Failure and Success on Mt. Hood

The upper mountain from my high point at 10,700'

The upper mountain from my high point at 10,700′

Sunday the 20th was an amazing day on the mountain. Mild, mid-spring conditions (while the lower valleys were stuck in a frozen inversion pattern), brilliant sunshine, no wind and near-perfect snow for climbing. We left the parking lot at Timberline Lodge at approximately 3:10 a.m., and almost immediately my lungs were burning. Within half an hour I was already questioning whether or not I could climb the mountain. It was very frustrating. I had been training throughout most of the winter, and while I had been sick a few weeks earlier, I really thought I was essentially free from illness and fully expected to climb well that morning. So to struggle so quickly was really discouraging.

My climbing partner, Bill, who has climbed the mountain somewhere around 120 times, kept pushing me to continue, and I kept grinding it out, despite the burning in my lungs and the shaking of my legs. After a few hours, my lungs did actually start to feel better and I began to regain hope that I might make the summit.

When we reached the top of the Palmer Ski lift, around 8500′, we stopped to eat and rest for just a few short moments and Bill, who is also a nurse, got out his oxygen saturation/heart-rate monitor and we discovered that my heart rate, even after I had been resting for a few minutes, was in the mid-130’s, while his was about half of that. He expressed his concern about it, but also said that I was not showing any symptoms of anything else, and he believed we could continue safely.

The eastern rim of the crater of Mt. Hood

The eastern rim of the crater of Mt. Hood

So on we went. Shortly after heading past the top of the Palmer, the snow conditions were getting icier, so we decided to stop again and get on our crampons. Then we continued.

I also continued to struggle. Sometimes my lungs would be burning, and would also wheeze a little, but with Bill’s gentle prodding and my determination, I kept pushing, and inevitably  would feel better again.

When the sun began to rise around 7, we were greeted by a mountain that was otherworldly and fantastic, fluted ice pinnacles up high and snow slopes colored salmon by the rays of the morning sun. These are moments we mountaineers live for, and I was so glad to be there to witness it.

By this point I felt like there was a good chance I would make it to the summit. My wheezing had stopped and I was starting to feel better. Yet every time we stopped and took my pulse, it was still between mid-130’s and 140, and would not go down with rest. Bill was obviously very puzzled by it. I was able to talk while we walked, I wasn’t showing symptoms other than being really tired.

When we reached the base of Crater Rock, I really started to hit a wall. Obviously, elevation had a lot to do with how I was feeling, since we were now around 10,000 feet. But I was also starting to wheeze again and I just had no gas left in the tank. I fell further and further behind Bill at this point, and I was really beginning to doubt whether I would reach the summit or not.

When we reached the Hogsback, the traditional roping-up point for the final, steeper pitches above, I was spent, and wasn’t breathing too well. Bill took my pulse once more and it was around 140, and didn’t go down with rest. I decided that was enough. Since the sun was fully risen and its warmth was releasing a barrage of ice chunks every few minutes, I knew that I would be putting both of us in danger if I continued on. Speed would be required to get across the firing line, and that was something I was lacking. So I told Bill I would wait while he continued on.

I hated having to make that decision, yet at the same time I felt like in this case, it was the right one. I have stood on Hood’s summit before, and I am certain I will again, but I am not so summit-obsessed that I need to push myself too far. As it turned out, I am really glad I made that decision.

Bill headed up, and I retreated to a flat spot closer to Crater Rock where I could rest and relax and warm up in the sun. I took off my crampons, since my feet were getting cold and shot film while Bill zipped up the mountain. He actually had to dodge a mini-avalanche of ice chunks as he ascended — if I had been following him, I sincerely doubt that I would have had the energy to run out of their path like he did.

It probably took Bill forty-five minutes to make the trip to the summit and return, and when he did, we took my pulse again, only to discover that my HR had only dropped a few points despite a long time to rest. Obviously my body was feeling pretty tweaked.

