This year’s Thanksgiving was a special one as we headed back east to the mountains of North Carolina to spend 7 days at our mountain cabin, Chalk Hill. Sawyer had never been to Chalk Hill and Kristine and I had yet to see the finished addition of the large great/game room. The new addition is incredible and really adds to the livability of the cabin.
The new addition under construction as seen last December 2016
The driveway side front entry of the new addition as seen last December 2016
During the first 2.5 days in Charlotte, Kristine & I went to Charlotte Country Day School to have lunch with my niece, Harper, who is in kindergarten. My sister and I both attended CCDS and was so fun going back especially to see Harper. Gosh, last time I stepped foot on campus was when I gave the Cum Laude Induction Ceremony speech in February 2013.
Leaving Eagle for Charlotte
Sawyer & Harper at Brixx Pizza on a Sunday night
Lunch with Harper at CCDS
It was so fun being with Harper at school
Love this little lady
Sawyer was so excited to be with the big kids that she lined up with the kindergarten class
We then drove to Chalk Hill later that day. I always feel right at home at Chalk Hill with dad and everyone.
In the new living room
On the front porch swing
Sawyer and the coyote
Me & Sawyer
Me and my gals
Me, Sawyer, Wesley, & Harper
Cuzins lounging on the back porch hammock
If only we could get those pacifiers out of their mouths
Sawyer & Wesley
Sawyer & Aunt Evon
Kristine and the little cuzins
My mom organized a 2 person bluegrass band to come over for 2 hours one evening and it was so fun especially for all the little gals.
We’ve never really had a personal show where we are the entire audience before this evening
Harper got to try out the banjo
My oldest niece
Kristine & I went on a few trail runs up my old favorite Bullhead Mountain, the highest mountain in Alleghany County (3,862′).
On top of Bullhead
Kristine running the road on Bullhead
Some of our best friends, Cashion & Eva, came up from Brevard for an evening to visit. It was absolutely wonderful to have them and everyone loved seeing them. Turns out Cashion & Eva have since moved to Carbondale, CO where Eva’s family is located. Again, it will be awesome to have them back in state and so close to us.
My dad, Maya, Cashion and their tenement on wheels, which always looks nice parked in the driveway :)
Wesley & Sawyer in the sprinter van
The crew with Cashion & Eva
Kristine & Maya
So awesome to have them up at Chalk Hill. Cashion originally helped dad and I clear hiking trails and camp on the land in the early 90s before the cabin was ever built
My dad and brother-in law, Ransome, organized another fun hayride as well all throughout our property. Everyone had a blast.
All aboard the trailer
Ransome was the captain driving the tractor, but Sawyer always seemed to find herself into the pics
Aunt Evon & Harper
The loving Foose dog, Finley
Sawyer loved seeing the cows, aka “moo-moos”
Sawyer & Gigi
So fun having a picnic in the pasture with Bullhead Mountain in the background
Cap’n Ransome, Wesley, & Sawyer
After the morning hayride, Kristine and I put Sawyer down for her nap and zipped down the mountain plateau to Stone Mountain State Park to do some rock climbing. Dad and I had hiked this beautiful granite slab of a mountain maybe 25 years ago, but I had never been back. Little did I know it has some of the best rock climbing in North Carolina. So, Kristine & I had brought our harnesses, shoes, rope, gear from Colorado hoping to get out for an afternoon on Stone Mountain. While Stone Mountain is notorious for its extremely run-out friction climbing on slightly less than vertical slabs, the most iconic route is The Great Arch right up the middle of the south face. I’ve heard its one of the best 5.5 routes in the county, which is funny considering we are talking 5.5. Nevertheless, we climbed a long 150′ 5.8 pitch called Block Route to get to Tree Ledge where we began the 3 pitch Great Arch climb to the top. It was a gorgeous afternoon and really warm. We got behind a party of 4 at Tree Ledge and waited for an hour until we could get going after them. We ended up passing them on pitch 2 as the sun was setting. Then, the party of 4 decided to bail off the route rather than continue to the top and their last climber, a gal named Lila, really just wanted to go to the top. We offered to just put her on our rope for the 3rd pitch and hike down with us, so she did and was very appreciative. We got to the top right at dusk around 5:30pm and hiked down in the dark for 30 minutes to the car to cap off a really fun afternoon together. I will always bring our rock gear from now on every time we go to Chalk Hill. Stone Mountain is so close and has great climbing.
Kristine approaching Stone Mountain’s south face. The Great Arch is the obvious dihedral up the center of the face
Block Route pitch (5.8) to get to Tree Ledge
Block Route pitch from above
Kristine balancing on the crux move of Block Route
The Great Arch from Tree Ledge
Kristine climbing pitch 1 of The Great Arch
Beautiful…climbing in the southeast on granite is pretty good
Kristine climbing pitch 2 of The Great Arch
Kristine taking in the beautiful sunset from the pitch 2 belay
It was a hundred or so vertical feet of easy slab scrambling after pitch 3 to the summit
Stone Mountain summit
Happy to be together
Beautiful NC mountains
It was a wonderful Thanksgiving together with my family.
Kristine & I recently returned from a wonderful 6 days on the coast of Maine and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the Oelbergers and good friends. We try and do an annual trip to New England every summer and each time it seems this trip gets better and better. This time around we took a 1 hour, 10 seat puddle jumper on Cape Air from Boston to Rockland, Maine, which is only 10 minutes from the Oelbergers house on the coast. This flight sure beat a 4+ hour drive from Boston, a bus to Portland with an additional 1-1/2 hour drive, or some combination of the two as we have done in the past. Its always so much fun and so relaxing to be at Ken & Dianne’s home on the water of the St. George River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Oelbergers home is on the peninsula just above picture center. The town of Tenant’s Harbor is bottom center. Picture taken from the Cape Air flight back to Boston
On our first full day in Maine, we took a 4 mile hike on some new trails that Ken & Dianne worked on and were recently completed. Despite the mosquitos, it was great to stretch the legs with the family.
Kristine & I on the wooded trail
The next day, we road-tripped to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Ken & Dianne via back roads and towns as there is no direct east-west interstates in that part of the country. We rolled into the White Mountain School near Littleton 5+ hours later to visit our great friends Ryan “Baba” & Lizzie Aldrich, their two youngins, Avery & Colden, and golden retriever, Khumbu. They live in a old farmhouse right off campus and Ryan built a fire pit out back. I had never been to the White Mountains, but I was truly blown away by what this area has to offer. Its like a smaller version of what we have available here in Colorado: the small town country feel, trail running, mountain biking, skiing (inbounds and backcountry) and rock climbing all within a stone’s throw of their house. We spent two wonderful nights with the Aldriches and had a jam-packed full day of fun and adventure with everyone. While Baba & Kristine had been up Mt. Washington, New Hampshire’s highest peak at 6,288′, a few times, the rest of us had not, and so hiking up this state highpoint was on the agenda for all of us. After summitting Mt. Katahdin in Maine last year, the Oelbergers and Chalks are on a conquest of New England’s state highpoints together. Up at 6am at the Aldrich homestead and out the door around 7:30am, we all met at the base station for the Cog railway at 2,700′ on the mountain’s west side. Kristine & the Oelbergers started up the Jewell Trail as I waiting just a bit for Baba & Lizzie as they had to take Avery & Colden to daycare. There are numerous trails up and down Mt. Washington, but we all agreed upon the Jewell Trail, as it was reported the least rockiest. Yes, the mountains in Colorado are much steeper and higher, but I have to say that the trails in New England are much more hardcore. Tree roots combined with the boulders and rocks that seem to have a density of at last two large rocks for every square foot of trail make these trails tough and slower going. Trail running on these trails doesn’t come as easy as it does on the nice smooth dirt trails of Colorado. I can’t imagine being a trail runner in New Hampshire and never spraining/breaking your ankle. Nevertheless, Baba, Lizzie, Khumbu, and I caught up with Kristine, Ken, and Dianne, and enjoyed hiking all together up the nice Jewell Trail.
