Thursday, 18 August 2016

Cascade: Grind of all Grinds

Last Saturday, I joined a group for a one-day-only climb of a single peak. Given my vast experience with backpacking, a simple day hike with, like, nothing to carry on our backs, should be a stroll through the park, right? The answer is - yes, if your idea of a park is a stupidly steep never-ending incline of precariously placed sharp-edged boulders with bottomless precipices on either side. And hungry bears. Welcome to Cascade Mountain.

I agreed to do this day hike because I really wanted to get out into the mountains this summer, and as Clary put it, the choice was between "a really lame backpacking trip, or an epic day hike". Apparently all the good backpacking locations were booked solid. So, we went for epic over lame. For future reference: if Clary says a hike is "epic", "grueling" or "vigorous", you probably shouldn't bring newbies along.

But we did bring newbies along. In addition to Clary, Leanne, their friend Janet, my dad, me, and yesmybrother!Justin (who I had somehow never hiked with before this point in time), this group also included my cousin Justin (who is not the same person as notmybrotherJustin!from the former hiking posts, and who from this point on shall be called "JP") and Uncle Dale, both of whom had to buy their first hiking shoes to come along and neither of whom had yet broken them in. My brother also pitched the idea of hiking Cascade to our other cousin, Jordan, who does a great deal of hiking, but Jordan's initial reaction was something along the lines of "Cascade? You're seriously doing Cascade?!" He declined coming.

The champions of Cascade
Needless to say, my mom was a little worried for us.

Our preparations weren't particularly impressive. I went to the hairdresser and got bangs for the first time in over 12 years, just to see if they'd get grimy and stick to my sweaty forehead. My brother found an old plum in his jacket pocket, presumably from a hike sometime last year. It had withered into a giant raisin. But both of these items are basically irrelevant. The main thing is that we didn't each have 30 pound backpacks. In fact, Justin was so worried that I would back out due to the intensity rating of the hike, that he offered to carry all my things for me. I mostly declined, but I did stuff my new jacket into his pack.

You never know what's in his pockets.
We met up shortly after 8 a.m. on Saturday and were at the trail head by 10 o'clock. We got off to an auspicious start by failing to locate any washroom facilities around the locked chalet (I think they do weddings there). You can't start a day-long hike on even a partially full bladder. You just can't. So, we all went, anyways. Leanne and I made for the same grove of trees.

"I know where you are, Carla!" she piped cheerily, "I can't see you, but I do know where you are, so don't worry, I won't come over!" Then she paused before finishing up with, "I can see that guy in the parking lot, though, so that's a little weird."

We officially began hiking at 10:10. It was another impressive start, as we energetically marched off with a nice family of Quebecois hikers, leading them down the wrong trail for twenty minutes. Eventually we fixed that mistake and got onto the real path.

The real path was a never-ending upwards slope through the trees. I hate never-ending uphill. It kills me. And, it was hot. Sweat was literally dripping into my eyeballs.

"Are you wearing layers?" asked Janet sympathetically. "You could take off your t-shirt."

"Well, kinda," I said, "but I don't usually wear this particular tank without anything else. I use it as a base layer."

No matter. I wore that tank without anything else. My t-shirt was damp and gross when I stripped it off and stuffed it into JP's pack. Nobody said anything about me being indecent, and I just hoped that I wouldn't end up dressed like a beach volleyball player before the end of the day.

As I said, prolonged uphill climbing destroys my spirit. Very quickly I fell behind the rest of the group, taking slow little steps with many pauses. I ate dried peaches to keep up my sugar levels. I drank water to keep myself hydrated. I groaned. I panted. Justin and JP cheerfully held back and herded me from behind (my brother is much faster than I am, but he was going to do this hike with me if it killed him). They kept up a running dialogue full of strange little bits of encouragement to keep me trekking.

"You're doing better than most people your age," said Justin. "Do you think your sisters could do this hike, JP?"

"Some of them," said JP.

"Well, how about that?" said Justin, "See, Carla? Not everyone gets to say that their older-than-25-year-old sisters can do this hike."

"I don't have any sisters older than 25," said JP.

"See?" said Justin.

A little while later, Justin said, "I think it's good that you're so tired now. If you're more tired going up, it's easier coming down. So, the more tired you are, the better. I read an article once."

I replied that was complete crock.

"No, no!" exclaimed Justin, "It has something to do with getting your second wind sooner."

I was self-conscious of being the slow one. Here's a picture to show how far ahead everyone else was:

My camera does not have enough resolution to really capture the specks in the distance that are the rest of the group
"I can't believe I'm the only one back here," I wailed. In my distress, I compared myself to the person in the group to whom I felt the most physically similar: "Leanne is way ahead!"

"Well," hemmed my brother, "She hikes, like, every weekend. And does yoga. And goes to the gym... And jogs."

"Oh," I said.

"You're doing great for someone your age!" he repeated. "And you dance around in the basement sometimes."

We continued our laborious ascent. After more long, slow slogging, I wheezed and paused for water. Justin remarked, "We're going at a pretty good pace."

JP replied, "Yes. When we're going." But a short time later he said, "It looks like I'm back here to support Carla but I'm actually here because I'm also really slow," so I felt encouraged anyway.

