It’s getting a little bit, um, real-er. Almost a year after first posting about my insane, next-to-impossible goal of eventually ascending Denali, I am taking a legitimate step toward it.
I mostly focused on the physical aspects of being able to climb a serious, major mountain when I wrote that. And the physical aspects of being able to do that are no joke. I still don’t know if I’m there, despite some decent training over the past several years. I just feel like you (well, I) can never feel ready to tackle something that enormous. So that continues.
However, as the physical training continues, another part that is utterly crucial to being able to achieve this comes from the area of knowledge and actual skills while on the mountain—skills that can help you and your team survive in the cold, on (or in) a glacier, or on the side of an unforgiving mountain face. These are the actual mountaineering skills. Presently, I have virtually none of them.
In order to acquire some of those skills, I have signed up to do a seminar on Mt. Rainier in July. In addition to a summit attempt, there are a couple of days working on glacier travel and rescue skills. Successful completion of the seminar qualifies me to use the same guide service for a trip to Denali.
While that trip to Denali is what I am looking toward, I can’t help but be completely engulfed in this upcoming trip to Rainier. The list of required gear is pretty staggering for someone who has no experience in this. I started picking up things last year as I began to think about backpacking in general, and there is a lot of crossover, but there are some specific things that the average backpacker has no use for. That’s where the list really extends.
With some small exceptions, I am pretty well outfitted now. I have had some incredibly generous friends help me out some of the gear, and months of scouring websites to obsess over exactly which fleece jacket I would use as a lightweight insulation layer and finding the right sales and discounts have paid off. I don’t have any idea how someone comes into all this stuff without being stressed about whether you made the right choice here or there and whether you saved enough money to justify the purchase. I have worried about it almost constantly.
Upon acquiring the necessary gear, testing is important. Learning how to properly dress to avoid the problems of being too hot or cold is an easy one that just takes time. Ensuring that some of the more technical equipment I have will work well and I’ll know what the hell I’m doing with it is a bit tougher. It’s easy enough to get out on a Saturday morning to try some things out. It’s much more difficult to take an entire weekend and hike into the backcountry to test out some overnight gear when you’re essentially going to be by yourself and in potentially dangerous conditions. Heck, even getting to some places where it’s possible to use some of the equipment (crampons, ice axe) in a meaningful way hasn’t been easy with the light winter we’ve had.
My best attempt at this so far has been to hike from the Galena Creek Regional Park area up the Jones Creek/Whites Creek Loop. I jut off to Church’s Pond and have gone beyond that point with snowshoes. My limitation has been the length of day. So far, they aren’t quite long enough to make my way up to Mount Rose, which has been the goal. I have been able to try out some of the snow gear, which has worked well. I’ve also been forced to wear substantial clothing. Like an idiot, the one time I brought my stove for a hot lunch, I forgot matches. So, I simply ate a Top Ramen pack dry and made my way back.
A trip or two this spring with some overnights (Shasta, anyone?) would be ideal. There are a few really intriguing hikes around here that would require some steep climbs with a full pack, which I’d love to take on as part of the regimen. And now with us finally getting a bit of snow around here, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to try out some of the snow equipment I have.
Overall, this venture has been going really well and has been a lot of fun. Rainier will be a great challenge. I just wish I wasn’t waiting another five months.