Kristine, Baba, & Lizzie
The Cog railway huffin’ & puffin’s its way up Mt. Washington one ridge over
Dianne & Ken
Beautiful Mt. Washington forests
I think Rainier helped Khumbu learn the ways of the “trail dog”. She sure can hike and scramble, that’s for certain
Kristine, despite being now 30 weeks pregnant with our little lady, did so extremely well. We eventually broke through treeline and the valleys opened up around us.
Above treeline looking west. Our starting point, the Cog railroad station, can be seen left of center
The summit of Mt. Washington 1,500′ above
Kristine & Lizzie
Baba & Lizzie
Kristine & I on a nice perch above treeline
Ken & Dianne
And on we go…
The Cog railway on a bridge with Mt. Monroe and the Lakes of the Clouds Hut behind. Baba, Khumbu, & I would descend by this hut on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
Baba & Khumbu
The Jewell Trail climbs maybe 2,700′ in 3.7 miles before it intersects the Gulfside Trail above treeline below Mt. Clay and then heads south to the summit of Mt. Washington. Having Khumbu with us made Kristine and I feel much better about not having Rainie & Kona with us. Khumbu is the best golden retriever I have ever spent time with (except for Rainie of course), a well-trained and wonderfully tempered dog, and not to mention such a lover.
Khumbu & I
Khumbu standing guard
We picked our way up the Gulfside Trail and the views just got better and better of the surrounding Presidential Range and valleys.
Dianne with the northern Presidential Range peaks behind
Lizzie & Kristine
On the upper slopes on Mt. Washington
Kristine looking and doing great
The Cog railway track
Kristine topping out on Mt. Washington at 30 weeks pregnant
Lizzie scooted ahead to try and buy a ticket and make the 1:30pm Cog railway down the mountain in order to pick the kids up by 3pm or so. We were able to see her off on the Cog and shortly afterwards Ken & Dianne arrived on the top of New Hampshire. We were all so proud of Ken & Dianne for their second New England state highpoint in as many years. The crowds on top of Washington were quite extensive due to the fact most folks take the Cog up or just drive up to the summit. We even had to wait in line to take a picture at the true summit with the Mt. Washington sign. Baba had brought up some “Baba Beer”, which we all enjoyed. Its the best black lager I’ve ever had. Dianne took a liking to it as well.
Kristine & Lizzie before Lizzie took the 1:30 Cog down the mountain
Baba & Lizzie
Me, Baba, & Khumbu with our “Baba Beer” on the summit of Mt. Washington
Despite being a lighter beer guy, Ken even enjoyed some “Baba Beer”
Summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′)
The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Washington, NH (6,288′) minus Lizzie, who was with us in spirit. At least she made the 1:30pm Cog down the mountain
All three Chalks on top of New Hampshire
Mt. Washington USGS summit marker
We spent a good hour on the summit before Baba, Khumbu and I started our trail run descent down a different route – the Gulfside Trail to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, which leads back to the base of the Cog railway. Ken, Dianne, and Kristine would hang around the summit for a bit and catch the 3:30pm Cog down the mountain hopefully giving Baba, Khumbu & I enough time to get down. Baba & Khumbu relaxed at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut while I did a short run up to the summit of Mt. Monroe (5,372′), which afforded more spectacular views.
Looking north to Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe’s summit
Looking at the southern Presidential Range from Mt. Monroe’s summit
After some steeper scrambling down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for 3 miles, we arrived back at the base of the Cog around 4pm. It was some solid trail time with Baba after a good year hiatus from hiking together.
Beautiful waterfalls coming down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
We arrived at the base only to learn that the 3:30pm trail was delayed due to mechanical issues. It was soon fixed and Kristine, Ken, & Dianne arrived at the base around 4:45pm. Apparently, Kristine overheard a group on Washington’s summit talking about some pregnant lady hiking up Washington. We all thought that was funny. Baba then took us to an awesome river spot for some cliff jumping. The cliff itself was likely only 25′ high, but boy was the water cold. I don’t think Baba had done this jump before so I was glad to do it with him.
Me dropping the cliff. Such a cool swimming/cliff jumping spot
Baba walking on water
The next day (Saturday) Lizzie competed in and placed 2nd in her age division in the local Top Notch Triathalon! She really did extremely well and was very impressive. As I cannot bike or swim well at all, I asked her if she wanted me to run along with her up Cannon Ski Mountain as the third and final leg of the triathalon. Lizzie thought that would be a great idea and that she would love for me to be alongside her for support and motivation. So, that’s what I did. I held her water bottle and some energy gels and ran with her up the 2,000′ of vertical gain to the finish line at the ski mountain’s summit. It was an honor to be with her and was very fun. I hope me being there beside her helped her to go a bit faster. She didn’t need me at all. It was just fun to be with her. As we didn’t really know if a “pacer” was legit with the triathalon’s rules, I ditched out before the finish line and met her up top. Baba, Kristine, and the kids took the tram up to the summit and we all congratulated Lizzie. We even ran into the really good friends of the Oelbergers, the Muchards, at the race as their daughter and son-in-law were competing as well.
After saying our goodbyes to our really good friends, we left for Maine and the Oelberger Residence arriving at around 8pm that Saturday evening. Sunday was a relaxation day and we had a great cornhole tournament with Ken, Dianne, and three of their good friends in the afternoon. On our last day in Maine, Kristine & I got up early and drove an hour to Booth Bay Harbor to catch a ferry to Squirrel Island and visit our great friends Chris & Kate Danforth. Chris & Kate spend their summers at the Danforth house with their kids Harper & Afton. Harper is now 8 years old and is a climbing monkey. I had never been to Squirrel and visiting this fairly private and secluded island was a special treat. Kristine had visited Kate here before. There are only about 100 homes on the island, a small post office, ice cream store, a library, a few tennis courts, and a church. That’s about it. The island is pretty small with a perimeter of about 2.5 miles around the shoreline that resembles the body shape of a squirrel facing west. Pretty much everyone walks everywhere and everyone seems to know everyone. It was the kind of small community I just love. Houses rarely come on the market and they are passed down generation to generation. I believe there is only one lot for sale too. Chris’s parents actually met on Squirrel Island as both of their families had homes on the island. It is really a special place.
The beautiful Danforth homestead on Squirrel
Chris took me on his daily ritual – his island “rock hop” run around the rocky/slabby coastline of Squirrel. It was so much fun following Chris on this awesome run. Its basically a combo of trail running and scrambling over rocks for 2.5 miles. I think we did it just shy of 30 minutes, which was a decent time considering we were moving pretty fast yet still chatting and he showed me a few cool spots including a cliff jump along the way. After building a good sweat, we met Kate, Kristine, Harper, and Afton on the beach area and went for a much needed swim. Its too bad Chris and I live across the country from each other. I think we all feel like the two of us are like peas and carrots. Its great. Chris & Kate cooked us an awesome lunch of BBQ chicken and caprese salad. Yum. We then went on a boat ride with Captain Kate at the helm and then walked over to the cliff jump.
