CHAPTER 16

Imagine the spark of discovery that must have glimmered in the eyes of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis as they rafted the once raging Columbia River.  Leading us through the rapids, these brave souls would soon guide us to the shores of a United Nation.  While camped October 19, 1805, Clark climbed a cliff and spotted Mount Adams, mistaking it for Mount St. Helens:  

 

"I assended a high clift about 200 feet above the water; from this place I descovered a high mountain of emence hight covered with Snow, this must be one of the mountains laid down by Vancouver, as seen from the mouth of the Columbia River, from the course which it bears which is West I take it to be Mt. St. Helens."

 

After enduring unimaginable hardships along the trail from Missouri, no wonder William Clark was slightly confused about these peaks.  Sometimes I am myself.  One evening they ate boiled roots "which Swelled us in Such a manner that we were Scercely able to breath for Several hours," as Clark noted in his expedition journal.  

Well, I can relate to this.  

Hungry for variety in their diet, some of the men resorted to eating dog.  "Our hunters with every dilligence could kill nothing."  That's okay, 'cause not all dogs are nice dogs.  After reaching the Pacific Ocean two days later, their respectful and finely adorned Native hosts presented them with any Westerner's first authentically prepared Pacific Salmon.  They didn't like it much, pup.

 

For thousands of years before Europeans crashed the scene and got all "civilized," various American Indian tribes dwelt amongst these mysterious and fabled peaks of the Pacific Northwest - communing with them and with each other, mostly in peace.  Image that these days?  The Mother Mountain, Koma Kulshan (Mount Baker) gave birth to its son, Takoma (Mount Rainier); then there was Klickitat, son of the Great Spirit (Mount Adams), Loo-wit (Mount St. Helens) and Wy-east (Mount Hood).  Easily as high and mighty as any of us today, their beautiful myths and legends are a priceless gift handed down from the far reaches of antiquity for anyone who cares to listen.

Picture Lewis and Clark there before a ring of fire; a stone circle, like you and I would be but for a tiny twist of fate.  Should you happen to be so fortunate among the world's populace tonight - just think about it for a moment - you might prepare a low-fat gourmet microwave meal, versus a skinny "whatever" on a spit.  For us latecomer adventurers here in the 20th and early 21st Centuries, true exploration and adventure has become a matter of creativity and imagination.  These mountains still inspire the same sense of awe in many of us now living in their shadow, as they did for our ancestors.  

All this is just my take on it.

 

An incredible nine years had passed since my latest volcano expedition on Mount St. Helens.  Life kind of got in the way.  With a long-held goal and dream of capturing the moods of all five major volcanoes in Washington State from the summit of each peak, this was my next most logical daring do.  Having climbed Mount Adams numerous times already, it was clear from the start that this would be an extremely dangerous undertaking.  Like a giant monolith standing out all on its own, Klickitat has long been known for its electrical activity as well as its ferocious winds.  In any case, spending four weeks up there would be quite a high wire act for me.  

My favorite book report when I was a kid was about Lewis and Clark, by the way.  Who would have ever imagined this?

 

Four o'clock came early on the scheduled day of departure, as there was still so much to do.  Dragging myself out of bed I looked around my comfortable ranch home in Ellensburg and wondered what life would be like by the time of my return.  If I returned.  I had long-since filled out a will, for this might be a massive undertaking, so to speak.

  

Our caravan of four vehicles left my place and headed south across Central Washington toward the Columbia River later in the day than I had wanted.  By the time we had driven within direct view of Mount Adams half a dozen hours later, an electrical storm had fully engulfed the mountaintop.  I was extremely humbled.  And scared.  Lightening blasted away wildly; streaks fanned out through the dense clouds, striking the summit glaciers repeatedly.  At a rest stop at Goldendale, the booms and thuds created by those strikes amazed us -- like a bunch of comic book fans watching this scene unfold.  And this was where I was going to try to camp for a month?  And take photographs too?  It was all I could do already to keep from nervously picking at my fingernails.  Got to stop that man.

Supporting me on my third Cascade volcano expedition was Steve Peterson, Jon Schlueter, and Tom Rakestraw.  Others would join us here or there along the way, only to head back down at some point.  Among them was a climber by the last name of "Adams" of all things, and his big sheep dog.  Now that was doubly ironic.  Only a couple of centuries before and that big fat juicy dog might have appeared high on someone's menu ... my menu, as the original fast food!

