Entries By kel rossiter
“You can’t win if you don’t play” is dubious encouragement often doled out by Las Vegas casinos and the like—but it is solid counsel in the world of alpine climbing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve plodded through a milk puddle of clouds on the Muir Snowfield only to rise above it all upon reaching Camp Muir. Indeed, even in the face of slim weather odds, you’ve got to at least put yourself into position for success and be ready to maximize it should those slim odds work in your favor. Time and time again that alpine advice held true during my recent American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) Alpine Guide Exam (AGE).
Arriving in Seattle in mid-September for my 10-day AGE, I stared at the bright screen of my smart phone and steeled myself for the grim weather forecast it proposed…my First Ascent BC-200 had seen me through many a maelstrom on Rainier, but ten days of that? Like any climber of peaks like Rainier, Denali, Cotopaxi, or Orizaba, the wheels on this particular bus had been set in motion many, many months before and there was far too much invested to pull it over to the side of the road due simply to predictions of a deluge. The AMGA is the premier training path for America’s professional climbing guides and the 10-day AGE is the culminating exam that guides take in order to become Certified Alpine Guides. Along the way toward that test, hopefuls must first take a 10-day Rock Instructor Course, a 9-day Alpine Guides Course, a 5-day Ice Instructor Course, an 8-day Advanced Alpine Guides Course, a 3-day Alpine Aspirant Exam, a 6-day American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Level 3 Course and Exam, and a then—finally—the 10-day Alpine Guide Exam.
In case you weren’t counting, that’s 41 days of training in all—and that doesn’t even begin to include the climbing resume you have to develop in between courses. All in all, that’s a triple wallop of a lot of tuition, a lot of travel costs, and a lot of opportunity costs in the form of lost wages. Fortunately—and very, very thankfully—RMI, Whittaker Mountaineering, and Eddie Bauer/First Ascent helped to take some of the sting out of the tuition costs, but that aside, there was still no way I was going to let a grim weather forecast rain on my parade! Now the only problem was: “Would the grim weather forecast rain on the whole AGE parade?” You see, in order for an AGE to be valid, the examiners need to see you in a variety of terrain and situations—and if the weather doesn’t allow those windows to open…
Fortunately, time and time again, in the face of doom, gloom, cats, and dogs we put ourselves into position for success and just barely, and just somehow, squeaked it out. For the first few days we enjoyed the relative “rain shadow” that the Washington Pass area of the North Cascades provides. Washington Pass doesn’t allow for glacial travel though—an integral part of the AGE—so after two days we had to leave that safe harbor for the shores of Mt. Shuksan. We arrived in the Lake Ann/Fisher Chimneys trailhead in a steady drizzle. By the time we packed up, things had improved, but the rest of the day was something of an ongoing “fashion show” as we put on a rain shell, took it off, added a warmth layer, and tried to predict what the weather would look like in five minutes. And in the backs of our minds all imagined how things might unfold. Happily, we were most certainly rewarded for our efforts: By the time we topped out on Fisher Chimneys and rolled into our bivvy site, we were high above the roiling sea of grey valley clouds. So often it’s the case on Mount Rainier that we’ll radio down to Ashford and hear that they’re thick in the rain while up at Camp Muir we’re above it all. Such was the case on Shuksan, and the next day we managed to circumnavigate the Upper Curtis, Sulphide, and Crystal Glaciers and climb the summit massif’s Northeast Ridge—my first time doing that particular route and highly recommended!
As the forecast shifted from grim to grimmer, we again decided to head over to Washington Pass. Driving over Highway 20 toward our meeting point at the Cutthroat Peak trailhead, my windshield wipers clicked a steady rhythm in time with the electronic music I was listening to to try to psych myself up. I arrived early at the trailhead and the rain continued. I cranked more psych music as I attempted some gear-sorting-inside-the-car-yoga poses. Then, miraculously, it began to clear. Not the swift and sure kind of clear that let’s you know a new weather attitude is on the way—more like the resistant backing away of an angry dog that’s just been called by it’s owner, but enough to make a climb seem viable. We racked up, packed up, and headed for Cutthroat Peak’s South Buttress. While it is true that “you can’t win if you don’t play”, it’s also true that it’s a bad idea to climb yourself so far up an objective that retreat becomes untenable. Fortunately, the South Buttress offers plenty of bail options, so with one eye on the clouds and the other on my rope coils, we moved upward, steadily gaining another plum Cascade peak.
By then, we’d heard reports from a group of Advanced Alpine Guide Course participants that the Boston Basin area (home to West Ridge of Forbidden, Torment-Forbidden Traverse, Sharkfin Tower, and Sahale Peak, among others) had already received six inches of the new winter’s snow. Fresh snow poses it’s own set of problems in the alpine world, but deciding that fresh snow was more palatable than dealing with the reported dousing on the way, so up we went!
