Last year, I took the BCEP class with the Mazamas – Basic Climbing Education Program. It was interesting; a great chance to review my well-trained skills, practice some that I hadn’t used in ages, and get to meet some new climbing and outdoors people. It was fun, and ticked all the boxes that I had hoped that it would.
My faith in the outdoors community reinvigorated, I quickly and happily volunteered to help teach BCEP this year. I was expecting to assist with the same group that I’d taken the class with the previous year, since leaders tend to continue teaching year over year, so I was a bit surprised when I was placed with a different group… but it turns out, this new group was just starting out – the first year the leader had led a BCEP team on their own.
The chance to help out with a new group, and to help build a similar culture of excitement and optimism for the outdoors? All while getting to show people the unbridled joy of rock climbing? Of seeing new views off the side of a mountain?
Well. Sign me right the heck up.
Traditionally, the “final climb” of a BCEP team is an ascent of Mt. Hood… or at least, the offer that students can join the group leader on an attempt. As part of preparation for that possibility, our team decided to give it a partial go the day after Snow School – aiming to leave the Mazamas lodge sometime around 4am, and making an attempt on the top of the Palmer Glacier.
We rose (no shining, I’m sorry to report), we packed, and we made our way to the trailhead… arriving just in time for the freezing rain to start.
In the mountains, conditions aren’t always the same as they are in the front-country… and sometimes things are better or worse than you’d expect them to be. Freezing rain isn’t one of those things. It’s bad in the front country, it’s bad in the back country, it’s just not a good time for anyone. Especially for someone working on a FAR too early wake-up, being tired from the day before, and who doesn’t really like sufferfest trudgeshows in the first place.
That’s describing Ben, right there.
It was horrid. I can’t put it any simpler than that.
I was in a bad place, I freely admit. I was slow – I could try blaming the heavy boots I was wearing (Ed Note: Ben was trying out an ascent in double-plastic technical boots… vaguely twice the weight and half the flexibility) but… in the end, I was the one who chose to wear those boots. I was cranky – I could try blaming the early morning, or the dark, or the rain… but in the end, I was the one who chose to attempt the ascent. I was the last person in line – I could try blaming any number of things, but in the end… I was just a sorry and cranky mess.
I made it up about 1,200 ft vertical before calling it quits. Maybe less, even, since I couldn’t really see anything in the rain and darkness. I’d lost sight of the majority of the team a while ago, not even able to see the headlamps of the spearpoint of the group.
All I saw was two folks ahead of me, and one headlamp coming down toward us…
Jess was along with us, and it turned out that the lamp coming toward us stragglers was her – She was actually having an even rougher time of it than I was, and had hit her limit. Recent injuries gave her a reason to be extra cautious, and she’d made the hard decision to turn around… as an assistant, I was in the position to descend with her and make sure no one was left alone… an opportunity I jumped at.
We descended slowly and carefully, making sure not to leave the path or fall prey to one of the gullies that would cause us to miss the parking lot. We watched as the world grew lighter, shade by shade, never quite reaching daylight. The rain persisted.
Finally, the parking lot appeared and we were able to drop our packs and head down the pavement to the warmth awaiting us. The Timberline lodge reared out of the mist, and we made our way to the main floor, the huge hearths, to let our gear dry while we waited for the breakfast buffet to open.
It was 6am, a full two hours before food was to be had… we’d only been ascending for two hours, though it’d easily felt like half a lifetime in purgatory.
We ate waffles and drank coffee, and slowly became human again.
Drove home, spread the gear out to dry, and appreciated the warmth of my fireplace and the comfort of my couch.