Kate, Kristine, & Afton
Apparently there was a dead seal near the cliff jump, but we didn’t see it. Anyway, Chris and I jumped while the ladies and Afton watched. It was a great jump into the ocean. Two videos of Chris and I jumping below:
Chris and I after the cliff jump
Later on that day, Chris and Afton took the boat around the island to the cliff and saw the seal carcass. It was literally 10 ft from where we jumped in. Glad we didn’t see it at the time! After some more beach time, we showered up and caught the 5:40pm ferry back to Booth Bay harbor. Again, it was sad to leave our good friends and such an amazing place, but feel fortunate we were all able to spend a great day together. We look forward to future adventures and time together with Chris & Kate and their awesome kids.
All in all, one of the best trips back to New England we have done. Seeing family, reuniting with great friends, and experiencing great places all helped to make this a special trip.
It had been awhile since the Chalks had tagged a state high point and with my friends’ Ben Conners, Brian Miller, and Dillon Sarnelli’s recent trip down to climb and ski New Mexico’s highest peak, Wheeler Peak (13,161′), Kristine and I were motivated to give this peak a shot and get out of Colorado for a brief stint. What was extra special was that Wheeler Peak was a mountain we could take Rainier on since the route was relatively short (around 7 miles) and only about 3,000′ of vertical gain. We felt Wheeler was something the 11 1/2 year old Rainier could still do and have a ball on. We planned to do this Wheeler Peak trip a week prior, but the weather thwarted us and we postponed it to last weekend. The weather last Saturday turned out to be absolutely stellar bluebird skies with warm sunshine the entire day. Wheeler Peak is in the southern Sangre de Cristo range, which extends down from Colorado and is located near the Taos Ski Valley about a 30 minute drive from the actual town of Taos. My family had visited the state of New Mexico including Taos and Taso Ski Valley probably 20 years ago or more and I had not been back since. I still remember that day when my family went sledding on the lower ski slopes of Taos Ski Valley. Kristine had never been there. Taos Ski Valley is a quaint little ski resort in the heart of the southern Sangres and about a 5 hour drive due south of Vail.
Wheeler Peak at far right in the distance as seen from Taos Ski Valley (on the drive out Saturday afternoon)
While this southern end of the Sangres doesn’t typically get the snow Colorado gets nor the cold temperatures, we were hoping we could still skin and ski most of the mountain. We arrived at the Williams Lake trailhead parking lot around 8:30pm Friday evening and set up camp in the back of the Tahoe. This trailhead is about 1,000′ above Taos Ski Valley up a rougher 2WD dirt road. We woke up around 6:30am and got going on the dirt trail in our trail runners with skis/boots on our packs around 7:30am. It was a bit chilly to start out yet warmed up quickly. We soon hit continuous snow on the Williams Lake trail after passing the Bavarian Restaurant and then the bottom of a chairlift and were able to put the skis on our feet and skin on up the well-broken trail. This trail proceeded for about 2 miles slowly gaining altitude towards Willams Lake.
Rainier & Kona enjoying the beautiful morning on the trail towards Williams Lake
Kristine skinning on the Williams Lake trail
We then took a hard left up into the steep treed terrain at a sign on a fence post/tree trunk before Williams Lake towards Wheeler Peak. We followed the semi-broken trail through the woods using the blue dots on the trees as trail marker. Yet, when the blue dots started leading us back downhill seemingly towards Williams Lake, we continued uphill and found a nice open chute leading us above treeline in the direction we needed to go towards the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter saddle.
Rainier on a rock showing us the way up the chute
Kristine and the fellow from Minnesota making their way up the chute to above treeline
The terrain really opened up above treeline and the views west across the valley to Lake Fork and Kachina Peaks were gorgeous. There was an old snowboard track down the gully and I was thinking in a few hours this chute would make for some nice corn skiing. We kept on skinning up the west face of the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter ridge.
Rainier standing guard on Wheeler’s western flanks
A beautiful day
Great ski-mountaineering potential on Lake Fork Peak to the west. We could see several ski tracks coming off this peak’s slopes
Kristine was having some difficulties with her skins on the rock hard snow and so left her ski setup at around 12,500′ and booted from there.
Kristine booting up with the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley to the north behind her
I kept skinning another few hundred feet but ended up leaving my skis where the snow ended just below the Wheeler Peak/Mt. Walter saddle. We finally hit the saddle and made our way up the mellow summit ridge of Wheeler Peak.
Wheeler Peak summit ridge as seen from the saddle
Kristine approaching the top of New Mexico
The views were amazing and we topped out on New Mexico’s highest peak around 11am. The west face still had some softening up to do, so all we had was time. We hung out on the summit for 15 minutes or so and took pictures and had something to eat and drink.
Wheeler Peak summit plaque and summit register below
Wheeler Peak USGS summit marker
The Chalk Family on the summit of Wheeler Peak (13,161′)
Kristine & I on top of New Mexico
Me, Rainier, & Kona on the summit of Wheeler Peak. Very special for Kristine and myself to be able to bring these two on this little roadtrip
View to the north to Mt. Walter and Point 13,045′ from Wheeler’s summit
View down Wheeler’s west face to the ski runs of Taos Ski Valley below
Taos Ski Valley 4,000′ below on a zoomed-in shot from Wheeler’s summit
Upon reaching the saddle on the descent, we realized the snow may need a bit more time to warm up. While Kristine descended to her skis to eat a PB&J and lounge in the sun, the dogs and I headed on up for a mellow ridge run over Mt. Walter’s summit to Point 13,045′ to get a glance down into the northern La Cal Basin, which wasn’t as snowy as I suspected. It was actually fairly dry for several hundred vertical feet off the north side of Point 13,045′.
Mt. Walter (left) and Wheeler Peak as seen from Point 13,045′
The dogs and Mt. Walter
Rainier did wonderful and just kept plugging away on regaining Mt. Walter’s summit on the return trip. Mt. Walter is really just a sub-summit of Wheeler Peak, but is considered the second highest peak in New Mexico.
Mt. Walter’s summit sign
Rainier lounging on the summit of Mt. Walter
Rainier & I on the summit of Mt. Walter (13,141′)
The three of us then descended to my skis and skied nice snow back down to Kristine. I had my PB&J and we then clicked in and skied wonderful corn back down through the access chute, the woods, and finally back down to the Williams Lake trail. We stopped every 10 or so turns for Rainier’s sake, but man she did so well keeping up and persevering. I was very proud of her.
I never have many ski shots of myself, so Kristine was nice enough to take a few
Rainier & I
Rainier making her way down after me
We then took it slow down the Williams Lake trail and arrived back at the Tahoe around 2pm. We thought about heading into the town of Taos, but instead decided to get on the road and head back to Vail. We stopped by the sledding hill at the bottom of the ski runs in Taos Ski Valley proper where my family sledded together some 20+ years ago. It brought back some great memories.
