Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Cascades  •  August 30

In Puyallup mythology, Loowit (AKA Mt St Helens) was the object of affection from two god-brothers: Wy’East (AKA Mt Hood) and Klickitat  (AKA Mt Adams). When they could not stop their quarrels, their father Sahale struck them all down, and they formed into the volcanoes we see today.

In Cowlitz mythology, things are different: Tahoma (AKA Mt Rainier) had an argument with his two wives, Lavelatla (AKA MSH) and Pahto (AKA Adams). Lavelatla became jealous, blew her top, and knocked the head off Tahoma.

So, Loowit has always been a special place, long before 1980. Each of us had climed it before… for me, the last time was in the runup to Vinson, in November 2013. But we were all excited to be back. This day was a chance to explore a spectacular mountain with friends… to bask in the grandeur of one of nature’s most sacred places… to challenge ourselves with a brisk day hike… to be unplugged. And, to ensure the experience was not sullied by the exhaustion of work, we arranged to spend the nights before and after at a hotel nearby in Woodland. #posh

Jerry starts brewing coffee before we even get to sleep.
He takes this stuff very seriously.

Up at 1:00 AM… out the door at 2:00 AM. As we started out, it was obvious that this would not be ideal weather conditions: Misty, moody, wet, warm atmosphere. As we went higher, the soup became thicker. By the time we reached Climber’s Bivouac, it was a true dense fog, with about 20 foot visibility. Had we brought the right gear? Would we summit in a whiteout? Would we summit at all? There was only one way to find out.

Signing in for the day. 2 other parties already in today’s log… one of which is still asleep in their car.
And we have ours, thanks to the mad logistical skillz of T$.
“It’s Squatchin’ time!”
“We’re climbin’ a vol-CAY-no, Y’all!”
Ascending the first boulder field in the night. Note the Luci Light on T$’s back. #beaconofrighteousness
I remember this sign from last time!
November 2013: Same sign… different conditions.

Yeah, it was foggy and still… not cold, really, but certainly not comfortable climbing weather. We had the mountain to ourselves. We had each other. And there was nothing to stop us.

Ascending into the gloaming.
A beautiful… grody atmosphere for sure, but beautiful.
Teresa leads into the mist. #dauntless
Can you tell how happy I am to be here?
Somehow I was expecting it to look more like it had in 2013….
I think we’ll get on top of this soup!

Eventually we saw hints of sun, even blue sky above. As the sun rose, so did my confidence that we could get on top of the moody brew and into crystalline sunshine. And so we did.

Sunshine starting to show!
Snapping photos in case this is the last sun we will see all day….
Looking good above, let’s get there!
Big, bright blue!
Jerry, framed against the heavens.
The soup starts to break up at dawn!
Exploring our new digs above the clouds.
Jerry: Above the clouds.
No wonder Nell is smiling…
… this is how I looked taking the shot. #meta
Gentlemen mountaineers.
Jerry: Laser-focused on the route ahead.
T$ captures the cloudsea.
Here comes Nell!
The spectacular and fabulous women mountaineers of Team Adventure.
Teresa: Cascade Mountain Adventurer extraordinaire.
Looking for a sunny, auspicious break location.

Up we went, climbing rocky bench after bench. The basalt and pumice provided excellent handholds, and most of the boulders were very stable underfoot. We were doing this, and nothing could stop us. Nothing, except the spectacular cloud cap growing on the summit.

A legitimate cloud cap atop the summit. We watched it rip by, like water flowing over a stone in a river.
Our shadow at sunrise. The cloud cap truly looks like a cap here!
Dawn and cloudsea.
At our first properly sunny break.
Our neighbor, larger than life: Klickitat / Pahto.
Teresa reaches for her camera.
The monitor is still in great shape.
Topping out on a boulder pile.
A bit windy here… that OR Helium really did the trick.
Teresa climbs above the clouds.
We really like it up here.
Nearing the top of a boulder heap.
Here’s how the rocks looked last time I was here.
The cap grows bigger and descends towards us as we rush to meet it….
Up we go….
Clear sky, sandwiched between deck below and cap above.
Yeah, the wind is picking up here.
Clouds shredding in the lee of the summit.

I was surprised to see persistent snowfields near the top, which sported young suncups and even some creavasses ~20 feet deep. Snowfield with cracks? Legit glacier? You decide. Chris used his eagle eye to spot a piece of fabric flapping in the wind below the trail, near one of the snowfields. We agreed to get it on the way down.

