite interesting - only the burnt outer parts of the trunks remained standing while their cores had relented to decay.

We were starting to see some snow again on the trail as we gained elevation. The snow base thickened exponentially once we crossed the freezing level and the training we had last week at the Climbers Clinic came in pretty handy particularly in sections that required us to traverse. Matt who was leading our group reminded us how to edge our boots in order to make more secure steps. But some parts were just too icy to get any boot penetration - I wished I had my crampons with me, which I left in the back of my car! Though we had snowshoes, Matt elected not to have us put them on as they in fact would have made it even more precarious in such conditions. In some other parts, I kept sinking into the snow up to my knees every other step as I put full weight on the foot, making it rather laborious to keep marching.

We enjoyed chewing our lunches in an A-frame shelter at the Tilly Jane campground. It was a quintessential alpine log cabin on one of Mt. Hood's ridges that housed a wood burning stove, tables and benches inside among other odds and ends. From there, our final destination, Cloud Cap Inn, was only a half an hour away. By the time our group arrived there, the fast group was already getting ready to start their final push. Their leader, Marty, organized his climbers into two groups, a group of people who wished to continue up to the Inn and another of those who opted to call it a day and to head down. Because we carpooled from the meetup point to the trail head, there was some logistical issues that needed to be taken into consideration as well.

All members of the "endurance" group were all for going up to Cloud Cap Inn. I was actually feeling very good at this point. It had crossed my mind that maybe I was being mildly hypoxic even though we were only around 5,500' in elevation - euphoria was one of the first sign of hypoxia in general. And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, taking into account my lack of sleep, high level of physical activity, etc., etc.

As soon as we departed the shelter, we went down a steep ravine to cross a snow bridge across a creek (Tilly Jane Creek?) one by one. By this point, the base of the snow was about a dozen feet and we certainly didn't need to risk collapsing the bridge. There was no visible trail in particular so Matt plowed ahead stomping new steps along the way. Indeed after about a half an hour or so, we popped up on another ridge where Cloud Cap Inn stood.

And what a gorgeous view it had! we were awarded with the panoramic view of Mt. Hood's eastern foothill. Even better than that, the rocky top half of Mt. Hood showed itself as a veil of clouds flirted with its undeniable existence. In less than a couple of months, many of us will be setting foot on the summit of this very mountain. That was pretty awesome even just to think about. As we milled around taking pictures, etc., a flurry of snow started to whirl around us. In order to avoid getting caught in an unexpected weather, we started descending by reversing our path. In some ways, descending was not much easier than climbing up as we still needed to keep ourselves focused traversing the sections we struggled on earlier and to pay close attention on our footings despite the fatigue that was starting to set in all of us.

Sadly, I am not going to be able to join the Salmon Butte hike next weekend. I hope everyone will have a great one. Take lots of pictures!