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Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

SPOT and GPS interference?

Posted by joeabbott on July 22, 2018

I carry both a SPOT and GPS device when I hike; I’ve never needed the SPOT but it’s good insurance, the GPS has proved invaluable on a number of hikes.

On my last outing, in an effort to find a good place to strap my SPOT, I hung it just above my GPS on my shoulder strap. The SPOT performed as expected for a tree-covered approach … like this:


You can see where the trees are. Again, not great but not bad, either … a dozen tracks over 2.5 hours, making it about a track every 15 minutes.  I’d like better but I’ll take that.

My GPS, however … what the heck happened here?!?


I have never seen anything like this … it’s just crazy. The prior week I had my GPS but the batteries crapped out after an hour or so on the trail, but it still gave me this path:


Same area, same GPS … the only difference I can think of are the new batteries and hanging directly below my SPOT device. I will play with it a bit more to make sure I understand what’s going on, but it clearly looks like the GPS was reacting to something.

If you rely on multiple radio devices, be aware they may experience some interference if you position them too closely together! Be safe out there!


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A return to the scene–a trip up Snoqualmie Mountain

Posted by joeabbott on July 22, 2018

Weekends come and go around here with both Suzy and I looking forward to a chance to do stuff together; this weekend was an exception. Not in that we weren’t looking forward to some togetherness, but activities would take Suzy to a 5k Run on Saturday and an outing with her Master Gardener friends on Sunday; leaving me to my own devices. But wait … are our weekends ever really that simple? Nope!

The stuff that’s not as fun

Early last week we got a document from the county in which we plan to build our house stating they’d stopped the permitting process due to some irregularities. It was drawn out and a bit emotive but the upshot was that paperwork we’d submitted in January was lost. <sigh> There was some hurry-up discussions with our builder and folks were heading out to our lot on Friday to see about getting the needed tests done quickly; it had to do with our drain field and septic plan. I stayed home from work to jet up there in case I got a call … I got no call.

So, we agreed to jump in the car after Suzy got back from her 5K on Saturday and drive to lot, inspect the work that had been done, and see if anything required our input or assistance. I’ll jump ahead here and say that we did go up, in addition to the two perk pits that had been dug, they appear to have rummaged around those and then dug three additional pits. Suzy and I are perplexed … but had a very nice meal at Playa Bonita before heading back home.

Next steps … not clear. In spite of the delay and aggravation, it does feel like we’ve taken a step forward.

DSCF2242The fun stuff

So, with Suzy getting out with her friends, I was left to my own devices … and what better device than some sweat and a little discomfort in exchange for wonderful views? That’s right, last weekend I headed past Snoqualmie Mountain but didn’t summit the mountain proper. As it’s only 1.9 miles one-way, I decided I’d knock that off. Oh, in spite of being less than 2 miles in distance, you gain 3100’ of elevation; put your mountaineering boots on, folks, this trail’s not for Tevas!

I got to the lot around 6:45AM and it was already filling. The trailhead mainly serves Snow Lake trail, and while Snoqualmie Mountain may see a dozen or two travelers on a weekend, Snow Lake sees hundreds. Literally. And so I parked such that I could easily leave the lot, knowing it’d be a zoo; then I suited up, turned on various GPS and SPOT devices, and headed up.

The trail makes no qualms about ascent from the get go, and while the way is smooth in an un-kept trail sorta way for the first hundred yards, it quickly devolves into a rocky, rooty hand-over fist scramble up. I carry trekking poles so I don’t often need to grab the surroundings, but I did reach for a “green belay” or two on my way up.

While I tried to push myself reasonably hard, I also realized I wasn’t in a race and had nothing to prove … except for the fact that this was only a 2-mile long trail! I could tell time was getting on but my pace was what it was; it seems I’ve lost a little oomph since my Rainier outing. But, I was alone and had some of the nicest scenery and zero bugs!! This was a big improvement over last week; although it was probably because (‘d left a little earlier in the day.

I got in a couple peekaboo pics of the surrounding area before I topped out; nothing fantastic but for just 60 miles out of the city, it’s not bad at all.


After breaking out of the treeline I spotted a number of colored shirts above me that pulled me on as if I were a scent hound. There’s something deeply competitive in me that I’m not sure I understand. I don’t think it’s a normal part of my character, but get me on a trail and I like to be out front; put someone ahead of me, and I’d like to pass; someone on my tail? Goose it a bit. I find it odd but I’m also finding my days of passing and goosing are not as many as they had been, so I am trying to find pleasure in “being” and “topping out”.

When the trail ends at the top, I was greeted by chill winds that had scoured the remaining snowfields coming off the north slopes. What looks like a small animal track leads off to the left proved to be a trail to another summit that, if higher, was only higher by a foot or so. It was here I found the other “colored shirts”, being six folks wearing climbing helmets and speaking in what sounded like Russian.

They exited the way I came and I was left to snap the below pic. You can see Snow Lake, the destination of many other hikers, just to the right of center. The peak dead center on the right is Kaleetan Peak; the one to its immediate left is Chair Peak; further to the left (although not as prominent) is Bryant Peak.

