A little bit about me:
I grew up in New England, Connecticut to be more specific. I was a scout. I got out once a month or so into the mountains (hills), usually for a few hours on a hike. I knew a lot about backcountry travel (so I thought), ultralight practices, leave no trace, etc. I loved skiing (so I thought), but only ever knew the ice coast. That all changed when I visited the PNW in 2011 and had my world rocked. I’ve lived here for 2 years now and have a good handle on the terrain, topography, lay of the land, and have been on many of the major summits in the region.
Let’s first evaluate your skills:
Uphill travel. The Cascades are famous for their steep relief from the lowlands of the Pacific. While we have lots of relatively flat hiking available, most of the best views are to be attained from peaks, ridgetops, and other high viewpoints. This usually means you need to power yourself up a hill for the view.
Whiteout navigation. Can you find your way with dead reckoning, point-to-point navigation in a whiteout? Do you own a GPS, know how to properly operate it, and always carry extra fresh batteries? Are you more of a map & compass kinda guy? I know I am, but I always have my iphone with the topo map downloaded on GaiaGPS (my recommended smartphone GPS app) as well.
Snow travel. Have you used microspikes or crampons? An ice axe? Any training with self-arrest? Are you comfortable on snow slopes up to 40*? Most popular hikes to summits in the spring and early summer will still be snow covered. You’re going to want to invest in some microspikes and an ice axe. The Petzl Summit is one of the highest scoring traditional piolets on OutdoorGearLab & it’s pretty damn light at less than a pound. The Mountaineers insist that as soon as you pull your ice axe out, you should install your brain bucket & gloves; I tend to agree.
Scrambling. Are you comfortable traveling quickly through large boulders, up steep gullies, and over knife-edged ridgetops? If not, the best way to get more comfortable is to spend more time doing it. Look into the Washington Scrambles book and pick your way through the beginner climbs. My personal recommendation is to time yourself on certain known ascents; then repeat them, trying to best your time. A helmet is normally recommended when there is danger of rockfall from above. YMMV.
Cross-country/bushwhacking. While there are many popular hikes, climbs, and summits in the area- some are relatively obscure because of distance required, logistics, etc. Sometimes when you want to get to a specific summit, the best approach is cross-country, on no maintained trail. Learn to orient yourself with known surroundings and move towards a chosen landmark. Good references: creeks, lakes, prominent subpeaks, ridgelines, couloirs, cols, etc.
Exposure. Do you freeze when you look down and don’t see anything for a few hundred or thousand feet? I don’t have any other suggestions than – more exposure to exposure leads to less fear. Confront your fears before they consume you.
Carrying a pack. I hope you already know what the 10 essentials are. If not, please update your pack contents prior to your next trip. You should be comfortable carrying all the 10 essentials, including 2+ liters of water (some hikes have no water available without going off-trail). I typically suggest an alpine-oriented pack with ice-tool carry capacity, some sort of frame-sheet or frame, and a good hip belt in the neighborhood of 28-40 liters for a daypack.
Wearing & carrying the right clothing. Learn to layer. I typically start out with a 150 weight merino t-shirt (in shoulder seasons & winter I go to long-sleeve) & boxers. My pants year-round are OR Prusiks – I’ll link to a review later. I don’t typically add long underwear unless it’s projected to be less than 10F outside. Socks, boots/shoes, and gaiters depend on conditions & temperature. I almost always carry my puffy down jacket & rain shell. There’s a secret layer for shoulder-seasons: Patagonia R1 or equivalent. I bought mine in a M (I’m 6’2″ & 175lbs) and intentionally slim fitting. I don’t want to create an air-layer, that’s what the puffy is for- I just want additional skin layer warmth along with breathability.
Food/water. At every rest, you should be taking a sip of water and a having a bite to eat. It’s critical to maintaining endurance and stamina on draining hikes. You should anticipate breaks, try to create a mental checklist of things to complete when you stop: tighten your right boots’ upper laces, filter another liter of water, suck down an engery gel, eat some almonds. The more you hike, you will likely notice that you need less water, less breaks, and less sucking of air. If you’ve achieved 3000 vertical feet/hour, you’re in superstar territory. Clif makes two gels that have 100mg of caffeine: Double espresso & Cherry Chocolate, learn to love caffeine. It’s a low calorie and high energy jolt to your system to keep you going after that first coffee on the way to the trailhead has worn off.
Speed. Most “fast” hikers I know are in the 2.75+mph moving speed range on trails & can ascend over 2000 vert/hour. Don’t get caught out in bad weather, improve your speed to improve your safety margins.
Some hikes to get you familiarized with the PNW:
Granite Mountain, I90
Hidden Lake Lookout
The next installation will include suggested climbs & additional ways improve your skills as a mountaineer.
I was cruising through the interwebs looking for a climbing pack. I have previously only used lightweight daypacks or big, heavy 4000+ci expedition packs for hiking, climbing, & backpacking. I stumbled upon the Osprey Mutant series- and one pack had all of the features I was looking for: ice tool carry, ski straps, removable lid, removable wait belt padding, removable framesheet, helmet carry, side straps to compress main body down, small internal pocket for *importants*, & relatively lightweight.
