Circumnavigation - Mt. Washington
July 16, 2005

by Bob Freund

Imagine a CMRU training session in the mountains without rain. It finally happened in July. Five Unit members met at the Big Lake/PCT Trailhead for training oriented around land navigation and familiarization of Mt. Washington. Finding the “staging area” was the first obstacle to be overcome. Once we were all there, the next objective was to become comfortable with the computerized mapping program and print out maps with the waypoints for the day’s exercise. The route included some “on trail” sections and a bunch of “off trail” travel (known in some parts of the world as “bushwacking”). We got to use maps (fresh from the printer), compasses, wrist watches (to assist in determining distance), altimeters, and GPS units.

The route for this exercise was to circumnavigate Mt. Washington, but not just at low level as we’ve done in the past. Waypoints included a small lake between the trailhead and the mountain, the peak on the north end of the North Ridge, “The Notch” as well as points on the West Ridge, South Ridge, SE Spur, notch between Mt. Washington and “Unnecessary Mountain” (on the east side) and finally a point in the Cache Creek drainage (NE of the mountain). In short, a whole lot of “Delta ‘eL’” (change in elevation).

We hit the lake (didn’t quite “center punch” it but hit the west end) after a 1.25 mile bushwack, and paused for a quick bite to eat (us – not the mosquitoes). Then it was on to the north end of the North Ridge – an interesting approach for those of us who have always taken the “climber’s trail.” And then the long “slog” up the North Ridge. At about the 6500ft. level a week’s worth of “poor sleep and too much beer” got to the oldest member of the group who elected to “bail” off the west side while the hearty (and more fit) members of the group continued up. Upon reaching the fourth waypoint at “The Notch” it was decided you can play with Navigation Toys any day, but you can only climb the mountain when you are on the mountain – so remaining flexible with the day’s training objectives, (and because we carried our gear all the way up) we climbed! Now, unlike last month’s attempt, there were no humming ice axes (‘cuz we didn’t bring any this day) and what few clouds there were stayed well away from the mountain. All four made it to the summit – and a couple made the summit twice!

Remember the old guy whose hamstrings and quads began acting up on him? Well, he was laid out on rocks in the talus at the bottom of the west bowl (sunning himself like a lizard) watching the “show” on the mountain through binoc’s. When our group summitted, he was talking to them on the radio – directing them to a spot above the West Face to check for anchors in case we ever needed to do a lowering from there. (Remember, today we’re being flexible with those Training Objectives.)

Just about that time, there was a huge rockfall from somewhere on the West Ridge or Southwest Face and a cloud of dust blew across the top of the West Face. “Spontaneous Rockfall” was the radio call from the summit. Okay, hmmmm.

Our group departed the summit and about that time, a single climber was seen topping out on the West Ridge route. As CMRU was waiting its turn to rap’ off the route, a second climber topped out of the West Ridge and it appeared he was hoisted onto the back of the first and carried along the summit ridge toward the “usual congregating spot” at the top of the North Ridge. There was another group on the summit and shortly after this “summit piggyback show” – while the “carrier” went back to retrieve his pack -- three members of that group were observed standing in a semi-circle looking at the same point on the ground. Now it’s your call: what do you do?

Knowing its only 10 minutes or less from The Notch to the summit, Iain and Matt were “asked” to “run” back up and see what was happening. Their radio call from the summit: “Everything’s okay up here!” Not only was everything OK, but nobody admitted to doing any “piggybacking” or anything else unusual. However, the West Ridgers did admit to doing some major “gardening” on the route. Maybe the old guy’s muscle problems finally reached his brain: can you spell h a l l u c i n a t i o n? Well, even though Matt and Iain got to summit twice in the same day, that little side trip cost over an hour as they waited for a very slow group to clear the rappel point before they could safely down-climb. With the time now approaching 1700, it was time to get off the mountain so the four climbers descended the west bowl to the talus pile. Another objective for the day (being flexible) was to use GPS to chart the “Meadow Climbers Trail.” We turned “track” on in one of the GPS units and bogied for the PCT -- and eventually for the cars. It was a good day of training! The “Meadow Climbers Trail” is now installed on the Unit’s computer in both the Topo! and Terrain Navigator-Pro programs.

Participants: Crawford, Johnson, Morris, Tinnesand, Freund

Any day you can bag a summit while doing training is a good day.