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When will I learn that “variable weather conditions” is a North Cascade euphemism for snow, wind and crappy weather? My attempt to scale Sahale Peak was thwarted, again, by adverse weather. |
On Saturday, me and 8 others (all non-WACers) drove up the Cascade River Road with the aim of climbing Sahale before the anticipated weather system arrived Sunday afternoon. Climbing with a different group really illustrated the degree of safety emphasized by WAC. This group decided to “go light” and leave the ropes, harnesses, gear and helmets behind. Also, they placed great faith in their GPS and didn’t bring any wands.
From milepost 21, we traipsed up the remaining 2 miles of road to the true road end at the Cascade Pass parking lot. We were awed by the scale and frequency of avalanches coming off Johannesburg. By the time we reached the parking lot, the sun ducked behind the clouds one more time, and wasn’t seen until Monday. From the parking lot, we assessed our route options. The standard route, switch backing up to the Pass was out due to the potential for avalanche. However, the “best” route was not much better, as we had to skirt a HUGE avalanche debris pile to the headwall and then kick step up a steep gully. And steep it was – by the time I reached the top, my butt cheeks were vibrating like a pair of epileptic castanets.
An hour and half and 1300 feet later we were huffing and puffing at the top of the gully. At least the weather waited for us to reach the top of the gully before the first snow flakes began to fall. Approximately 0.3 seconds later, the sky opened up and dumped on us. We donned our snowshoes and continued up to the pass. Once at the saddle, we were rewarded by a couple of flashes of lightning and some thunderclaps. Thankfully, the thunder and lightning passed quickly, yet we still made camp in record time.
The next 16 hours were spent pretty much in our tents, with brief forays to answer the call of nature (I think I will reconsider my position on pee bottles). Our plan was to get up at 5 am, assess the weather and decide if we’d attempt the summit. At 5 am we awoke, poked our head out and saw 8 inches of fresh new snow and pretty much nothing else (visibility was about 20 feet). We went back to sleep until 6. At 6, we awoke, looked out the tent and went back to sleep. At 7, we awoke, looked out the tent and decided that greasy sausage in Marblemount sounded really good.
By 8 am we headed out. Our tracks from the day before were completely covered. Fortunately, we had 2 GPS units, because one was dead (see we should have brought wands) and were able to find our route in poor visibility. It was essential that we descended the same gully we climbed as many of the others ended in cliffs or were avalanche chutes. Even still, the descent was steep and we had to down climb a bit before we could begin our glissade -- an E-Ticket ride into a milky white abyss. Only when we reached the bottom (below the cloud layer) did we have any appreciable visibility.
By 11 am we were engorging ourselves with beer, sausage and the best tasting instant coffee ever (it must be those flavor crystals). Even though the weather sucked, undoubtedly, the worst part of the trip was Jeff’s climbing song – the Jack in the Box meaty cheese or cheesy meat (or whatever the hell it is) song. Since he didn’t know all the words, he sang the same two verses over and over ALL weekend. For those of you not familiar with this musical masterpiece, Jeff was so kind to email me the link below:
I hope it insprires you to join me in my boycott of Jack in the Box.