- It was a pretty mild winter day in the jostling little city of Redmond Oregon, the Holidays were in our rearview and we were at the beginning of the long slog to spring. This evening brought a small glimmer of summer hiking and trail fun to the Peak Posse. We congregated in the upstairs room of the Redmond Burger Company for our second Winter Meal, the first being held a year earlier. Our goal for the evening was to choose our Trio of expeditions for 2020. By the time we filed out of the restaurant, our collective voices had been heard. The locations we would visit were all mountains this year. Grizzly Peak near Mt. Jefferson, Eagle Cap in Eastern Oregon and Mount Adams in Washington. Mount Adams is the scene for this story.
We are now in the barefoot months. The months when you go to sleep while the sun is still singing and when the alarm clock blasts at 5 am, it's STILL singing, a different song though. It went down and back up, all whilst we slept. The first of our Trio, Grizzly Peak, was a success. More Posse members joined this expedition than any of the others. Now a smaller group has formed to face the biggest challenge of the year. I have written stories about the adventures of the Peak Posse; they focus on the day or days of the trip. As we have been preparing for Mount Adams, I realize that climbing a mountain of this magnitude, and the story it becomes, wouldn't be complete if I didn't let it stretch out like a tomcat on a deck chair.
In my short time of climbing mountains, I have witnessed a phenomenon that I will call, "Altitude fever". It's what happens in the days and weeks that lead up to the climb. It's a fever because it builds intensity leaving the person struck by it in a deranged sort of state where thinking is muddled because the mind can't release itself from the idea of the expedition. It brings fantasy-like thoughts of standing at a place where there's not a higher place to step after fighting through wind, snow, fatigue, fear and gas pains. Why so many of us eat meals that we have never tried until we are at eight thousand feet is a mystery all its own. Then there are the thoughts of nightmare, falling and rolling down a steep section and injury occurs, getting snowed by a surprise storm, not reaching the top after all the plans. These things and many will be documented in this part of the story. For you reading this, on your deck, with a cool beverage sweating beside you, you may think this part of the story is filler until the real story starts at the foot of Mount Adams. For the Posse that will stand on the summit, the climb has already begun.
What's the big deal?
Let's take a step into the world of mountain climbing to clarify a thing or two. You may have feasted your retina's on some Mount Adams video's on Youtube and reached the conclusion that this whole thing is a big fussy bus over a mountain that doesn't deserve it. You are definitely right on one hand and oh so wrong on the other. I will admit that Adams is a non-technical mountain via the route we are choosing, the south route. Many people climb it each year, is a fact also. We won't be doing anything "special" if you want to compare us to the rest of the climbing world. I'm sure none of the travelers will argue with you on these points, but things take a drastic change when we start focusing in on the small group of adventurers hailing from Central Oregon and calling themselves the Peak Posse.
We are about to challenge ourselves with a monster of a mountain that stands over 12,000 tall. A few years ago, South Sister was a major undertaking that stretched our muscles and minds like never before. Since then, we have climbed some pretty big mountains and challenged ourselves in the dense forest of Mt Jefferson to walk where few have, Valhalla Canyon. Mt. Adams is the next step on the trail of life for these brave souls. For as many people that look at our feat as a simple scamper up a simple mountain, many others believe we are hard core in the same vein as Indiana Jones. This is no small attempt for us, it is a big deal. A mountain isn't changed by the people that climb it as much as the people are from the mountain. We will kick a rock a few feet from where it used to lay and transport some dirt down and off the mountain. My brain smiles when I put on my shoes for the first time after climbing a mountain. The dirt and small rocks that welcome my little piggies is part of the mountain. Those miniscule pieces are some of the greatest gifts that go straight away into the trash can. Mount Adams represents the Peak Posse at it's most daring, it's us on the edge of history. It's a door to what's next, just as Middle Sister was for us last year. We know it's not an attempt to summit K12, we still prepare for it, relish the idea of it, and take it as seriously as any other climber on any other mountain. The checklist isn't as long, it's still a list that needs to be checked. When we stand together on the summit, it will be the sum of individual effort for the accomplishment of a whole. This is the reason that our climb has already started, we understand that our questions, tips, and ideas will be what helps get us there. I will now crack open a door, just a little, and give you a sneaky into the world of this intimate, cool, utterly gorgeous and handsome group. Please no sudden movements or loud noises, you may freak them out.