 

An hour or so before sunrise on the second day of our climb, we looked out of our tents to find that the sky had actually cleared.  Over the next dozen hours Steve succumbed to a previous injury, and Tom to sheer exhaustion, in our miserable ascent toward Mount Adams' South Summit at the 11,200-foot level.  Jon and I and another climber divided up the rest of my provisions and eventually reached this landing many hours later, carrying over 200 pounds of gear between us.  Jon went on to the top and then on down to meet up with some caring friends at the trailhead.  

 

Without Steve and Tom and Adams and his doggins on the first two-thirds of the route, I never would have made it to the South Summit.

 

August 8, 1999/Day 1

Dinner was a mixture of sardines and potato chips.  I got really sick.  That nasty little fish got me back for whoever killed it.  Mount Hood, Jefferson and The Sisters bobbed on the southern horizon.  I will NEVER eat canned fish again.

 

   

CHAPTER 17

August 9, 1999/Day 2

I awoke this morning feeling much less chipper than yesterday.  After melting snow for water I made breakfast, packed up 50 pounds of gear and headed for the true summit.  Warm on top, although windy - maybe 20 degrees with a 30 mph wind - it was a fantastic view from there; sweeping, unyielding to the horizon.

 

At 11:35 pm the sky is fabulous (out the good end of the tent).  The wind has picked up after midnight.  Thunderstorms are expected for tomorrow, with more serious weather by midweek.  I must plant myself up there within the next 12 hours.

 

August 10/Day 3

Early on the morning of August 10 I looked out the tent door and nearly threw up again.  Although my head was spinning for a while there, I really wasn't as sore as expected from exertion of the past two days.  With only fifty or a hundred more steps left to go to the true summit of Mount Adams, more history in the making echoed beneath my feet.

 

On the third round trip of the day, two climbers graciously offered to help carry some of my gear.  Their names are lost to me now like so many others, yet I am no less grateful to them.

 

From there I carried and dragged my meager belongings over the snow one batch at a time to my little perch in the sky.  Thanks to all of these people, moments later my tent occupied the mountain's highest few square feet of pumice.

 

An alpenglow bathed the mountain in soft light earlier this evening.  Shadows crossed as the sun set over Washington and Oregon in a gumdrop fireball of splendor.

 

 

August 11/Day 4

At 4:30 a.m. I am unable to sleep.  My legs, knees and back are on fire.  I am hurting all over already. Streaks of lightening play from cloudbanks to the southeast, hovering over various towns below.  Each streak is plainly visible from the ground up to the point from which it emanates ... like dancing toy figurines on the horizon.

 

Once the sun rose, all of the survival skills I had ever learned over the years came into play.  My first line of defense was to make the tent as strong as possible.  Thankfully, I had thought to bring along endless yards of cord, about the width of a thick bootlace.  I would use these as guy wires to help nail the tent down to the summit of the volcano.  It's amazing what could be done with them atop Mount Adams.  

Following are some suggestions, should you ever happen to find yourself camped alone atop a big mountain in a major pickle of a situation, with no glacier to bury yourself in when the wind picks up.

 

One: dig a hole in the snow at each of the four corners of your tent, in which to bury "dead-man" anchors.  This type of anchor is simple: you take an object such as a crampon, a shovel handle, or better yet a portable phone, and tie a rope or cord around it.  Tie the other end to one corner of your tent, then place the object inside the pit, drawing each cord taught.  Finally you bury the heck out of it all with rocks, ice, then snow - then more rocks, ice and snow.  Whatever works.

 

Two: dig a trench around the tent, and then mold the canvass flap into that channel.  

 

Three: set a layer of rocks all around the tent circumference, on the fabric itself where possible.  Many serious expedition tents like the epic Jansport China-Everest of its day, come complete with large flaps for this very purpose.

 

Four: pack the rocks tightly with chunks of ice taken from the surrounding summit snowfield.

 

Five: let it freeze solid in the cold breeze.

 

Six: repeat process with another layer of rocks.

 

Seven: replace the rain fly.

 

Eight: repeat this entire process with the rain fly.

 

Nine: haul the largest rocks possible to eight places around the tent.

 

Ten: cut cords to various lengths, and tie securely to rocks and rain fly.

 

Eleven: pack rocks and cord ends with snow and ice.  Let freeze again.

 

Twelve: get back inside and try to keep from dying in the next super storm.

