#Vanlife Part 1
So here it was... Kim and Auden's first shot at a #vanlife style road trip. No hotels, no fancy campgrounds, no power, no showers, no water. Just us, Vanatoli, and some mountains that I needed to spend some time on. Would they hate it? Would they love it? It was hard to say, but they wanted to give it a shot so over the mountains we went!
The first stop was a cozy little off-grid camping spot just outside of Mazama, WA. Galen and I had been planning a much anticipated attempt on the East Face of Mt. Lexington in the Liberty Group on the very top of Washington Pass. This is a 9 pitch 5.9+ route that I can't deny gave me some anxiety in preparation for. I had not done a large alpine rock climb, and I knew this would be pushing SERIOUS grade for me. I felt good about the plan, approach, descent route, but in the end I had a hunch that the biggest variable in this route would be my climbing ability and overall conditioning. We met up late at the campground, got our gear all situated, and got some shuteye before the 3AM start time came. We figured it would be easier to just sleep at the lookout on the top of the pass that way we wouldn't have to do any early morning driving so we backtracked a bit and spent the the night up there.
Despite being beyond anxious and nervous I did get some decent sleep and at 3:05AM we were tromping across the road in our crampons on route to the base of Mt. Lexington. The approach went well, and we were surprised to find that part of pitch #1 was still under snow. This allowed us to do a little mixed climbing scrambling up to the beginning of pitch #2. We emptied our packs and combined them into one as per our previous plan. We brought an 8mm static rope with us as our plan was to rappel the Tooth and Claw route right next to us down since it had bolted belay stations. Combing that 70m static rope with two people's food, water, layers, first aid kit, and misc gear and I was surprised at the weight of the "followers" pack. I'd later find out just how much I hated that pack. Side note: It was at this point that I found out I had forgotten to charge my inReach (satellite communication device) the night before. I cringed when I realized this, and knew it could cause problems. There was nothing we could do at that point, and since we weren't really all that far from the highway we knew that in an emergency one could see our headlamps from the road if needed.
With our rock shoes on it was showtime! I was up for the "run out" 5.7 slabby pitch that we had read skeeved more than a few people out. I was feeling gooooood! I slammed through that pitch like it was all mine. A couple times I looked down to see I was a solid 25ft above my last piece of gear, chuckled in agreement on it being "run out", and just shook my head and continued up. Honestly, it really didn't bother me. It was right in the zone of my style of climbing so I felt quite comfortable. Apparently I was just a bit too much in the zone, because out of nowhere I heard Galen call out, "Hey! How far are you from the belay station?" I couldn't see him, but the topography of the route at this spot made for decent vocal communication. I look up and spied my target about 15ft ahead. "Fifteen feet!" I hollered back at him. After a slightly longer pause than I would have expected I heard, "Uhhh.... ok!!" I didn't think much about it, and continued on until I hit a nice little ledge to belay him up. After building my anchor I yelled, "Off belay!!". I got him all rigged up, yelled back down announcing he was on belay, and then after pulling up only a couple feet of rope until I felt it get tight we continued the process of belaying him up to me.
He crested the last slab with a goofy grin on his face then proceeded to inform me what was so funny. Apparently, in my overzealous climbing clinic I was privately holding I had blown right by the proper belay station, and had done about 1/2 of the next pitch as well. When I said I was fifteen feet away apparently I did not HAVE fifteen feet more of rope so he quickly tore down his anchor and began to simul-climb with me so I wouldn't run out of rope. Oops, lol.
Pitch #3 went quickly for him (can't imagine why), and at that time we were making fairly decent time. I had to roll me eyes with a bit of a chuckle when he brought the climb to a screeching halt due to nature calling in the form of a leaving some #2. Really Galen? I mean... really? 20 freaking minutes later we were finally ready to go. Pitch #4 was mine again at a 5.8+ rating, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a bit blue collar (dirty, mossy, etc.), but it was a perfect balance of being in my comfort zone, fun climbing, and yet by no means too easy. I hit the base of the dead end chimney ready for pitch #5 with a smile on my face. Turns out that would be the last smile for a while.