The first thing that happens when an expedition is nearing is a group text. This has proven to be one of the most important parts of my prep. The discussion that results is educational, entertaining and valuable. I've found many times, when someone is quiet in the group, they have either huge doubts about their abililty or there's a logistical problem that is keeping them from making the trip with us. This is helpful because many times it starts a conversation that finds everyone pitching in to help out or the person backs out of the expedition. Everyone that wants to join us is welcome, it's also important to filter out the folks that don't have their heart in it at the particular time for whatever reason. The group text does this organically, it's good to hit the trail when everybody has the heart for it. An unsure mind at the beginning of the trail is not something we want packed along with us. I admire it when someone starts into the thing wanting to go and then changes their mind during the week leading up to the climb. The thought of being in that space is too much and so they choose not to visit it in reality. There is still an action toward something outside the comfort zone; next time it may result in a step on the trail. The other thing that I get confirmation of is the size of the undertaking. A climb up Mount Adams means we are going to a place we haven't experienced and we do expect it to be a good memorable time, it also carries uncertainty and that isn't a suit that many people like to wear. I would say outfit, but that reminds me of someone else dressing me, like my Mom when I was very young. I don't want to picture my Mom standing at ten thousand feet on Mount Adams with a polyester nightmare in her hands, waiting for me to ,"Try it on."
We all know that once it gets strapped on your body, it's part of the wardrobe rotation. Nobody looks good in highwaters, and when I say nobody, I mean me.
Beside the knowledge coming from the text group, there's straight up entertainment. You never know which text will light the fire, sooner or later, someone starts catching flack about something. Then it seems to stick for awhile. This keeps the mood light and helps to strenghten an already tight group.
The discussion also becomes serious at times, it's important because once we start down the trail we want everyone to have insight into what is to be expected. The facts are the facts and knowing something that doesn't sound like fun is better than meeting it face to face on the trail without prior knoweledge. Can you imagine being invited to a bbq by one of your friends only to find out once you get there that they have become timeshare sales people. That would be the beginning of a long evening that you can never get back. Facts are important, especially if they involve potential danger. We don't want to go to the gunfight at the ok corral with a squirt gun.
The last thing I will mention about our group text is how it really spreads the altitude fever. The last five days before go time, the activity picks up and each text has me thinking, "I wish we were leaving today."
It seems strange that we look forward to an event that causes pain and discomfort to the outside world. This is the very thing that binds us together before, during and after the expeditions.
We have less than two weeks now and I'm already starting to wake up in the night thinking about Mount Adams. What will the trees look like? Will there be any strange situations? How steep is the approach to Pikers' Peak. The pictures in my mind are frightening at times, others make it seem like this will be no big deal. I believe that both will be true, there will be smooth sailing and rough waters on the expedition.
There are some things that have this fact in common with mountain climbing, they are usually things that fall outside the description of normal. Mountain climbing is something that you can do with another person or even a group of people; it's still a solo undertaking. Unless someone is carrying you up the thing, each individual must confront their own fears, struggles, doubts and overcome them by themselves. The encouragement from another person is valuable and may be the difference in going up or turning around. Still the going up or turning around is the decision of each and every person. To say that we are going up as a Posse and leaving it at that, wouldn't get into the cracks and crevices of the story. Each person that ties up their boots and takes the challenge is a story of their own. Let's get to know the travelers.
Christian is the newest member of the Peak Posse. She joined us on the Grizzly Peak expedition and made easy work of it. She has the attitude, here in the low country, that bodes well for climbing a monster. She is in a great spot in the life of an adventurer, this will be her first mountain over ten thousand feet tall. No matter how many pictures you look at or videos you watch, you can't understand the awesome size, the punch in the guts intimidation a mountain like Adams holds. Every mountain that I climb gives me moments of pause. They have all put me in a spot where I must choose. Will I decide to move upward, the way of stress and strain or find the easier choice of turning around, to be my destiny? All my climbs have had me carrying these choices right there in my backpack beside my mango fruit cups. None has been more intense than my first big one, South Sister. Christian will have thoughts and her body may very well be stressed to the point of failure in the very near future. I am looking forward to how she answers the questions that Mount Adams asks her. Mountains are big piles of dirt and rocks, they aren't alive in the normal definition of the word, alive. Mount Adams is alive in an abstract, trippy way and it's about to introduce itself to Christian. Will it be a friendship for the ages or nice to meet you, have a nice life?
