Last year on Black Friday MatthewVH and I climbed Upper Bells Peak to work off our Thanksgiving fat and we had a much better time than all of those shoppers wrestling over discounts. At least we thought so. We had been talking about doing multiple ascents of Mt. Wire for quite a while, and figured this would be the perfect day. The storms that came through earlier in the week changed the conditions dramatically, bringing in a lot of snow that would change this from a hike/run on a nice trail, to deep snow and below freezing temps. We talked about doing something else, but decided to just go for it and have a great time.
The route we would be taking to the summit is just over 4 miles with about 2200 feet of elevation gain. It is pretty steep and last week I climbed it car to car in 1:12, but the conditions were completely different when we arrived at the trailhead. There was snow covering the entire trail. Matt and I were joined by our friends Michael and Judy, who are both local mountaineering vets. Because of the cold and snow we looked like a group about to climb Mt. Rainier and not something as simple as Wire. The temperature was a balmy 10 when we started. I had been debating on what shoes to wear and had to settle for my Gortex hiking boots in order to keep my feet dry. I did however bring along a few pairs of trail runners just in case I thought they would work.
Summit #1: The first climb was started just as it was starting to get light. It was bitter cold, but after only a few minutes I was plenty warm. I wore a Windstopper fleece vest, jacket and hat, gloves, two long sleeve shirts and a short sleeve poly-pro shirt. A few people had already been up since the last storm, so we were able to follow their tracks, but there was still plenty of snow. We hiked fast to the ridge and from there the real slog started. Hiking in the snow is much more exhausting than on a trail and I started to get warm really fast. At the saddle Matt stopped for a wardrobe adjustment and I lead the way with Judy behind me and then Michael behind her. We chatted the whole way up about peaks we wanted to climb and various adventures that we wanted to tackle in 2011. There was no wind at all and the sun just started coming up over the peaks to the east as we reached the first towers. I made it to the top first in 1:03, with Judy right behind. Michael was a few minutes behind and then Matt about 5 minutes later. We took a group photo and then quickly headed down. We could kind of jog on the descent, but had to take it easy on the steeper sections because it was icy. I was first back to the car with Matt and Judy right behind. Total time 1:37. We took about a 10 minute break, eating some snacks and hydrating. I took a gel and ate a granola bar.
Summit #2: The other 3 took off before I was ready and it took me about 3 minutes to finish my gear adjustments and snacks. I took off my fleece jacket. It was still cold, but I felt great. It took me a mile to catch up with Michael and I passed him on the way up the ridge. I started to get really hot, so I took off one of my long sleeves and now I was only wearing a short sleeve, long sleeve and my vest on top. About half way up I unzipped the vest. This was one of the longest parts of the day for me because I was by myself and didn't have my ipod on, so the time seemed to drag a bit. I was still feeling really good and didn't have any soreness at all. My legs felt great. I never did quite catch up to Judy and Matt and they reached the summit a few minutes before me (1:06) with Michael a few minutes after me. I took a gel and we took another group photo and didn't stay on top very long. We went as quick as we could given the conditions and the trail was slowly getting more packed in, which made things a bit easier. The sun was now out and I was really warming up on the descent. We got back to the cars and took another break. I took off my vest, took a gel and ate more snacks. I also drank quite a lot of Gatorade and took an S-cap. Michael and Judy left first with Matt and I about 5 minutes behind.
Summit #3: This was the most difficult climb of the day for both Matt and me. It was now hot. Well, the temperature was still below freezing, but with the sun out and reflecting off of the snow, I was hot. I shed one of my long sleeve shirts and now I was only wearing one short and one long sleeve shirt with the sleeves pulled up. It was a total slog. My legs started to get tired, I was sweating a lot and we both slowed down. Luckily we talked the whole way up which made it somewhat bearable, but both of us had doubts about making it up five times. Judy and Michael were on the summit waiting for us and I arrived a few minutes before Matt, as he really slowed down on the final push. Total time up was 1:15. We took a group photo, I took another gel chased by a snowball and we headed down. I felt a lot better on the way down and got my energy back. Back at the car I took more salt, drank more Gatorade and ate two boiled eggs, a gel and a candy bar. I was feeling a lot better. This time Judy Matt and Michael all left about 5 minutes before I did, as I was taking my time eating to make sure I got back my energy.
Summit #4: It took me a mile to catch up to Matt, but he was listening to his ipod. I was kind of hoping we could chat, but I didn't want to bother him. He was singing out loud and using his trekking pole as a guitar. I was feeling much better on this climb and I finally passed him on the final push to the top. Judy and Michael were several minutes ahead, and I was surprised when I reached the top and found out I had made it one minute faster than they had (1:18). We were all pretty tired at this point and Judy and Michael told me they were not going for a 5th summit. I was sure that I would keep going because I still felt really strong and when Mat got to the summit he told me he had no plans on stopping now. We took our final group photo of the day and after I had a gel we headed down. It had cooled off a little bit on the way down and I knew that the last trip up would be colder. My feet were starting to hurt and my boots felt very heavy, so I decided I was going to change into my Brooks Cascadia's even if they made my feet wet. The last mile was the first time all day I started to hurt. At the bottom we decided to take a long break to eat and hydrate. I made a sandwich, drank more Gatorade and I had to get into the car and turn the heat on because I couldn't get my gaitors off. The strap was frozen solid, so I had to thaw it out. I hadn't felt cold in such a long time and it seemed weird, but this was a reminder that it was still below freezing out there. After about 10 minutes I was able to get my boots off and they were HEAVY! They had started soaking up water and they were bricks. I couldn't believe I had been hauling them up that mountain. The Cascadia's were pure heaven on my feet.
Summit #5: This was the best I had felt since summit climb number one. My feet were feeling so good, my energy was great and I wasn't hurting anywhere. I couldn't believe how good I felt and I pushed the pace a bit. Matt kept up and we had fun talking and joking all the way up. The sun started to go down and the temperature dropped a lot. I still wasn't feeling cold, but if we had stopped for more than a minute we would have felt it. This was definitely the most fun I had all day. I thought for sure I would be dragging and hurting on that final climb, but I felt as good as I had all day. The trail was now packed in and my feet stayed dry and were warm all the way up. I got to the summit a few minutes before Matt and took in the incredible views as the sun had just set. It was awesome and I still felt great. My Garmin died on that final summit, so I didn't get exact miles for the day, but it was somewhere around 20. I actually felt like I could have done a few more, but I knew that wasn't going to happen on this day. The descent was fun and Matt and I joked and laughed the whole way down. We finally got back to the car at 6:00 pm, almost exactly 11 hours after we started. I couldn't believe how good I felt.
The total elevation gain for the day was between 10,500 - 11,000 feet in 20 miles. With dry conditions this could be done much faster and we would like to try this in the summer to see how many more we can get. This was definitely one of the best adventures of the year, and I also reached my goal of getting 52 peaks for the year, which made it just a bit sweeter.