Vesper Peak; beforehand

The trail up to Vesper Peak

Hiking and mountaineering has literally consumed me this season. My latest climb was Church Mountain and it was more than a challenge. It was down right treacherous. I went alone (which broke a major cardinal rule of the outdoors community) and I also went in bad weather. The weather didn’t slow me down much but I did reach a point in which I wanted to turn around. I should have but I didn’t.

I was literally 300 feet from the summit when I decided to push on. I drove my legs forward with each agonizing, muscle cramped step I finally made it to the summit. My inner thigh had cramped up and my left calf had decided it had enough, too. Pushing passed the pain and making my goals was something I learned in the military. Some times the pain is worth the reward.

I’m hiking up Vesper Peak on July 18th ’19. I’ll be leaving the comforts of my warm home, my soft bed, my supportive family to endure a hike that’ll separate the “men from the boys” so to speak. Vesper has been known to consume lives, inflict pain and send people home beaten and battered. It’s no joke and it’s not for novice hikers. I still consider myself a novice hiker because this will be the second peak I’ll attempt with over six-thousand elevation at the top. Fortunately, if you can endure the abuse, and if you summit Vesper, you’re no longer considered a “novice” hiker.

I’m not at all saying that those who’ve not reached the summit of Vesper are not experienced. There are many, many other peaks across the world that are tougher, and deal more pain than Vesper. I’m only stating what has already been established for the Pacific Northwest hikers just getting into the game. We all know Mount Rainier is king in the good ol’ PNW- but with Vesper standing at 6,220 feet in the air, and an extremely challenging trail to the top, she comes in a close second to being a tough mountain to conquer.

The last person to disappear from Vesper was Samantha Sayers. She went up solo and supposedly slipped and fell going down the “wrong” trail at the top. She was never seen again and there are several conspiracy theories as to how she disappeared. If you ask me, the mountain simply swallowed her up. The terrain is unforgiving. It doesn’t say sorry when you make a mistake. It simply makes you pay, and Sayers paid with her life. That’s the only currency Vesper takes.

Since I put this expedition in motion, I’ve been overcome with anxiety for the last few days. I’ve lost sleep over this and I haven’t had much energy to do much else because I want to preserve as much as I can for the hike. I’ve really watched my step, every move I make around the house as to not injury myself because I want optimal performance when I’m up there. This mountain has consumed me the last few days. It’s all I can think about. I hear it calling my name in my sleep and I make up in the middle of the night drawn to it’s beauty and desire to climb it. It sounds weird, I know. But that’s what’s been going on in my head these last few days.

I feel like I’m strong enough to hike this- I think I may be overthinking it but I still don’t want to leave anything to chance. I’m keeping my same routine, eating extremely healthy foods, drinking a ton of water and loading up on my vitamins. I’ve been stretching and taking it easy. I will beat Vesper on the first attempt. And if I don’t, I hope I’m able to get down and go for it again in the near future.

In closing, this blog entry is the prequel to the hike. I’ll certainly update everyone when I return from the mountain with another blog entry- after a few days of recovery, of course. Until then…

See you at the top!

Bandera Mountain

Bandera Mountain scared me. It was the first time I was in a position where I felt overly vulnerable. This is why it’s important to not hike alone.

Bandera was my first Spring hike this year, and honestly, if I knew what I know now about the mountain, I would’ve waited for all the snow to melt. Reaching the summit of this beast of a mountain was something I really, really wanted to do. The trail leading up to one of the most steepest parts of this mountain wasn’t all too terrible. It was quite easy, to say the least. So trekking back to make the summit in the future isn’t going to be all that bothersome.

There was very little snow on the main trail leading up to the top. I encountered my first minor snow field around 4,500 feet elevation and it was relatively easy to cross. I did, in fact have to use my micro spikes to get passed because one slip would mean certain death. Or a really long downhill slide through rocks and fallen timber. The second snow field had a solid booth path blazed through it so I wasn’t entirely too worried while crossing that one. Then I encountered a fifth of a mile of sheer vertical climb. It was nearly straight up.

The fortunate part about the climb was that there were giant boulders within the path that I could use to assist me in climbing up. The unfortunate part was that the wind was blowing extremely hard. For every two steps I climbed one foot of elevation gain. It was wild. Once I reached the top, I encountered a third snow field that led all the way into a dense forest ridge line. It was treacherous. I slipped my micro spikes back on and dug in with every foot hold so I didn’t end up slipping down the mountain side. The ground was compacted ice through the dense forest and once I was out of the forest it was onto more exposed snow fields. As I climbed higher and higher, my legs started to cramp up. I knew my legs were being overworked and this made for a dangerous situation. I knew I had to turn around. I took a few more pictures and started my descent.

