It was a relatively innocuous Friday evening. Nick and I headed out to the locally put on craft brew festival, and tapped out after a few tastes, and a few amusing interactions with both admin and crew members… perhaps enjoying good beer goes hand in hand with conservation?
An early night in led to discussions of plans for the rest of the weekend; I had just found out that I had an extra two days off, so naturally I was keen to explore. Nick was as well, and we decided on a short, steep, visually gratifying winter summit attempt of Mt. Ellinor, the southwestern-most peak of the Olympic range. Saturday morning allowed for the finishing up of work and planning, and by late evening, we were on the road, headed north. A bit of Earth in Mind, and a good deal of related conversation, and suddenly we found ourselves outside Seattle… we had made great time, but unfortunately, Seattle was not the destination. A laugh and a tea stop later, and we had reversed the route, headed back to Olympia, then up towards Hoodsport. Unsure of what the snowpack would look like due to the mixed weather the week before, we knew that we’d have to backtrack to Olympia in the morning to pick up another pair of snowshoes for Nick just in case. Nevertheless, we headed on to the edge of the National Park. Not too long after leaving Olympia, but the ominous flashing lights bid us to stop. A less than ideal speeding ticket later, and we were back on our way. We crashed outside of Hoodsport early that morning, and enjoyed a bit of a lie in the next day.
After discussions at the ranger station, and reviewing road conditions, we decided to tack on an extra ten, or so, miles, and depart from a lower elevation to minimize the driving risk. Four miles in, and we found a place to camp for the night, one switchback below a stunning viewpoint, we realised the next morning. The trail up to this point was mostly free of snow; only the last half-mile or so required a trekking pole for balance on the icy bits.
We enjoyed the sunrise from the tent, repacked summit bags during breakfast, and headed up, with gorgeous views along the way. The snow was mostly solid at first, and we neglected to don snowshoes. As the trail grew steeper, the snow became a little less consolidated, but still manageable. We neared the Avalanche Chute, and with it, the final mile or so to the summit. As we began climbing, Nick shouts, “Oh great, it’s finally too steep to posthole!” He takes another step, and sinks above his knee. A hearty “Fuck!” follows down the chute.
We continue on up, and up and up, keeping an eye on snow conditions, and enjoying the sunshine. It is glorious to be climbing in a tee shirt in February. We near the top of the chute around 12:45pm, and Nick heads down a bit lower for cell service, and the windbreak of a few trees; he has a business call at 1. I can’t begrudge him this–he’s taken a Monday (mostly) off to come climbing with me. I follow leisurely behind, enjoying the prime opportunity for glissading. Waiting for Nick, I explore the side of the chute, taking photos of the channel below, and soaking in the sun; it’s been weeks without sunshine in Eugene, and likely will be weeks more until I see it again.
Nick finishes his call close to two, and we decide to head down after snapping a few more photos; we still have a near ten mile hike out, camp to breakdown, and a four and a half hour drive back south—the true summit will have to wait until next time. I gleefully glissaded down the rest of the chute, practicing my self-arrest skills that didn’t get much attention last year in the Whites because of the awful conditions.
What glorious fun, with such incredible views! It matters not that we did not summit; what inspires the grin on my face is being here, in this place, a part of this grand beauty, if just for this moment. It is being a part of, not apart from, the mountain; there is no conquering, only cohesion.
The purpose for all of this, after all, is the pure joy, pure exhilaration of going up, and going up with good people. The purpose of it all is intentional partnership, with place, with companion, with self. The prospect of the summit is a fine one, but methinks it will be eternally un-gratifying if that on-top-of-the-world feeling can’t be experienced along the way. What is the purpose of public lands? Perhaps the least tangible, the least explicable, is the effect of wild places on the human prospect. One thing is for sure: This human is happier in the mountains.
Special thanks to Andy Hardiman, for sending along some of the tools to make this happen.