DSCF2256 Stitch

As I headed back I saw the destination of the Russian speakers: a prominence just off the top of Snoqualmie; it appears a scramble but not a desirable destination. You can see a few of the scramblers in the talus on the way up.


For me, however, it was time to get back. It had taken me nearly 2 hours to go my 3100’ and I wanted to be sure I could get home before Suzy and prepare for our trip to the property. I grabbed one more snap and then made my ankle-breaking way back down the rocky trail, getting to my truck about and hour later.DSCF2262 Stitch


The parking lot was the expected zoo; where I’d parked to get a quick exit had been blocked by another row of creative parkers. I flagged a carload of folks and pointed them to my spot but let them know I’d need a minute to change out of something a bit less salt-soaked from my exertion. Another half dozen cars cruised by while I was changing but, quickly enough I was pulling out and replaced by the mid-morning hikers. It still took me some effort to extract my truck from the lot and I was surprised at how a few people had parked, leaving only inches on either side of my mid-sized truck as I pulled out.

With the madness behind me I sipped some juices I’d popped into a cooler and headed back home to enjoy the remainder of the weekend. It tickles me to have the confidence to whip up a plan like this: a goodly effort, a non-maintained trail, a solo outing … I may not be the hiker I used to be, but the education I picked up on the trails in my youth continues to serve me well.

Here’s hoping your adventures prove as sustaining; now stop reading and get out there!

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The other Green River stuff

Posted by joeabbott on July 20, 2018

I made mention of a few things we saw besides bridges on our most recent biking trip down the Green River Trail … here they are, in no particular order.

BMX Track

A biking company in a business park adjacent to Briscoe Park installed a BMX biking track. I only have a mountain bike so I gave the trails a trial and just about killed myself. I wasn’t going fast but the severe and numerous rises\falls had me feeling out of control.

While having this sort of facility is great, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than an enjoyable alternate use for the park, the initial appearance is one of neglect and the dumping of refuse: weeds festoon the perimeter, the track has no shoulder or separation from the land around it, and lack of supporting facilities (bike rack, bench, or shelter) all make this an odd “enhancement” to the Briscoe Park.



Somewhere along the way I came across this biking sculpture (picture on the left) … I would have loved to dismount my bike and pose alongside them (it’s the sort of thing I do), but Suzy had put a little distance between us and I was hurrying to catch up!


Further south, we came across a bench in the shape of a canoe (picture, right). Various photos on the side acknowledge the cultural debt we have in the Pacific Northwest to some of the First Nation tribes, but I wasn’t able to spend much time looking at them: again, I was lagging behind my biking partner! And, yes, it is a typical trend.

Pruning 101

Here’s a tip: if your tree or bush requires a bit of pruning, do not ask someone from a power line company to help you with that! Look at what they did to this poor tree we saw somewhere adjacent to the trail:


Yup, yup … I’m not sure what choices they had but this beautiful, full tree has a quarter of its top removed, making it look super-odd. I was also surprised to see one of the wires still threading through the canopy, but someone told me this was a phone line … and the power company (who trimmed the upper branches) will not tend phone lines; and I guess the phone company doesn’t share the electrical power company’s concerns!

I’m assuming that cutting the tree down was out of the question, as there’s a memorial plaque at its base and a few picnic tables. I really can’t imagine anyone ever having a picnic here, it’s fairly out of the way, but it might make a nice, shady rest. And from the tables, you might not even notice the hack-job done to the tree.


I mentioned Julene Bailie in my last post: she’s an author who has taken to watching a family of eagles living above the Green River near this stretch of the trail. Here she is, on the left, sheltering herself from the sun with a shirt she’s draped over her head. She has a camera with a powerful lens, a set of binoculars, and a few other items to offer her comfort on a long day of bird watching. She and I chatted a bit and I could have spent a lot longer with her: she knew the area, the eagles, and was happy to share what she had learned.

The shadows just behind her are cast by a 16’ fence separating the Trail from a golf course that abuts it. A bit further south you see the sign shown below, right, which warns bikers\hikers to “please use caution, errant golf balls may cross the trail.” I’m not sure how much caution I can muster but I’m sure hoping the golfers exercise some!


Lovely views

Whether you are looking for river scenery or wildflowers the trail has plenty of both. While some stretches are more wonderful than others, the entirety of the trail seems to have something to offer to everyone.


I think it’s an educational sculpture

Suzy and I came across this marker along the trail and I’m not 100% certain I know what to make of it.

The various horizontal markers around it denote a footage and and the words “Flood level”, leading us to believe water had, at one point, risen to the various levels … however, the distance between the bands is not consistent with the difference in the noted flood levels.

There are a number of dots on each pole and lines connecting them; some lines are solid, some are dotted. And some have either dates or words (e.g., “Completion of Howard A. Hanson Dam”) on them. I just can’t put together a consistent pattern to understand what logic they’re using.