These days, I’m climbing on snow for at least a part of almost every month of the year, but it’s not often I’m dealing with fresh snow in September. Skis or snowshoes weren’t a part of our packing list, so lift-kick-step-sink-lift was the interminable process as we moved up through the now 10 inches of fresh snow covering the Quien Sabe Glacier. A circumnavigation/summit of Sahale Peak was our goal, and we eyed the valley clouds warily as we proceeded in dogged pursuit. Soon the clouds enveloped us and in between breaks we attempted to plot the best path ahead. After some steep, snow-laden slopes, a bergschrund crossing, and the final rocky summit scramble we were on top of our last AGE objective, Sahale Peak!
By day’s end I was back in a Bellingham motel room, enjoying the comforts of a shower, eat-in Thai Food, and 581 channels. On every weather channel, stoic looking forecasters delivered the report with the delicacy of a cancer ward counselor: the patient’s condition was not improving. I spooned the last bit of tofu out of my box of green curry and grinned: For the last ten days we’d prevailed in the face of such gloom and doom forecasts, and now, with the AGE wrapped up I was much more than just a survivor, I was finally an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide!
Achieving AMGA Alpine Guide Certification only occurred through a lot of support. Thanks to RMI/Whittaker Mountaineering/Eddie Bauer-First Ascent for their solid support of guide professional development. Thanks to all of the RMI guides who, through their sharing of skills, techniques, and approaches, have honed my own alpine guide skills; and particular gratitude to Andres Marin, Geoff Schellens, Jake Beren, Levi Kepsel, Eric Frank, Leon Davis, Elias De Andres Martos, and Rob Montague who shared with me their time and talents in the field as I worked toward this goal.
- RMI Guide Kel Rossiter
Congrats Kel!! Photos look awesome!! I will be back to Rainier in 2014, this time in August and determined to make the summit.
Posted by: Scott Cadman on 11/26/2013 at 7:20 am
June 28, 2013
The Four Day Summit Climbs led by RMI Guide Brent Okita & Kel Rossiter were forced to turn this morning due to avalanche danger. The teams reached 12,700’ on Mt. Rainier before turning around.
Brent radioed in at 6:44 am as the teams were taking a rest break at the top of Disappointment Cleaver in white out conditions. They will continue to Camp Muir to repack and rest before continuing their descent to Paradise later this morning.
June 23, 2013
Summit! The Mt. Rainier Four Day Summit Climbs led by JJ Justman and Kel Rossiter stood on top just after 7:15 a.m. Snow and sometimes rain was falling on the summit and the teams are currently in a mountain cloud cap. Both teams recharged and refueled in the summit crater before starting their descent at 8:25. Although precipitation was falling, the guides reported pleasant climbing conditions and an excellent route.
Congratulations to today’s summit climbers!
A big congrats Gautam!Gritty G! Proud of you.
Posted by: Bhaktha on 6/29/2013 at 9:16 am
Posted by: Mahadev on 6/26/2013 at 9:40 am
May 31, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Hey everyone, this is Billy. I’m checking in here with our group. We are at 11,000’ part way through our descent. After our big summit day yesterday, we packed up our camp at 17,000’ and then moved on down. Brent Okita’s crew was kind enough to cook us up some dinner at the 14K Camp, and we continued on down to 11,000’, where the crew is all, actually snug as a bug, in their sleeping bags out in the open because it is so warm compared to where we’ve been living. We plan on getting up in the middle the night tonight and making a run for the airstrip hoping to get a flight off tomorrow sometime before the weather takes a turn for the worst. We’ll give a shout when we reach Basecamp. That’s all for now.
Billy Nugent calls in from 11,000 feet Camp.
On The Map
Pryor, just found this website. Glad you made it. Must have been awesome. Looking forward to a cal when you get down. Love you.
Posted by: Finley and Karen Nunn on 6/1/2013 at 11:05 am
So proud of you Pryor! Great job!
Posted by: Kristen on 5/31/2013 at 1:20 pm
May 30, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 10:41 a.m. PT
Hi, this is Billy checking in. We are back in camp safe and sound from our successful summit bid. We got 100% of our team to the summit of Mount McKinley today, aka Denali. We are back in camp. Everyone’s hanging out, rehydrating, eating some delicious freeze-dried meals, and hopefully going to get a great night’s sleep before we gear up to head down and head home. And that’s all for now. We’ll check in again as our descent continues.
Billy Nugent calls in from High Camp after successful summit.
On The Map
Finally, boss!! Would you go ahead and come home now?!? - there’s work to be done… Oh yeah, and congrats!
-Dr. Harms’ snarky resident with abandonment issues
Posted by: Emily on 5/31/2013 at 7:52 pm
Congratulations, Craig and team! Absolutely fantastic!
