Hooked on a Feeling
Another summer has come and gone, with all the action and tempo that a PNW summer seems to possess. In general, it feels like the seasons race by with an ever increasing velocity as the timeline of my experiences becomes fuzzier, indexed by technology like this blog. When I look at a map of the mountains, I see so many interwoven stories in time and space – so much growth, so much discovery, so much friendship.
Although ski season is twice the length of the summer alpine season here, I still think that summer is my favorite time of year in the mountains. More and more, I am known as a skier, but really I will always identify most as just a runner and hiker. I love the simplicity of summer trips: no avalanches, no corn o’clock to worry about, no weather concerns outside will it rain? One needs hardly more than some shoes on their feet to explore the deepest reaches of the most remote range in the lower 48. Summer means freedom.
Each year, I watch myself from afar, waiting for a hiccup, a fizzle, a flicker of fatigue. When will it feel old? When will the well of creativity run dry? When will I get burned out? When will I just get bored? I think about this constantly. In a way, I am almost trying to stay one step ahead of myself – anticipating burnout, frustration, and those other inevitable emotions that plague each mountain athlete at some point in their career. Performing in the mountains is a short game and a long game, a physical challenge and a metaphysical puzzle with no end. I love climbing mountains because it forces me to look inwards, to question why I do these meaningless activities.
I came into this summer with a lot of uncertainty. My overuse knee injury from last fall did not bother me much over ski season, but it prevented me from getting in shape for the summer and came along on every summer adventure. It was never unbearable, but it was always there. It weighed on my conscience, affecting my planning, trying to ensure enough recovery and training. But it also pushed me to reconnect with rock climbing and pace myself over a long season. I am grateful that I was allowed to accomplish all I did, even though I was not at full strength.
More and more, I get asked how I come up with these trip ideas. To be honest, I still struggle to answer this question. I usually respond by talking about trying to create an “experience” or starting with the “why” rather than the “what”. These responses are definitely true and part of the equation. But perhaps another way of looking at what guides me is passion: a feeling of complete immersion, wonder, and perfection. Maybe I am just searching endlessly for a feeling.
So in this piece, I am going to recap a few specific moments where I found that feeling I was looking for: some synergy of time, place, story, and people. I think that all artists are ultimately searching for a feeling of transcendence. As mountain people, we are also searching the hills far and wide for a simple feeling, complex and elusive. This summer, I definitely got there, even if just for a moment. After all, what has been felt cannot be unfelt; it is seared into our souls.
#6: Watching the Water Catch Fire
Location: Mt. Townsend
Partners: Sam, Tyler, and Will
It was the start of a historic heat wave, so I convinced the gang to go out to the Olympics and get up real early to beat the heat. A side effect of this early start was definitively the most incredible sunrise I have ever experienced. Alpneglow on snow covered peaks can be stunning, but nothing can match the way the sky glowed orange across the entire Cascade skyline and burned on the Salish Seas below us. You could see the ripples of small gusts on the water, each little island and inlet, the whole incredible topography of our home. The details felt infinite. It was mesmerizing. It was peaceful. It was powerful. It made me feel grateful for the unquantifiable beauty of this world, and the ability to experience it to its fullest potential. It stirred up the deepest sense of wonder and immersion. Just when I think I have seen it all, I feel that utter mind-blowing feeling of discovery once again.
This summer, I have been become even more acutely aware of timing. I try to time my trips to go through aesthetic spots in the early or later hours, catching the golden hour rays and low light. After all, space is four dimensional, so timing is as important as position. The sunrise is definitely what took this trip to a whole different level.
#5: Returning to my Roots
Location: Big Jim Mountain
Trip: The Chiwaukum Traverse
Seven years ago, Chris and I post holed and struggled our way up Big Jim Mountain. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and really the first “big” mountain I had ever climbed. I remember looking across at the Chiwaukum Crest and thinking it was the most badass thing ever. I had absolutely no premonition that someday I would traverse that entire crest, all the way to Big Jim itself. Looking back on the traverse we completed was not just impressive because of the terrain we covered in a single day, but also because of how I was metaphorically looking back on the remarkable progress I have made in the last seven years. It made me feel nostalgic, grateful, and accomplished. Thousands of steps led me across the range, and millions of little steps over many years brought me to where I am. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stop dreaming.
As I rack up more and more trips in the Cascades, I inevitably start repeating places and crossing paths with my former self. It can be fun to design trips that intersect with previous spots, give me new perspectives on olds places, and stir up old emotions. Places are powerful, and this trip reminded me that.