Finally, there’s a big arrow superimposed over the four posts that requires you to stand back to see properly. Why it’s pointing north is a complete mystery to me.



That was our trip. While the overall outing was well over 20 miles, it seemed I couldn’t go more than a mile or two without stopping to snap a picture of something; it’s just wonderfully busy with things to look at.

On our next trip I want to take a dedicated camera, as I imagine it’d be easier to grab and shoot, but I would likely risk wiping out or taking a spill into blackberry brambles … and that would not be welcome. So, if you’re up for a good workout, the trail is long; if you’re more interested in finding diversions, there’s plenty of that, too! Thanks to the cities of Tukwila and Kent for keeping this stretch of the Green River Trail in good condition!

Here’s hoping your trails are smooth and interesting!

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Bridges of the Green River Trail

Posted by joeabbott on July 18, 2018

imageOK, the title may prepare you for a comprehensive review but these are just a few of the bridges spanning the Green River that Suzy and I saw while on a recent biking excursion.

Last Sunday, before the heat of a 95°F day set in, we tossed our bikes into the back of my truck, drove down to a parking spot just off the Green River Trail, and headed south. Our destination was somewhere around “where we turned around last time”, but we’re always game to learn some new things so we went just a bit further.

We were on the east bank of the Green River on the way down, but crossed to the west on a pedestrian\cycling bridge just south of the Green River Natural Resources Area (the brown splotch on the map to the right). From there we continued south on Frager Road until that thoroughfare ended, at Foster Park at the extreme south … probably 15 miles from where we started.

Along the way I was taking pictures of anything that caught my attention: a tree that had been curiously pruned, wildflowers, sculptures, and even a bird watcher (Julene Bailie, an author of a number of books about a local family of eagles … see her photography work here). I also found myself snapping pics of a number of bridges.

Some of the bridges were cool, others attractive, and some just utilitarian; but all caught my eye. Unfortunately, I can’t remember and didn’t write down the names or locations of the bridges, so, for now, you’ll just get snaps of a few bridges, my guess at where it is, and maybe word or two of why they caught my eye.

First Bridge

While we navigate under South 180th St bridge before we get to this walking\biking trestle, I’m considering this one the First Bridge. Mainly because we actually used it to cross to the east side of Green River, but also because it’s attractive.


Utilitarian Bridge

I think this is the South 200th Street bridge but I only caught a portion of the span … the rest is the same: concrete and straight lines.

Not a “bad” bridge, but nothing to set it apart or recommend it as a destination.


Copper Dome Rounds Bridge

This bridge always catches my attention. When I first saw the copper-colored sphere decorations on it, I thought they were copper … upon closer inspection it’s just colored concrete, but it’s a neat feature and makes for an eye-catching motif. While it’s mostly just another big, concrete bridge, the exposed aggregate upper portion does lend a break from the otherwise smooth surfaces.

I’m guessing this bridge takes Veteran’s Drive over the Green River, but I am (again) guessing. It seems right but even with a map (both Bing and Google), I can’t tell exactly where this might be.


Green Truss Trestle

We had just turned around and were coming back when we were directed beneath the West Meeker Street Bridge. This fella is a throwback to the past, with little more to see than industrial-green iron beams riveted together. While it’s a bit ugly, the large open areas attempt to make this trestle light and airy; I’ll let you decide if you think it succeeded.


Bridge Under a Bridge!

This one has got to be my fave … not because it’s beautiful or well-kept (and maybe a bit of the opposite in both cases), but because it surprised me and gave me a smile. This was the Hwy 516 (also known as the South Kent Des Moines Road) Bridge over the Green River, and beneath the solid car overpass, a bridge for pedestrians and bikers is hung! There’s even a little nook with a bench for sitting down and watching the river.


And you can file this under the “why can’t we ever have anything nice”, the seating area was rife with litter, graffiti, and grime … neither Suzanne nor I wanted to sit there. But, she gave me a nice smile as she posed for a pic mid-span!



That’s it … it’s not all the bridges but a lot of them. Some were fun, some were nice to look at, and others just got you to the other side of the river. Thanks for touring along with me!

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Another weekend, another outing

Posted by joeabbott on July 15, 2018

Yesterday I got out on a hike that went a bit awry. We’d intended on taking a seldom-traveled path to a local, small summit but got high on a rock band and didn’t like our options for reconnecting with the trail. So, we made the most of stretching our legs and seeing some of the untrammeled beauty in Washington near Snoqualmie Pass. It was a good day.


Our intent was to bag Lundin Peak from the west; as you can see in the above map, somewhere around SPOT Track 6, we got off course, heading up a shoulder that we never felt good descending. I’m a little annoyed we didn’t turn around immediately after noting our error, but we thought we could easily reconnect after traversing high. We may have been able to, but we never felt good about the transition from our high route back to the trail.

