September 20, 2009

Canoeing / Mountaineering

I just got back from working the mountain section of a NOLS Semester in the PNW (Pacific Northwest). The 10 students had just finished hiking for 10 days when I drove myself and 6 canoes up through British Colombia to the north end of Ross Lake. Here I replaced one of the two instructors for the remaining part of the section, which included 4 days of canoeing on Ross Lake followed by 10 days of mountaineering on Mt. Baker.

Needless to say, I had yet another terrific NOLS experience! The paddled about 24 miles through the North Cascades, which seemed like a vacation compared to the hiking section the students had just finished and the mountaineering section they were about to begin. On the final day of paddling, we portaged around Ross Dam and finished the final couple of miles on Diablo Lake. Coincidentally, we met and handed our canoes over to another NOLS group who was planning to paddle the same route in the opposite direction, and Dane happened to be one of the instructors for that course!

View from a side hike up Desolation Peak while canoeing, Ross Lake is down in the bottom of the valley

I'd never been on Mt. Baker before, so I was pretty excited myself to see another of Washington's 5 volcanoes. For the most part, we had great weather. We began the section with a solid day of gaining ~3,000 feet with heavy packs to set up a high camp on the south side of the mountain. The next couple days were spent teaching students the numerous skills they would need to make an attempt at the summit, which we attempted the following day.

Students carrying heavy packs up to our base camp

Due to the lateness of the season, warm summer, and below average snow year, the glaciers on Mt. Baker were in particularly poor condition. Even so, our summit day got 11 of us to within about 400 feet of the summit. Here we encountered steep, loose rock, which would normally be covered with snow and ice. The lateness of the day prevented us from being able to properly manage the upper section, so we turned around and took a slight detour to look into the crater on top of the mountain.

Parallel parking to regroup and snack on the way up

Rope teams heading up the glacier towards the summit

Students on the crater rim of Mt. Baker, psyched on their Snickers Bars

Despite not summiting, the students had a great time and we inspired many of them to continue pursuing mountaineering as a recreational activity.

For the remaining time on the mountain, we took the students ice climbing in crevasses and toured counter-clockwise around the mountain over a few other glaciers in order to eventually get picked up at a different trialhead.

This course continued my excitement for NOLS, specifically getting into teaching mountaineering courses. For the most part, we had a great group of students who were motivated and susceptible to my contagious passion for the mountains.

Alexis (co-instructor) teaching a class with Mt. Shuksan in the background

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