 

I felt positively terrible this morning as sunlight filled the tent.  I must find a way to get more sleep.  There is just so much to see and do up here that sleep seems like a waste of time.  And yet, oh, for an uninterrupted hour of sleep.  Some work on the tent this afternoon prepared it to withstand up to 80 mph winds.  It will take a few more hours to make it good to 100 mph and up.

 

From here I had a direct view of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak and Mount St. Helens out one door (the "Washington door"), and Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and The Sisters out the other (the "Oregon door"). 

 

 

 

August 12/Day 5

What a beautiful day!  It's raining in the lowlands of Washington and Oregon as my volcanoes stand above it all.  Today I can sense the power associated with the legends of these great mountains.  Climbing along alone with my thoughts earlier, cloudlets swirling about, it was like being on another planet.  Purple clouds lapped against Takoma, ancient overlord of the Cascade Range.

 

Returning to my shelter as dawn began to touch the sky from the second highest point in the Pacific Northwest, when the wind speed became too dangerous to remain outside without flying off the mountaintop, I pointed the camera lens out an opening in the tent door and took a series of photographs.

 

  

CHAPTER 18

August 13/Day 6

A portent of things to come, wind slammed the summit from the west just after 2:00 am.  The tent rocked back and forth, enough to make me look up and take notice from my writing tablet, as it inhaled and exhaled irritatingly.  Was it by the force of some dragon's breath, perhaps?  One never can tell.  I adjusted my headlamp and went on writing.

By 8:00 a.m. winds had subsided to where I could at least get out again and stretch my legs.  Low clouds still hugged Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, threatening to rise and swallow us up entirely.  Bands of high clouds filtered the sun; everything was all white and black and blue.

 

Clouds have risen and inundated the mountaintop @ 11:15 am.

 

A climbing party has just reached the summit.  I can hear them celebrating through the whiteout.  From their hoots, howls and wolf cries, I can tell that aside from their guides, most of them are teenagers.  Their youthful enthusiasm lifts my heart.  Congratulations kids!

As I listen to their shouts of joy and relief, my thoughts are with the multitudes of disabled children and adults around the world for whom such an experience will never be possible.  It is especially for those people languishing at this very moment, within their personal struggles, that I dedicate my work upon this volcano.

 

So dense is the whiteout at the noon hour that I am concerned for the well being of people climbing the mountain today.  Particularly on these volcanoes, routes can look very much the same when caught up in a storm.  My welcome mat is certainly open to anyone seeking refuge.  Not much to offer food-wise at this particular cafe, although the view makes up for whatever the menu lacks.

The sun and wind have already done a number on my face and lips.  Sunscreen and a floppy hat only go so far - there is really no way of escaping a cooked face and cracked and bleeding lips.  Here on only the 6th day, I am already dirty to the bone.  Thousands of little boys out there would envy my not being able to (having to) take a bath for weeks on end.  Countless mothers, my own foremost among them, would cringe at that thought!

 

Awakened by the familiar sound of snow falling on my tent, I jumped toward the door and smeared snow all over my face and red-hot lips.

 

I celebrated by allowing myself an unscheduled change of underwear.

 

 

 August 14/Day 7

This morning I awoke to filtered sunshine.  The temp dropped to +2 degrees overnight.  Thankfully, the wind was dead calm.  The entire summit dome now has a sprinkling of new snow; like a Paul Bunyan-sized mound of vanilla ice cream, coated with a spoonful or two of sugar.

 

 

August 16/Day 9

An ice storm hit at about half past one.  With the headlamp on I watched as the tent bent in sustained 90 to 100 mph winds.  Trying to control my fear when it really hit the fan at 3:20 a.m., I set out my suit, boots, headlamp, pack and bivouac sack, just in case the tent ripped or broke apart.  

Nights are so long in this place, where doubt may dance through your thoughts unimpeded.  Far from confident, I am humbled before my Maker and the mountain, ever awaiting another return of the sun.

 

Ahhh, it's morning and I'm sooo glad to still be here!

 

Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier were dreamlike this afternoon; puffy billows of white whirred about only to fade back to blue sky.  After taking a long nap, I set out across the glacier, watching for crevasses I knew were there under the ice.  Setting up the tripod and camera as the sun slowly ebbed toward the horizon, I felt so at peace with this mountain, as if it is part of my destiny to be here.

 

Glistening snowfields, golden treasures through the lens ... Mount St. Helens steamed off in the distance.