Now, I really applaud our decision making and staying safe, but it’s disappointing to have missed a summit because we didn’t want to lose 200’ of elevation gain, hard-won though it was. And yet, our rewards for going off-trail were marvelous: pristine blue skies above high alpine forests, Mount Rainier in all her glory to the south, and some beautiful terrain all to ourselves. Now that I think about it, maybe I should do more of that … the rewards for abandoning a goal in favor of enjoying the moments are pretty significant. Here are a few pics from the day‘


I need to make this quick as I have a bike ride with Suzy scheduled to start in just a few minutes. Later today it’ll get to be over 90°, so we’re getting out early to beat the heat! Hope you’re enjoying summer!

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Stick a pin in the map (local edition)

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2018

Suzanne and I plan on moving at some point in the next year or two, but we’ve enjoyed living in the south end of Seattle. While not the most desirous of zip codes, SeaTac has been our home and launching point for many adventures, both local and not so local. As we consider leaving a place that’s become comfortable, we decided to spend an afternoon looking for smaller gems in these parts.

Upon heading to bed the other night, we agreed to head to “a park” and I offered to find one. The next morning I offered her a map and, rather than just visit one park, we headed out to try a bunch!


Kent Memorial Park

This would have been our first stop, had we stopped, but Suzanne recalled this place as we neared it and it was comprised of a set of three baseball diamonds. Interesting for ballgames, less so for leisurely walks. And so we passed without stopping.


Kiabara Park

We continued on to Kiabara Park but had a hard time finding it; so hard we were actually at the park before we knew we were there. The Park lies along the west side of a railroad track, roughly a block long and half that in width. It contains a koi pond and some statuary, along with lots of trees, paths, and benches for those looking for a rest. As the Kent area has built up around it, the Park appears to be home to those with a bit more time and a bit less house than they’d probably like.


We didn’t get out here, but parked alongside it and recollected a time a few years back when we’d walked this area and enjoyed a small, local fair that was going on. Suzanne tried to spot the bakery we’d visited, while I counted the cars on a passing train (65, including 2 engines). When the train passed and the crossing guards lifted, we headed east to our next objective.

Mill Creek Earthworks Park

While neither Suzanne or I had heard of this park before, it’s well-known enough to have its own Wikipedia page! We parked at the west end and started our walking tour, wondering if it was a bad omen that the QR code on one of the informational plaques resulted in a 404 … page not found. But, soon enough, in spite of a background of traffic noises, the spell a well-designed park can have was cast upon us. We walked past a few minor hills created for the sake of visual interest, noted the flood control vault created to weather a 10,000 year flood/storm, past the circular retention pond and through the split-mounds, and onto a pond where a mallard duck shook her tail feathers at us in anticipation of a crust of bread … that never came. She was interested enough, however, to follow us to the far side of the little pond where we rested on a bench and took in the views.


From there we wandered farther east to the end of the paved trail and looked down the damp earth trail in its tumble of trees and vines. We didn’t have the shoes for a wet trek and the mosquitoes were already letting us know our short sleeved shirts were just what they were looking for. So, we walked back to look over the earthworks from atop a small building housing the restrooms, then over a bridge to inspect a now-defunct set of stairs leading up to the roadway above us, and then we spent a few minutes watching a man playing with a boomerang as he launched his toy into the circular retention pond. I tried to determine if, with my help he could retrieve his boomerang, but it would be a wet endeavor for someone and it didn’t appear that he had an interest in wading in. And so it was back to our car and on to the next park.

Morrill Meadows Park

We arrived at Morrill Meadows Park and were immediately deterred by an orange, plastic fenced blocking us from the park proper. A family had already setup for a picnic at the shelter but there was an unwelcome look to a place under construction. image

And so, we circled the lot, noted nothing on the west side that looked like trails, and continued on to our next venue. On inspection of a map (at higher resolution), there would have been a bit of trail-walking opportunities beyond the orange mesh barrier, but we passed this time.

Gary Grant Park / Arbor Heights Park 360

Noted as Gary Grant Park on our map, it was labeled Arbor Heights Park 360 on the signage at the actual location and Suzanne and I immediately recognized this location from when we drove past earlier in the week: it’s a skateboard park! Nope, we didn’t stop as we didn’t have our boards but we continued on to the nearby next location …

Clark Lake Park

Our final destination was a good one. We pulled in to see an animal control vehicle at the entrance but were relieved to see the driver was just stopping there for a bit of a break. A sign told us the dock at the lake was under reconstruction but we headed in using the “left hand rule”.


As we didn’t have a map I chose to always take the left hand option or path, reasoning that if we got lost, we could turn around and take only right hand paths to return to our car. Suzy immediately recognized this as the strategy I use for finding my way through a dungeon maze in video games and proceeded to taunt me. It was all in good fun and our paths led us across fields, past disused barns, to the quiet end of the lake where more ducks approached us, and back until we finally found the out-of-commission dock. A young couple must not have read the sign … and didn’t find the barrier a deterrent … and were sitting on the dock; we took in the views from the end and then made our way down the west side paths.