The sledding hill
With some passed out dogs in the back of the Tahoe, we made our way home but only after some awesome Mexican food at Casa del Sol in Buena Vista – my favorite. It was a wonderful day with Kristine and the dogs up on New Mexico’s highest peak and is always exciting to explore some new ground.
Its been a busy few weeks with my good friend Rob Schnare’s bachelor party out at Cannon Beach, OR over Labor Day weekend followed by a long overdue trip back to the Grand Teton in Jackson Hole, WY with my good friends Bill Larson, Reid Jennings, and Mike Santoro. The Grand is one of America’s most iconic mountains jutting over 7,000′ from the valley floor of Jackson Hole. The Grand holds a special place in my heart. It was in fact my first “real” mountain I ever climbed back in 9th grade or when I was around maybe 15 years old. My family always vacationed to Jackson Hole when my sister and I were in middle school & high school every summer for about two weeks at a time. This is where I fell in love with the mountains. My Dad and I would hike our brains out for two weeks during these wonderful summer vacations. Then, one summer, my Dad & I coupled with my good friend Art Pue and his father decided to do a father/son climb of the Grand Teton. We went guided through the highly respected & accomplished Exum Guides and took the one day rock climbing school before the two day Grand Teton climb. Unfortunately, Mr. Pue sliced his leg during the rock climbing school and couldn’t make the backpack into the Lower Saddle (11,660′). My Dad unfortunately got altitude sickness at the Lower Saddle during the night with a pretty bad headache and nausea and so remained at the Exum hut while Art and myself climbed to the summit via the classic Upper Exum ridge (5.7). It was the best day of my life thus far and it made me feel so good. We both couldn’t believe at the time we had climbed the Grand. It was like summiting Mt. Everest for us. This climb up the Grand really jump-started my passion for climbing and being in the mountains. Fast-forward to Labor Day weekend 2006. Kristine & I were good climbing buds at the time and we planned a trip to the Grand with other good friends J Weingast, Jesse Hill, & Lizzie Lokey. We climbed the really fun original Owen-Spaulding route (5.4) with Owen Chimney variation (5.5). The trip went very well with great weather despite the route being a bit crowded. It was after all a holiday weekend.
J, me, Kristine, Lizzie, & Jesse on the summit of the Grand Teton on September 3, 2006
Kristine & I on the summit of the Grand Teton together on September 3, 2006 before we started dating
My good friend Bill Larson, who is an engineer at Beaudin Ganze with me, had always wanted to climb the Grand. Bill does most of his work up in Jackson Hole so he has been up there at least twice a month for years now. Bill & I used to do a lot of climbing and mountaineering together back in the day when I first moved to Vail in 2003. Bill was even on our El Pico de Orizaba, Mexico trip in December 2004. He has since started a family and has two awesome young boys that have kept him pretty busy. Nonetheless, the Grand was always in the back of his mind and so we finally set a date and made it happen in September 2013. My good friend Reid was on board and Mike Santoro definitely wanted in as well. So, we would have two roped teams of two, which would be perfect. Since none of them had ever climbed in the Tetons, much less the Grand, we decided to do the original Owen-Spaulding route again with Owen Chimney variation since I knew it pretty well. Other than being a bit colder and perhaps more crowded, it really is no different than the Upper Exum from a technical perspective. It would work out well. Bill was already up in Jackson for work since Tuesday, so Mike & I left early Thursday morning from Vail and drove the 8 hrs to Jackson. Reid flew up from Denver and we all met out at the airport since Bill needed to return his rental car. We all shopped around town for last minute food and supplies and watched the Broncos & Peyton Manning demolish last year’s Superbowl champs at the Snake River Brewery. It was so very nice to be back in Jackson Hole since I have so many fond memories here with my family and friends. We all crashed at Bill’s Super 8 motel room and after a nice breakfast/brunch at the Bunnery in Jackson, we made our way to the familiar Lupine Meadows trailhead in the early afternoon. Billy had secured us two nights of backcountry camping at the Meadows (9,200′) about 4.5 miles in from the trailhead in Garnet Canyon. The backpack approach was great. The weather looked a bit threatening but held off until we were able to find a campsite and set up our tents. Apparently, bears have become more of a problem than I remember and everyone carries bear spray now and so Bill bought a bottle and kept it on him. Despite the fact that Billy wanted to see a Grizz (I sure as heck did not), fortunately any bears steered clear of us on the approach and on the way out.
The boys excited to enter Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton behind
Garnet Canyon with the Middle Teton looming large
Negotiating the boulder field with decent size packs en route to the Meadows
The rain and hail (marble-size) let loose about 10 minutes after we set up camp
Once at our camp in the Meadows, it hailed marble-sized hail stones for a good 10 minutes at which point I was concerned for my Bibler tent. It soon let up and just rained for a good hour or two. Mike & Bill came into my Bibler with Reid & I and we all played the card game Hearts to our hearts’ content. The weather soon cleared a bit and it stopped raining. We got out of the tent and were greeted with amazing alpenglow from the setting sun bouncing off the clouds and Tetons. It created a real “glow” in Garnet Canyon and was absolutely awesome and such a treat.
The Grand Teton shrouded in clouds
Awesome alpenglow looking up into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon and the South Teton
Looking down Garnet Canyon to the valley floor
The Middle Teton
The boys admiring the view
However great the alpenglow moment was, we soon heard the search and rescue (SAR) helicopter’s blades whipping the humid air coming up into Garnet Canyon. We knew there had been some sort of accident. The chopper made a pass at a small cliff next to the waterfall below the campsite called the Ledges about 300 vertical feet above us on the trail to the Lower saddle. It then landed in the Meadows and dispatched a few SAR guys who quickly hiked up to the base of the small cliff. They were all there for a good two hours with us wondering what was going on.
The chopper circling the Ledges campsites and the Grand behind
The SAR chopper preparing to land at the Meadows to drop SAR members off
Finally, two SAR guys walked past us and told us the poor guy had “pitched off” and did not make it. We really didn’t know what that exactly meant and obviously did not ask the SAR fellows, but we did read two days later that the 40 year old fellow from Boulder had been searching for a campsite in the same hail storm and had fallen off the small cliff. Unfortunately, he did not make it. Its moments like these that really are so very tragic and make you realize the seriousness and unforgiving power of the mountains. And not just the Tetons – really, any mountains. We all have to be so careful. The accident definitely put a somber mood around our camp, but we soon tried to psyche ourselves up for the next day and be positive for our upcoming climb. We had gotten two nights of camping just in case Saturday turned out to be too stormy for a summit day and by 11pm that evening I think we all were beginning to think we would be going for the summit Sunday. The rain really came down for a good hour, which did not help raise our spirits too much. Nevertheless, it stopped, we all tossed and turned, and got up around 2am for a 3am start. It was clear out and we could see stars, so we decided to go for it. We made good time up the trail past the Ledges and into the North Fork of Garnet Canyon in the dark by headlamp. Its a steep trail, that’s for sure, but everyone did well. Routefinding up this trail in the dark is never easy, but we found our way after getting off route once or twice. We made it to the fixed ropes, which are set up to provide an easy ascent of a 75 ft class 4/5 rock band. We soon hit the Lower saddle around 5am still in the dark no less. The wind picked up and Billy had a bad cramp in his leg so I quickly massaged his quad for him and I guess I had the magic touch as he soon after felt a lot better. There were definitely several other parties on the trail and stirring in the Exum hut at the Lower saddle and so we quickly headed up the trail to the Black Dike, a feature on the way up to the Upper Saddle. Now the route between the Lower & Upper Saddles is about as far from straightforward as it gets. It seems I go a different way each time I climb the Grand. Its especially tough in the dark. In 2007, it was light by the time we were heading up to the Upper Saddle which made things a lot easier. Nonetheless, we made our way up trying to avoid being too easterly towards the point where climber’s access the Upper Exum ridge. We followed a small climber’s trail between class 3 and 4 moves. I remembered certain features from before but again the dark really played havoc on our routefinding abilities. We then climbed a 10 ft class 4 slab onto a very loose scree field and followed another team of three up to a point below a 30 ft class 5 chimney up a very wet mini-waterfall of sorts. Sam, the leader of the group, ascended the chimney and I took off after him scoping it out for Billy, Reid, & Mike. I made it up and searched around, but did not remember having to make these moves at all from before, so I downclimbed the sketchy, wet chimney back to the boys. This downclimb was likely the most dangerous climbing I did all day. There was definitely a better way.