#4: Venturing into the Vertical Unknown
Location: Buckeye Peak
Trip: The Darrington Rodeo
I love doing exploratory high routes and ski traverses, but they are usually non technical. Exploring vertical rock without much knowledge is something I have never really done before. When I am rock climbing, usually I am sticking to a route topo as closely as possible. So on the Darrington Rodeo, it was a huge step up for me venture into unknown fifth class terrain, figuring it out as I went, making committing rappels, watching the clouds swirl around us. It helped to have such an experienced partner with me. It was such an incredible experience to pass over the gendarmes between Buckeye and Whitehorse, seeing no signs of prior people, even where there would be theoretically a mandatory rappel. On most high routes I do, I generally know that someway it will work out, but in this case, I actually had no clue if what we were doing would work. It felt wild on a different level, to tread possibly where no human has before. And it felt even more crazy knowing that we were within line of sight of Darrington! This was true adventure, raw and tactile.
I am not sure if this sort of technical rock exploration will become more common for me or if this was a blip. I definitely need to keep improving as a climber to have more margin of ability. Time will tell.
#3: The Story as it was Meant to be Told
Location: Lynch Glacier, Mt. Daniel
Partners: Nick, Daniel, Tara
Time and time again, people bring up the Alpine Lakes Crest Traverse. I did not know it when Logan and I set out, but that would become my signature high route. This year, Nick, Jenny, Tara, Logan, Daniel and I set out to repeat it in a day. Although I knew what each section would hold, it still was stunning and beautiful, perhaps even more impressive because I could fully appreciate the day without stress. Each section read like the next chapter of a book. And as we ascended the Lynch Glacier at golden hour, with rays of light streaming down valleys throughout the Cascades, there was a sense of assurance that flowed over me – yes, this is the way the story was meant to be told, to be experienced, to be written. This was, in my conception of fast mountain travel, absolute perfection. It was the feeling of an artist realizing his greatest work.
I have come to terms that I may never create a better single day route in the Cascades, at least in the vision of high routing that I have. But that is okay. There are other ways to progress and redefine myself as an artist. Creativity evolves, and so will I. Figuring out that evolution is half of the fun anyways.
#2: Entering the Kingdom of the Hoh
Location: Camp Pan, Mt. Olympus
Partners: Sam, Rio, Nick
The Bailey Range Traverse was a literal last minute trip; we bailed on a Pickets High Route the day before for better conditions in the Olympics. With so little prep, we really did not know what to expect. It was refreshing to embark on a trip where we had not seen photos of most sections. We allowed ourselves to be surprised and humbled. As we descended into Camp Pan, perched high above the Hoh Glacier, we were completely blown away. It felt like a massive cathedral of snow and ice, carving a deep valley deep in the wilderness of the Olympic Mountains. I love how certain places can so completely swallow you with their beauty and scale. So many of us are seeking absolute presence in the moment when we venture into the mountains. Places like this are so spectacular that they demand presence, and appreciation always.
#1: High off the Deck, Hooked on a Feeling
Location: Atop Pitch 1 of the Great Gendarme, Mt. Stuart
Trip: Mt. Stuart, North Ridge
Ever since we began learning trad together, the North Ridge of Stuart has been a goal for Jacob and me. What climber would not dream of it? 3000 ft of ridges, cracks, and exposure on beautiful granite. My passion for rock climbing has been inconsistent over the last few years, but this summer I really reconnected with this past time. Some of it was just cragging more at Index and getting my confidence back after some falls. For lots of crushers, leading 5.9s consistently at Index may seem like a warmup, but for me, it felt like a substantial accomplishment. Without that practice, I would not have felt so comfortable on Stuart. Confidence allowed me to yearn for the Great Gendarme pitches, rather than cower from them. I knew I was ready.
The first Gendarme pitch was a steep, strenuous (for me) hand crack layback. I fired up it with little resting but to place gear. The crack was icy and cold in the perpetual shade, but the belay station atop the pedestal was sunny and warm. I was thousands of feet off the deck, high on life, and hooked on a feeling. As I belayed Jacob up the pitch, I felt all the emotions wash over me: pride for surmounting fear, wonder at the alpine environment around me, and total love for the meaningless life I am living. I felt stoked for just about everything – for the way the blood pumps in your forearms, the way your toes strain for every bit of friction, and for the way we move like tiny dots upwards into the sky. There are just so many ways to move in the mountains, and each is beautiful in its own way.
The Sun Sets on Another Summer
The sun sets on another magical summer and snow is flying in the hills as I write. This summer was definitely not what I expected it to be. Trips were cancelled, injuries were managed, and partners were in and out. But honestly, I would not want it to have played out any differently. I usually plan trips like I am scripting a story, but this summer was a story itself that I was writing as I went along. I had to improvise some, leading to some great surprises and best moments of the summer. Thank you to all the incredible people who had a part this story.
The mountains evoke a different feeling within each of us – empowerment, sadness, belonging, awe, peace, joy. While the mountains are indeed special, I find that the baggage we carry into the mountains is what truly makes our experiences unique. It is the interface between nature and the soul that creates the deepest meaning from our trips. I hope that I can inspire people to feel all the feels, and live life as unbridled as the way avalanches rip down a slope, the way a river tumbles through a canyon, or the way a climber struggles, against all odds, to the very top.
To greater heights, to unforgettable sights. The only way is up.