Before getting too far, about where the paths turned south, we turned around and walked back to the cars; the day was getting on and dark clouds announced potential rain. Upon passing the lake on the way out, we heard a tremendous “whoosh” … sounding like an airplane was ditching into the lake! A quick peek noted it was only a large flock of ducks alighting into the water. We both smiled as we’d never heard so big a sound from some ducks.


And that was our day. While there are plenty more parks to discover and enjoy in the South End, we found a couple we’ll likely visit again when opportunity presents itself. It was a good afternoon of toodling lazily about.

Thanks for following along on our afternoon of strolling!

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A final Mt. Rainier post

Posted by joeabbott on June 10, 2018

I carry three devices with me when I travel most mountains: my SPOT, a camera, and my GPS.

My SPOT is almost exclusively an insurance policy; I like to go alone and in places that might require someone looking for me … on Rainier, I was told that unless our aid was needed between 7AM and 4PM, the Rangers would not be staffed to assist. Ummm … OK.

My camera is for the obvious; I’ll sometimes carry my phone and use that, but only when hiking. I typically avoid using a phone (something I consider an emergency device) for entertainment purposes while on the trail.

My GPS is a unique tool that I use far less for navigation, than I do for the breadcrumbs.

When enabled, most GPS units will constantly track where you are and have been. Upon getting home, I like to upload this data into my computer to see where my trails have taken me. Sadly, on my most recent trip, I failed to turn my GPS on until after I arrived at the top of Mount Rainier. While typically not a terrible thing, on this trip my route up was different than my route down … and so in the image below I approximated my route along the Disappointment Cleaver.


Again, you’ll note the trip appears to “end” at the crater rim, but it actually started there … it was then I remembered to turn on my GPS. I’m a bit sad, but I love seeing the route through the broken up glacier around Gibraltar Rock, above Cadaver Gap. You can also see the distance going up the Cleaver put on our trip.

Here’s what the Ingraham Direct route looked like from camp … not an obvious way through!IMG_0022

And finally, two faces of mountaineering … one on the summit (yes, I should have been wearing my glacier glasses) and one while back at camp taking a much needed sit-down after the summit:

image      image

As always, thanks for hiking along with me on my journeys.

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A summit bid: Mt. Rainier, 2018

Posted by joeabbott on June 9, 2018

A lot of factors go into a successful summit of a big mountain, and I realize now just how lucky we were. Yeah, there was a lot of preparation to offset the need for luck, but in any final analysis you rely on good weather, the team performing, and the routes being in good condition. Things lined up pretty good on our trip to the top of Mount Rainier this past Wednesday.


imageLeading up to the climb, Seattle enjoyed an unseasonably warm and dry end-of-May. This led me to a lot of excitement for that weather holding together for the start of June and during our trip. Unfortunately, the end of week and weekend just prior to our outing, Seattle started getting a lot of low clouds and rains returned. That spelled a bit of danger for the clear views you wish to enjoy when up top.

Additionally, in what I can only call a freak accident, I managed to kick a stone step in our backyard with such force, my toenail on my big toe immediately flooded with blood (I’ll lose the toenail) and I was unable to put on a shoe for two days. We actually went to the store to buy me a pair of sneakers that I could walk in. By the third day I could walk OK and on the fourth, our departure day, I was willing to put on my boots and walk uphill. It was still painful, but I managed.

The plan

Our plan was to take three days: first day to Camp Muir (a standard destination), a second day to Ingraham Flats (a camp setup in a compression zone on the Ingraham Glacier about 1000’ in elevation higher than Camp Muir), and on the third day we’d touch the summit and head home.

We chose to leave from Ingraham Flats (rather than the usual Camp Muir) to give everyone an extra day at altitude and to cut off 1000’ of climbing on our final day.

Departure Day

As we left for the mountain, the clouds were still present but rain was out of the forecast;conditions were improving over the days we were on the mountain before rains were expected to return later in the week. This was good weather for us, allowing us the majority of the “hard” climbing (heavy packs, most elevation gain) without being in the hot sun and gave us a window for favorable weather while on the way to the top. Unfortunately, weather forecasts seldom hold.DSCF2076

But, true to the forecast, we were in clouds from the start of the trip and didn’t emerge from them until shortly before getting to Camp Muir.

At Camp Muir we had planned to setup tents and re-pack them for the trip to Ingraham Flats, however, high winds and available space in the shelter at Muir made for easy change of plans as we crammed into the small, stone hut. I’d never stayed in the shelter, but it’s a bunkhouse style affair with a small shelf for cooking, flat bunk areas (top and bottom) for sleeping, and small cubbies to stow packs and organize gear. It also looked reasonably snug and didn’t show any signs of critters being about. A rare and welcome situation.


While it’s not suited for “sensitive sleepers”, I’d had very poor nights’ sleep the three prior evenings and after dinner, fell into a (mostly) restful sleep.