I'm a short guy, when I talk to somebody, I'm usually looking up. Aaron is a short guy too, but as I write this, he is at least six feet tall, in my mind. He has a persona, a projected bigness that his physical appearance tries to hide as best it can. Every time I see him, I'm always surprised that he's my height. I'm of the belief that our physical world is not the most real part of existence, we are much more. If I had to offer proof, Aaron would be a good place to start. If you have met the man, you know what I'm saying. I have spent quite a bit of time with him on the trail and have enjoyed it to the fullest. If the mountains formed a band and people were the songs they played, Aaron would be on their greatest hits cd. Mount Adams heard Aaron is coming around and it already has the perfect moment waiting for him. Will I be lurking nearby to try and catch it on video? I couldn't call myself a mountainside reporter if my answer is no. Will you ever see it? Let's see how Aaron answers that one.
Almost everything I know of Apolo, I learned on a trail. He comes and goes out of my life like a Christmas melody. I'm always glad to hear it and wonder why we can't listen to it all year round. One of the best things a person can do is surround themselves with people that love to laugh and love to make others laugh. I describe Apolo. He has a very surprising and quick wit. I say surprising because when we are in moments of challenge and many people are starting to let their complainers let loose, Apolo will say something that is so ordinary yet out a place funny or comical. In the midst of watching him struggle, his internal dialogue makes its' way to our external world. Climbing a mountain can be extremely hard on a body and mind, it can beat you. It makes you, beat you. The closeness to total defeat it presents, is beautiful. When we are all sucking wind and our legs are feeling like watered down ranch dressing, Apolo will take a second out of his misery to bless us with something, something good. It'll make those around him laugh. When I heard he was signing up for this expedition, I started humming a Christmas tune.
Vivian is the next. She is a traveler that makes us better. Addition by subtraction. Where some of the Posse are outspoken and, dare I say, loud. Vivian is quiet and not loud. It's the quiet people that hold the most mystery. She has been on every Trio expedition, it would be very strange to not see her within the group. If you watch our Trio mini movies, you'll see her there; constantly moving. I haven't heard her complain once on these adventures, and she has been in some serious places with the Posse. It cannot be overstated how good it is to have her on the trail. She is the constant calm that counteracts the high's and lows that other personalities possess. Don't think that she is some kind of robot mountain climbing lady, she has a great sense of humor that I'm starting to see more and more of on the trail. Sometimes I get the feeling that we are like a live play that she gets to watch while in the midst of cool places.
If Vivian is the calm sea that reflects the moonlight like a mirror, Tyler is a tsunami of uncertainty. Meaning I can't be certain of what he's going to be saying or doing at any given moment. He was with the first group on South Sister and if you've read the story, you know what I'm talking about. The only Trio expedition that he has been on is the first one, Mt Mcloughlin. It was snowy up on the ridge leading to the summit and Tyler struggled. He is afraid of heights. The last five hundred feet to the summit was steep, the summit was a spine of snow. It is the most challenging mountain I've been on. Once I made the summit, I looked back down, thinking Tyler would be hanging out waiting for us to come down. Nope, he was crawling his way up the crux of the climb, scared out of his skin. That's scared of heights Tyler, the other Tyler is loud, braggy and borderline obnoxious. Borderline, in that he's past the border into obnoxious already. Now, you may say I'm being mean to a man that can't defend himself. When Tyler reads this, he will be proud, happy about what I just wrote. He's the guy in movies that loves to be hated, he goes out of his way to keep his title of dude you don't want to root for. Mount Adams is sure to have Tyler swinging from one extreme to the other and he would have it no other way. He will make this expedition colorful, you won't have to look for him in the movie, he will make sure of that.
Joseph could very well be the poster dude of the Peak Posse. Come to think of it, he is. The little dude on our logo is Joseph. Like Vivian, he has completed all the Trio expeditions. When I think about the travelers that are joining each adventure and see Joseph's name, I don't have any concerns. We have tough times on these expeditions, it's part of the reason we do it, to see what it's like to exist in them. Joseph communicates ideas and solutions if they are needed, he interacts well; he is comfortable chilling in the group as well. I asked him if he was going to join the Adams expedition and he texted back that he wasn't. It was strange thought, to think of him not being there when we see what the top of the mountain looks like, was foreign to me. He quickly texted me back and said his answer, no, was a pocket dial. How weird would it be to have the dude on the logo not be one of the dudes on the trail. Joseph doesn't say many things that I'd describe as poetic. It's not in his nature. One of the coolest things I have read in a long time, is from Joseph. After he confirmed he was joining this expedition he sent me this beauty of a text, "I would climb mountains to climb that mountain (Mount Adams) with you guys."
