Rob's Blog Archive

June 30, 2013

A Mile Vertical










The alarm goes off at 05:00.  This gives me enough time to eat a couple of bowls of cereal, water the dogs, finish packing, and get to the elementary school parking lot by 06:00.  Actually, not quite---screw ups packing have me there at a quarter past.  Still, I’m the first to arrive.

The others show up in two trucks.  I toss my pack in one, hop in, and we head off.  We start hiking around a quarter past seven.  Holland Peak looms 4,800’ above us.  With the undulations of the climb, the route has 5,300’ feet of gross vertical.  It’s going to be a long day.

The first 1.2 miles of the trail is relatively easy, the grade is only 630’ per mile.  At that point, we turn off onto a fishing trail, a small tread that climbs with an average rate of 1,350’ per mile for the next three miles.  For a trail that steep, mileage hardly matters.  It’s all about the vertical.

While my home range is the Sierra Nevada of California, I cut my teeth climbing in the Cascades.  The Sierras have long steep trails, but not like this.  The Cascades, however, do.   And, like the Cascades, altitude on Holland is only a secondary issue.  This, too, is different from either the Sierras or the southern Rockies.   Climbers have sometimes been said to have Cascade legs or Rocky Mountain lungs, depending on what they had been climbing.  I was about to remember just what the former meant.

The first real leg is to Lower Rumble Lake.  On the way there, a screw up babysitting a guy who had no business on this hike had me doing an extra half a mile and 350’ gross vertical, all cross country.  The additional work was compounded both by my moving hard rather than at a paced rate to find my compatriots and by my aggravating an abdominal pull when I was cutting down from my high point to the trail.  Chris, Bill and I met up after this misadventure and continued to the lake.  The other guy turned back.

There are three legs after Lower Rumble Lake---Lower to Upper, Upper to the start of the summit stretch, and that final section.   The final leg has some real climbing---class three and moderate snow.  It runs along a ridge where the rock is thirty degrees on one side and a cliff on the other.  With this exposure, many parties opt to use a rope.  Chris bails out and waits---with running shoes rather than hard soled boots, the snow simply isn’t safe.   Bill and I move on. 

Living at 4,000’ and Holland’s summit being just over 9,300’ meant that I wasn’t short of breath.  Still, it had cooled off a lot compared to below and there was a breeze.  I put on a wind parka and was comfortable in this even as we climbed the final six hundred feet to the summit. 

What was interesting to me was that when I got to the climbing, the fact that I hadn’t done anything even vaguely technical since doing the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak back in 2002 didn’t affect my footing and route finding, kicking steps, and so on.  However, the eleven years away from climbing manifested itself by my noticing the exposure of the route and, at least at the beginning, taking a little more time with my footwork than I normally would have. 

It was about 2:40 when Bill and I topped out. 

The way back would remind me that with the steepness of what we did---pretty much a set  of black diamond ski runs stacked one on top of the other---there wouldn’t be a let up in the work.  I did try glissading down some of the snowfields, but this aggravated the abdominal pull even more.  After that, any slip felt like somebody putting a knife into me.  I took the route to Lower Rumble Lake carefully and even with its talus, generally avoided slipping. 

Fortunately, the way back from Lower Rumble Lake to the truck was trail and slipping no longer concerned me.  Still, until the last 1.2 miles, the grade never let up.  I hadn’t had a quadriceps workout like this for years.   My thighs ached. 

Hitting the final mile plus back to the truck with its grade being a factor of two less than the rest of the climb, I could finally relax.  On good trail without a lot of slope, holding my hiking poles horizontally with my left hand was easier than using them and that’s what I did.

20:15 saw me back at the trailhead.  Chris handed me a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  The combination of taste, cold, and the touch of alcohol---actually a faster harder touch than normal--- makes that first beer a particularly pleasurable experience.  I suppose knowing that the day’s work is done is in there somewhere, too.

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