Travel to high camp

I continue to refer to Ingraham Flats as “high camp” for the simple reason that (to me) it sounds pretty cool. High camp evokes distant and remote corners of the world at altitude and out of touch by normal folks. There’s a sense of adventure to it. But, in reality, it’s just over a ridgeline from Camp Muir.

imageOn Mount Rainier the exposed ridges between glaciers are regularly referred to as “cleavers”, with Camp Muir at the bottom of the Cowlitz Cleaver and our route heading up Disappointment Cleaver. To position ourselves for the summit run, we’d pass over a feature called Cathedral Rocks, using the Cathedral Gap as our entrance to the Ingraham Glacier.

DSCF2085We weren’t in a hurry so our morning was leisurely, getting out of the shelter sometime around 10AM and arriving at our camp at noon. It seemed to take us a while to get harness and ropes sorted out. I forget how little experience some of my fellow teammates have until we participate in any sort of rope work. Seeing them, my early climbing days comes back to me: my fumbling with the rope, the questions about what is right and what isn’t, just getting your gear squared. Happily, I felt solid after so much time without being on a glacier and found myself waiting on my team.

It was a good first-glacier experience for some at least one of our team, as we headed across the high bowl of the Cowlitz Glacier, up the rocky flank of Cathedral Rock and onto the awaiting Ingraham Glacier.

DSCF2092 Stitch

Our camp was a couple of snow bunkers, shallow depressions with high built-up walls between where we’d put the tents and the prevailing winds coming off the summit. One of the shelters was big enough for two tents (Ron and Cy in one, Tim and I in another) and Heath and Dan shared the other shelter. With the shovel I brought we had camp setup quickly then went about “making water” (melting snow and then filtering it just as it got to a liquid state … which saves fuel), and finally preparing our dinners.

After the meal, we had a quick discussion and refresher on setting in a boot-axe belay, a common way of providing a secure and quick anchor on the glacier. Happily everyone remembered or picked up the skill quickly and we were ready for bedtime around 5PM. DSCF2115

We set our alarms for midnight.

Which lends itself to a quick word about getting up at midnight: it’s hard to just doze off at 5PM!

For the most part, you just rest. Those who can still their minds and get real, restful sleep prior to a big summit are few, and I’m not one of them. Additionally, I was going up with a hydration bladder and wanted the water in it to be as warm as possible, so I was cradling 2.5L of water next to me. First, it was cold; second, I was worried I’d roll over on it and burst it if I wasn’t careful. So I spent about 7 hours in the hazy, drifty sort of rest that’s not sleep but not a bad substitute.

Heath had used melatonin to get a good night’s rest previously and did so again this trip. It’s a natural substance that the body produces to put oneself to sleep but, not having used it previously, I was reluctant to experiment.

And then midnight came.

Summit day

We’d targeted departing camp around 1AM but I was hoping for better; in the end, we did just a bit worse, leaving around 1:15AM.

imageI will note, a bit sadly, that my training partner Tim chose not to continue on from high camp. He was feeling OK but didn’t believe he was up to the rigors of the final push and he didn’t want to jeopardize the success of the team. While we had talked about bringing warm gear and leaving someone anchored in at a safe point if they couldn’t go on, he didn’t want to be “that guy” either, and so we changed our formation from two three-man ropes to a single five-man rope: me, Cy, Dan, Ron, and Heath as the anchor.

The beta we got from nearly everyone was: the Ingraham Direct route was coming apart and should be avoided. So we stayed to plan and ascended Disappointment Cleaver.

The Ingraham Direct (ID) route is essentially a line from the Ingraham Camps to the near crater rim, lending itself to threading through a broken up glacier. It’s more direct but relies on a series of early season snow bridges.

The Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route heads up a rocky rib, so it’s reliable in late season, but hadn’t been much traveled, as the longer route.

In the picture below, the approximate path for the DC route is in green, the ID route is in red.


I was on the pointy end of the rope … as the lead is sometimes called … and found it more than a little off-putting to be traveling a route I wasn’t sure of, in the dark, and up steep terrain. A lotta work and more than a little confusion.

DSCF2134Typically the DC route heads up the Cleaver, and then ambles along up the glaciers to the summit, taking a circuitous route to the north to avoid a crevasse before coming back southward and then to the crater rim. I was surprised then, upon getting to the top of the Cleaver, to find the route immediately headed south to intersect with the ID route, just atop the crevasse maze (avoiding objective hazards).

But let me talk a bit about the Cleaver. The route stays on snow and ice when possible, but crosses a number of rocky sections, even doing minor scrambling on the rock. The route isn’t well marked and because you’re looking for crampon marks on rock and ice, you don’t have a lot to go on. A team typically short-ropes (ensuring only a small section of loose rope between climbers) on this part to avoid rock being dislodged and damaging people or the rope. As you can see from the close-spaced SPOT track marks, it took a while to get through this section.

It was surprising that, either because my eyes aren’t what they used to be or because I’d slept in my contacts, I was unable to readily find a couple of the flags when we got to the top of the Cleaver. Both Cy and Dan helped me to locate my next mark and we quickly were on our way. I did note that nearly every other climbing party headed up the ID route. I’m not sure if they purposefully misled us in which route they were taking but as the first team out we went to the DC and yet very few others did.

