Saturday, September 13, 2008

Validating the Effort

Traveling in the mountains combines so many variables that one of the great thrills is meeting that uncertainty head-on, recognizing that the problem solving and decision making are half the fun. Unfortunately, the accomplishment of your mountain goal doesn't always mirror your efforts. You can be caught in a whiteout just prior to an epic line after hours of brutal trailbreaking; or, be surrounded by lightning and thunder a thousand feet from the summit after two days of climbing; or, experience furious, unstable winds on a narrow ridgeline midway through a traverse. Yet every now and then, the stars align and you have one of those experiences that validates all the effort that you expend in the mountains.

This summer I went back to the Cascade volcanoes to climb two more mountains off my wishlist: Mount Hood and Mount Adams (pictured below, as seen from Mt. Rainier).

At Mount Adams, the road was still snowed-in 3.5 miles from the trailhead. There was no way we could carry all of our climbing gear an additional 7 miles round trip, so we decided to abandon our more technical route, in order to spend half the day digging out the road and climb the standard route. We teamed up with other climbers and started to dig ruts in the snow. After four hours, we were only half way. With no possibility of turning the trucks around, we had to finish digging the road all the way to the trailhead parking lot--it was pure hell.
I cursed this decision multiple times, wondering how all this effort would ever be worth it. Then, when we reached the trailhead, a 30-day survival group had a young adult who had fallen in a tree well with a 70-pound pack and blown out his knee. They had no idea how to get him down the mountain. They were preparing to carry him in a stretcher made of sticks when we showed up at 8pm. They were stunned and emotional at the same time. We put the boy in the back of the car and drove him down our newly opened road. It was an incredible experience. To have spent all that energy and time on a seemingly stupid decision, and then to validate the crushing effort by helping someone in such desperate need. 
Although we didn't get to climb the Mazama Glacier, the following day was perfect weather and we climbed the standard South Spur route, nearly 6,700 vertical feet and 14 miles round trip. You can never have enough good Karma!

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