I decided to begin my endurance running and ultramarathon journey after I glimpsed my frozen future; after I fell into a crevasse on Mt. Baker.
The summer of 2012 was an experiment. I was jazzed to begin a summer of adventures around the Pacific Northwest. First on the list of adventure to-do’s – A Mt. Baker solo climb. Mt. Baker is a gem of the Cascade volcanoes. To the east lay the calved peaks of the North Cascades, to the north and south stand evergreen forests, and Baker’s western side slopes quickly into the Puget waters. I love it here.
I absorb mountain conditions – cold, crisp, changing, beautiful mornings, philosophic evenings, natural flavors in the air – climbing a mountain resets the brain and kindles energy I forgot I had. The problem is I can rarely get anyone to go with me. Therefore, not wanting at all to climb with strangers, I have opted to regularly go climbing and hiking solo. And, when I do hike and climb I go very light and very fast.
I move quickly because I appreciate the feeling of exhaustion, I love the push and the mental grit of kicking up a mountain at 1 AM for 5 hours in order to catch sunrise atop a major volcano – a sight like no other. I could take 10 hours to do the climb, and sometimes I have considered it, but when face-to-face with an icy slope, my instincts kick in. I carry just a few supplies and some small snacks.
My light and quick strategy took me up Baker with little discrepancy. I sang at the top, snapped a few photos, ate a can of chili, and drank ½ a bottle of water, filling the bottle back up with snow and sliding it in my pant pocket to melt from my own warmth. I began my descent, which, like my ascent, was quick and aloft with song. I would glissade the steep parts and jog the easier slopes.
I was off the steepest portion of the mountain, The Roman Wall, and jogging down the belly of Baker, my tent was a little yellow speck far below me. The temperature had risen probably 25 degree from its crispy nocturnal levels and this was…SKWooooSH! The snow under my feet gave way and I fell straight down…
...Well, not “straight” down but at a forward angle. The very fact that I was jogging down the mountainside rather than walking meant that when the snow collapsed under my step my forward motion was enough that my gut hit the opposite side of the crevasse that had just been revealed to me. My Spidey-Senses took over and my arms flung forward, caught the fall, and just as quickly, launched my body out of the crevasse; Spider-Monkey Achievement Unlocked, 5 Pts.
I hesitated to approach the crevasse to investigate its dimensions, “do I really want to look at this?…..yes.” I slowly walked up to the hole and hit the snow next to it with my trekking pole, the snow unclung and fell into a deep purple blackness, no bottom in sight, “holy shit…”. Another whack with my pole collapsed more snow, the crevasse appeared to run the width of the glacier, was a few feet wide, and infinitely deep. I sat down in the snow and considered what just happened and what did not just happen. My face was cold and my nerves were shaken, I felt grossly mortal, I was truly scared for the first time in….maybe forever.
The rest of my descent was melancholy and contemplative. “I am making this more dangerous than it needs to be…” I kept saying. If I were tied off to another person, this would be much safer, but I would not be able to climb at the grueling pace that feels so good to me. I packed up my tent which sat perched on the mountain, 8,000 feet up, donned my backpack and jacket and began to hike down to the beaten snow path off the mountain. “What do I do now?…”
I got to my truck, unloaded, took a self-portrait of my tired state, sat in the driver’s seat, put in disc 4 of my audiobook, “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac. Even though I made the summit in a blazing time and back down safely, I felt I could not quite trust myself, “what do I do now?” On the passenger-side floor lay a book, Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall, I was halfway through the excellent work. I know this sounds phony, but it is true – seeing that book on the floor made sense right then and there, I should run, I should run far. I should run the beaches, the deserts, the plateaus, the forests, and even the mountains of this great land. And so began my summer of running experiments; Genesis, ultramarathon style.
FIND OUT HOW MY FIRST RACE WENT – Terra Incognita: Break Into Ultramarathons, part 1 of 2