What Goes Up Must Come Down

Before I talk about mountain climbing I want to put a plug in for a tent drive that The American Conservation Experience is doing to help get tents to people in need in Nepal. Thousands of people are currently without any sort of shelter in Nepal and monsoon season is coming soon, it would be wonderful of all of us that have the ability to give to help out!  To check out how to participate click here.  If you don’t have a tent that you feel comfortable parting with then consider finding one at Goodwill, Geartrade, or on Craigslist, that way you can still donate!

I don’t have a ton of time today to write a post because I am gathering all of our camping gear from every far-flung corner of our apartment so that we can head up to Leavenworth for the weekend.  On Saturday we have a skills day where we learn to rappel past a knot and escape a belay.  That night all of Boealps is having a potluck and cook out at the Bridge Creek Campground, which they have rented.  Then on Sunday we are hoping to do a little rock climbing in the morning before heading back to Seattle.  But as a quick break from packing and making massive quantities of lemon bars I wanted to give an update on our trip to Mt Phelps.

The day started dark and early at the Safeway in North Bend.  From there we headed 20 miles up the North Fork Snoqualmie Rd and then turned left onto FSR5730 which is passable almost all the way to the top.  Once we could drive no further we hopped out, loaded up our packs for the day and continued up the road until, on the right, we saw the remains of an old logging road.  This is the start of the climbers trail up to Phelps.  It is pretty well-marked with flagging and people have clearly been clipping branches and bushed back.  If you know what to look for this shouldn’t be a hard trail to follow.  It basically takes you straight up, accomplishing 3,000 ft of elevation gain in 1.5 miles. At one point it seems like you would continue to contour the mountain passing a very large rock to the inside of the trail but instead of following this route and continuing up to the saddle we veered steeply uphill, following a ridge up to the top where things start to open up.  If you continue up to the saddle you can then take the ridge line up to the summit, an easier but less exciting route to be sure.

Up top there was a little confusion about which peak was the actual summit, but luckily Dana, our lead instructor, had been up this way before and steered us in the right direction.  We crossed what could have been a very dangerous avalanche chute but with conditions the way they were we exercised caution in crossing the chute instead of letting it turn us around.  Soon we found ourselves under the summit and with our choice of scrambles in order to get up on top of the ridge.  We put up a fixed line on a fairly easy class three, got everyone up on the ridge and continued to the top.  Fairly uneventful!  During the ascent the only moment of excitement, for me anyway, was when I slipped as I headed to go pee, and bashed my knee real good on a tree staub.  I thought for sure it was broken.  But it just turned out to be really painful for a couple of minutes and then I was able to walk it off.

So, like I said, pretty uneventful UNTIL we reached the summit.  There we all were, happy as clams to be up on top, although we couldn’t see a damn thing thanks to the cloud cover.  We had just gotten all of us up on the true summit when a fellow teammate, Carl, looked at me and said with a huge grin on his face, “Hey, that’s funny, your hair is standing on end!”  Pause, pause, pause.  His face suddenly turned from bemused to concerned and at that moment Dana said, “Everyone, get down off the summit, lightning.”  Everyone pivoted on the spot, including the last person to reach the summit who had just joined the group, and we got off the summit, quick.  Right bellow the summit was a nice little rock cave which we all stuffed ourselves into.  We were pleased to be there, safe from the lightening, until Kyle farted and we discovered the cave didn’t ventilate well.  But we hung out there for a while anyway, taking pictures and eating summit snacks.

Then we decided to head down to the saddle instead of retracing our steps and then loop back around to meet up with our original descent.  This was all going well until the boys spotted a cool looking gendarme that they decided they had to rappel off of.  Because we are part of a class and always trying to practice our skills the idea of the rappel was entertained, despite the fact that not everyone was going to get to descend because of time restraints.  Everything was fine until the last climber knocked a little rock down, which knocked a big rock down which headed straight for one of our instructors who was giving a fireman’s belay at the bottom.  He dove out of the way and most certainly saved his own life but not before the rock got his foot.  The team went into emergency mode.  A couple of us stayed with him to administer first aid, splinting his foot with an ice ax and two rolls of athletic tape.  The rest of the group scouted around to find the easiest route to the saddle.  He was able to hobble down the mountain with the assistance of two trekking poles and although it was a slow painful hike out, we made it to the bottom in fairly good time and got him to the ER.  We were all relieved when we heard it wasn’t broken, only very badly bruised.

What we learned from the experience was, I think, a very important lesson in risk management.  Yes it is a class, but that is why we practice rappels and belaying in places like St Edwards park and Mt Erie, places close to medical care.  When we are way up in the mountains, hours from help, it is important to mitigate every risk possible by not taking risks that are unnecessary.  As fun as it is to throw up a rappel on a cool looking gendarme it is also risky, and putting yourself in risky situations can lead to easily avoidable consequences.  In the moment it is hard to remember to think ahead, consider all the possible outcomes, and make tough decisions, but as an individual I continue to grow and have good habits pounded into my head, by experiences such as this one.

Sorry there are so few pictures this week, Kyle and I left my phone and the camera in the car, all we had was the GoPro which died fairly early on.  But sometimes it is nice to just enjoy the moment and not feel the need to capture it on camera!


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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

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