  CHAPTER 19

August 18/Day 11

The first super storm atop Mount Adams poured through deep in the night of August 18, packing hurricane-force winds.  This time I didn't bother to lay out my suit or boots, as one step outside would have sent me airborne and on to a gnarly trip across Washington, Idaho or Oregon.  There was nowhere for me to run.  At that point I had to rely on my judgment and work with the tent in the days before, as an ominous bank of clouds off to the east had given me fair enough warning.  Several times I wanted to look out but dared not, since unzipping the door might have compromised the integrity of my home away from home.  And so I sat back and watched the canvass bend and compress violently.  Every time I thought the strongest blast had passed, there would be a dramatic pause - those are always the worst - then a tremendous gust would attack for as much as three to four hours at a time without cessation.

 

The instant I awoke a bold of lightening hit the summit.  There was no delay between the flash and crack of thunder.  I was quaking.  By 3:30 I grew tired of being afraid of getting nailed by lightening and drifted off back to sleep.  As it appeared the tent might hold, the rest of the evening was actually quite enjoyable.  There is nothing like being alone inside a tent on a mountaintop in a big storm.  Nothing!  And yet an inexperienced mountaineer would have died up here last night.

 

August 22/Day 15

Sunrise from the ice ledge was quite beautiful this morning.  The sun was slow in coming, dazzling as it neared the horizon.  Ice glittered, as would crystal when caught in a spotlight.  Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and The Sisters stood guard over the Coast in unity against the rising sun.

 

 

August 23/Day 16

Last night was amazing, one of the strangest and most memorable experiences of my life.  At about 10:10 I was sitting at the Oregon door looking out at the moon shining over Mount Hood.  Without a trace of wind, stars penetrated the sky.  The mountain was illuminated in moonlight.  I was about to move to the Washington door to look at Mount Rainier when a meteor streamed in halfway between Mount Hood and the Coast.  It passed directly through a thin layer of clouds, burning in a turquoise fireball, incinerating like a puff of cotton.

 

Some time earlier I had set the alarm for 2:00 so that I could conk out for a while and then go for a walk after the moon had set.  After noticing this blast from the heavens, my schedule was moved up.  Deciding that I couldn't count on a continuation of this eerie spell of calm over the mountaintop, I left the tent and strolled to the west end of the summit dome, leaving the camera gear behind.  Stepping along on the tips of two-foot high sun cups, it was so still and quiet that my footsteps seemed to echo all across the landscape.

After digging out a comfortable seat from the glacier with my ice axe, I turned on my little radio.  

 

A moving song by Eric Clapton played, and then Harry Chapin's haunting song "Taxi" filled my mind.  This was the kind of thing I have waited for, for so many years.  My emotions ran high.

 

Five minutes after arriving back at the tent, a torrential hailstorm began from a cloud to the northwest; lightening flickered to the south.  To be caught outside in this would have been fatal.

 

 CHAPTER 20

August 25/Day 18

It's 1:49 a.m. and death has come calling to the mountaintop.

 

Horrendous winds drained from the sky like liquid, putting the tent to the maximum test.  Opening the south door to inspect the anchors, I saw that a few guy lines had popped.  To my amazement though, the rest was still holding together rather nicely.  And yet for a while there I wondered if the fabric itself would shred away completely and leave nothing but the anchors.

 

The sky looks so strange; streaks of gray rain down in patches across the moon, like some Indian god angry at my presence on its mountain.

 

August 28/Day 21

A dense blanket of smoke from forest fires in Central California has drifted north, inundating the Pacific Northwest in its eerie pall.  Sunbeams streamed through broken clouds, fanning through the sky and across the earth ... the cup of my senses ran over the brim.

 

 

 

August 30/Day 23

Barometric pressure fell to 29.90 overnight at Trout Lake.  The temp up here dropped to -12 degrees.  Half a foot of snow covered the bottom of my sleeping bag by the time I awoke, all from leaving the door unzipped only a eight or ten inches.

 

The most life-threatening storm I had ever ridden out atop a Cascade volcano, this was a tremendous challenge and test.  I love great personal challenges.  Having already spent a total of five weeks atop Mount Baker, plus a bonus of 22 days near the Crater Rim of Mount St. Helens, I knew how to really connect with nature and a mountain.  Who would have ever thought this of that skinny little kid from Woodinville? 

 

Lightening flashed directly over the tent as this monster of a hurricane came to life around me.  Shuddering with fear amidst the constant shaking and alarming compression and hissing and decompression of my tent, set squarely at the second highest point in the Pacific Northwest, for the next twenty hours or so I held fast to the one-inch shock poles on the tent ceiling.  My added weight was all that kept it from exploding, imploding or otherwise ripping away from its foundation of rock and ice.  All the while there was a deafening roar outside those canvas walls ... huurrrhhh, whirrrrhhh, boouumph.