This was the first point that shit felt real. I was completely vertical on a hanging belay about a thousand feet above the hairpin corner in the highway. I put Galen on belay, and off along a VERY airy foot traverse he went not to be seen for a bit. Now I'm going to be honest. Pitch #5 through #7 is still a bit of a blur. See our plan was for him to lead #5 and #6 which would get us through the dreaded off-width chimney then I would retake the lead for pitch #7. What happened was he accidentally strung pitch #6 and pitch #7 together. Now normally one who is familiar with climbing would think that was a nice little bonus for me as these were what we knew to be the crux pitches. Except you see there was one big variable... the backpack! Screw that backpack! I was fairly tired at this point, and that backpack was sucking the soul out of me. I made it up pitch #5 and the beautiful lie back flake (albeit not very gracefully", but when it came time to do the chimney on pitch #6 I was almost ready to throw it down the mountain. Backpacks and chimneys do NOT go together. You then have to hang it below you on a tether, which, in the case of this chimney was the PERFECT width to get stuck in the chimney. Uggghhh!!! I was gassed, pissed, and very frustrated. Finally pulling my fat ass up the chimney I was greeted with another slap in the face via the form of a nice 5.8+ off-width crack. You know how many off-width cracks I'd climbed at that time? None! They suck! They suck, they suck, theyyyyy suck! I felt like I was in prison, and I was that crack's bitch! Haha! Finally, after what seemed like an eternity I reached Galen and collapsed in total exhaustion.
I will admit at this point I was mentally about ready to fail. I hadn't said it out loud yet, but I was officially concerned with how I was going to physically make the rest of this climb happen. We had finished the hardest pitches, but I was spent. It wasn't until finally looking up and seeing Galen's goofy-ass expression as he said, "Well cupcake, how bad did that suck?!!!" Man oh man did I laugh, and luckily that helped temporarily mask my poor current mental state. At that moment, I really needed that laugh. After taking a far too lengthy water and food break it was time to finish this challenge, and get the hell off this mountain! I was just about ready to explain to him that he was going to have to lead the last pitch as I was just too exhausted, and in my face comes a full rack of gear followed by him proclaiming, "Well, no sense in bitching out now. Your turn to lead cupcake!". If I thought I could have fit the #4 cam in his mouth I would have tried. He was right though.... it was not the time to give up.
Pitch #8 went great! The grade eased, and I fell right back into a solid groove. I knew we were quite behind schedule at that point, but we were moving forward and no one was injured so all things considered it was going well. Now this is where we REALLY wasted some time. After some debate out where we though the rappel anchors for Tooth and Claw were we made the poor decision of doing the last "pitch" to the false summit. This was an incorrect decision that gained us some very sketchy highly exposed down-climbing above gear, and ultimately cost us about an hour. See what through us off was the 2ft deep patch of snow that was on top of the spot where we normally would have walked around and figured out where to go, but since rock shoes and snow are a bit no-no we missed the spot to get to the correct anchors. This was the time I actually said to Galen, "Damn man, my wife is gonna kick my ass for not charging that inReach". You see we were now at our time we had projected to be back at the car, and yet here we were still on the summit. Ummm... oops? LOL.
With the correct set of anchors finally found it was show time. Now this part I'm going to give us a little pat on the back for. We absolutely massacred those first 7 rappels. Making 10 full 70 meter rappels is not a fast task with two ropes. You have to be extremely attentive to every little detail or else your rope management can get WAY out of hand and cost you a ton of time. We were dialed in! Well... that is... until the 7th one. Now you remember that little 20min pause we had to make earlier in the day for genius boy to drop the kids off at the pool? Well, here I come flying down the 7th rappel looking like Sylvester Stalone rapping from an apache and about half a second after my feet touch the ledge I freeze in horror. There's the ends of our ropes coiled mere inches away from what is an absolute monumental sized deucer. "Duuuuude!!" I screamed out. "How in the hell would a such a huge shit get all the way up...." Then all pieces of the puzzle aligned like some Harry Potter mystery. I slowly turned my head, and there was Galen. At first I thought his head was down in shame, but soon realized it was to try and hide the hysteria from bellowing from his gut. Oh my lord did we laugh!!! We knew we were late. We knew people would be worried, but we also knew at that moment that none of that mattered. These are the movements that will be remembered forever.
After regaining our composure we completed the last 3 rappels and our feet touched snow just in time to click on our headlamps. Perfect! Man that was a good feeling. I could have knelt down and kissed that snow! Well... except that I knew what was looming up above probably already starting to leech into the beautiful snow. The hike out was uneventful, and after a total of 18hrs we finally got to hear that sweet beautiful sound Vibram soles on asphalt. We had done it. East Face of Lexington was ours!
We drove back towards the campground, and slowed when someone passed us then immediately slammed on their brakes and began to back up. It was Clint and Ethan. They were on their way to drive up and check for headlamps on mountian. Oops, lol. We assured them all was well, and were greeted by a very happy Kim and Auden back at the camp site. I gotta give Kim a lot of credit. She kept it pretty cool, and did the right thing by contacting Justin to come up with a plan of action and timeline for us. My legs hurt. My hands hurt. My entire body hurt. You know the best part though? This was only day one of what was going to be an incredible #vanlife trip!
To be continued....