We intersected the ID route just before a few other teams and so felt pressured to stay in the lead. Mostly because there’s no place to pass on the narrow, steeply sloping trail. And so, doggedly, we marched to the top, hitting the rim around 5:45AM.

It’s hard to remember the sapped feeling I had, but the time it took to go just that 3000’ tells the tale. The weather was so cold, all water bladders froze, regardless of whether you’d warmed them to body temperature. Even my Nalgene bottle held slushy-like liquid, as it had started to freeze, too. The winds that were forecast to gust in the mid-teens, felt to be well over 20 mph and were constant, making for wearying travel.

But, we were the first to top out and took our time getting across the crater to the true summit. We offered Ron the chance to touch the top first, but he demurred and Heath marched up and was that day’s First. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally vexing weather, we chose to head down without many pictures or enjoying the view. Surprisingly, the long string of headlamps we saw earlier didn’t materialize as an equal number of people summiting, Either because of weather or team conditions, many didn’t head to the top, stopping around 13,600’ or so.

On the way down, I offered Heath a chance to lead. We had decided to go down the ID route as the DC had many treacherous sections that gave serious consideration for safety. That meant, however, we’d be trying the route that we’d been warned against … in spite of the fact that nearly every other team took it up. It seemed like a safe choice.


And so Heath led us down, being (in my opinion) a fine route that had potential to come apart under a few days of warm weather, but perfectly safe that day. I’m actually surprised people were concerned but we each have our own measures of what might be “risky”.

For me the greater concern was my toes! While the one I’d bruised earlier was screaming, I was also having trouble with the big toe on my other foot…misery loves company? The result was a very painful walk down, to the point that I was “walking differently” and that ultimately gave me a number of other blisters.

At camp we celebrated our measured success (I wish Tim had been able to top-out with us), tore down camp, and roped up a final time. As I was fairly spent, Tim offered to take all the tent … and more if I needed it. While I might have wanted it, I should fairly shoulder my own load, but I did appreciate him taking all the tent. We all got to Camp Muir, took a nice long rest, and then ambled down to Paradise, with Heath and Dan (the youngest) marching out front and the “over 50 crowd” picking up the rear.


I’m surprised at how pained I was from that outing. While I expected to be fatigued, my legs felt real discomfort in the day after and the one following that. I’m better today, but honestly surprised after all the training and our three-day approach. It’s perplexing. But, I have another summit under my belt, my family, friends and coworkers all generously applauded my success, and I can get on with a Seattle summer. It’s been a heckuva journey and surprising how challenging it can be to get in shape with you have a little grey in your hair. Perhaps a reminder to avoid falling out of shape.

And, just the day after we got down, the weather turned again and it’s been raining the last couple days. While the weather wasn’t prefect on the mountain, we got pretty lucky.image

Thanks for reading this far, your company is appreciated. Safe travels to you.

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And now to return to my normally scheduled life

Posted by joeabbott on June 7, 2018

Sometimes you invest yourself so fully in something you lose sight and perspective on all else; I’ve just returned from one of those journeys. I’ll post more about my successful summit of Mount Rainier but for now, I’m happy to have done it … and to be done with it.

Here I am just a dozen steps or so from the true summit with Liberty Cap in the background.


Hoping your adventures are less cold and windy!

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Yet another climbing post

Posted by joeabbott on May 28, 2018

I have a couple problems with being a blogger: I don’t do it regularly enough, I don’t write in a style that’s easy to quickly consume (I’m too verbose), I’m probably not entertaining enough (HERE ARE SEVEN THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL YOU IN THE MOUNTAINS … NUMBER FIVE WILL SHOCK YOU!), and I jump around to too many topics. Is this a gaming blog? A travel blog? A hiking blog? Woodworking? Home projects? Just too many to draw a consistent audience.

But I have been writing a lot about hiking … and today you get another. There’ll likely only be a couple more this year: one for Rainier, another for the annual Test Lab Hike, and maybe something I do solo or with Suzy. But I’d be remiss to fail to post about Mt. Adams last weekend.

DSCF1923ImageMt. Adams was our chance to do a “big mountain” and really test out our gear, figure out what works, and use it as a practice run for Mt. Rainier. I was hoping the whole team could make it, but Tim had pressing matters and it was just five of us. Still a good number.

Our early beta on the climb suggested we’d need to hike an additional 3 miles to the trailhead; snow was still heavy and while days had been nice, no one had been able to drive to Cold Springs campground. Also, I had zero time for planning and was getting frustrated leading up to the outing as I felt everyone was doing a little (well, everyone but me) but no one was pulling a complete plan together. Heath heard my petulant whining, stepped up, and a couple days before we headed out I knew what to bring, who was driving, who was tenting with whom, what fees we’d incur, which route we’d be on, etc. Just the whole shebang like I like it.

Off we went.

