Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mt. Washington Attempt with Matt

After a beautiful drive through the fog-filled valley to Santiam Pass Nate
and Aaron led Matt and I to the trailhead for Mt. Washington near Hoodoo ski resort. Nate had concern about the snow that had fallen in the area the previous weekend but there had been warm temps and I figured it had probably all melted. I was wrong. When we got to the trailhead we could clearly see the upper slopes of Mt. Washington were covered in snow but it looked like much had melted and there was no snow at the trailhead so I figured we may be able to pick our way through it when we got up onto the ridge.

After gearing up we started our hike south down the Pacific Crest trail at about 9:45 in the morning. We made quick time getting to the climbers trail departing to the left from the PCT marked by a cairn, mostly because we were hustling to keep up with Meehan who hikes like a bat out of hell. As soon as we left the PCT the steep climbing up to the north ridge started. I definitely felt my quads burning as I followed Nate up the trail, stopping only for about 10 minutes for some snacks and assessment of the summit possibility. We decided that we would keep going until it got too
unsafe.


Up and up the ridge we went encountering snow right off the bat. We climbed along steep ledges and looked down the steep slopes to the valley below. This area would be soooo much fun in the winter with enough snow, with steep couloirs and drops that would be amazing in powder! Matt of course told us that we were nuts! About half way up the ridge we saw a dog tied to a rock that two climbers ahead of us had apparently left behind for the summit pitches. I could tell Matt
was getting a little nervous on the slippery snow and ice covering the route we were ascending but he figured if the dog made it that far he could too. We stopped for a little while on the ridge again for some snacks and photos of the absolutely amazing views of Santiam Pass over TFJ towards Jefferson. Another option we had was to climb TFJ from the
south which from our viewpoint clearly had far less snow than what we were climbing on, but I had just been there and wasn’t sure about Matt with that kind of exposure.


We continued up and the climbing progressively got steeper and steeper until I looked back and saw Matt freeze on a section with exposure on both sides. I asked if he was ok, to which he replied, “this is a little out of my comfort
zone”. We stopped and all made a collective decision. Matt had plenty of clothes
and gear to stay warm so Nate, Aaron and I would continue on for a summit attempt. I felt bad leaving Matt but I had this climb planned for months ahead of time and I had Nate, the most knowledgeable climber I knew, with me. Almost immediately the three of us found ourselves traversing very steep slopes covered with snow and climbing down sections of 5.6-5.7 rock with our hiking boots on unroped. When we got to the bottom of the first summit pitch we looked up and saw the two climbers ahead of us struggling to get around large
rock outcropping. We decided it was definitely time to rope up and Aaron volunteered to take the lead with me following and Nate cleaning up the gear behind us. I had done this type of climbing before but was more comfortable watching and learning at first and planning on taking the lead on the 2nd pitch to the summit. By the time we had roped up and Aaron had started climbing it had been nearly a full hour since we had left Matt
and it was starting to get really cold and windy. After Aaron had been climbing for about 20 minutes I asked Nate what his thoughts were and he replied that he foresaw several more hours of climbing and then a possible rappel descent from the summit at dusk.... It was decision time and it was an easy decision for me....


I thought of all the drunk, blitzed times in high school that my buddy had picked me up, or gotten me home safely or plain took care of me when I needed taking care of, how he had always been there for me no matter what. It was in that instant that I looked at Nate, bid him and Aaron good luck and turned around leaving the summit to them and freeing them of a third climber so they could move more quickly in the growing cold. I quickly made it back to Matt hoping down the steep rocky sections of the ridge with the apparent sure footing of a billy goat. By the time
I got Matt I heard a lot of whooping and yelling in the distance behind me, turned around and saw Nate waving to me from the summit... only about 30-40 minutes after I had left them... they had made great time... which was a little disappointing to me having turned around thinking it would have been hours... But, again, I know I made the correct choice. Matt looked surprised to see me and inquired why I turned around. I’m sure he would have been just fine waiting for me over the next 2 hours if I had attempted it but I know I could return again in the future and he was visiting me so making him wait in the cold after all he’d done for me in the pastwasn’t acceptable in my mind. The day I put my friends safety or happiness 2nd to me bagging another summit is the day I’ll hang up my hiking boots.


Matt and I slowly made our way down the ridge so
that he felt safe descending down the snow and ice covered rocks. We then booked it out of the woods and back to the PCT and then to the car. On the way down I could see that the two climbers that had been ahead of us were just behind us and that Nate and Aaron had made it down from the summit. Later I learned that they had made it to the trailhead about 45 minutes after us.


Matt probably thinks I’m crazy after climbing with me on Washington and I know I gained the respect of Hartz and
Meehan for turning around for my buddy. Hartz promised me we’d go up it again next summer, possibly without ropes as the pitches would have been much easier without the snow and ice. Matt and I called Emily, Chris and Tiff who would be meeting us in Sisters only to find they hadn’t left yet, so we instead booked it to McKenzie Pass to catch the end of the sunset over the lava fields. It was cool to look out over the lava fields at Mt. Washington which we had just been so close to the summit of. Despite not making yet another summit in good weather it was a wonderful day and the views were spectacular!

1 comment:

Jonathan Ellinger said...

Nate
Jon, great writeup and pics from this trip! Dude, making the decision you did was one of the harder ones in the mountains... To bail on a likely although late summit for the reasons you did was a sure sign of solid character. I was totally surprised also to have made such quick work of the remaining bit to the top... I thought that was going to be the sketchy part cause of the snow, but going went much faster than I thought (I'm sure it would have been at least a little slower w/ 3, but in retrospect, we'd have been fine I think). Anyway, thanks for organizing this! I had a good time with you, Matt, and Aaron, and we'll have to get back after it next summer. Maybe camp on top like our original plan!
Monday, November 16, 2009 - 11:10 AM