After the spring semester finished, Zach and I headed to Washington for 10 days. Zach had never been to Washington before, and I had only been to Seattle previously for an academic conference. We explored Seattle for the first couple of days, kayaked around San Juan island for a day, and spent six days in the North Cascades taking an intermediate alpinism course offered by the American Alpine Institute!
We were in Seattle for the first two and a half days of our trip. We stayed at HI - Seattle at the American Hotel Hostel, which was located immediately off of the Chinatown/International light rail stop. The hostel was very basic, but worked well, and it was cheaper than most of Seattle’s hotel options.
While in Seattle, we ate a lot of food at Veggie Grill, visited the University of Washington, checked out the Seattle Bouldering Project, and took the water taxi to Alki (West Seattle) for a day - all were very fun!
We decided to spend one day kayaking in the Puget Sound around San Juan island. In order to get there, we rented a car in Seattle and drove to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal (about 1.5 hours). From there, we caught a ferry to the Friday Harbor Terminal on San Juan Island. Upon making it to the island, we headed to the farmer’s market to pick up some snacks and then met our guide back at the ferry terminal. We used a company called Sea Quest, which offers single-day (as well as multiple-day) kayaking tours. We opted for the full day, 6 hour tour, and, after making it to our launch site, we kayaked for about 5-7 miles along the shoreline. We did not spot the orca pod that frequents the area, but we did see several bald eagles, as well as seals! One of my favorite parts was the free snacks - kelp!
After kayaking, we headed back to Anacortes via the ferry and drove to Bellingham for the night before our alpinism course.
The American Alpine Institute (AAI) offers a wide variety of courses on alpine climbing and mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, expedition prep, and skiing and avalanche training. Their beginning mountaineering leadership program, Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part 1, is broken down into two parts: Alpinism 1, which is an introduction to mountaineering, and Alpinism 2, which is an intermediate mountaineering course. We decided to take the Alpinism 2 course, as the information in Alpinism 1 overlapped with some of the content during our glacier school in Ecuador.
The course was a total of 6 days. On our first day, we met the guides and other group members at the AAI office in Bellingham, Our group consisted of two guides from the AAI, James Pierson and Britt Ruegger, and four additional climbers, Towner, Duncan, Jonathan, and Kyle. The four other guys were all taking the full Alpine Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Part 1 course and had therefore just completed the first six days of the program for Alpinism 1. Zach and I were the only two additional climbers who joined for the second part of the course.
We drove from Bellingham to the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in the North Cascades. Our first stop was in Mazama for some rock climbing at a crag named Fun Rock. The guides set up several top ropes on routes of varying grades. I had not rock climbed in about a year due to a lingering toe injury and was quite happy that I managed to climb “Drive-By Nose Job,” a roughly 90 ft, 5.8 climb!
After climbing for several hours, we packed up and headed to our campsite to set up our tents. The campsite was wonderful - it was located right next to a large river and even had a barebones bathroom building.
The second day of the course consisted of alpine rock climbing. We were split into two groups: Britt, Zach, Duncan, and Towner were in one group, and James, Jonathan, Kyle, and myself were in the second group. Zach’s group climbed the Beckey Route on the Liberty Bell, a well-known 5.6 trad climb with three pitches. My group climbed the South Arete route on South Early Winter Spires, another well-known multi pitch trad climb on the Liberty Bell Group, with a grade of 5.5. The approach to the Liberty Bell was steep and snow covered, so we used snow-shoes.
The third day we did some multipitch sport climbs on the Goat Wall. The groups stayed the same, except the guides switched such that my group climbed with Britt, and Zach’s group climbed with James. My group climbed the first several pitches of Prime Wall on Goat, a 5.9- sport route with a total of 11 pitches. We rappelled down after the fourth pitch, as a storm was rolling in. Zach’s group topped out Methow Inspiration, a 5.9+ sport route with a total of five pitches.
The weather forecast for our fourth day predicted rain in the afternoon. So, in the morning, we went back to Fun Rock for some crag climbing. Zach onsighted Psychological Crutch, 5.10b. I top-roped a route called Nobody’s Fault, 5.7. In the afternoon we went to a covered picnic area to learn some rope management and rock rescue techniques.
On the fifth day we packed up our camp and drove to the trailhead for Silver Star Mountain (also known as Silver Star Glacier), located at mile marker 166 on State Route 20 (North Cascades Highway). For the approach, we crossed Early Winters Creek and ascended the climber’s trail to the left of Burgundy Creek. The approach was STEEP, and it took our group around 3 hours to make it to Bench Camp, which was located beneath the Wine Spires at around 6400 ft. We set up camp and spent the rest of the day practicing crevasse rescue techniques.
The following morning we woke up at 2 am in order to begin the climb at 3 am. The first part of the ascent involved a steep climb up to the Burgundy Col located at 7800 ft. We started out in snowshoes and transferred to crampons about half way through. We reached the Burgundy Col right at sunrise, and it was so beautiful! We down climbed about 200 ft of steep snow on the other side of the col, and then made a rising traverse south to the subsidiary ridge. From there, we continued rising on Silver Star Glacier to the summit col. After some low, 5th class climbing, we reached the summit at 8,876 ft after 5,200 ft of total elevation gain!
The climb from camp to the summit took approximately 5-6 hours, and the descent from summit back to camp took another 2-3 hours. We packed up camp and headed back to the trailhead, reaching the car at around 3 pm. We drove back to Bellingham, and Kyle drove us back to Seattle from there. We flew back to the east coast the following morning.
Note: Our itinerary deviated slightly from the normal Alpinism 2 course due to weather conditions. Instead of climbing Mt. Shuksan and spending 3 days and 2 nights on Shuksan, we spent one day on the Goat Wall climbing some multipitch sport routes, and summited Silver Star in order to practice more mountaineering and glacier travel. We were really impressed that our guides, James and Britt, were able to come up with such a great alternative plan that fit our group members’ differing levels of abilities!
An additional note on food: Zach and I both eat a mostly vegan diet, so I spent some time looking into different vegan camping food options. We ultimately decided to order food from Outdoor Herbivore, which we loved! We also ordered some of Patagonia Provisions' Tsampa Soup, which was also delicious.