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Pretend Alpinism

February 22nd, 2006

Todd Miller on the sunny south side of Chair Peak near the summit after a very cold (and shady) North Face climb.

The February high pressure was upon us, bringing cold temps (~5 degrees F), clear skies, and a sense of urgency to make the most of the sunshine–and the ‘ice’ that sometimes forms in the temperate, low-elevation Cascades. Often covered with a veneer of insecure sugar snow–or buried beneath feet of heavy, wet slop–‘good ice’ in the cascades is a relative oxymoron. More often than not what you find is ‘snice’ or ‘snow-ice’; it is thin and poorly adhered to often compact or rotten rock (both imply poor protection). And, of course, access is ever the issue as summer roads are buried under snow necessitating a long ski tour or…ahem…a snow machine as the price of admission.

This last weekend saw heavy traffic in the Alpental Valley at Snoquamlie Pass; I contributed a Friday and a Sunday to the noisesome crowd. I have some getting in shape to do with respect to my technical skills, my lead head, and my overall fitness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in shape, but there is just something both mentally and physically that you need to have to slog through the snow with a pack for hours (actually only six hours on Friday). But when part of that slogging involves various ways of getting yourself hurt, being alert is useful. For me, on Friday, that involved testing what turned out to be wind slab over a 20 foot deep bergschrund. When it collapsed I was left spanning it; feet on one side, ice tools on the other and a nice, deep hole below me.

None the less, the North Face of Chair Peak went without a hitch. Conditions were good enough to solo, which for the most part we did. Because of the conditions we couldn’t have placed much protection anyway.


Todd soloing easy, thin ice above the bergschrund.

I did learn that the digital camera I took, an 8.2 mpx Canon 1D Mark II is 1) too heavy for alpine climbing, 2) too big for alpine climbing, 3) Six hours in +5F degree temps isn’t good for the battery, 4) that in spite of its drawbacks, it handled the conditions superbly. However, I think the lighter weight 5D would be a better choice….anyone have an extra $3000?

We took a couple minutes (literally) to do some pose-down stock-ish images of the “happy snow shoe guy.” Not to knock Todd, who was very cooperative and only doubled in laughter five times, but I really think this kind of photography requires a stylist and more professional talent.

Here’s the parting shot near the head of the Alpental Valley with wind blowing spindrift from the peaks.

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