Mt. Saint Helens

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in the back of my truck since I didn’t actually make it to the Helens area until midnight.  It was dark, I was tired and it was way too late for me to attempt pitching my tent.  I was just fine blowing up my sleeping pad and crawling into my cozy sleeping bag.  The only thing I missed was my dog Asia.

I actually ended up doing this climb solo.  It wasn’t my initial plan but my plans to go with friends fell through. I had asked a friend who had summited a couple of weeks prior if it would be wise to go by myself.  She said it would be.  They allow only 100 people a day to climb pass the 4800 ft. level and if I were to get hurt, someone would spot me.  That’s all I needed to hear.

On the way to the trailhead I saw the most incredible sunrise!  Since I’m a night owl, I don’t get to witness very many of them.  Sunsets are a different story.

The first 2 miles were a typical hike in the woods.  Once above the tree line it was a couple of miles of climbing large boulders.  The whole way Mt. Adams to the right would wink at you to motivate you to keep going.  Then the last mile was slippery ash.  It is true when they say “two steps forward, one step back”.  At least for the month of August.

I started at the trailhead at 7:45 a.m. and didn’t finish until 4:45 p.m.

Finally reaching the summit, the view will take your breathe away.  It’s not every day you get to look in the crater of a volcano.  I loved the strength of the wind and the subtlety of the earthy tones Helen’s has.  Rust, coppers with varieties of grey that any color scale would be envious of.  I pulled my hair out of my pony tail and took off my hat to really feel the wind and closed my eyes.  I could feel the grit and ash on my skin and in my hair.  It was my favorite part.

Sunrise

Mt. Adams winking

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Mountaineering

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I decided to sign up with American Alpine Institute for a skills and summit course at Mt. Baker.  I trained 5 to 6 days a week for four months solid; strength training, intervals, core exercises and hiking at least three times a week. A couple of smaller hikes after running the dogs in the Snoqualmie region and then I would make sure to do a 7 to 9 mile steeper hike on the weekends.  Interesting enough, I really enjoyed the training.  Feeling strong and surrounding myself around nature while doing it is quite enjoyable.

When it was time to go last weekend I felt as ready as I could be physically. I knew it would also be a challenge mentally but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it really was. This trip pulled out  fears that were hidden down inside.  It challenged my confidence and if I really was willing to take that next step forward.  Literally.  After our first 1,000 ft. practice climb the day before we were suppose to summit, I psyched myself out so much that I was considering not going. At those crucial times, (you know, the make or break moments) Chad Cochran, our guide had this keen sense of knowing when I needed the encouragement and to rattle me out of my doubt.  I kid you not, I don’t think this trip would have been as successful for me as it was if it wasn’t for him.  I needed that extra push and seeing that he believed in me transformed into strength.  I’m not big on believing in the devil with horns, dressed in red and standing in fire but I do think if anything can be called the devil it’s fear and doubt. It will stop you in your tracks of what you really want in life. If that’s not “the devil” than I don’t know what is.

We set out to start our climb at 2:00 a.m. in the morning with our head lamps on. We had a meteor shower showing off above us and most of my focus was looking down at my crampons highlighted by my headlamp.   All I heard was crunch, crunch, axe, crunch crunch axe, repeat. After three hours of that, the sun decided to join us as it raised it’s glory over Mt. Baker dressed in orange, hues of yellow and pink.

About that time we were facing the Roman Wall which is much steeper once you actually get on it. I think I had to grunt to complete each step.

Once returning back to Hogsback base camp, I then finally felt my complete self again. The weight and the stress of getting up there was behind me and I only felt the accomplishment of succeeding at what I set out to do. I never felt better, relieved and proud.

After summiting a mountain that is just shy of 11,000 feet, I have all the admiration and respect for the true alpinists out there. They are truly fearless.  Allow me to rephrase; maybe not fearless but courageous to face their fear.