I didn’t make the summit. Again, another winter failure, yet this one felt different. I had not been in pain, I had pushed myself (with some gentle prodding from Bill) and I had reached a point higher than any other mountain in Oregon. It was an ass-kicking training run, and it motivated me to train even harder before attempting it again, something I have been doing since I have returned.

In the end we figured that several factors had been effecting me on the mountain: 1) I was having a slight case of exercise induced asthma (I had asthma as a teenager but I rarely have been effected by it as an adult — in fact, I don’t even have inhalers of any kind) 2) Having been ill for almost a month and only getting better a few weeks before the climb and 3) Coming from near-sea level and driving up to 6000′ in only a few hours, then going even higher after that was also a mitigating factor in my performance. Looking at the climb knowing this has made it easier to digest my failure. In fact, it has made me pretty proud of my accomplishment in reaching the elevation that I did.

I have been working much harder at my conditioning in the week since I returned from Hood. I am now doing my five-mile power walks with close to thirty pounds in my backpack, I started doing a core-workout routine and yesterday I did a 9.5 mile, 2000+’ elevation gain hike with the same weight in the pack. A few more weeks of this type of conditioning and I will be ready to return to Hood.

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Hood on the Horizon

Mt Hood from an earlier, successful climb

Mt Hood from an earlier, successful climb

Well, it looks like everything is falling into place for me to go to Mt. Hood over the next few days to make a winter attempt on this fair state’s highest peak. I wasn’t sure if things were going to work out, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to make the trip to Eugene, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get there at all, but after contacting a few people, I was able to hitch a ride with Charles, my friend with whom I went to the Grand Canyon and South Sister. My bags are now packed, the gear is sorted, and I am really excited to meet up with Bill tomorrow.

Bill Soule is an amazing climber. He has summited Hood over 100 times, he has climbed all over the world and personally knows or has met a huge number of my climbing heroes. He has so many amazing and funny stories to tell, I am sure it will be a blast climbing with him.

Our plan is to head out of Eugene around 2 or 3 and arrive at Timberline Lodge in the evening. We are taking canopied pickup, and will crash out and try to get as much sleep as possible before waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning to head up. Probably won’t get a lot of sleep, but that is part of the Mt. Hood experience. Nevertheless, it should be fun.

I really hope I can summit this time. I am ready to make winter mountaineering a more regular part of my life, especially now that my pain issues seem to be a thing of the past. We shall see.

I will be taking both my video cameras, so I will have some spectacular footage when I return!

Thinking about Hood

Mt Hood above Timberline Lodge. Photo copyright (c) 2013 Swift Benjamin

Mt Hood above Timberline Lodge. Photo copyright (c) 2013 Swift Benjamin using a Creative Commons license

I have been wanting to make a successful winter ascent of a major Cascade peak for as long as I have been climbing, but always in the past my pain issues (always worse in the winter months) limited both my fitness and motivation to get the job done. I have made half-hearted attempts on Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, and Hood. The closest I have come to making a successful ‘winter’ climb was when we got to the summit pinnacle on Three-Fingered Jack before a lack of daylight made us turn back. Still, this was in mid-November, so it wasn’t really a winter climb at all.

On Bailey and on Hood, my hip was hurting so badly that I very quickly had to turn back. On Thielsen I was out of shape — again, because such chronic, consistent pain makes it so difficult to maintain a fitness program. Until last spring, I believed that I would probably never be able to climb in winter. My pain levels were at extreme levels and I wasn’t sure for a while if I would be able to climb much more at all.

But then I started to take Tramadol, a non-narcotic pain reliever that did something that heavy doses of opiates could not: It made my pain disappear. Within an hour of taking it, the pain in my right shoulder eased for the first time in months. Several hours went by. The pain did not come back. After about six hours I felt an ache again, but I took another dose and it went away. Days passed and I kept taking Tramadol, and it continued to keep the pain away. After several pain-free weeks turned into several months pain-free, I knew that I had found a medication that really worked, and did so without making me feel intoxicated in any way.