Joseph, you can add to your resume that you are a poet, a creator of artistic words.
The next two guys that will be on the side of Adams with us are good examples of how a mountain climb is much more than what it seems. They both were on the first South Sister climb; they both failed to reach the summit. You must understand all that the last sentence entails. When you have individuals that aren't about giving up, reaching a place that makes them do just that, is a hardcore place. The cool thing about their stories is what has happened since that day.
Jose told me, when he was on South Sister, his legs stopped working. He wanted them to function, they didn't. I felt a little of that on the first expedition but it wasn't to the point that my legs stopped working. I can't relate to it in it's absolute sense. After the whole thing was in the past, he told me that he had zero interest in climbing another mountain. It was my surprise last year, when the time came to form our group for Middle Sister, Jose signed up. Middle is six miles longer and harder to climb than it's biggest Sister. Jose made it and went on to Posse fame in Valhalla Canyon. He hasn't missed a Trio expedition since. There's a mystery that surrounds Jose, here it is. Any time someone asks me who is going on the bigger expeditions and I start listing the names. When I say Jose, people say, "Jose is going?"
The next thing that happens is they draw the conclusion that either the expedition isn't that tough or that Jose won't be able to make it. I assure them that they are wrong on both opinions. Jose is made of good stuff. I watched this man fail on the side of a mountain, let it defeat him for a moment. The defeat got down into his guts and wrenched around, it caused his soul to have indigestion. You can't buy a tums for this kind of belly ache. You cure it with determination, try, and being willing to put yourself into that same space that the defeat lives in. If you know Jose and think that it's unbelievable when you hear that he climbs big mountains, you don't know Jose. Plus he has a great personality that begs to be in the Posse mini movies.
Keegan also failed to reach the summit of South Sister. He also had to deal with the after affect of the whole thing. The next nine months was impressive. Keegan made it his goal to get into shape so that he could make that climb. Month after month went by and he kept his focus. He had a plan and he executed it. Keegan also has chronic problems with his knees and back. I have given him the title as the youngest old man I know. Last year on Middle Sister, he was right with me all the way to the top. Two weeks later, with a backpack full and heavy, he pitched his tent on the top of South Sister. One of my favorite memories, of the Peak Posse, was when he reached touched the summit of South Sister in the middle of the night. It was exactly one year, to the day, since he had to stop and turn around on the same mountain. With Jose and Keegan, they chose to use a thrashing as a step up. Really, it wasn't defeat at all. A defeat is only inherently permanent in sports, in real life, it's a fork in the road.
Keegan and I share the same love for mountains. We like the idea, the sight, and the experience of them. We are mountain bros. When I told him that I was nominating Mount Adams in hopes of it making as part of the Trio, we got all happy and giggly. The thought of climbing on it, for us, is like telling your kids they get to go to the fair and play the games and ride the rides.
One last piece of the story. Last week, Keegan threw his back out working on a block wall. He had to use trekking poles as crutches to get around his house. I saw him yesterday and he is still walking gingerly. When the convoy leaves for Mount Adams, he will be a part of it.
Me, I'm the Peak Posse Mountainside reporter. I get the fun of living the whole thing and then the challenge of telling the story in a way that compares to the real deal.
So, here we go. A whole bunch of stuff, history, planning, preparing the body and mind, all of it, is about to converge on a big old mountain in Washington. Will Tyler be able to overcome a serious fear of heights and the steep snow covered slopes? Will Christian have a new mountain BFF or will she find the low country and leave the high altitude for the next person? What about Jose? Will he continue his victory tour at 12,280 feet? Will Keegans back keep him from the snowy peak? What will Apolo say up there and will it be because of the altitude or the pain or his brain that follows a different set of sheet music? What will Aaron and Vivian do if Joseph brings a harp in his pack and while he plays it, waxes poetic, words and music so floaty and beautiful that they will lift and carry us to the top of Mount Adams? Woah.
The climb has begun on an unseen level. Soon, boots will be making a very real mark in the dirt of Mount Adams. If our boots make the same signature in the snow at the top, we might just have to have a dance party up there.
Please allow me the space here at the end, to thank the Good Lord, Jesus, for letting me climb on his mountain.