When the strain finally became too much I fell back onto my sleeping bag.  My thoughts wandered back to a similar experience atop Mount Baker, when eminent exposure to winds in excess of 100 mph had seemed possible if not probable.  This one atop Mount Adams was at least one third stronger than the worst of them atop Mount Baker, which meant the wind might now be blasting at 120 - 130 mph.  It was tough to gauge, but it was especially intense.

Were everything to tear away right then, I would have gone fluttering off into the distance like human confetti.

And with lightening now dancing all over the mountaintop, a direct strike would have made me a crispy critter.

 

Then the monster really lashed its tail.

 

When a lightening bolt struck only a few feet from the tent as the wind speed picked up considerably, with the next streak of lightening and several more in rapid succession - bang bang bang - momentarily disoriented, hair bristled under my hat as thunder roared into the distance; more streaks were plainly visible through the thin orange walls of my vestibule.  Frightened as I had ever been I gasped out my prayers as if sloowwwly drowning in a pool of cooold water ... POW!  Another bolt struck some metal climbing gear I had set out the other day as a decoy, a blessed twenty feet away this time.

My pulse peaked as the underside of the tent filled with air and wavered for a second or two; a crack in the windowpane.  Diving for the door with a shovel and ice screw in hand, I hoped to somehow button things down again to the solidly frozen ground.  This trip outside was quickly put on hold though, for with the first ten inches that it was unzipped the entire tent instantly puffed up and expanded.  Thinking better of it, I zipped it back up a smidge too late as my home of three weeks shuddered altogether.  Many of my carefully set guy lines popped outside while everything inside was cast into a jumble.  

My little Shuttle Enterprise was on full throttle-up for a clean takeoff from the summit of Mount Adams.  Suffice it to say that the honeymoon was over between us, sweetheart.  "Bang, zoom, straight to the moon Alice."

 

CHAPTER 21

August 31/Day 24

I'm still here.

 

Record low temperatures have engulfed the area.  It was freezing at Glendale and Trout Lake last night.  

 

September 4/Day 28

Having reached my goal of four weeks atop Mount Adams, it was time to get down from there, plain and simple.

 

Everything seemed different on that 28th morning spent atop Mount Adams as I rubbed sleep from my eyes at the tent door.  Looking to my right, to the west, all within a few heart-pounding moments the sky gave way to another epic storm.  A lenticular cloud appeared from out of nowhere and arced over the summit in one big WHOOSH, carrying a ton of wind-laden ice with it.  I didn't have enough energy left to even flinch.

 

By then the anchors and canvass had become so well placed into the highest few square feet of the volcano that I had to tear it apart, like the storms of time never could.  Sadly, there went my beautiful, historic, $900 China-Everest tent from back in the days.  They only made so many of those; right, Skip Yowell?

Visibility had dropped to thirty feet by the time I finished my final puke from a bad can of tuna and mounted my monstrous (72 lb.) pack onto my back.  Crossing the summit dome with my head absolutely reeling, slowly I descended 800 feet to the South Summit while dragging something along behind me.  I forget what.  After losing that package somewhere along the way, peering over the South Spur and down onto a long and steep ridge I saw that it was now virtually devoid of snow.  , home was .

 

Then I spotted a solitary red dot ascending the South Spur; my entire recovery team! 

 

Steve Peterson and I met up on a small rock ledge where for the first time in four weeks I could allow my emotions to run their course unchecked.  No more tough guy here, just me.  Steve had driven to the mountain three times now: once to carry as high as he could with a major injury, and a second time to ask climbers to carry what little they would to me on the summit (a candy bar or two).  There he was again back in the real world.   

I sat on a foam pad and wept openly in relief as he looked on in silence. 

Sunrays momentarily broke through the clouds and shone down upon our little ledge, and only our ledge, dramatically, like in a Hobbit movie or something while I babbled on about who knows what.  

 

Without saying a word, he peeled an orange for me as my hands were shaking too badly for me to do so myself, as if that was all he had brought for me food-wise.  Then, reaching into his pack, Steve brought out a sliced up cheese pizza he had bought in Hood River the evening before.

True story.  What can you say? 

 

Pizza or dogs or whatever, I bet we would have made Lewis and Clark proud.