It has been nine months since I started taking Tramadol, and I have gone through my first pain-free autumn in seventeen years. Now we are firmly into winter and I am still experiencing very little pain or discomfort. I am in better condition at this time of year for the first time in a long time. I have been going on near-daily 5-mile walks and feel pretty happy with where I am at physically. Not in top shape, but not out of shape either. In fact, I would be in much better shape except I got sick over the holidays and lost several weeks of possible conditioning.

I had called my friend Bill about a week ago and asked him if he would want to climb Hood sometime soon, and he had expressed interest. Two days ago he called me and asked if I wanted to go on the weekend of the 19th-20th. I wasn’t going to have my eldest daughter down from Eugene that weekend, so I said I would go. The weather is supposed to get a little warmer during the week, and should get a nice freeze-thaw cycle set up, perfect for winter climbing conditions. Now I just need to figure out a way to get up to Eugene and a ride back on Sunday. Somehow, the conditions will arise to make it so.

I think this could be the first successful winter ascent for me. Bill is an uber-experienced climber who has even been on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and between the two of us we should be able to get up and down the mountain safely. I have a good feeling about this one.

If I can do this, it will be a great way to start off the year.

 

A New Year, Some Thoughts

It is places like the Grand Canyon that make me feel the most alive

It is places like the Grand Canyon that make me feel the most alive

2012 was an interesting year for me as an avid outdoor adventurer. It was another down year in some ways, I hardly rock climbed at all, I only climbed three big mountains, and yet I still managed to get in a wide diversity of adventures, from rafting the upper North Umpqua to backpacking in the Grand Canyon. For a lot of people, this would have been an epic year. I guess it just shows where my standards are these days, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

This year, however, I would like to have a lot more adventures. These are my resolutions/goals and manifestations for 2013:

*Rock climb at least 20 times this year. Considering the amount of cragging available within an hour of my house, there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to accomplish this goal.

*Climb (or at least make a serious attempt) 10 big mountains this year. My list includes Rainier, Baker, Middle Sister, Jefferson, Whitney, Hood, Adams, and several others, but the first five are the most important.

*Kayak at least 20 times this year. I live on the North Umpqua river for goodness sake! Also, this list does not include the times when I just go in my backyard and paddle, I mean that I want to make at least 20 runs down the river.

*I want to get my family more active in the outdoors. Since Julia was born in 2011, we have not taken her on a single hike. Not one! Ridiculous. We just got out of the habit. The sad thing is (as if the above statement wasn’t sad enough), we went on many waterfall hikes while Brook was pregnant with JuJu and yet haven’t taken her to see a single one of these falls after her birth. Going to change that this year.

*Visit at least four national parks this year. Crater Lake is a little over an hour away. Rainier is half a day’s drive. Same with Lassen. If I climb Whitney, I will be in Sequoia/King’s Canyon NP.

*Start climbing more serious mountains with my eldest daughter, Zoe. She will be twelve in February, and this is a pretty typical age for kids to start climbing mountains that are a step up from hikes. We are planning on starting with Diamond Peak, McLoughlin (when they are still snow covered and require the use of an ice-axe and possibly crampons), Hood, Middle Sister and Whitney. I am also going to get her a new harness for her birthday, so we can resume rock-climbing together.

I am a better person when I get myself and my family into the great outdoors. Maybe living in the woods and on the river has jaded us a little bit, making us feel like we just have it all right here, and while it is absolutely beautiful here, there are so many places that are truly awesome that we need to get to. I certainly do. There is a huge difference between what we have here and what we could experience at a place like Crater Lake or Rainier. A sense of awe. A sense of power, a sense of humility.

I watched this video the other day, and it really reminded me of what I am missing when I don’t get to the really big places in the world, and it woke me up, made me realize what I long for. I need to go to places like Glacier, Zion and the Grand Canyon to tap into what has always been the most amazing feeling for me. It started when I first went to Yosemite as a child, and felt so small and yet so alive, and it will continue as long as I am able to get to these places.

So here’s hoping that this will be a fantastic year for me and for my family. I pray to the powers that be that I can get there often.