On our descent to the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle later in the day, I got a view of the class 5 rock I climbed and downclimbed (shown in red) in the dark early that morning trying to find a way through. Not recommended. We found a better way up the class 4 slabs I had ascended previously in 2007
We descended 100 vertical feet or so back to the short class 4 slab. By that time, it was getting light enough that we could see storm clouds in the distance and it was ever so lightly spitting snow on us. This again did not inspire confidence in us continuing our climb. We called it off for all of about 2 minutes when we looked up and it all seemed to be clearing and the snow stopped. We turned around and headed up and now that it was light enough, we found the class 4 slabs/chimney (maybe a low 5th class move or two) I remembered climbing in 2007 just to the right of the waterfall chimney I had climbed and downclimbed a few minutes ago. Now this familiar route did inspire confidence.
Taken later that day on our descent, this picture shows the class 4 slabs/chimney (maybe a low 5th class move or two) we ascended early that morning on the way to the Upper Saddle. We found a better way down to the right in this picture
We then all set off up the slabs/chimney for a few hundred vertical feet and topped out on more remnants of a faint climber’s trail, which eventually led to much easier access to the Upper Saddle.
Billy & Reid starting the class 4 slabs to the Upper Saddle I remember climbing last time in 2007
Mikey in an airy position
Billy & Mike climbing the class 4 slabs with a low 5th class move or two
Reid making his way to the Upper Saddle
Once at the Upper saddle, spirits were high again and we regrouped, got something to eat and drink, flaked out the ropes, and racked up for the technical portion of the climb. The views were incredible, better than I remembered, and the rising sun’s rays on the other peaks of the Tetons and Idaho were unbelievable.
The sun hits the southern Tetons
Clouds over Jackson Hole beneath Buck Mountain
The Middle Teton and Idaho to the west
Reid & I were the lead rope team while Bill & Mike were the second rope team. I went off and only placed one sling around a rock horn to protect the first Belly Roll pitch. I quickly built an anchor and belayed Reid up. Now, it was chilly out, especially on the west side of the mountain which receives no direct sunlight until later in the day. I climbed without my gloves but belayed with them on. The plan was just to leave all my gear in so Mike could efficiently lead for the second rope team. This worked out pretty well.
Mike leading the Belly Roll pitch (5.4) of the Owen-Spaulding route
We had to wait a bit for the team of three ahead of us. The longer we waited, the colder we got, but it is what it is. They were very nice folks and I chatted with them quite a bit as I was the closest one to them.
Bill coming up the Belly Roll pitch to the ledge between the Belly Roll & Belly Crawl pitches on the Owen-Spaulding route
I set out across the very exposed yet easy Belly Crawl pitch placing 3 cams total for the Belly Crawl & Double Chimney.
Exposure on the Belly Crawl pitch
Reid poking his head out from the ledge before the Belly Crawl pitch
I belayed Reid from on top of the Double Chimney and Mike soon followed Reid leading for his team. The climbing up until this point was at most 5.4. So, still technical with lots of exposure yet easy and fun climbing all the same.
Bill coming up the Double Chimney
Bill & Mike hanging out at the top of the Double Chimney
Just awesome low-level clouds in the canyons below
Mt. Moran looking stately in the distance on the right
I then told Sam to climb the awesome Owen Chimney instead of taking the Catwalk slabs around and they did just that. I hope they enjoyed it. I think they did. I took off up the fun 5.5 Owen Chimney placing two cams and clipping a fixed piton and set up an anchor at the top of the chimney and brought Reid up.
Looking down at the boys from about halfway up the Owen Chimney
Reid climbing the Owen Chimney
Mike was on Reid’s tail and then he brought Billy up.
Mike leading the Owen Chimney
Bill climbing the Owen Chimney
I think we had a pretty speedy and efficient method going here for sure. From this point, we coiled the ropes, stowed them in our packs, and set off scrambling up Sargeant’s Chimney and then the really fun upper class 3 slabs to the Grand’s summit. The last few hundred vertical feet to the summit are really fun, low consequential scrambling.
Bill on the upper mountain a few hundred feet below the summit
Mike & Reid scrambling up the upper mountain’s fun slabs
I reached the summit around 10:15am and took a video of the boys topping out. It was a very special moment to see the three of them so excited and accomplished. I just love it.
Here is a short video of the boys reaching the Grand’s summit:
We stayed up top for a good half hour admiring the views, taking pictures, and soaking in the moment. The weather had really held off this day. We all felt very lucky and fortunate. It was a very pleasing summit.
The four of us on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′) on September 7, 2013
The Grand Teton summit marker – I guess its 5 ft higher than I previously thought :)
Billy & I finally on top of the Grand together
Billy, me, & Mikey on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′)
Reid & myself on the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770′)
Looking down at Mt. Owen (far left) and Teewinot (far right) from the northern edge of the Grand’s summit
Lowly Teewinot from the Grand’s summit
We soon gathered our gear and I wanted us down to the Upper Saddle by noon to avoid any possibility of storms settling down on us while we were still on the technical portions of the mountain. The scrambling down to Sargeant’s Chimney rappel went well and I quickly set up the first “warm-up” rappel.
Billy starting the Sargeant’s Chimney rappel
We all then scrambled down to the main 120 ft rappel, which dumped you back at the Upper Saddle. There was no waiting in line here like we did for an hour back in 2007. Mike and I set up the double-rope rappel and I was the first to set off with Mike bringing up the rear. The exhilaration you feel and fun you have on the 90 ft free-hanging portion of the rappel is definitely one of the technical highlights of the climb. Its just so much fun. The guys loved it.
Bill having a blast on the free-hanging portion of the big 120 ft rappel to the Upper Saddle
We then took a break, ate some snacks, drank some Gatorade, coiled and stowed the ropes, and de-racked our gear. We kept our helmets on for the descent to the Lower Saddle because of the potential for class 4/low 5th class moves and loose rock. No matter how hard we tried, I think we still got off route a bit and had to perform some class 4/low 5th class downclimbs and routefind quite a bit. Whatever. It is what it is. We eventually made it to the Lower Saddle and regrouped with some food and water. If the Tetons can’t teach you how to scramble, I’m not sure what mountain range can. If you can scramble here, I honestly believe you can scramble anywhere.
