Illumination Saddle

April 8, 2007.

Mt. Hood South Side from Timberline to the Saddle (9300′) 7 miles (?) | 3300′ ele. gain | 7:00 hrs.

The team: Duane, Leora, Colleen, Kim, Bill, Tasha, Doinita, John, yours truly

This morning, I stood outside Timberline Lodge looking up at Mt. Hood under a glorious azure sky, happy to step foot on its snowy flanks again. In our group of 9, we’d be practicing roped climbing, which I’d never done before. The weather was much friendlier than the last time I’d been here, and you just can’t beat a long, sunny day in the snow. All was well and I was ready to rock.

At about 7:45 we headed up the climbers’ trail with views of the ski lift and the summit. The entire route is a slog: a long, slow, stady climb which begins on a neatly groomed ski trail. It’s not exactly the type of terrain that gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day but I had people to talk to and things to learn. Bill, Kim, and I walked together and talked about hikes, roller skating, and other foolish things. It was great.

While ascending, I couldn’t believe how warm it was! It was difficult to get in and out of things due to the bum hand so I tried to moderate my pace and unzip zippers to remain comfortable. The wind seemed to grow calmer instead of faster, which caught me by surprise. Mountain weather doesn’t really follow the rules.

In one hour we reached the Silcox Hut where we had a quick food and layer adjustment break. Then, we continued along for another hour and a half to reach the top of the Palmer Lift. Here, we donned crampons and roped up (for the practice, not out of necessity). This was really fun with only one functioning hand (see drama). Duane had to help tie me into the rope and he stuck me on the end so clipping in would be easier. I am thankful that my team was so accommodating 🙂

The novelty of being on a rope wore off quickly as I find it very challenging to mirror someone else’s pace that closely. I tried not to keep slack in the rope but then I felt like I was holding Colleen (just ahead of me) back. So I tried to walk faster but that was too fast and the rope looped between my legs. Hmmm, not as straightforward as it seemed.

After clipping through 4 pickets, that skill practice was over so we proceeded roped but with no further protection. We traversed a wide, sparkling, unblemished snowfield. A blank canvas! I used my ice axe to draw smiley faces and leave notes in the snow for the team behind us. Duane kept the lead for the entire traverse, breaking trail like a champ. Occasionally we’d stop to take a bearing and verify that we were following the correct course. I’ll take any chance I can to practice map and compass!

We reached Illumination Saddle at noon. The winds here were tearing over the Reid Glacier and we all had to refer to our compasses to get bearings on Mt. St. Helens and some lakes (more mountaineering practice!). I couldn’t wait to drop back down from the edge to get into still air. After a few group photos, we did just that. Here we ate lunch: I had a tortilla smeared with honey and peanut butter wrapped around a banana…yum.

12:30: time to descend. The sky was still very blue but the wind was a little more pronounced. This time, Leora’s rope team led us out, setting more pickets. Since her team was spaced out differently than ours, we had to stop every few steps for someone to clip through. I can tell that big mountain climbing is seriously going to test my patience :).

As we continued on, we approached a line of ants…er…climbers headed in the opposite direction. I noticed clouds starting to form in all directions. The view of the dramatic rock formations around the summit became more obscured. By the time we reached the Palmer Lift at 1:45 the summit was socked in. I was getting flashbacks. All I wanted was to lose the rope and get down off the mountain. Since the rest of the team was planning to glissade and I could not join them, I was able to walk down alone. Make that run. Well, I was able to leap down some sections that were steep enough to make it energy efficient. I had to strip down to base layers and remove my hat, helmet and gloves, and I was still hot. I offered to carry the rope down to Timberline so I had additional weight and bulk on my back in addition to the “warm” temps.

When I reached the Lodge, I didn’t see the rest of my team. I checked the register and they hadn’t signed back in yet. So I waited. And waited. It was a great spot for people watching so I did that for 20 minutes until they all showed up.

I was amazed at how quickly that weather rolled in and also by the newly acquired reflex of “get OUT!” It only takes one foul memory to really learn a lesson. Every time I climb a mountain or hike into the woods I leave with a deeper respect for and understanding of the environment in which I find myself. I also get a better idea of how much there is for me to learn. That is, there’s a tremendous amount for me to learn. So, I’ll continue to gently push my boundaries, try and absorb knowledge from more experienced outdoorspeople and get out there as much as I can. Taking BCEP and networking with locals who share the same passion for climbing is opening up many doors for me, and will probably lead to one hell of a summer…

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