 

A late-season climb of South Sister

South Sister (10,358′) is the 3rd-loftiest peak in the State of Oregon, and while Mt. Hood (11,240′) and Mt Jefferson (10,495′) both require technical skills to attain their highest points, an ascent of South Sister, though long, requires only trail hiking to reach the summit. But what a trail! Five and half miles long and with an elevation gain of around 5000 feet, it winds its way up the mountain with spectacular views almost the entire way.

Charles (my companion on my earlier epic trip to the Southwest) and I left Roseburg at around four in the morning, heading north on Interstate Five until we were just south of Eugene. We then headed east on Highway 58, passing Lowell, Oakridge and Willamette Pass as we got closer to the Three Sisters Wilderness. We eventually took a turn North on the Cascade Lakes Highway, and after about four and a half hours of driving, we arrived at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, gateway for virtually all climbs of this mountain.

Being that this was mid-October, it was very cold when we started, probably in the mid-thirties, but the weather was crystal clear and we headed out feeling happy to be here. I had climbed this mountain twice before, but it had been seven or eight years since I had been here last.

The trail starts out winding through a dense forest, and Charles and I talked as we headed up. After a few miles we broke out of the trees and onto the vast, undulating plain that sits at the very base of South Sister. I guess I should mention that I had been sick for the week before this climb, so I was not at all in my usual good shape, whereas Charles was in his usual superhuman level of fitness. He was kind to stick with me for as long as he did, but eventually he would take off and I would plod behind him.

Views of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, Moraine Lake, and, of course, South Sister gave us plenty to ooh and ahh about, and after a short time, we reached the bottom of the volcano. At this point Charles had already surged ahead of me, and I took my time with the ascent. Numerous other climbers either passed me or were already heading down, and I stopped to talk to a few of them. I really wasn’t feeling too well, and wasn’t certain if I would actually make the summit this time, but I kept grinding it out, and kept gaining elevation. Soon I was at the base of the Lewis Glacier, where a lovely turquoise lake formed by glacial silt glittered beneath the sun. Above me, the Mother Of All Scree Slopes awaited.

The Lewis Glacier and the beautiful lake at its toe

The last thousand-plus feet of climbing on this massive volcano is formed by a huge slope of red cinders, making it a two-steps-forward, one-step-back affair, plus, you are dealing with being close to ten thousand feet high, so altitude also plays a part in slowing the ascent. It seemed like it took forever to reach the mile-wide summit crater. It was only at this point that I really knew I would make the summit.

I followed the southern, then the eastern rim of the crater, doing a little bit of very easy rock scrambling to reach the true summit, where I found Charles patiently waiting. We enjoyed perhaps half an hour on the top, taking pictures, eating some lunch and recuperating from the grueling hike. Then it was time to head back down, and drive back home to Roseburg, another climb, another adventure under our belts.

Disaster on Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood and the crater

I will never forget this day. Ever. When my life is winding down, and my own death is near, I am certain I will remember the events on Mt. Hood.

This was my first ‘big’ climb. I had been mountaineering for three years at that point, I had climbed Mt. Thielsen, Mt. McLoughlin, Diamond Peak, South Sister and Broken Top, and all of these climbs had been mid-summer hikes, with a little bit of quasi-technical climbing thrown in for good measure, but none could be characterized as serious climbs. No snow or ice, no alpine starts, no ice axe, crampons or harnesses had been donned for these peaks.

I had signed up for the climb of Mt. Hood with the Obsidians, and we met at the parking lot at Timberline Lodge. We attempted to get a few hours of sleep before heading up the mountain at midnight, but for me, no sleep would come. I was too excited.

Timberline Lodge

We got geared up and ready to go, organized our group and set out shortly after midnight. It was a full moon night, so we never had to turn our headlamps, which is really amazing. Climbing in the dead of night over perfect snow illuminated by a full moon is something I have only experienced once. In fact, the only time we turned on our headlamps was when we needed to get gear out of our bags.

When you climb the south side of Hood, which is the route 90% of climbers take to the summit, you follow the eastern edge of the Timberline Lodge Ski Area, so it is a dreadfully dull snow plod for  most of its length. Only when you enter the horseshoe-shaped crater does it finally get interesting.