The Middle Teton Glacier as seen on the descent from the Upper Saddle to the Lower Saddle
Back at the Lower Saddle with the route to the Upper Saddle and Grand behind
The boys descending the fixed ropes below the Lower Saddle
We made it back to camp around 3pm, packed up, and started the backpack out around 4pm finally arriving back at Bill’s jeep around 6pm capping off a 15 hour day. Not too bad. I wanted us to head straight to Dornan’s restaurant’s rooftop deck in Moose for beers and dinner for good ole times’ sake. I always loved going here with my Dad and family and enjoying the great views of the Tetons. It did not disappoint. It capped off a wonderful 36 hrs in the Tetons with my great friends.
Cheers on the rooftop deck at Dornan’s!
Left to right: The Grand, Mt. Owen, Teewinot
The Grand: the birthplace of American mountaineering and the birthplace of my own mountaineering
We drove to Pinedale that evening after dinner, got a motel room and very quickly passed out, and then made the remaining drive home to Vail Sunday morning. It was good to be home, but sad to cap off a great trip with Bill, Reid, & Mike. I am so proud of these guys. It was an honor to be up on the Grand with them.
On the to-do list for some time now for the Chalks & Oelbergers has been to climb the highest peak in Maine together, Mt. Katahdin. At 5,267′, Katahdin dominates the surrounding terrain and is actually the northern terminus of the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail (AT). Thanks to Ken Oelberger and his fantastic expedition organizing skills in securing parking passes and doing the route research. As Ken & Dianne Oelberger have retired to their beautiful home on the ocean in Maine and thus becoming true “Mainers”, it was only fitting that they climb the highest peak in Maine. Kristine flew back to Maine on a Wednesday while I did so the following Friday. We all went sailing that Saturday, which was so much fun. Ken even let me handle the “rutter” of his pride & joy sailboat, which Thomas & I think he should name. Every sailboat needs a good name. I guess he trusted me somewhat even though I had absolutely zero sailing knowledge before I stepped aboard his boat. After some good quality time with all the Oelbergers (including Kristine’s sister, Carrie, her husband, Thomas, and 2 year old son, Kai), Ken, Dianne, Kristine, & myself packed up at the Oelberger residence on a Sunday and headed out for northern Maine and Mt. Katahdin. We took two cars as Kristine & I would continue on into Canada and Quebec City for a few days to visit our great friend, Rob Casserley, and his wife, Marie-Kristelle Ross. Rob & Marie-Kristelle (MK) met us at the Big Moose Inn in the small town of Millinocket at the base of Katahdin on Sunday evening. Rob & MK took the road less traveled from Highway 201, which comes down due south from Quebec City into Maine, on about 50 miles of dirt roads, but in the end they found their way to Millinocket. It was so fantastic to catch up with Rob & MK. It had been awhile since we had all seen each other. Ken & Dianne stayed at the Big Moose Inn while the rest of us camped at the campground just next door. We had a big campfire and cooked our homemade Kristine burritos on the fire and had a good ole evening.
The alarm sounded at 5am and we met Ken & Dianne at the Big Moose around 6am. It was a dreary day and started to rain a bit on the way into the Baxter State Park gate entrance and the Roaring Brook trailhead. The rain and cold definitely didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Nonetheless, we headed out up the trail in the dismal rain and fog. We had an inkling that the skies could clear once we got to treeline due to the 40% chance of rain today for the area. However, once we reached Chimney Pond, 3.3 miles up the trail, the wind and rain picked up and the visibility was next to nothing.
Ken, Dianne, & MK posing with Katahdin in the clouds
There were lots of folks on the trail standing around at the shelter at Chimney Pond snacking and trying to get out of the rain and cold. We all decided to turn around and head down and to try again the next day (Tuesday) which promised a much better weather forecast. Now the trails in the northeast are significantly different than the trails out here in Colorado. They are not just your smooth dirt trails. They comprise boulders and rocks at about every step and are tough on the legs and joints. Some sections are so “bouldery” that I would be hesitant at all to trail run these trails. The slick nature of these boulders with the rain really added to the difficulty and considering what we climbed the next day beyond Chimney Pond, I am so glad we turned around this first day.
Rob, MK, & Kristine in good spirits on the hike out to the car despite the rain and cold
We made it back to the car around lunchtime and headed into Millinocket for come coffee and meandering around. We went to a cool little upstairs cafe for a few hours and ran into some folks who had just completed a thruhike of the AT in a little under 5 months. We were all very impressed by the thruhike achievement and when you think about it, it truly is so amazing. I have heard most people who set out to thruhike usually end up dropping out for one reason or another. Even Rob having 8 Everest summits under his belt and numerous other 8000ers and mountains around the world seemed very impressed. Rob, MK, Kristine, & I were later talking about how cool it would be to attempt an AT thruhike someday, but we wondered if we would get bored or if our joints would hold up for that. Who knows. I guess we’d never know until we tried.
We then headed back to the Big Moose Inn, watched Rob slither into his wetsuit and swim 2 miles in the lake next door in prepartrion for his upcoming ironman triathalon in Canada, and then had a nice dinner at the tavern adjacent the Inn.
The man, the myth, the legend – Rob Casserley looking good for his upcoming triathalon
MK & Kristine on the dock watching Rob swim
Ken & Dianne retired to their cozy room at the Inn while the kids walked back over to the campsite to have a brief campfire with some crazy Canadian mega marshmellow roasting before retiring to our respective tents. 5am came way to early once again and we were quick to get on the road back up to the trailhead for round 2. Despite our strong percolated coffee, I think MK and I were definitely falling sleep in the back of Ken’s car on the way to the trailhead. We just couldn’t wake up. However, once we all got moving in the nice early morning weather, we all felt more energetic.
Mt. Katahdin model map showing the various routes from Chimney Pond. Our route up the Saddle Trail is shown in red
This day’s weather was a complete 180 from the previous day’s weather. Moderate temperatures and sun had replaced the miserable rain, cold, and wind. It was great.
Gorgeous Maine streams and forests
On the trail to Chimney Pond
Newly constructed log bridges
Mt. Katahdin from Chimney Pond was such a sight to see, one we did not have the previous day due to the socked in clouds and fog. For the east coast, Katahdin sure is a steep mountain on many sides. I’ve climbed many of the southern states highpoints (Mt. Mitchel in NC, Clingman’s Dome in TN, Brasstown Bald in GA, and Mt. Rogers in VA), but Katahdin really is so much more gnarly and thus exciting. I am sure there are some technical rock and ice routes up this peak. It would be fun to come back at some point and attempt a technical route on this awesome peak.
Baxter Peak on Mt. Katahdin from Chimney Pond
There were lots of folks on the trail this day due to the good weather and we noticed the hike to Chimney Pond was popular among families with kids. However, we saw several kids make it to the summit, which was great to witness.
The young gals at Chimney Pond
The boys at Chimney Pond
Ken & Dianne at Chimney Pond
After a nice break at Chimney Pond, we signed the ranger’s register and continued on up the Saddle Trail which took us up to the ridge and saddle between Baxter Peak (the highpoint of Mt. Katahdin at 5,267′) and Hamlin Peak (4,751′) to the north. The trail was very very “bouldery” and there were small sections of class 3 scrambling, i.e. using your hands for upwards progress. Ken & Dianne did wonderful on this scrambling despite having never been accustomed to this type of “hiking” at all in their lives. No doubt Rob, MK, Kristine and I were all so very happy to be here with Ken & Dianne. It took awhile to get up to the saddle, but we all did and took a nice break.