Osprey Mutant 38L Climbing/Mountaineering Pack, 2015+ model
Here’s the full readout:
- Integrated FlapJacket™ closure system
- Removable helmet carry system
- Removable side compression
- A-frame ski carry
- Removable top pocket
- Reverse wrap hybrid hipbelt
- Tool carry
My gear list has been honed towards UL and I thought I’d be able to get away with a 35-40L pack for both day trips and superlight overnights. I can say with certainty that this pack is one of the most versatile lightweight packs out there, I have used it for 5+ day summer backpacking trips, 5+ day skimo trips, 5+ day snow traverses, UL peakbagging, mixed climbing daytrips, alpine overnighters, 30+ mi thru-hiking days. It’s been to Oregon, California, all through the Cascades in Washington, BC interior ranges, BC Coast mountains, Olympics, Chugach, Kenai, & Talkeetna ranges. It’s been in 60+mph driving snow, -15F cold, & over 90F hot days. Buried as a beacon search exercise, dropped as a simulation of crevasse fall pulls, & overloaded to the max (“Where can I strap more stuff on the outside of this thing?”). Osprey doesn’t tout this pack as a do-it-all’er, but to a dirtbag it can be. It’s relatively inexpensive compared to the price of a cuben fiber pack (and you can repair this with tenacious tape!)
- Red internal strap helps keep body of pack supported when filled with low bulk, high mass items.
- Side compression straps are not affixed to pack, ensuring ease of replacement when ski edges slice through.
- Most buckles have locking blocks on the tag end of the strap. Never lose your preferred length.
- Removable bucket-top, features helmet carry and valuables clip inside the pocket.
- Intelligent ice tool carry- axes stay close to pack body and do not interfere with ski carry.
I highly recommend the Osprey Mutant 38L 2015+ Pack.
Deflated, everything out:
Fully loaded, stuffed to the brim:
I woke up on the floor the other evening.
I was really confused when I opened my eyes. I was laying on the floor in my roommates office. The dog was looking at me with a really confused look in his eyes as I squinted back at him. Instinctively, I knew I had to be somewhere. Oh yeah, I was about to leave to go to Whistler to go skiing. So why the hell was I on the floor?
As I slowly came-to, my roommate asked casually if I was ok. I peeled myself off the floor and asked him if I had hit my head. He wasn’t sure, but didn’t think so. Alright, that’s a good start. I sat down on the couch and tried to replay the events that had just transpired.
Earlier that morning, I had cooked myself a typical breakfast: three eggs and a half pound of bacon. I make my coffee by the cup: two tablespoons of grounds for the Aeropress, in order to make the perfect americano. Throughout the day, I normally enjoy two to four cups like this. I had been up since five, my normal alarm time. I worked most of the day, had a few interesting phone conversations but nothing out of the ordinary. After my lunchtime walk which I had extended to cover most of the hour, I started gathering my gear to go out skiing for the weekend. I got caught up with packing and ordering my gear, so I passed on lunch; more coffee was the solution. By the time I was face-down on the floor, I hadn’t eaten any sugar and was five cups of coffee (10 shots of espresso) into my day.
After a bit of pacing, my friends showed up. I casually mentioned that I had blacked out. This hadn’t happened before, hasn’t happened since, and won’t happen again. I was not respecting my body – a cardinal sin in my life.
The word will make some people cringe – especially pessimists, the lazy, and the entitled.
If you read the word illimitable and begin thinking of ways that things are limited, read no further.
If you’re the camp like I am, you read this word and smiled. You beamed. You couldn’t hold back the energy you’ve just experienced as you’re so excited about the possibilities, objectives to overcome, and successes to celebrate that you didn’t even consider the potential negatives. You know that you’re willing to put in the work required to accomplish the task, goal, or milestone presented to you, no matter the requirements.
Go out and be illimitable. Every single day. Watch the way that people respond. At first, they’ll say you’re crazy (but they won’t really understand how crazy you are). Eventually, they’ll come to expect this from you.
Keep your head up kid, you’ll be fine. You’ll be better than fine, you’re illimitable.
When you’re perched high in the mountains, on a peak or otherwise lonesome ridge, you have the unique ability of seeing the world as if time has stopped. The remainder of the world (with the exception of everything humankind has intervened in) continues to move irrespective of time. The birds fly. The wind blows. The trees grow. Time is not relevant to these forces or animals. Humans are the only animals on the face of the planet that adhere to watches and clocks and alarms and other mechanical, electronic, or digital timekeepers.
The next time you’re in the mountains, take a moment to sit down, enjoy the scenery, and absorb all that you can- this is one of the few places you can be unperturbed by the busyness of life, the hectic ratrace we all seem to partake in, willingly or not.
If you’ve ever hiked to a remote location- somewhere you’re unable to hear the hustle-bustle of society, you know this feeling. Once you drop below the ridgeline, you’re no longer in cell reception area. You’ve escaped the grips of modern society, even if only by a few feet or small part of a mile. You’re free. You can do as you may, unchained from the constant barrage of societal stipulations imposed on you since birth. Do this, say this, act like this.
If you’ve never experienced this; I implore you to find time to get away, to disappear, to relish in the freedom of the hills.