North Cascades - American Alpine Institute Class - July 2007

2 day private class + 1st day of Alpinism 2 class

Trip theme: Bugs or "I have a question"


Sunset over Samish Bay I didn't want to have to make this trip alone. I tried to get any number of people I had already climbed with to come along and I tried to find people on various Internet climbing forums that might be interested. Ultimately no one wanted to come with me so I did it by myself. The purpose of this trip was twofold. 1) Learn how to self rescue and rescue someone else after a crevasse fall; 2) Climb on more challenging terrain while learning proper protection techniques. Many folks in the forums suggested that I sign up for a class with the American Alpine Institute because their classes are primarily geared towards instruction as opposed to guiding. So after consulting with Shawn at AAI, we decided that the closest thing to what I wanted would be accomplished by having a 2 day private class covering glacier travel and crevasse rescue and then taking the standard Alpinism 2 class. Normally the 2 day private class would have been prohibitively expensive to take alone, but they worked with me to lower the price down to something more manageable.

I managed to get a direct flight from Philly to Seattle on US Airways which is always a good thing when losing your bags would be a serious complication. So it was with great surprise that only one of my two bags arrived on the baggage claim. Me and 30 other people then lined up at the counter to report our lost bags. It seems that the fine workers in the Philly airport had not just lost one bag, they had managed to not load an entire cart full of bags onto the airplane. I tried to be very patient with the lady at the lost baggage counter as she had to deal with irate people all day long. However she seemed to go out of her way to not be able to accommodate my situation. It seems that the airlines have a rigid system that assumes you are going to be at an address somewhere as opposed to out in the woods. I however would be leaving for the wilderness first thing in the morning. Ultimately I gave the home address for the director of AAI as the delivery location and hoped for the best. What would I do if my bag didn't show in time for the 2 day private class, or potentially not at all? The lady at the counter implied that the bags should be arriving later that day, so my plan was to pick up my bag back at the Seattle airport later that night and not rely on the airline to get it to me. So what was I missing? A lot of things. Many of the missing items I could rent through AAI, but several items I could not. I had planned on visiting the flagship store of REI in downtown Seattle any way so I would just buy what I couldn't rent and return it if I didn't need it. The REI flagship store was large and if you wanted to buy a backpack or boots they had a large selection to choose from. But try and buy a knit hat or a pair of ski gloves in July and you're out of luck. Unfortunately REI has really gone downhill in the last 10 years and is nothing more than a glorified LL Bean store anymore. I managed to buy things that I would have to make do with, but was really hoping my bag would show up. I still had to drive up to Bellingham that evening and was pretty tired as it approached 7PM. This was the last flight coming in that I would wait for and hope my bag was on. Any later and I'd be too tired for the drive. Everyone on the entire flight picked up their bag and virtually the last bag coming up the carousel was my missing duffel. Whew. I was in business now. I rolled into Larrabee State Park around 9:30PM and set up my Tarptent for the night.

Next morning I ambled on up to AAI to meet my guide, Mat Erpelding (yea only one T in Mat). Mat had a somewhat similar adventure getting here the night before but at least his bags had arrived intact. We went through all my gear, which he insisted on removing items from and then repacked my backpack. Mostly he got rid of extra clothes that he said we wouldn't need for this time of year, remember that for later. Packed and ready we were off to Mt. Baker for our 2 day private class. I had to drive us both as the client is responsible for the transportation in all private classes. No big deal, I had a rental car for the whole time. It took us until about noon to do everything we needed to do and then make the drive to the trailhead on the north side of Mt. Baker. Right about the time we were ready to hit the trail the skies opened up and it started to pour down rain. Mat wanted to just go but I didn't particularly feel like heading out in a heavy rain right out of the gate. So we sat in the car for about an hour and half until it stopped raining. This turned out to be a good call on my part as we had great weather the rest of the 2 days. The 3 mile hike into the glacier was fairly easy but made interesting by several stream crossings that were pretty high with glacier melt water along with the heavy rain we had just received. It wasn't until about 4PM that we had camp set up and could even think about starting any instruction. At camp the mosquitoes were horrible which would be a recurring theme throughout my entire time in the North Cascades. Our campsite was in the trees on the ridge above the lower Coleman glacier. I'm not quite sure of a name but I heard "Glacier View Camp" or "Murkwood Camp". After Mat piddled around for awhile, we finally headed down to the Coleman glacier for some instruction. Since we were camping on a ridge we had to down climb to get to the glacier. The down climb consisted of a gully full of rotten rock and loose dirt. I found out the next day that there was an actual trail leading down to the glacier, but Mat led us down and later back up the nasty gully because he wanted to evaluate my footwork. Sheez. We spent a little bit of time talking about the various areas on the glacier and what they looked like and more importantly what areas were safe to walk on and what areas were not necessarily safe. I told him at this point that I would be asking a million questions and that he would be sick of me by the end of the trip. He assured me that this was no problem, remember that too. The main focus for today was how to properly prepare and tie prusiks and then how to self rescue out of a crevasse. Mat was fond of the Texas Prusik system so that's what we used. We found a particularly deep and ugly crevasse and this was the one I was to climb out of. He placed two ice screws in the glacier, equalized the anchor, attached the rope and then lowered me around 15-20 ft down into the crevasse. Then he went off to the side and told me to climb out. The prusik system is pretty easy once you get the hang of it, the key being once you get the hang of it. I floundered around inside the crevasse for a good 10 minutes not climbing up one inch on the rope. The problem was that the slings kept falling off my boots. Eventually I figured out that if I turned sideways to the ice I could lean much further back into the seat loop which would allow me to raise my feet up which would in turn keep the slings from falling off my boots. The downside to this was that the left side of my body was touching the ice thus getting wet and cold. The upside was I was able to climb all the way up to the lip of the crevasse. Getting over the lip can be the hardest part. Not wanting to potentially lose an ice axe I finally had Mat give me his hand and he helped me up over the edge. Good knowledge to have but not something I care to repeat.