Shortly thereafter, we caught up with the rest of the group, which had stopped to wait for us. As we were watering up, Clary expounded on how being the last person in a pack is the psychologically most difficult position of the group to be in.

"Nah, I like it!" exclaimed Justin.

"Yeah, I just about had a mental collapse," said JP. He leapt ahead and led the way with Leanne for a while.

So, we pushed ourselves higher and higher for about two straight hours before we finally broke through the treeline. As we cleared the trees, our spirits lifted, knowing that we had reached a milestone. We cheered, soaked in the vista, and without the trees to block our view, we looked to see how the path would flatten out now that we had gained so much altitude. The path went up. It turned into a "type 2 scramble", which means you have to use your hands to climb. And the path, instead of being nice, packed dirt, became an avalanche zone of boulders where the only way you could see the path was by picking out the occasional six-inch strip of blue tape tied to one of the millions of rocks or by spying the man-made rock cairns from amongst the miles of natural rock piles. It was very easy to stray off the "path" because I'm not convinced there was one.

This terrain was fun for the first 45 minutes or so.
Cascade Mountain has a particularly high summit, but before that, there is a peak known as the "false summit". As we were approaching the false summit, we encountered a couple sitting in the rocks, eating lunch. Pretty well anyone you meet on the trail is an instant friend, so we chatted as we passed.

"We're not really going any further," the man said.

"We're headed to the summit," said my dad.

"You're about halfway there," the man replied.

We all laughed at his joke.

Except it wasn't a joke.

At about this point, Justin and JP traded their place behind me for the middle of the pack, so Dad and Uncle Dale brought up the rear behind me. I did okay in the rocks for a while, since the breeze helped keep me cool and the added brain work and attention that were necessary took my mind off the misery. Plus, some of the views were pretty awesome.

Gorgeous view. Please note the incline.
Not quite on top of the world, but getting close.
Staring contemplatively into the distance.
I said "Do yoga." He obeyed.
I loved the ridge walk, where you could look to your right and see one side of the world, and you could look to your left and see the other side of the world, and you were on the thin line dividing the two. Clary said that she would be humiliated if she fell off, because there were so many other hikers that would see her do it. The rest of us were more concerned that falling would mean instant death, but in the end, nobody died and nobody was humiliated.

The ridge
Around the false summit, Dad and Uncle Dale and I caught up to JP and Justin. "Clary and Leanne and Janet are taking a shortcut," said Justin. "It looks like there are two ways. The shorter, steeper way, or the longer, not-so-steep way. Now we have to decide which way to go."

We all looked at the three specks hauling themselves up the peak that looked like it must be a 60 degree incline. There was no actual path, they were just climbing for the sake of it. We looked to the right, at the inviting-looking, still-steep but not suicidal path traversing the mountain.

"Let's take the actual path," said Dad. "For Carla's sake."

Nobody argued. The men and I took the sane path. Both JP and Uncle Dale were almost as spent as I was, but both were too manly to show it, so Justin and JP went ahead, and I was still by far the slowest member of the group. Eventually we caught up to JP. He was alone, leaning against a rock wall, recuperating.

"Where's Justin?" we asked.

He pointed to some tiny moving things in the middle-distance. "He's helping the others climb down. The path they took doesn't connect."

Indeed. We could see Justin at the bottom of a precipice, looking up, arms outstretched like he was pointing. Three other people were clinging precariously to the rock wall, trying to ease themselves down. It seems that the ladies had been quite successful at getting themselves up the incline and at traversing the top. Unfortunately, there was no way down. Rather than retrace their steps, they opted to scale the cliff face instead. Naturally, this turned out to be terrifying, both for them and for the other passers-by that tried to convince them it was a bad idea and to turn around.

Eventually Justin arrived, having followed the normal path. Seeing as they were already descending, he helped coach them on where to put their feet, an act which Clary praised multiple times after we (somehow) all arrived home safely.

"Once, nearer the bottom, he even put his hand up to support my foot, even though there was enough of a ledge for it already. It made me feel better just to know he was there," she enthused.

The rest of us caught up to them all just in time to see Leanne step onto safety and hear her intone "Not recommended!" to the other hikers who were lingering at the scene.

"Well, Carla," Dad said, beaming with pride but trying to be humble, "Your brother isn't perfect, but he's sure good for some things!"

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of them actually on the cliff, but I do have a picture of the cliff itself. Sadly, without people, you can't really see the scale, so I added people at about the size I remember. It's your choice whether to credit me as a reliable narrator or not. At any rate, a fall would have seriously maimed, if not killed them. People have died on Cascade before. Based on our experience, this mountain seems to see a lot of bad decision-making, and not just from our group - but more on that later. Thank God, though, everyone made it down from that ledge okay.

The very bad idea
And after that? The final ascent. But the recollection of that grind is too exhausting for me to recount without a break, so stay tuned for more.

***

"There are only 3 real sports: bull-fighting, car racing and mountain climbing. All the others are mere games." Ernest Hemingway

5 comments:

Suzanne said...

I'm spellbound Carla...and eagerly awaiting the conclusion...and glad I wasn't there.

Art said...

I am looking forward to the next installment. So far, it sounds like everyone is having a good time. Nice pictures.

Carolynn said...

THANK GOD YOU ARE OKAY! Scaring Auntie Carolynn a great, great deal. Really. Not kidding.

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