It is raining here in Seattle, snowing on Mt. Rainier, and the larches are starting to turn. So regardless of the date (sorry, Logan), I think my summer season is a wrap. I am going to try to start a tradition of reflecting on my major seasons: what I learned, how I fared, what I see in the future.
After many years of anticipation, this was my first full summer in the Cascades, and it was really not what I expected. I came into the summer out of shape both physically and technically. Honestly, I have struggled like never before to find motivation to train or even get up in the morning for a pre-dawn drive to the trailhead. Most of all, I think it is the complete lack of meaning in mountain climbing that has dogged me. What is the point of forgoing sleep, driving great distances, getting wet, potentially hurting myself, and trashing my body? But also what is the point of investing years of your life in someone only to have them break your heart? We’re all Sisyphus and so we all just have to choose which boulders we want to push at a particular point in life. I realized that climbing at a super high level or running great distances or speeds did not mean much to me at this stage. Additionally, I knew I just did not have the motivation and drive to truly push myself to my limits. I needed to find something else meaningful in the mountains. Grace. Recovery. Adventure. Love.
In my soul searching, I discovered the vision of the Cascade High Route (thank you to Daniel for fostering it). High routes – non-technical off trail traverses – require nothing extraordinary of the individual. But they are elusive in imagination and execution. They allow me to combine my broad range of mediocre skills to experience the maximum amount of wild, beautiful terrain in the purest way. In the Cascades, it seems this type of travel is under appreciated, possibly because of the ruggedness of the terrain and lack of access. Without ever doing anything extreme, I felt like I was doing something truly unique. It felt meaningful.
Without further delay, here are the most notable trips of my summer, and what they meant to me.
Acceptance: Mt. Olympus and the Hoh Rainforest
Over 3 days of perfect June weather, Daniel and I walked up Mt. Olympus in Olympic National Park. I don’t know if it was the lush green forests, being with my best friend, or just having time to process my thoughts hundreds of miles away in such a peaceful place, but this trip is the first time in months when I felt emotionally stable and accepting of how my life had changed. Instead of being a distraction or adrenaline rush, the mountains were a place of comfort and reflection. I realized I had so much to be grateful for and if nothing else, so many beautiful places to visit.
New Beginnings: Forbidden Peak, West Ridge
Although Anthony and I had briefly skied together in the sprint, this was our first real trip together. The day went flawlessly: bluebird weather, good snow conditions, magnificent climb. The setting was perhaps the most alpine and beautiful I have ever experienced in a rock climb.
Even more notable than the climb itself was the start of vibrant partnership. Anthony and I were equally matched in speed and comfort on steep snow and rock. From the start, we were completely on the same page about how we wanted to move in the mountains. It was exciting to think of where our skills could take us together and I know we will help each other to great heights, blending the worlds of sky running, climbing, and ski mountaineering.
When Dreams Come True: The Alpine Lakes Crest Traverse
This was my first big traverse. I had long been curious about the rugged Alpine Lakes Crest and mapped out many different lines over the summer but settled on this one. It was only fitting that Logan was in town and able to go on the trip with me, since we spent so much time in the Snoqualmie Backcountry last winter dreaming of these peaks.
As the off trail section kept providing passages and effortless descents, it seemed almost too good to be true. The line was so pure, so alpine, so rugged. How could this not be a classic among the ranks of the Ptarmigan Traverse? This was such an empowering experience because it confirmed my vision of the Cascade High Route and opened hundreds of opportunities as I began to look at the mountains in a new way. This was definitely my greatest accomplishment of the summer.
Going into the summer, the hopeful Glacier Peak High Route was the focal point, so I was a little disappointed when Logan, Daniel, Jacob and I decided to “settle” for just the northern half of the trip. On the second night, as we got pounded by rain at the White Rock Lakes, it seemed that we might not even to get to do anything beyond the traditional Ptarmigan Traverse. But the next day, the clouds dropped and we walked across the sky, over Dome Peak and to the Hanging Gardens. We dodged the weather and were still able to finish the trip we had aspired to. The mountains allowed us just enough of a weather window. They gave us grace.