I used side steps and stayed low to the ground. But it wasn’t going to be that easy. The ground finally gave way and I started to slide down the mountain on my butt. I used self arrest tactics digging my heels in and fanning my arms out clutching the cold, wet snow with my fingers. I finally stopped after about 20 feet. My finger tips grew instantly cold. If I had kept going, I would’ve taken a nasty fall some 200feet down off a ledge 50 feet away. Close call.

Had there been no snow I would’ve made the summit, no doubt. Bandera mountain will be revisited at some point this year and I’ll most certainly reach the top without any problems. Snow can complicate any hike even if you’re wearing proper gear. Self arrest tactics are a must-know to survive snow fields and also listen to your gut. Snow can be unpredictable, unstable and the most dangerous thing about it is you don’t know what’s underneath it. So be safe!

Until then..

Granite Mountain

The one thing that I’ve learned since I started hiking and climbing all over these mountains is; understand your limitations and respect the mountain. Everyone has their own specific ability when it comes to physical endurance and mental fortitude. I’ve had to turn around on several occasions missing the summit on a mountain by mere hundreds of feet. I think this is an important instinct when learning how to hike or mountaineer.

Granite Mountain is one of those mountains where anything goes, really. It’s very much exposed so on hot, summer days it’ll quickly zap you of your energy due to the sun beating down on you all day. In the spring and fall, you’re more susceptible to exposure of rain, snow and sleet. Plus the cold temperatures. Today was no exception.

I wanted to hike this mountain yesterday, actually. But as I peered out of my window, I watched the storm clouds roll in from the west and relentlessly blast the Cascades with buckets of rain. Honestly, it’s not really fun hiking when the rain and the cold are hammering down on you. You’re vulnerable, cold, wet and it’s downright uncomfortable. I couldn’t put off the hike due to weather, though. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about living in the Pacific Northwest; you either go out and do what you want to do or sit on the couch and wait for the rain to stop. You’ll be waiting a long, long time.

Today was the day. I grabbed my gear, gassed up the truck and set out for the trailhead. It was easy to navigate to the trail head so I was on the trail before 10am. A good start to the morning. The rain drizzled in my face as I stayed huddled in my Northface parka. I pulled the brim of my hat down tighter on my head and pressed on. The trail serpentined through dense forest and then exposed itself on the unforgiving switchbacks that took me up through the avalanche ravine. I had to cross that thing three times.

The trail was littered with tree roots, large boulders and smaller rocks. Big steps took me higher and higher up the mountain, and as I climbed higher, and higher, it got colder and colder. The rain picked up and as I clipped through the last ravine crossing, the clouds swirled and twirled spitting rain drops at me. The wild flowers on the narrow boot path were reaching out to me, and as I slipped passed them they would brush up against my pants and arms leaving my body even more damp than it already was.

Once out of the forest, the real fun began. It’s called Marmot Hill because the hillside and the meadow is littered with large boulders and wildflowers. Marmots have made this their home. Although, I didn’t see any, (probably because of the poor weather conditions) this was where the trail started to fade in and out. Route finding skills and a keen sense of direction was what got me through Marmot Hill.

Marmot Hill

As the rain picked up, it slowly started to turn into snow. Visibility started to fade, and when I looked up the mountain all I saw were clouds. I couldn’t tell how much trail I had left to climb unless I looked at my GPS but even that was having a hard time getting a signal. I knew I wasn’t going to reach the lookout but I pressed on hoping visibility would get better or a break in the weather would happen.

Hoping for the best in the Cascades on a day like this is like hoping another cashier will show up when the line you’re standing in is 25-30 people deep. The best is just not going to happen. And the best never showed it’s face. The boot path I was on quickly disappeared and I was left standing in front of a giant boulder field. The boulders were mostly exposed but around them had fresh snow. Post-holing was a real danger here and if you post-hole deep enough, you could end up with a broken ankle. Or worse. I decided to push on.

I came out of the boulder field unscathed but visibility had become so bad that I could only see a faint silhouette of a giant mountain in front of me. I had just come up a ridge and was looking at another possible mountain to climb. I was basically on a false summit.

Time wasn’t an issue. The weather conditions were making this hike all too unsafe for my blood. I had to make a decision: turn around or continue up to the summit. Since I was hiking alone, I decided to turn around. I was miserable. I was soaking wet, and the snow had started to make it’s way into my hiking boots. The snow peppered me as I turned my back on the summit. So close yet still so far away.

Granite Mountain, (among other mountains) has taught me a very valuable lesson. Understanding your guttural instincts to keep yourself safe and to not put yourself into a compromised position just because you worked so hard to reach the point where you’re at, and turning around before you reach your goal doesn’t make you any less of a climber or mountaineer. In fact, it’s just the contrary. Hikers and the outdoor community will respect you more for remaining in your boundaries and not putting yourself in a spot where you can’t get yourself out of. It’s costly, and puts more lives at risk if you do so. Just remember one thing: respect the mountain and know your limitations.

Be safe, and see you on the summit!