With a group as large as ours — around ten or so climbers — the ascent can only proceed as fast as the slowest climber, which meant that we entered the crater sometime around seven in the morning, at which point the sun had risen and the glorious beauty of the upper mountain was revealed in all its icy beauty. We had stopped at the top of the ski area to don crampons and break out the ice axes, but we would not rope up until we reached the Hogsback, a unique snow ridge that is the traditional  roping-up point.

Looking up the Hogsback. The accident started near the upper-center of the picture and ended below and to the right, well out of frame.

We were about ten minutes below the Hogsback when shouts broke the morning stillness, and every single climber looked in unison to the upper mountain, and what we saw is etched permanently in my mind: A climber had fallen from right below a steep chute called the Pearly Gates, and was trying desperately to self-arrest (the technique of using an ice-axe to slow, or ‘arrest’, your fall.) Unfortunately, when conditions are icy, as they were that morning, it is notoriously difficult to stop yourself once any momentum is established, as was the case for this climber. I remember hearing the ice-axe chatter on the ice as she streaked down the steep face. She was doing a good job of keeping her knees bent so her crampon points wouldn’t catch and break her leg, but when her ice axe finally caught, she was going so fast that it ripped out of her hands, and immediately, her legs came down out of instinct. When that happened, she began cartwheeling down the mountain, gear flying off of her as she approached speeds that I can only guess were in the 50-60 mile an hour range. Her head repeatedly slammed against the ice-face as she flew down. It was a horrifying thing to witness. She had started something live six or seven hundred feet above us, but by the time she crashed into the crater floor, she was two hundred feet below us. When she slowed and started sliding along the relatively flat bottom, it was clear she was unconscious. Everyone was yelling at her to dig in with her feet to stop herself from sliding further, but it was to no avail. A climber went running towards her to help.

The rest of us were looking back up at the spot where she had fallen from, as there were more screams and shouts coming from above. Her climbing partner, apparently panic-struck at seeing her take such a terrible fall, began running down the mountain, something  that is almost a guarantee of inducing an accident, and within moments he too was falling.

He didn’t even bother to try to self-arrest, he just pulled up his knees and slid on his backside down the mountain; It was amazing how in control his fall appeared to be, he never cartwheeled or tumbled at all, just shot down the mountain on his butt. When he started to slow beneath us, it would seem that he had gotten lucky and had managed to fall off the mountain without injury. I think a lot of people at that point looked back up the mountain to see if more people were going to fall, but I kept my eye on this climber. To my horror, as he was almost slowed to a halt, he slipped over the edge of a fumarole and disappeared inside of it.

Fumaroles, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, are basically holes in the ice of big volcanoes where steam and noxious gasses vent from the smoldering heart of the mountain. Some of the fumaroles on Hood are so powerful that peope have died standing too close to them, since they are complete oxygen voids. Now this guy had fallen deep inside of one.

Fumaroles on Mt. Hood

“He just fell in a fucking fumarole.” I mumbled to the leader of our climb, a woman named Deb. I was in shock.

“What?” She said, looking around to find him. She had been looking up the mountain, as had almost everyone else.

“He just fell in a fumarole.” I repeated.

A moment of silence passed.

“Do you have the rope?” She asked me.

“Yes.” I said.

“Let’s go.” Deb said, and we did, descending towards the crater floor. We had to first head towards the first fallen climber, who now had a crowd around her, before heading towards the fumarole, as there were crevasses in the area.

“Be careful,” Deb said repeatedly, worried that since we were not roped up, a crevasse fall would only compound the disaster we had just witnessed.

To our amazement, as we were about to head towards the fumarole, the guy who fell into it appeared, climbing out of the hole seemingly uninjured. He wasn’t even limping as he walked towards his climbing partner and the crowd attending to her. We did the same, our entire group descending to find a young woman now semi-conscious with a lump on her head the size of a golf ball. One of the lenses of her sunglasses had fallen out, so it only added to the surreal quality of the moment.