It did not really hit me how amazing this trip was until I got to editing the photos and writing about it a few months later. The terrain we covered on the Ptarmigan Traverse and our extension to Image Lake was so wonderfully rugged, remote, and Cascadian. It was the first and possibly only union of a dream team: my three best climbing partners. I am grateful we completed this trip together and had such a complete experience in every way.
I was determined to explore the last unknown section in the Glacier Peak High Route, so I went for a 50 mile solo two day trip around the Dakobed Range. This was the biggest solo trip I had ever attempted and I was mostly concerned about how I would emotionally handle the loneliness. But the Glacier Peak Wilderness is like a second home to me. And my second visit to the magical Napeequa river valley was like falling in love all over again. I realized that these mountains will provide endless adventure for me if I keep my heart open to new experiences and memories. This is a love that is simple, and timeless.
Experience: The Timberline Trail
Before everything else, I was just a runner. Periodically, it is good to return to my roots and run with my best running buddy Blake. We did our first ultra together four years ago. This summer, we tackled the 42 mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. It was definitely challenging, the most fatigued I felt all summer, but we never bonked or crashed. It was a testament to our experience with big days in the mountains and pacing our bodies. We have come a long ways together.
Friendship: WA Pass Four Day Blast
As a final sendoff for Jacob, we spent four awesome days at Washington Pass, climbing the Paisano Burgundy Linkup, Flyboys, the NW Face of Liberty Bell, and the NE Ridge of Black Peak. It was four perfect days, climbing dozens of pitches and catching some beautiful views. Until that point, I had felt utterly no motivation to rock climb, as it just reminded me too much of the things I had lost. But during this weekend, I felt like I regained a joy for rock climbing, and Jacob has been such a huge part of that joy.
I don’t know where I would be as a technical climber if it was not for Jacob. He fostered my crack climbing, trad climbing, and ice climbing. In just two years, we went from fumbling around with multi pitch sport to sending big alpine routes and climbing new ice routes. Through all the highs and lows, we have developed a very deep friendship that I know will last the test of time. That is how friendships forged in the alpine are.
Wilderness: The Brooks Range
This was way out there. Daniel and I flew to Fairbanks, took a 10 hour bus ride north on a gravel road, got dropped off, and started hiking into the wilderness. For a week, we saw more grizzly bears than people, only traces of trails, and the most pristine and wild terrain we had ever seen. At times, I had to remind myself simply how far away from the rest of the world we were. It was an adventure I will remember for a long time. Thanks, Daniel, for daring to dream big and planning the entire trip.
The Future: Mt. Berge, East Ridge
Kyle is another new partner I have found this summer. On our first trip together, we climbed an adventure 1500 ft. 5.8 rock climb – in the clouds and mist. It was cool to be able to approach such a large and unknown climb and send it, despite the variable weather. As my route finding and alpine experience has grown, I feel more comfortable attempting routes with little beta like this one. I know in the future I will seek out more secret classics like this route and hopefully Kyle and I will have more sending and shredding in our futures together.
The Fables: West McMillan Spire
The Pickets are Cascade Legend. They are universally acclaimed for their beauty, ruggedness, and remoteness. Before the summer started, I promised myself I would make a trip out there and finally experience the Pickets. So at the end of August, during the last stretch of warm summer weather, Anthony and I made a day hike of West McMillan Spire, the easiest of the peaks in the Pickets. The Pickets lived up to the hype – the scenery was probably the most stunning I have ever seen. I know we will be coming back with greater aspirations to this marvelous place.
What is Next?
Fall colors, then winter pow. I do not know what lies beyond that, because if I have learned anything this year, it is that I cannot predict what life will throw at me next. I never envisioned being here a year ago, but I feel like I rebounded well from a broken spring and I am proud of what I accomplished. Ultimately, it drove me to find new meaning in the mountains and see so many wonderful places. I will always look back on this summer with mixed emotions – I had so many beautiful experiences, but they were always shrouded by heartbreak. Going forward, I know the importance of the mountains in my life will continue to evolve. Next year, I hope I can be more dialed technically and physically so I can push deeper into the wilderness and climb the prouder lines. I know I will need to keep developing new friendships. And hopefully, I can slowly rebuild my life even stronger and more vibrant than it was before.
To greater heights, to unforgettable sights. The only way is up.