Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ptarmigan traverse (kind of)

I'm back from my trip to the North Cascades. 6 1/2 days in rugged (lots of topographic relief) and remote country. The only other people we saw during our entire outing was on the first half of the first day. The route we took zigzagged up and down above tree line between 4000 and 8500 ft. It crossed several glaciers and countless boulder, scree, and snow fields. It wound through multiple alpine meadows and high passes. I'm not sure how much distance we covered, but we know that during the last 1 1/2 days we traveled 33 miles. I'm guessing based on this that the total length was something like 70 miles. The route was essentially a backpacking trip which required some technical climbing skills. We threw in a summit (Dome Peak) for grins. We were on the "official" Ptarmigan route only the first three days. We were making good time and decided to split off from the Ptarmigan route onto a different route on the fourth morning. We expected the route change to add a day to a five trip. We used ice axes, crampons, and sometimes a rope for glacier travel. On our fourth day we encountered a 35 meter pitch of mid grade technical rock which ended up being the crux of the entire outing. Our third camp site must have had one of the most beautiful vistas I've ever seen.

The weather was variable, everything from clear blue sunny skies to fog and snow. We spent a couple of days mostly in the rain. On our fifth day the visibility was especially bad. We had to revert to map and compass for navigation and despite that we often found ourselves bushwhacking. On the fifth night it poured rain and on the sixth day it snowed. Jeff's feet hurt so much at the end of the sixth day that I had to stop where he was and make camp around him. On the seventh day we found ourselves sitting down every few minutes to rest our weary bodies. I walked barefoot at times on the last day because the boots hurt my feet so much. We saw marmots, bears, and ptarmigans. On the fifth day we found cougar tracks in the snow going up and then down a steep 6800 ft pass.

Despite the unpleseantries, it's a trip which I would do again. I thought the same even as I was hobbling along on the last day. Every time we crossed over a pass we had a new vista. It seemed like each one was more beautiful than the last one. I found myself looking forward to the next pass, just to see what might be on the other side. I also learned some good lessons about navigation in bad weather.

It was great to have Wayne along. A native Washingtonian and a very capable rock climber, he's been coming to these mountains ever since he was a boy. He nailed the crux pitch of the whole trip, a slabby, dirty, 35 meter upward traverse that we almost abandoned. I learned a good bit from watching him. It's very clear that he loves these places.

Wayne outfitted us for the trip, determining what provisions to take. We brought what initially seemed like too much food. On the route we ate all the time, snacking frequently along with the three normal meals. We ate the kinds of things that doctors warn you about: cookies loaded with butter, lots of different kinds of nuts, pancakes, something like 10 different kinds of cheeses. Although we were mostly on the route when there was daylight, we had frequent breaks. In part this was to provide time for snacking. Jeff and I loved it. We called it the "slow and fat" climbing style. It turned out to be just the right amount of food.

Often we encountered meadows of wild blueberries. There was a patch at our third camp. Like hungry bears, the three of us had hunched over and moved about the patch picking and eating delicious blueberries. We never missed a chance to pick a few berries when our route took us through a patch and often ate them as dessert. There were lots of water sources so we didn't carry much water. We'd often take sips directly from the streams we crossed.

Despite all the gorging I lost weight on the outing. When you can pig out and still lose weight, that's a great trip. See some of the photos here.

The house is being turned over to the renters tomorrow. It's all set to go. The remaining problems are: 1) The WRX hasn't sold; 2) I still don't have permanent plates for the van. Jeff is going to store the WRX for now. If it doesn't sell soon I'm going to lower the price. Apparently the van's title holder lost the title and they have to get a replacement. My last temporary permit expires on 9/12 so I'm ok until then.

Ann and I are taking a labor day weekend trip to the John Day area in north central Oregon. I'll be back in Corvallis at least on Monday of next week. I'm not sure what after that. Much depends on the state of the remaining problems.

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