Check the cap on Klickitat / Pahto. We are not alone in the wind here!
Teresa forges onwards and upwards.
Are we doing this? Yes, we are!
Jerry and Klickitat / Pahto.
Snapping Jerry’s photo at our last break before the top.
Chris girds up his loins for the final push.

The wind grew, and although it was never ferocious it was legit. I thought, Loowit is coming and She is Pissed. Once again my GoPro 7 stuttered and froze just at the wrong moment, precisely as it had on Olympus a couple weeks earlier. I need a new camera!  As we approached the top, I thought of the last time I had been here. It was a totally different experience in winter, intentionally so: I was preparing for Vinson, thus climbed with a heavy pack, in Olympus Mons boots. At this location I had felt whipped with exhaustion, really struggled to make the last steps in snowshoes, with the heel stops all the way up. Getting to the rim was a big deal for me, and I was elated to have made it with my brother and buddies John and Doug. I was sorry only that we could not creep to the edge to peer straight down, for fear of breaking a cornice. Today I felt fine, just perfectly fine and dandy. Older… lighter… warmer… more experienced… wiser. The Seven were under my belt, and I had nothing to prove to anyone, not even to myself. This was all about enjoyment. And we enjoyed the hell out of it.

And now we enter endgame.
Tail of the cloud cap appears as gossamer, jetting away towards Klickitat / Pahto.
Nell cruises towards the top, Wy’East in the distance.
An epic selfie, with the whole team in frame.
Reaching the crater rim.
Panorama from the rim.
Pano from the same location, November 2013.
Closeup of the crater dome… steam rising from numerous vents at center. Tahoma in the distance.
True summit hidden in cloudcap. A dirty glacier snakes downwards around the center dome.
Klickitat / Pahto seems close enough to reach out and touch…
Chris on top.
Here come Teresa and Nell!
I’m looking for trash I thought I saw from below. Turned out to be a bright red pumice stone.
Summit selfie.
Last time I took a selfie on top of Loowit.
Approaching our spot for the summit shot.
Jerry captures me shooting the crater dome.
We wander towards the true summit, in hopes it might emerge from the clouds.
Jerry is lord over all he surveys.
Yeah, the cap will take longer to clear than we are willing to wait up here.
Team adventure atop Loowit.
Getting our act together after the summit victory shot.
What is Teresa doing so close to the edge?
Teresa gets the Pig of Adventure ready for a closeup.


Pig of Adventure atop Loowit.
Chris at the summit break.

We had the mountain totally to ourselves for some time up there. We found refuge from the wind in a small valley and took in the scene. Again, as always, I was amazed and grateful to realize that this is my state, my home. We live here. Some fun folks came up behind us. Then some folks who seemed less prepared but still had a great time. Then I fell flat asleep on my back, snoring and dreaming deeply of the volcano. I recalled the final minutes of Fantasia 2000… I urge you see it in full HD. We ate and rested and chatted. And then, inevitably, we had to descend.

Starting down, clouds still unsettled around us.
This view is really worth it.
Other climbers approach from below while we prepare to descend.
Wy’East beckons us onwards.
Nell makes great progress during the windy descent.
Selfie screenshot as we drop down.
Probing the trash Chris spotted near the upper glacier. It turned out to be some sort of  trash bag, which I carried down. No feculent origins were apparent….
It was so much fun climbing Wy’East with T$ and Marjorie earlier this year. It looks amazing from here.
Nell at a quick break.
Jerry looks back at the upper mountain.
Chris is correct: Definitely a double-shaka day.
I feel good after dropping the shell. It’s getting warm up here!
That cloud deck we had so eagerly sought to escape a few hours ago now looks so inviting in the daytime heat!
Downscrambing one of many rocky steps.
OK, the clouds really are dropping just ahead of us!
The amazing couple nears the cloud deck, upper mountain visible in the distance.
Chris waits for us in the gloaming, a proper Squatch’ substitute.
Still in the clouds at the lower boulder field.
Nell is right, this looks like a forest of model trees.
Last few steps on boulders… the sand below feels most welcome underfoot.
At our last break, re-entering the enchanted forest.
Chris stares down his nemesis, a Robber Jay.
Things start to get weird with just a couple miles left!
Yes. Yes we did.
Can I trust my eyes? Ice cream at the trailhead?
Ice cream and beer…?
Ice cream and beer floats? Yessssssssssssssssssss! Moments later, a Robber Jay defecated all over Chris, in apparent retribution for his lack of generosity with trail mix an hour earlier. #talesofthecloaca
Team Adventure… powered by Hedgehog Love.
And also powered by celebratory EtOH.

A beautiful, relaxing, inspiring, fun climb. Is there any other kind?

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