This, my 6th scheduled attempt on Mt. Washington, finally was the first to go as planned. A great crew, excellent weather, a nice day all-around. See below for the history of my "Washington Curse".
This photo is from the previous attempt in September 2001 - my fourth failed attempt - we got chased out shortly after getting to the PCT by a violent thunderstorm, with lightning hitting the peak! Full story by Brian follows. This was basically the only sunshine the whole day - just another example of the Washington curse that I finally defeated in September 2002.
Trip: Mt Washington (Central Oregon Cascades)
Date: 14 - 15 September 2001
Trip Title: Curses, Foiled Again!
Glenn and I first tried to do this in August of 1994. We got a late start and got up to the saddle behind a group of about 10 that was just starting the rock section to the summit. Since I had left my rain pants in the truck and was in shorts and a 10-mile per hour wind was blowing I had little time to wait. We of course bailed off the climb.
There have been other tries since then. I have succeeded twice, Glenn has failed twice, once with a Mazamas team, bailing when they hit 35mph winds at the ridgeline, another after a windy day on Three Fingered Jack left us uninterested in more (we went down and rock climbed in the Menagerie instead - no wind!) This was to be Glenn's fourth try and my first try at leading the rock pitches.
To our usual group of Glenn and myself we added Glenn's coworkers Steve, who did Intermediate Climbing School a couple of years ago, and Duane a relative newcomer. Another new face was Janet Ruzich, M.D. a recent transplant from Chicago who I had met on hikes with the Mazamas. She impressed me by organizing and leading a backpacking trip for four of her colleagues (all female doctors) into the Alaskan bush this past August.
Duane had a personal family problem and joined us early Saturday morning. Glenn and Steve left from work Friday night about 6PM. Janet came over to my house after work and we left about 6:30. We turned east at Salem and continued into the darkness up to Santiam pass. We started to get sprinkles of rain on the windshield, but more ominously flashes of lightning in the sky. These continued all the way to the turn off at Big Lake to our camp for the night. We set up camp and crashed for the night.
I awoke at about 3 AM to see flashes of lighting in the sky. I rolled over and went back to sleep, only to be awakened by my alarm at 0530PDT. We got up and packed up and prepared to climb while making breakfast. There were still lightning flashes and I started the usual count of the seconds until the thunder, "one one thousand, two one thousand..." From this I concluded that the strikes were about 2 miles away. I told most everyone that I was not happy with the conditions, but we decided to try anyway and see how it went.
We got on the trail at 0700PDT and quickly moved around Big Lake. We started into the maze of trail intersections to get to the Pacific Crest Trail leaving trail markers with reflective ends so that we could return after dark if necessary. We took a couple of wrong turns and had to deal with downed trees that cost us some time. We finally got to the PCT a little after 0800PDT. We had also depleted our stock of reflective markers. But we continued south on the PCT, discussing the weather and the climb conditions as we went. We still were seeing flashes of lightning and they seemed to be getting nearer.
The normal route for the north ridge of Mt. Washington is to take the PCT to a climber's trail that goes over to and then up the ridge, eventually emerging above the trees to continue up the ridge to a saddle between two rock towers. One of the towers is the actual summit and at the saddle Glenn and I had planned to start setting up the ropes to finish the climb to the summit. At that point you are committed to at least two hours until you can get everyone back down to the saddle and begin a retreat.
We discussed the route and the ridge as we hiked on the PCT. We finally located the climber's trail and were considering going up it when a lightning bolt flashed ahead of us on the PCT. The count began.
"... Six one thousand..."
The strike was a little less than a mile away.
And it started to rain harder.
Even Glenn figured it was a good time to turn around. We saw some patches of blue sky to the north and west but the storm had been going on since at least 0300PDT (six hours) and I was starting to get very wet. We hustled back north on the PCT, passing a party of 5 intending to summit. We continued to our cut off trail and started to retrieve our markers and battle the fallen trees. We finally got back to the cars about an hour after we turned around. And about 10 minutes before we got the cars the rain started to fall in earnest.
We packed up and headed home. Since Janet was new to Oregon we went up the East Side of the Cascades from Sisters to Terrebon and over at Mt. Hood. But we stopped in Sisters to change into dry clothes.
The weather was unusual. In Portland it was sunny, with some clouds. But the storm had moved up the spine of the Cascades and chased us all the way home.
Glenn rescheduled for a few weeks later, but the weather clearly wasn't going to cooperate, so that makes 5 scheduled misses...