Dianne & Ken taking a break on the steep Saddle Trail with a gorgeous backdrop
Rob “monkeying” around
Beautiful Maine scenery from the Saddle Trail
Dianne working the steep Saddle Trail
Scenic shots abound
Dianne in good form on a class 3 section
The gals finish off the scrambling to the saddle
We then continued the remaining 1 mile up Baxter Peak’s north ridge on a good trail, albeit “bouldery”, to the summit. The views along the ridge were phenomenal and we reached the summit around 1:30pm.
The crew heading up Katahdin’s north ridge
The Oelbergers are excited!
Ken making his way
Rob about 24,000′ below his “normal” hiking altitude
It was very exciting for me to watch Ken & Dianne top out on the top of Maine. They were very proud of themselves as they should be.
Dianne is so excited she seems to be levitating
Mother & daughter on Maine’s highest peak
The gals just before Katahdin’s summit
The views down Katahdin’s north-northeast face were awesome all the way down to Chimney Pond.
Looking down at Chimney Pond from the summit
Chimney Pond zoomed in from the summit
We could see climbers on the so-called “knife-edge” over to Pamola Peak (4,902′), a sub-summit of Baxter Peak. We were thinking of descending the knife-edge ridge over to Pamola Peak and down the Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond while Ken & Dianne retraced their steps down the Saddle Trail. However, we absolutely decided not to do this after experiencing the steep, complex, and scrambly nature of the Saddle Trail on the way up. I don’t think any of us were about to let Ken & Dianne descend that trail on their own. The knife-edge ridge and Pamola Peak can definitely wait another day in another year in the future.
People on the knife-edge ridge over to Pamola Peak. Another day in another year for sure
We spent around 30 minutes up top enjoying the views of beautiful Maine with all its dense forests and countless lakes. We took several pictures with the famous Mt. Katahdin summit sign as well. I grabbed a summit rock for us and one for Ken & Dianne as well. It was also so fun and memorable to share another summit with Rob & MK.
The Oelbergers & Chalks on the summit of Mt. Katahdin
The whole crew on the summit of Mt. Katahdin
Rob, MK, Kristine, & me on the summit of Maine
Ken & Dianne on top of Maine
Scenic summit shot of the countless lakes and dense forests of Maine
I think we all knew the descent could take some time, so we got going. Ken & Dianne did extremely well on the steep descent down to Chimney Pond from the saddle. Rob, MK, Kristine, & I were not going to let anything happen to these two stellar mountaineers.
Coming down the Saddle Trail close to Chimney Pond
Typical trail terrain
We all took a long break at Chimney Pond looking back up at Katahdin and then continued on down the Chimney Pond trail. When we passed the Basin Pond, I saw a good outlet through the thicket to the water’s edge and decided to take a dunk. Dianne wanted to check out the cold bath I was about to take and was nice enough to take a few pictures of me. Burr. It was a cold one. It took my breath away, but definitely was rejuvenating. Its always as if I just drank a pot of coffee. That’s how energized I feel.
Lake dunk in Basin Pond on the hike out. I’m always nervous at this point
We eventually made it back to the car around 7pm for an 11 mile and 12 hour roundtrip day with approximately 4,000′ of elevation gain. I know Ken & Dianne’s feet were hurting, as mine were, after such a long day on difficult terrain, but they had made it. We quickly departed the trailhead and headed back to the Big Moose Inn. We needed to get on the road to Quebec City as quickly as possible so we packed up camp, grabbed some coffee, and headed out around 8:30pm. I was sort of envious of Ken & Dianne’s relaxing evening of showering, a good beer, eating a nice meal at the Inn, and hitting the sack early. However, we wanted to get to Quebec with Rob & MK to maximize our time with them as we were to return to Maine on Friday.
After making it through border control, we finally arrived at Rob & MK’s wonderful new home on the south side of downtown Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River around 2:30am. Rob was so excited to have us there, he immediately got to baking a new loaf of bread until 3am. We had a great time in Quebec with Rob & MK. From biking around the downtown area, seeing the Ross family flat in the city where MK lived while attending university, visiting & hiking the awesome Montmorency Falls outside the city, going on an adventure run with Rob through cross-country trails and backroads while the ladies went to hot yoga, it was all good fun and quality time together.
The 275 ft high Montmorency Falls outside Quebec City
Looking down Montmorency Falls from the suspended bridge above
Kristine, MK, & Rob on the suspended bridge
Rob & MK
Kristine & me
Parting shot of the four of us
We then left Quebec City and Rob & MK around lunchtime on Friday and made the 6 hour drive back into Maine and the USA and to the Oelberger Residence. Kristine & I then flew home to Colorado on Sunday after spending two more nights and a day with Ken, Dianne, Carrie, Thomas, & Kai filled with cornhole and lobster/crab roll sandwiches. Yum. All in all, a wonderful trip back to Maine & a new adventure for me at least up to Quebec to visit great friends. Maybe in the future we can join Ken, Dianne, Rob, & MK on more hikes and summits in New England.
I had climbed Rainier 9 yrs ago in August of 2000 via the standard Disappointment Cleaver (DC route) with two buddies of mine as my 1st real glaciated mountain climb and absolutely fell in love with mountaineering. I hence named my golden retriever after the mountain as well and have been climbing higher and more involved glaciated peaks ever since. When my two buddies, Steve & Nico (the Cizik brothers), asked if I would like to come with them to attempt the Tahoma Glacier route on the west side of the mountain, I was definitely in as was buddies Matt, J, and Baba. I had done many glaciated climbs with J before including Hood and Denali and I think the Ciziks liked having us along because they believe we bring good luck with the weather. This would be Baba’s 1st big climb on a glaciated peak. The Ciziks had attempted this route 3 yrs prior but due to the lower part of the glacier being heavily crevassed and hence difficult and time consuming route finding, they made it to 12,000′ on the Tahoma Glacier headwall before having to turn around. They had also avoided the lower part of the Tahoma due to being heavily cracked up as it was August and ascended the Puyallup Cleaver adjacent the glacier which took up additional time. Thus, the Ciziks were extremely motivated to climb the Tahoma and our plan was to carry full loads up and over the summit with a camp in the crater rim and descend the easier standard DC route. The Ciziks’ father, Rob, had tried this route three times throughout the 80s and 90s and again with his sons but unfortunately never made the summit from the Tahoma. However, Rob and Nico’s wife, Celeste, would climb the DC route and meet us in the crater rim after our overnight at 14,200′ and we would all descend the DC route together. It was a great plan and fortunately it all went according to plan.
Me & J packing up at 2,800′ on the Westside Road in Rainier National Park (11,600′ to go!)
Point of Success and the Tahoma Glacier and headwall from around 3,000′ on the Westside Road
We backpacked with heavy loads of gear and food from 2,800′ to 6,000′ on Day 1 and camped at the easternmost point of Emerald Ridge on some dry ground
Here is a look up the lower part of the Tahoma Glacier and the 2,300′ Tahoma Glacier headwall from camp 1 at 6,000′
On Day 2, we slept in a bit, cranked some coffee, jammed out to some 80s on my solar powered radio and then we were off onto the lower Tahoma Glacier
The lower Tahoma Glacier was filled in enough where it was much more direct and less time consuming then climbing the Puyallup Cleaver to the north. Our late start that day had a small price of some annoying post holing for the leader but we didn’t mind one bit considering we didn’t have to deal with the additional weight of snowshoes on our person. The lower part of the Tahoma Glacier was definitely some fun crevasse meandering and route finding.
