My eyes were still groggy, trying to filter the maligned dreams from the broken sleep of the night as I pulled my face from the damp backpack that had been my pillow. On the glacier outside the wind pulled at the tent in every direction. Overnight, snow had piled against the walls of the tent and my tall frame no longer fit fully extended. Still orienting myself in the tent's orange nylon glow, Mark, our guide sat up and said: “Let’s go climb us a mountain, boys!”
This day was the culmination of a week of mountaineering instruction in the hills of Washington. Evan and I had been educated in the Texas Kick, setting bomber snow anchors, the finer points of the Klemheist, various progress capture techniques, winning odd man out, and the tiff that Tapatio and Cholula have. This was a bonafide mountaineers education. After stuffing down a plate heaped with Cream of Wheat and dried blueberries we stepped into the lifting clouds. Stoke was seriously high. By now we had developed our team tasks, collecting the gear from camp and tapping snow and ice from our crampons. Conditions were sporty, but not what I would call poor necessarily. Over the next three hours, we beat a path through the new snow and weaved between gaping holes in the glacier; the smell of sulfur spewing from the active volcanic crater above hiding all of our tuna-mac farts.
“Reid, you’re going to lead the schrund,” Mark said through the whipping wind. The Bergschrund is the spot where the flowing, plastic glacier separates from the ice fields that are stuck to the summit. It's essentially where the mountain is falling apart. He motioned to a section of the hole that was steeper, wider, and uglier than other spots. I think it was a test of sorts. We took just enough time to communicate the exact plan, I stole a second picket from Evan and waded across the crevasse. Somewhere at the top of the pitch, I set to work building the anchor to belay Mark and Evan up. As I did, wind and spindrift blasted down from the summit pyramid, much of it sticking to the whiskers on my face or freezing right to my jacket. A fat wide grin spread flat smack across my whole damn face. In that moment I was living my dreams. Just as important, I was dreaming new ones right in the same place. I snapped the rope tied to the other two into my plaquette and signaled them to start climbing. Not long after we stood on the summit of Mt. Baker.
I am looking forward to many, many more stories like these coming to you from Washington, Alaska, and a growing list of points in... far off places.
I’m going to make a shameless plug here:
The trip we did was facilitated by The Mountain Bureau, a small boutique guiding service working out of Mazama, Washington. Mark Allen, the owner, and our guide on this trip is an all-star of mountain knowledge and conveying it to people. He is also credentialed as a Mountain Guide by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) and American Mountain Guides Association. Being credentialed or not is kind of like the difference between a physicians assistant and a surgeon. Surprisingly enough, being credentialed at all is not a requirement to guide in the US. So if there was one other thing that the week we spent on the mountain with Mark is that having a credentialed guide is totally worth the investment. If you ever find yourself booking a trip with a service be sure to ask if your guide will be credentialed in their discipline.