The next morning Mat tried to lead us down an equally rotten gully but finally decided to tell me about the trail. SOB. Today we spent a bunch of time just wandering around the glacier. We went places that I definitely would not have ventured on my own but after awhile I was getting the hang of reading where to step and more importantly where not to step. Eventually I became pretty comfortable walking around on the glacier through increasingly more crevassed regions. Around noon time we found an area with some snow and a crevasse nearby and we set up for me to learn how to rescue my partner who had fallen into a crevasse. You can't get the full effect of this with only 2 people but we did our best. The short version is, your partner falls in a crevasse and you arrest the fall. But your partner for whatever reason cannot climb out on their own so you have to pull them out. Well its virtually impossible to pull somebody out alone with just your bare hands so we learned how to set up an anchor and pulley system to allow one person to pull another out of the crevasse unassisted. It's not complex, but its a definite sequence of events that you have to methodically go through to properly first set up the initial anchor (a picket buried as a deadman) while you are lying face down in the snow with the rope pulling down between your legs, set up a backup anchor (a picket pounded vertically into the snow), dress the lip of the crevasse (preferably without falling in yourself), and then set up the 6 to 1 pulley system (using carabiners). I practiced it once and then I had to save my backpack from sure death after we launched it into the crevasse. I felt like at the end of the day I had a pretty good idea how to self rescue, how to rescue someone else, and how to safely walk around the glacier. So mission accomplished. The hike out was uneventful. The major entertainment was watching the Saturday day hikers deal with the stream crossings. Mat had nowhere to sleep that night so I offered him a spot at my campsite back at Larrabee SP, but he elected to go see the movie Transformers and stealth camp near AAI instead. I wound up eating dinner at the Boundary Bay Brewpub in Bellingham. I highly recommend the Chipotle Chicken Pizza, it was excellent.

The next morning we met back up at AAI for the Alpinism 2 class which Mat was conveniently the guide for as well. There we met up with the only other member of the class, Joel. Joel is a high school english teacher in Modesto, CA. I was somewhat concerned going into the class that I might be the weakest climber on the trip, but after meeting Joel I wasn't concerned anymore. Nothing against him, but I was fairly certain that I would be the stronger of the two. Even though Joel had a mountain of stuff in a huge backpack, Mat didn't seem interested in picking through his things and making him leave stuff behind like he did with me. Not sure what was up with that! This time we loaded up in a giant white van for just the three of us and we parked the rental car in a parking lot. Today we had to drive quite a distance to get to where we were going, which was Fun Rock in Mazama, WA. The purpose of Fun Rock was to learn how to place protection (nuts and cams), how to clean protection (remove it on the way up), and how to rappel. I'm quite sure that Mat had other things he was looking for too. For me the instructional here was of a great deal of use as my outdoor rock climbing experience to date was pretty limited. The other purpose here was to get accustomed to the rock and a little bit of exposure in preparation for our rock climbs the next two days. I had never rappelled before and I found this to be a lot of fun. Sure beats down climbing and is a heck of a lot quicker. Most of the climbing we did so far was very easy. I had only taken a liter of water with me and it was gone after a couple of hours. I figured I'd just tough it out until we were done rather than go back to the van. That turned out to be a mistake as we stayed there much longer than I thought we would. Towards the end, Mat decided that we would do one more climb before we left. The final climb was quite a bit harder than what we had done so far and I was huffing and puffing when I finally managed to ungracefully pull myself up to the rappel point. I asked Mat how this route compared to what we were going to do tomorrow, and he indicated like it was similar. Back down on the ground I was very dizzy and dehydrated. Walking back to the van I was thinking I might be in for a rough ride the next couple of days if the routes were anything like the last thing we climbed. After feeling like I might pass out, I got back to the van where I had some more water to drink. This night and the next we stayed at the Early Winters Campground run by the Forest Service right off of Hwy 20 near Mazama.
Crossing one of many glacier melt stream crossings. These were pretty high given it was mid July
Looking north towards Canada on the approach hike into Mt. Baker
My guide Mat, overlooking the Coleman glacier on Mt. Baker. The peak is immediately behind the glacier
Dangling from the end of the rope inside a crevasse. Now I have to climb back out!
Overlooking the glacier and the mountain the next morning
I know I'm suppose to be the guide here, but how the heck do these things go on again?
Looking at the lower, safe part of the glacier
The ice fall on the Coleman glacier
Traversing around the side of the ice fall
Looking back the way we had come
Mat said to only step on the blue ice and not to step on the white snow. Needless to say we tread carefully through here
Lest we fall down in here
More places you don't necessarily want to walk on
Looking back one last time at Mt. Baker after we finished up our glacier travel and crevasse rescue class
The main store at the American Alpine Institute in Bellingham, WA
Our first route out at the practice crag, Fun Rock
One rope was for protection, the other was in case we turned out to be total hacks
Learning how to rappel
Notice the total hack 2nd rope again just in case
Mat rappels down and leaves us to fend for ourselves after we proved not to be total hacks
Joel rappelling solo this time
Just in case our confidence was too high we moved onto a harder route
Mark after almost passing out from dehydration


Back to Previous Page                                                                                                                                                                       Forward to Next Area

Back to the main North Cascades page