Posted by: Ted on 5/31/2013 at 8:11 am
May 29, 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Hey everybody this is Billy here. I’m with Kel, Levi and the rest of the gang checking in from 17K Camp, high on Denali. We had a beautiful day today and it was actually pretty darn hot for our move up to high camp. We spent a good chunk of the afternoon cutting blocks and fortifying our spot. We’re hoping to take a crack at the summit tomorrow. The weather forecast looks perfect. We’ll call in tomorrow hopefully check in, from the summit perhaps, and then once again once we get back to camp safe and sound. That’s all for now, talk later.
Billy Nugent calls in from Denali High Camp.
On The Map
Hi Kel & Co~ So wonderful to be able to follow each step of your adventure. Good luck! My thoughts are with you all…
Posted by: Alysse on 5/30/2013 at 5:19 am
Hi Levi, we love the blog and pictures and seeing your adventures daily. Good luck to all on summit-ting! love ya, m&d
Posted by: Karla Kepsel on 5/29/2013 at 7:20 pm
May 25, 2013
First and foremost, the biggest event of the day was Pete’s birthday—14K on a sunny day is not a bad place for a party.
Today was a bit a work and a bit of play, or rest anyway. We started by moving the 13,600’ cache. We moved the cache and carried the cache to 14K. Resting at the cache spot before our carry, we could hear the water flowing underground, deep under the glacier. The trip back to camp was smooth and everyone arrived back far from flippy-floppy. We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the peaceful oasis of our surroundings. Though we all could certainly get used to that lifestyle, we’re also eager to make the most of this weather and the team’s strength, so we’re heading off to bed soon to get ready for tomorrow’s carry up the fixed lines.
On The Map
Understand you are going to the top Monday Yahoo have a good day. Almost there.
Sending lots of luck to all of you.
Posted by: Judy Blaisdell on 5/26/2013 at 9:40 pm
Can’t wait to see those pics. Enjoy every minute and be careful. Love Ya
Posted by: Judy Blaisdell on 5/26/2013 at 8:38 pm
May 25, 2013
Billy here checking in from Camp IV at 14,200’ after a strong showing from our team on a big move up. We enjoyed mostly clear skies and incredibly strong sun on the way up from our previous camp at 11,000’. In fact, the sun was a little too strong; while the ambient temperature hovered in the teens we felt like we were boiling for the majority of our climb. It’s amazing what a little radiation can do. After all our hard work we were rewarded with an easy move-in to Mike Walter’s recently vacated camp. Sometimes you just get lucky. The high pressure is supposed to stick around through the extended forecast so we aim to keep on chipping away…
On The Map
Go Derek!! Myself and Jr are so proud of you!!mom and pop are praying for ye every day xxx
Posted by: Lisa oz on 5/25/2013 at 7:54 pm
I’m so proud! Yall are gettin it done.
Posted by: Kristen on 5/25/2013 at 7:00 pm
May 23, 2013
There’s a great German game show called “Stackenblocken” where contestants arrange objects on a desk at right angles. A judge then comes out with a framing square and a riding crop to punish the contestants who cannot make their desk “Stackenblocken”. Well, the weather has been so sunny and warm here at 11 camp that the wall surrounding our camp was indeed no longer “Stackenblocken” and in fact leaned to the point where it comically collapsed… Fortunately for us there was no judge with a jockey’s disposition and the blocks remained intact. We were actually able to rebuild it in a few quick minutes; turns out its not so hard on the second go around when all your materials are ready-made.
On another note, the team also spent a bit of the day retrieving our cached food and fuel from the 9,600’ camp. We made such short work of our back carry that it really felt like a rest day. Good times!
More about our intrepid crew as our adventure unfolds…
RMI Guide Billy Nugent
Wow, so beautiful, good luck all, have a great time. Can’t wait to see you all at the top. You go Bob very proud of you.
Posted by: Judy Blaisdell on 5/24/2013 at 10:44 am
Absolutely beautiful pics. Sky looks awesome. Good Luck to all. Peace be with you.
Posted by: Robbin Everitt on 5/23/2013 at 12:39 pm
May 22, 2013
In the movie “Spinal Tap” there’s a comical part where the rock god explains to an interviewer that, whereas most amplifiers only go up to ten, his “goes to eleven” in case he’s really rocking out and “needs that extra push.” Well, our strong team definitely needed no extra push in making it to 11K camp today.
After a calm night at 9600’ we woke to clear skies and prepared to “go to eleven.” After caching some gear and food in a snow hole ( which we’ll pick up tomorrow) we enjoyed the feeling of dramatically lightened packs and sleds as we moved up. Arriving in camp the team had its first experience with building a true Denali-style fortified camp. Some people were shoveling, some were cutting blocks, some were carrying them: everyone was working hard and in an hour or so we had a veritable Great Wall in place. Everyone enjoyed the upper body workout and the concrete results. The sun sets late at 11K (it’s about 10pm now and still brilliant) and folks are settling in to a well-earned sleep.
Tomorrow will be a “half-rest” day: we’ll be making a three-hour trek to retrieve our cache, but without the work of breaking down and setting up camp we’ll be able to also rest and acclimatize.
RMI Guide Kel Rossiter