Me negotiating one of the numerous crevasses and snow bridges
After 4,000′ of moderately steep glacier travel and route finding and sitting out an intense electrical storm in which our poles, pickets, ascenders, biners, etc were building charge and making noise, we rolled into our camp 2 at 10,000′. I’ve never had to deal with electrical storms on a glacier but I tell you it is a scary ordeal. Nowhere to hide or run…all you can do is take off your pack and metal gear, put it a good distance from yourself and get low and wait it out.
Our camp 2 when the storm passed and the sun came out with the Tahoma Glacier headwall on the left and Tahoma Cleaver on the right in the background
Me looking up at the Sunset Amphitheatre with the Tahoma Glacier headwall out of view to the right
The Ciziks did a bit of route finding through the remainder of the lower Tahoma Glacier to the base of the headwall after we rolled into camp. This was much appreciated as it probably saved us 2 hrs of route finding and headaches in the morning for summit day.
Sunset from my tent at 10,000′ on the Tahoma Glacier
After waking up at 2:30am and entirely packing up camp on our backs (as we would carry all our gear up and over Rainier), we departed camp 2 around 4:30am.
Summit day morning around 4:45am shows Matt with a monster crack we crossed over
We made it to the base of the headwall (around 11,000′) and considered our future.
J with the Tahoma Glacier headwall behind (2,300′ of crevassed 50 degree snow)
Matt & Steve climbing the Tahoma Glacier headwall with the lower Tahoma Glacier far below which we ascended
Me climbing the Tahoma Glacier headwall with Liberty Cap behind me
The headwall’s sustained 45-50 deg snow let up around 13,300′ but not without a major obstacle for us to overcome…a major crevasse that traversed the entire glacier and only two potential snow bridges to cross at around 13,100′. We decided on the larger one, but the uphill side was severely overhanging the crack. Steve went first on a tight boot axe belay from Matt and made it across. Then, Matt went on a tight boot axe belay from above by Steve and below by Nico. Then, when we thought Matt was across, the entire bridge and overhanging part of the crevasse wall went! Nico immediately hit the ground to arrest the fall, J jumped on top of Nico and I set up a picket as an anchor with ascender on the rope to Matt. However, there was no tension on the rope. We did not know what was going on and why there was no tension. Low and behold, the crevasse constricted to about 7 feet in width about 20 ft down and the snow debris had wedged in between the constricted part and Matt had fallen 30′ onto his back on top of the wedged debris. Fortunately, he was ok as Baba called down to him. We pulled Matt out on the downhill side of the crack and he regained his composure. I don’t know of anyone who could have regained their composure as quickly as Matt did.
The aftermath of the snow bridge and crevasse wall collapse
So, we had a dilemma…Steve was on the uphill side of the 8 ft wide crack and the remaining 5 of us on the downhill side with only a foot wide by 3 foot deep bridge that we didn’t even consider crossing before. It seemed like it would go if we just touched it. However, it was our only hope. Matt got back on the horse again after his fall and crawled across the narrow bridge without his pack while Steve anchored himself in from above with a picket and belayed him and Nico belayed him from below. He made it! The bridge held! We went one by one, crawling across the bridge and all of us had made it except Baba who was deeply concerned with the bridge holding considering he was 215 lbs and had a 60 lb pack on his back. However, we had 4 pickets in the ground and belayed him from above with a very taught rope essentially trying to pull him upwards and the bridge held much to Baba and our relief.
Matt crawling across the tiny snow bridge spanning the crux crevasse at the top of the Tahoma Glacier headwall
Me belaying Nico up the narrow snow bridge
If there had not been any bridge to get across after the collapse of the seemingly large one, Steve would have had to set up a bombproof anchor from above and we each would have had to drop down into the crevasse and ascend the rope up the uphill side…it could have been very time consuming but doable for us. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go there. Another couple sunny days and that small bridge would be gone and the route wouldn’t go anymore without setting up a ladder or tyrolean traverse. With the drama behind us, we gathered ourselves and climbed the remaining 1,100′ to the west end of the west crater rim dodging crevasses here and there.
Me almost to the west crater rim with Baba behind after climbing the much gentler, less crevassed final 800′ of the Tahoma Glacier
We made the west crater rim at around 11:30am and then deroped and walked across the west crater rim to Columbia Crest at 14,411′ and topped out around 11:45AM.
Baba, J, and me on Rainier’s summit after climbing the Tahoma Glacier
Group summit shot (left to right: Matt, Steve, J, Baba, Nico, and me)
I knew my good buddy Caleb Wray and his team of skiers had successfully summitted Rainier the day before since I saw their ski tracks heading south off the summit towards the upper Nisqually Glacier and the Fuhrer Finger. Congrats guys on a great climb and ski descent! We then headed down to the east end of Rainier’s main crater rim and set up our camp 3 about 50′ away from where the standard DC Route comes up and over the crater rim so we could watch out for Rob and Celeste the following morning coming up that route. After hours and hours of eating, drinking, sipping some scotch, and napping, Baba, J, and I walked back up to the summit for some sunset views from the top of Washington.
Our 14,200′ camp 3 at the east end of the crater rim as seen from the summit that evening
Me back on top of Rainier again that day at around 8pm
We then hit the sack for as soon as the sun went down it got really chilly. I think the low that night was around 5 degrees on the summit. However, the weather couldn’t have been better for a summit crater overnight. We woke up at around 7am and brewed coffee and ate bagels and listened to some Seattle radio stations on my solar powered radio. A few RMI guided groups reached the crater rim at that time and I have to admit they looked at us with a bit of confusion like what were we doing up here. Nevertheless, one of the guides asked where we were from and we said Colorado and then he asked “Is Brandon Chalk there?” Wow…it turned out to be my good friend Mike Horst who was guiding for Alpine Ascents. Last time I saw Mike was at Aconcagua base camp 3 yrs ago when he was guiding a group and I was climbing Aconcagua independently with two good friends. We asked his clients to wait a bit and he and I caught up on old times. It was great to see him. Celeste and Rob crested the crater rim around 9am and the Ciziks went with them to the summit while J, Baba, and I explored the many deep caves expelling sulfur below the crater rim. We then all packed up and headed down the upper Ingraham Glacier down the normal standard DC route…it was indeed a highway and made me feel so happy that we ascended the much much less traveled Tahoma Glacier.
Descending the upper Ingraham Glacier with Little Tahoma Peak in the background
J descending Disappointment Cleaver with a monster crevasse below
Upper Ingraham Glacier
We then made it in no time to Camp Muir, had lunch and re-filled water bottles, and plunge stepped our way down the Muir Snowfield to Paradise for a total descent time from the summit to paradise of 6 hrs and 9,000′. Rainier beers were on the menu and we celebrated our success and safe return and how this climb (excluding the crevasse fall), the weather (excluding the electrical storm), and timing with Celeste and Rob worked out just perfectly.
Me with my good ole Rainier Beer hat and Rainier Beer after a successful 4 days and 3 nights on a fantastic mountain