A reversed Q with a long tail reaching all the way to California: a roadtrip through the American West.

This is my first post on my new web log, which I intend to use as an irregular and potentially fictionalized instruction manual for doing the same stuff that I do, between 1 and 60 days after I’ve already done it, or potentially as a soapbox for sharing the good ideas of others and the usually bad ideas of mine.  The subject matter may be subject to large conceptual swings, but will likely involve accounts of ski misadventures, Python code snippets, U.S. environmental policy rants, running until uncomfortable, and my dog’s odd behaviour.  Like all good vegetables, the content will be seasonal. 

Which reminds me of this stupid and rather slick timer that Molly and I purchased two weeks ago.  It’s a garden timer, and it does everything you would want it to, such as turn on the water to your garden when you are not home, at specified times and durations.  That’s actually all.  It’s perfectly executed minimalism (OK, elegance, goddammit.) makes me ill, and that’s because it eliminates the time honored necessity of enacting some mechanical voudon ritual of cursing, manual reading, waiting all day to see if it works, and because it’s connected to an active hose, getting sprayed several times.  It actually didn’t even come with a manual because you just press like three buttons and it works.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that I had no faith in this machine.  We bought it because we were going on a ten-day trip through Idaho and California, and we needed it to water our garden, but I was really concerned the entire time that it would fail, vindictively, in the midst of the agonizingly long, hot, and sunny high pressure system plaguing the western states (known as summer to laymen). 

As it turns out, when people like each other enough, they often feel compelled to throw big parties and make promises to each other, and right in the middle of these hot spells is when they like to do it, because nobody likes getting married in the rain, I guess.  Friends Ryan and Liza decided that they did indeed like each other enough to make it official so that’s why Molly and I decided to head to the Californian North.  Driving to Boise was uneventful enough.  It was, as always, a treat to drive by the N. Fork of the Payette to look at its impressive whitewater (the phrase ultra-classic comes to mind).  I stopped several times to look at the rapids, telling Molly that it’s because Louie needed to pee.  He can hold it for like 12 hours though, so I doubt she believed me.  I’m really looking forward to coming back to run it (or get scared and run away like a cretin) in late July.  I really hate dams and this one is no exception, but the fact that this river is dam-controlled is dam convenient.  I can think of few other Class V rivers in the northwest that run all summer.  I guess convenience is what dams are all about.

Being able to stay in Boise was clutch.  Missoula to Shasta in a day is excessive if you like to fall asleep while driving like me.  My climbing partner Casey and I had intended to climb Mt. Shasta on Thursday the 28th of June, but gusts were forecasted to 90mph on the upper mountain that day, so we delayed until the 29th.  This was really nice anyway, since long drives followed by alpine starts are notoriously unpleasant.  By the way, have you ever been in 90mph winds?  I haven’t, but I’ve felt as much as 70mph near the summit of Little St. Joe.  At that level of wind, it’s pretty difficult to walk, and you have to expend quite a bit of energy stabilizing yourself.  Forecasts for the 29th were much nicer, so instead of climbing Mt. Shasta, we spent the day getting views of the Castle Crags and sitting in Lake Siskiyou, on what felt like the first really hot day of the year.

The next morning Casey and I climbed Mt. Shasta and it was good.  We woke at 2, ate eggs, left the house we were staying at around 2:30, and were leaving the car at Bunny Flats (6900′) at around 3:30.  We decided to climb via the West Face Gully route (WFG), which is a slightly longer alternative to the standard Avy Gulch route, but departs from the same trailhead.  The split in route occurs at the famous Horse Camp, where our trail started a climbing traverse under Casaval Ridge to Hidden Valley, a lovely flat at around 9200′.  I think it took us about an hour to make it to Hidden Valley, and by 5, we were donning crampons (over running shoes) to begin the snow climb.  The crux section of the route (if you can really call it that) is right at the beginning, where you have to climb a little pitch of 38 or 40 degree snow.  The snow was still hard-frozen, so we were up on front points.  Regrettably, my crampon bar flexed its way out of the adjustment mechanism, and popped in half front to back.  This was concerning because I thought that it was broken (I saw a black piece of something sail down the hill).  I managed to find a moat to sit in (usually not a great idea) while repairing it.  After this, no technical problems occurred (unless you count how extraordinarily uncomfortable it is to wear Grivel G10 crampons over New Balance MT110s.  I need some Kahtoolas).  After the shenanigans the sun started coming up, and we got a good view of a neat phenomenon that really only happens at 11000′ on a volcano.  It looked like this:

which is the shadow of Mt. Shasta stretching off into the distance, and even onto the atmospheric haze.  It was also at this time that I realized how hip Casey looked in running shoes and bicycle helmet:

  The guys in the background were pretty teched out.  One of them even had a rope slung euro-style around his shoulder, and was duck-walking stalwartly.  I was glad to be carrying only 10lbs. of stuff.  Those dudes looked miserable.  Anyways, we hit the plateau below misery hill (13500′ or so) at 7 or so. 

 We were in high spirits, particularly bolstered by the discovery that mountaineering is much more fun if you speak in European accents and quote Ueli Steck alot.  Misery hill was lower angle than the WFG and had a nice switchbacking trail up to the summit plateau, which looked like this:

 We passed another pair of climbers while ascending misery hill, but they did not answer our hails; they had gone full zombie.  From the summit plateau, it was a straightforward stroll to the true summit.  We topped out at 7:40, 4:10 after leaving the parking lot, and talked to a pair of gentlemen from San Francisco who had camped at Helen Lake and were the first to make the summit that day.

The descent was straightforward.  I encountered the zombies we had seen on Misery Hill on the summit plateau.  The one was like “Is that the real summit, man?  We’ve already been tricked so many times” and the second one said “At what elevation do we begin to glissade?”  I like to reimagine the first one in the voice of Doctor Gonzo, and the second from a jaw-clenched-on-cigarette-holder Hunter Thompson.  We waited for about 15 minutes at the top of the WFG to avoid kicking ice down on some young climbers that were almost there.  Regrettably, because we were descending so early in the day, we were only able to glissade perhaps 500′ of the whole route.  On the other hand, because everything was still frozen, we saw only one human-head size clump of volcanic bullshit hurtling down the hill near terminal velocity.  I was slow downclimbing the crux because I get scared easily, but I pushed through knowing that at the bottom I would get to take off my crampons.  After crampon removal, we alternated running and walking, then just walking, back to the car.  On the way down we passed probably 50 people with big backpacks wearing Asolo boots, presumably most on their way to Helen Lake to camp for a summit attempt the next day.  It was really nice to have gone on a lower pressure day via a lower pressure route.  I don’t think I could deal with the types of crowds that Avy Gulch was certain to have on a sunny Saturday.  We arrived back at the car at 11 almost exactly, for a total car to car time of approximately 7:30, and more importantly, in time to make it back to town for lunch at a decent hour.

More swimming the next day, and then the wedding (which was quite lovely with the arch thing framing Mt. Shasta), then the reception, and then Molly and I drove back to Boise the next day.  Molly was staying in Idaho to guide rafts, so we said goodbye, and I headed on to Idaho Falls (the Motherland) for some trail running in Le Tetons and some deluxe camping in Jackson’s Hole, among other things which will be covered in the next entry. 

 

                        

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