Goat Mountain Solo
With a busy family weekend in the very near future I headed out Friday evening of this beautiful Memorial Day weekend for a quick turn-and-burn of Goat Mountain in the Mt. Baker wilderness.
I was able to hit the road around 4pm on Friday which put me at the trailhead around 5:30pm. Due to the amazing weather, and New Moon, I was looking at prime Milky Way photography conditions so I figured since this was a shorter trip I'd go ahead and lug along the tripod and A6300 with a couple lenses.
There were a couple guys at the parking lot just coming off the trail, and I was warned the snow was pretty soft all the way up so I began to have my wonders about a summit attempt. The trail was bare until right around the 4,100ft mark and then it was solid snow for the rest of the way up to the meadow. I made good time on the way up, and had my tent spot dug out in the snow and all setup by about 8pm. This gave me a great opportunity to not only photograph the sunset, but to just sit back and enjoy the amazing weather.
1am in the morning came pretty fast, and I somewhat reluctantly rolled out of my nice cozy bag to work on some Milky Way shots. With a low temp around 38f I really can't complain though. The skies were clear, and the wind had died down so life was pretty good! I crawled back into my bag around 2am, and what seemed like no more than 5 minutes later my alarm was going off at 5am again.
I slowly stuck an arm out at 5:30am expecting to feel cruddy snow conditions, but to my surprise the snow had hardened plenty for me to bag the summit. After some coffee and breakfast I left my base camp and began the trek up to the base of the final push to the summit. Conditions were good, and I was happy to find a route that ran along a bit of a ridge instead of following the summer hiking trail which runs through avalanche terrain. I looked down and 7am right on the money I crested the summit. Woot! The views were spectacular, and I was greeted, by the song of a beautiful white bird that is now on my list to find out a little more about. You could see the effects of the higher temps over the last couple weeks as the snow was beginning to pull away from the summit ridge.
After some quick pictures I decided I better kick it in gear if I was going to get back home by noon. Now as a part of proper route navigation and exposure assessment I had checked the runout prior to the ascent, and had determined there would be a nice spot for me to get some much higher angle glissading experience in on the way down. Anything over about 35* slope angle isn't advised for glissading, because in certain snow conditions you simply aren't going to be able to stop. This is why I figured the 40-45* angle of this route (with a nice safe runout spot) was perfect for some "oh shit" training. Well lemme tell you... I was right. I removed my cramp-ons, plopped my butt in the snow, prepped my ice axe position, lifted my feet, and the second I started moving I immediately though, "well this was a real dumb-ass idea Nick". It became apparent very quickly that I was exceeding the maximum safe glissade speed (goal accomplished), and there was no way I was going to slow this train down like this. This is the point at which it dawned on me I was not wearing my soft shell jacket, but instead just my comfy wicking t-shirt on this warm spring morning thus leaving my forearms exposed. Damn. There goes the skin on my forearm. Oh well, here we go! I rolled into the most aggressive self arrest position I could muster kicking my feet with everything I had and putting all my weight down into the point of my axe. I'll be damned if it didn't work! It probably took me a good 25-30ft, and a half dozen four letter words to stop, but sure enough all the training paid off perfectly.
With a wet ass, a skinned up right forearm, and a big-ass grin I continued my way back down the mountain to my little base camp. I packed up, and made a very respectable pace (even trail running at times) back down to the car all the while feeling quite pleased and very refreshed.
You know, I'm sure there are a lot of more experienced people out there who would read this and think, "Really? That's it?". That's ok with me, because for me there is great reward with calculated training, and risk. Proper research and training gives me the confidence to set new smaller goals each time, and reach those goals all the while being as safe as possible and always coming home to my family. This is how I like to learn, and more importantly how I like to teach Auden. Knowledge is a very powerful tool. In most cases, it's the biggest asset you can have.