Sitkum Glacier with Panama!

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30 November - 1 December 2002

camp Dave prepares for Glacier Peak.

The high pressure just wouldn't go away. It took time, but once Dave was sure that the high pressure was making itself comfortable and there were no powder stashes to be raided, he began to think big volcano. I had never stopped thinking big volcano, so big volcano it was. Mt Baker seemed like an obvious choice to me, but Dave was thinking about something even more ambitious. I thought he only had one day, but when he broached Glacier Peak, I was quick to voice my satisfaction. Regardless of weather or time constraints, I don't think I could ever turn down a chance to go to Glacier Peak, just for the feeling of being so far away from roads and police (among other things).

We left the trailhead at about 4:30 in the afternoon, setting a brisk pace into the forest and darkness. A quick stop for headlamps was our only break until we got to the steep 'shwhack up to Boulder Basin. A PBJ for me and a little turkey for Panama Dog and up the mountain we went. There were two other parties in Boulder Basin and they were kind enough to direct us toward a bare, dry camp site. We had made the eight-mile approach in just under four hours; other than the fact that Boulder Basin didn't have enough snow to ski, we felt great about our prospects. The wind was light and the temperature was warmer than it had been down in the valley.

Panama was happy to start the day around 7:30 after a night full of shivers. He did a little better spending the night in a hoodie I had brought him than he did on the previous Glacier Peak trip, but I think he still needs a wool sweater. More on what he needs later. We were ready to go before long. We began up the basin in our randonnée boots with refreshingly light packs.

The lower Sitkum Glacier was pleasantly runnel-free, but crampons were definitely the choice over skins. The rock bands on the right at the top of the lower Sitkum looked inviting, with some filled-in, wind-blown spots below them that looked like a soft landing. I made a mental note, but it was not to be. The wind gusted fiercely as we climbed from the rock band and Panama expressed his grief with some of the few whimpers I've ever heard from him.

poor little Pit Bull! Panama was not happy at 10,000 feet.

The wind really picked up again when we reached the ridge above Sitkum Spire. We veered to the south from the ridge, but the wind became relentless as we climbed higher. Around this time, I noticed that Panama's paws were bleeding quite a bit. As we got closer to the summit, Panama's paws started bleeding too much for me to ignore, so we took refuge behind a rock waiting for Dave to confer.

Panama was miserable and bleeding. He really needs some booties for his paws. What kind of a person would subject their dog to such torture? I could have continued, but I was feeling a little sluggish. Dave's knee was hurting him some. We were well under 1,000 vertical feet from the summit, but it just seemed like a good idea to call it a day. We waited a bit, then donned the skis. I started ahead, hoping that Panama could follow me slowly before Dave got his start. I'm too stupid to process the concept of skiing slowly, so my dog ran to try to stay with me. This resulted in his paw injuries advancing from bad to worse. In no time, he was bleeding profusely from several paws.

I couldn't put the dog through the three-thousand vertical feet of glacier remaining to become pawless before the hike back to the car, so I considered the options, finally reaching the reluctant conclusion that I would carry him. No big deal, he only weighs sixty pounds. The snow on the upper glacier was a breakable crust; I could finesse my way through it without too much hassle under normal circumstances. It turns out that skiing with a sixty-pound dog in your arms and no poles makes skiing the crust a lot trickier. Initially I thought that I could easily glide between parallel turns, which was very wrong. After a near-miss, I took a total face-first digger, tossing the dog twenty feet in front of me, yard-saling, and knocking the wind out of myself. Reexamining the circumstances, I tried to put the dog into my pack. Panama may have been hurt, but he was still stout and headstrong, and this was not going to happen.

I contented myself to initiate turns with a cautious snowplow. Soon I developed a rhythm, making five or six turns before putting the dog down for a rest, then holding him with his head the other way for another set of turns. The lower Sitkum was easier to ski, and soon I was making ten parallel turns before putting him down. Finally, we were off the glacier and Panama's paws weren't bleeding. His tail wagged a bit and we proceeded down the scree to Boulder Basin.

Dog tired Panama was finished.

Panama took a nap on my air mattress and tried to forget his woes while Dave and I repacked for the long haul. We were ready to go shortly after four; I was excited to finish the hike and find a Denny's. We went nonstop and made it from Boulder Basin to the car in three hours flat. Denny's was great, but Dave was having a little trouble with his knee. Panama had to be forced from his resting position in the back of Dave's car when we reached Seattle. It's always good to see the dog lose his pep for a few days. Who's pulling at the leash now?

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Anything worth doing, is only worth doing because you're the right kind of crazy.