New Year's 2018 on Mount Rainier
I stress over just about everything - it's just how I've always been. Learning new things is super fun for me, but the process of becoming adept at new skills also stresses me out. I'm constantly worrying that I'm not pushing myself hard enough, I'm too slow, or I'll never get better. But the thing is, everyone starts out somewhere when they learn new things.
I've been skiing for a week or two during most winters growing up and started skiing more regularly when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I started rock climbing a little over three years ago when I lived in San Francisco, but didn't start seriously climbing on a schedule until early this year. I've hiked and on family trips my whole life but didn't start creating bigger goals for it until 2016.
So the last couple years have consisted of a whole lot of learning.
Then we went on our New Year's trip. This trip basically mashed together all the skills I've been slowly acquiring and improving on, adding some more stuff, and then hoping for the best. It was like having just figured out how to doggy paddle and being thrown into an ocean without a floatation device.
But it was still the best.
On New Year's Eve, we packed up Forrest's car and drove out to Mount Rainier. To preface this whole thing...I really had very little idea of what exactly we were doing (story of my life for most trips it seems).
I've used my skins exactly twice before this, once for a short trip up a groomed run at night at Snoqualmie to attempt see the Geminid meteor shower a few weeks ago and then the second time during the Peaks of Life avalanche awareness course. So I wouldn't exactly say I've had much practice with them. But here I was at Mount Rainier, with an overnight pack full of stuff, setting out to skin up to the base of the Turtle Snowfield.
Skinning is weird.It feels like you're dragging your feet along - something my mom has always told me exactly not to do. You also have to just trust them when you're going uphill - leaning back makes them stick better than if you lean forward. It's all sort of counterintuitive. It uses different muscles than when you pick up your feet to hike, and despite the relatively short distance, I sort of felt like a clumsy, lumbering oaf. Moving felt exhausting.
Then there was this long narrow ridge where booting it made more sense than skinning it. So we took off our skis, and carried them for a bit. This is another skill (actually, two) I need to hone. Transitioning from skinning to booting, or booting to skinning, or skinning to skiing (etc, you get the point) takes like five hours for me (not really but it feels like it) while everyone else takes 60 seconds and they're just ready to keep moving. The other thing is carrying skis instead of sticking them in your pack. It's just awkward and my ski-carry skills are sub-par.
But we finally made it to an area that was deemed fit for snow cave building. So we set out do to that shortly before the sun began to set. This is my second time snow cave building, and I still suck at efficiently moving snow and carving out the interior. (Side note: GORE-TEX everything is key to not being miserable when you're digging out a snow cave). Thankfully Eve is much better at this than I am so I put my "moving snow out downhill and out of the way" skills to use instead and in time, she'd carved out a bomb snow cave while we took breaks here and there to snap photos and ooh and ahh at the beautiful last sunset of 2017 creating a stunning alpenglow reflecting off the wind crust on the mountain.
We were then invited over to "the neighbors' place for dinner" (haha it was just Brooke and Forrest's snow cave). Forrest has years of snow cave architecture and construction practice under his belt (someday I'll be able to say that) and they had outfitted their snow cave with battery powered fairy lights, making for a very cozy dinner setting.
I'm just now figuring out my way around snow camping.
- Lining the interior of your backpack with a giant trash bag helps everything inside actually stay dry. It might look janky but it's cheap and very effective.
- A tarp works better at keeping the dampness and condensation out of your sleeping bag better than a crappy bivy.
- A wool sleeping bag liner helps soak up the condensation, allows your clothing to actually dry out, and keeps you warmer.
Anyways, point is, this time my feet were still cold but I wasn't completely miserably cold the entire night (although I did wake up needing to pee and finally went back to sleep but ended up having nightmares of falling into a crevasse with my skis on...which Forrest later confirmed "would have really sucked".)
We got up the next morning, broke down the snow cave (don't want anyone falling in, ya know), snapped our skis and snowshoes back on and eventually roped up to travel across Nisqually Glacier (yay, another new thing for me!). All the crevasses seemed to have already been closed up so we were good on that front (no falling in with skis for me!). and we finally made it to the base of the ice climb that Forrest had been so stoked about. That one didn't quite work out due to there not being enough ice, we moved over a hair and found better ice to climb on.
Here's another "Amber learns something new" moment on this trip: ice climbing. So freaking awesome but also anxiety-inducing as you learn to trust that crampons and ice picks can and will hold you. Apparently the swing of the pick is a wrist motion....and your body should form a triangle...and it does not correlate to rock climbing at all.
In the early afternoon, we packed up and headed out. Last lil' bit of practicing new things on this trip - skiing with a heavy pack on. I can't say I quite understand how maintaining your center of gravity works with that thing on, but I seem to have started to get it eventually (minus a baby off-balance moment on ice that resulted in an awkward popping sound which I now know to be a small labrum tear in my shoulder - it's fine....just some PT for the next couple months). But with that on the outbound trek also came the transition game of skinning to booting/booting to skinning/skinning to skiing, etc. and the slow process it was for me on that. There was also an icy steep section where I took my skis off after hearing from the others that it was "spicy" (or "icy" couldn't really hear them), flipped them over to use the bindings as crampons and essentially crawled up the section (hey, you have to get creative if you want to be able to get off the mountain, right?). But the rest of the ski out was relatively uneventful!
I had so much fun on this trip.To be perfectly honest, I was worrying about being too slow, too tired, not being able to ever improve. But I'm lucky with this group of friends. It's a tough love kind of group - and everyone is super encouraging. There's really not a better group to push yourself with.
So in addition to, well, all the things I've learned...what else was there?
- Pocket snacks are crucial to backcountry travel. Literally a snack in every free pocket.
- Put your gloves in your bib when you're not wearing them to keep them warm.
- Put your skins in your bib if it's a trip with lots of skins on/off transitioning.
- Get a bib because they're useful for everything - like not getting snow in your pants.
- GORE-TEX all the things.
- Packs specifically for backcountry travel is necessary to store things while also not lose things (ahem, like me almost losing my probe. Don't do that.)
- Being thrown into the deep end to learn is really good for me.
- Have a group of friends who will throw you into that deep end and let you deal with it.
- Cardio and weight training is important even if it's boring.