Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Evans Boys' Big Big Adventure


Now THIS is the way to have a summer adventure!  The Evans boys -- David, Hayden, and Logan -- and Scott Tucker and his wife Colleen Lester Tucker climbed Mount Rainier last weekend, and came back with this glorious story of success and these breathtaking photos.  Sit back, grab a beer, and imagine you are there!  Many thanks to David for the story and to Colleen and David for the photos.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo

 I glanced at my watch.  Sunlight was streaming in the tent, just as it had been when we'd fallen into our sleeping bags the previous afternoon around 6, bone tired and muscle weary from having climbed a mountain more than eight times bigger than the next biggest mountain in its range.  Incredibly, for the first time in my adult life I'd slept 12 hours!  Yet the boys, who'd turned in before me, were still sleeping, and as I listened to their soft breathing further extending their sleeps, I knew that their bodies would need some time to recover from what they'd just been through.

David Evans photo
   Rainier invites awe yet demands respect.  Fewer than 50% of those who even attempt making it to its summit manage to do so.  Of those who fail in their attempts, mighty Rainier, like a constant game of Rainier Roulette, claims the lives of some.  Just days before we were to set off on our climb attempt with my good friend Scott Tucker and his intrepid wife Colleen, a climber had attempted to ski down the very Emmons Glacier we would be going up and instead was swallowed by one of its many crevasses. Already this year five have lost their lives on its massive, glacier-hued slopes, with many more having to be helicoptered out with serious injuries.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo
   So, again, as a father I knew the stakes were high, indeed about as high as the actual goal.  Yet I had complete confidence in our guide Scott, had climbed the mountain myself, as had Scott, and knew that the boys had reached a point in their lives where their ambitions would now be a possible match for the incredible physical and psychological demands of a safe ascent and descent.  I also had a sense that as a graduating senior next year, that Hayden might have a busier, more independent life than now.  Besides, Hayden is a mountain man at heart, and the relentless drumbeat of his alpine desires began to wear his old man down, with the strategic outcome being, as you now all know, a decision to douse the boys with a good, long backpacking trip a few weeks back, soak them further with a climb up Mt. Hood a week ago, and then throw them in the deep end with Mighty Rainier scaling this week.  Secretly, I had my hopes, and quite a few fears, but little could I know that our boys would pull off the entire plan to perfection.

David Evans photo
   Yet just 48 hours ago we were still a very long, long way from achieving this final goal of Rainier.  We'd awoken at 1 am, left camp at 2 am, having roped up, hooking each of our harnesses with locking carabineers to the butterfly knot spot on our five-person team's shiny green climbing rope, and were now about a third of the way up the arduous, seeming non-ending ascent of the mountain.  At 3:45 the sun had begun slowly, almost imperceptibly, revealing more of the glaciated snow- and ice-scape we were trudging upon, the trail gamely dodging left and then right around the many daunting crevasses pock-marking Rainier's ramparts, all the while bravely making its way toward a summit none can see until the very end.  We one by one turned off our headlamps and gradually took in the rugged alpine beauty of this giant we were on.  By 8:30, now more than six hours into our ascent, Logan sat down, crying, saying he just had no more energy and couldn't go one step further.  A moment of silence ensued, some more snack food came out, a bottle of water was proffered, and soon a father's part-role as psychological coach took over: to properly assess a child's plight but to offer encouragement and beat back the demons that all climbers grapple with at various moments on any difficult ascent.  Quickly, I could see that Logan hadn't been eating or drinking nearly enough, and that the sudden recharging a few moments of respite were revealing the boy's amazingly resilient nature.  In short order we were back underway, none of us knowing how many pitches of trail still lay above us but each of us grateful that our rope team hadn't blinked and turned back.

   At 10:45, we'd skirted the west flank of the peak's caldera and were finally atop the imperceptibly highest point on its rim, grateful to be at the summit but quickly growing colder in the gale-force wind buffeting us.  We knew we'd achieved something special, particularly with a 12-year-old in our ranks; the more seasoned in the group also knew that the real work was just beginning, with about 75% of alpine accidents occurring in the descent and not the more romantic and depicted ascent.

David Evans photo
   From a physiological standpoint, it's simple to see why getting down is harder.  You've just given every ounce of energy and focus to making it to the top, and now weary and probably dehydrated and calorie-deficient, and with just a touch of hubris from having achieved your goal, you begin a repeated process of gravity-defying steps with legs that are less and less recognized by you, the rope by turns pulling and slacking on you, depending on the circumstances of each on your team, the snow, now softening in the late-morning sun, variously slushy and rock-hard, making each crampon-step unpredictable at best.  What's worse, you realize that you can see your tents as tiny specks far below and it dawns on you, fatigued and locked into a rope with a life of its own, that you must gamely push on and follow Scott's lead no matter what your mind or body is telling you.

Colleen Lester Tucker photo

   Yet push on is what we did, what we had to do, and in the end we made it back to our tents, each as tired as maybe he or she had ever been, leading to sleep, as mentioned, proportional to the task just accomplished.  Again, just like on Hood, we crossed paths with many a team, impressed by the two boys on rope and particularly amazed by the age of the youngest, and all I could think was, "he might be 12, but you don't know Logan..."  Later, after we'd broken camp yesterday morning and glissaded down much of the long snow-mass we'd had to ascend with heavy packs to get to our base camp the day before, made it back to our cars at White River campground at 4200 ft. (yes, we climbed over 10,000 ft. of vertical to get to the summit!), said our good-byes and special thank yous to Scott and Colleen, and quickly made our way to the nearest Safeway for a quick infusion of a half gallon of chocolate milk, a baguette, some gouda cheese, salami and jerky (all gone in 9 minutes) Hayden calmly looked his brother in the eye and told him what an amazing thing he'd just accomplished. Suddenly the tears quietly welled up in my eyes as I realized that these were the very words that meant most, to both boys, and to their father, and that we were a very lucky family indeed to have been able to have scaled such a monster of a mountain and all come back safely.


Colleen Lester Tucker photo

I commented to David that they had had spectacular weather for the adventure, and he added this coda to his report:

  Yes, the weather was spectacular.  At about 2:30 am on the way up, due to atmospheric conditions, we had a bare sliver of a vermillion crescent moon, almost like it had been drawn by an artist and placed just above the horizon.  Then the next night we had a new moon, and not a whisper of a cloud, which meant the front row seat that is any base camp above 9,000 ft. gave way to a riot of stars if you were lucky enough to have to pee at 1 am and get out of the tent to see them, as if you were sporting 3-D glasses and were watching an IMAX about the Milky Way.  The extra bonus was seeing the head lamp lines of each of the teams already heading out on the Emmons Glacier, replaying the cycle of climbing life that Rainier makes possible each day.  Sort of strange to think that had just been us... and grateful we weren't doing it again!

No comments:

Post a Comment