Part of the problem with hiking Mt. Adams is that it’s a 4.5 hour trip from Seattle. It went reasonably quickly and before you knew it we were at the Ranger Station dropping off our fees and picking up our blue bags … and for those of you who do not know what a blue bag is, you’re lucky. Essentially it’s your toilet when on a glacier or other heavily traveled path without a latrine. You either poop on the snow or on a provided “target”, use the resources in the kit to scoop your waste into a bag, and then seal all the yucky stuff in another bag. After that, you carry it out and dispose at the trailhead in special containers. It’s nasty but keeps the mountain from being so.

We dropped Dan’s car off at a nearby campground and then all piled into Ron’s truck for the trip as close to Cold Springs campground as we could get. I rode in the bed with Heath, and Cy and Dan rounded out the crew in the cab, and on a rut-pocked road we made it to within about a quarter mile of Cold Springs! I’m not sure if the Ranger Station has bad information or old information, but the sun had melted away a bunch of snow and it saved our feet a long walk.image

Those of us not driving jumped out and moved a few fallen limbs and stones so Ron could park his truck on the shoulder and we then grabbed our gear and started the hike to camp.

The trip in was uneventful. We started around 4700’ and planned to camp at the Lunch Counter: a flattish area on the southern side of Mt. Adams around 9100’. It’s a bit less elevation than the Paradise-to-Camp Muir trip, but similar enough to provide a good test. As we approached the Lunch Counter, rocks started poking out and when that happens, the snow tends to be thinner … I think the dark volcanic stone picks up the heat from sunlight and draws it under the snow to melt things below the surface. Anyhow, we were prepared and donned our snowshoes and avoided a lot of frustration as we walk on the snow, rather than post-holing and punching through (like a number of other hikers who passed us by later, when we were at camp).

DSCF1947imageIt was chilly and the skies were overcast but we setup camp quickly. Heath and I shared a tent, Cy and Ron shared an identical tent, and Dan sheltered his bivy between the two; we had a rising rock formation behind us, a snow slope between us and the summit, and were generally well shielded from any winds. Nice camp.

After setting up we ate our freeze dried meals and then started melting water. I was concerned that this would take all night but with five guys, we got a good setup going. Two people would tend the stoves, keeping them going and continually filling the pots with snow; one person manned the pump filter, continually cranking while a stove-tender moved the end to whichever stove had liquid water; another person would hold a water bottle that was being filled and he’d pass it to the remaining person to dump into whichever water reservoir needed it. Good system.

And then we slept.

Ron awoke us at 4AM and under headlamps we ate our cold breakfasts, strapped on our crampons, and in the chill morning, headed the two miles and 3000’+ to the summit. I kicked steps out of camp, enjoying that the now crusty snow was holding my weight. Previous hikers had stomped a trail into the snow but warm weather and overnight cold, snow, and wind partially obscured it, so there was a little work in re-establishing the trail. We pretty much headed straight to the summit, up over a feature called Piker’s Peak: the false summit. Or, more accurately, the near side of the caldera that just happens to be a bit lower than what is considered the true summit.DSCF1955

At one point I stepped out of lead, letting others kick steps. By the time we started hitting really steep terrain, Ron was in the lead. I felt badly for him as the snow had so little moisture in it, that his steps would break apart. The adage: two steps forward, one step back was never more apt.

DSCF1949DSCF1954I will note that around this time I remembered something about mountaineering I’d all but forgotten: the amount of willpower it takes to keep on. Somewhere on the steep slow to the false summit I got the lead again through the poor quality snow: I was laboring, chilled by a shrill wind that was getting to my neck, still groggy, my water tube had frozen so I couldn’t drink, and feeling taxed overall. I wanted to be about anywhere else and being in the lead again was making me grumpy. And that’s when I remembered to stop talking to myself that way and get on with getting to the top. Anyone can summit a mountain … I truly believe anyone can. You just have to keep going. And that’s what separates those who do from those who don’t.

That notion is stupidly simplistic and falls apart in many situations, but getting to the top was hard, it was not going to get easier, and I just needed to keep moving to be one of those who made it. And so I kept stepping and remembered that mental toughness is as important as physical toughness.

At the false summit we took a small break, admired the distant true summit, and then I headed out. I kicked across the top of the mountain and started to the summit but stepped out to let Ron finish us off. It wasn’t hard climbing but there’s a tiny tiny thrill at being the first on top of a mountain. Even if it’s the first of your team … that day, Ron was first of anyone. It was his first volcano and first big mountain. Nice.DSCF1962

Low clouds still covered the surrounding area but we got a great view of Rainier. Pictures were taken and before another crew hit the summit, we were on our way down.image

The trip back was equally uneventful: just a lotta steps. At camp we put on the snowshoes as the snow was getting soft and ambled down under heavy packs. I was clearly “in a zone” on the way up as I didn’t remember much about the trail in. Hard to miss the way back to the cars, though, as many steps had carved a deep rut.image

And that’s about it. Unmitigated success, a wonderful trip, and some good company … everything you could want in an overnighter in the mountains. DSCF1985

Apologies for an overly long story and thanks for getting this far.

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