Very quickly it was discovered that she had broken her lower leg, most likely when she had initially dropped her legs and begun her cartwheeling fall. Her partner, when he arrived, was unharmed save for some bumps and bruises, but he knew he had gotten lucky. The entire time we were helping, he kept shaking his head and saying “I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid.”

We stabilized the woman, surrounded both of them with all of our extra warm clothing and did our best to keep the situation calm and relaxed. There was little else we could do. The moment she had fallen, multiple cel phones had dialed 9-1-1, so within a short time of the accident occurring a rescue was being organized. We knew they were on their way, so we just kept her warm and awake, since she was continually drifting towards unconsciousness.

After some time an EMT and a Wilderness First Responder arrived, and seeing that some of our group were drifting towards hypothermia, they kindly but firmly told us we needed to get down, especially since we had donated all of our extra warm clothes to the injured climber. So we gathered whatever gear was no longer needed and began the descent off the mountain. On the way down we encountered the rescue team heading up and relayed our knowledge of the event and the condition of the climbers to them before continuing. as it was, they would not be off the mountain for many more hours, but both climbers ended up making full recoveries.

Ironically, a week or two later, when I was climbing Mt. Adams in Washington, two of the people in our climbing group (this was another Obsidians climb) were friends with the fallen climbers, and relayed to us their gratitude and thanks in assisting them. We eventually got all our donated clothes back too.

That day really woke me up to the dangers of mountaineering. I joined Eugene Mountain Rescue shortly after that, especially since I felt like there wasn’t much I could do to help except donate clothes and be a reassuring presence. Had I been the only one on scene, it could have been a true disaster.

It has been eleven years since that accident on Mt. Hood, but it still stands as the one thing I remember the most of any climb I have ever done. It took me four or five tries after that to successfully summit Hood, in great part because after that I was fairly afraid of it. It had been a traumatic event, but I eventually overcame it and made it to the roof of Oregon.

Mt. Hood is one of the most deadly mountains in the United States. Nearly every year someone dies climbing it. Several years ago there was a famous helicopter crash during a rescue, which was witnessed on live TV. Part of the reason for this is popularity. It is widely regarded as the second-most climbed glaciated mountain in the world after Fuji-San in Japan. Another reason, and the major one, is lack of experience, which in this account was definitely the cause. The climbers had summited Mt. Whitney, which, at 14,505 feet is the highest peak in the continental U.S., and they figured Hood, which is several thousand feet lower, would be no problem, but there is no comparison between the easiest routes of both mountains. The standard route up Whitney is quite literally a trail all the way to the summit, with no scrambling or climbing of any kind involved, whereas Hood’s standard route is a bonafide snow and ice route with sections approaching 40 degrees in steepness. Before this day, the climbers had never used ice axes or crampons before, and compounding that was the fact that they were unroped, although there is debate whether this standard technique is appropriate on a crowded mountain like Hood.

In the end, this accident propelled me to be a more knowledgeable, competent climber, and woke me up to the reality that mountains have teeth, and sometimes, they do bite.

Years after the accident, on the summit of Hood

A review of High Col Press

The five High Col books I own

I love this company. Bar none, these are my very favorite guidebooks. So far, I have purchased five different books: The Waddington Guide, Selkirks North & South (2 volumes), Bugaboos, and most recently, Alpine Select.

What makes this High Col so fantastic? It really cannot be traced to any single element, but it is the overall details that make these guides awesome. Great photographs, superbly detailed route descriptions, writers who have climbed many of the routes and fine overviews of climbing history and geology are all part of what makes each edition of these books a worthwhile investment. Certainly these books are not inexpensive, but considering how much care and thought and effort goes into each one, then really, they are a bargain.

Consider the Bugaboos guide, written by Chris Atkinson and Marc Piche’. The first guide I purchased to this area was the book by Randall Green and Joe Benson, published by The Mountaineers (another one of my favorite companies), and while there was a decent amount of information, the pictures were fair and it was easy enough to understand, if you compared these two guides, there really just isn’t any comparison. The Bugaboos is one of the most amazing, spectacular alpine climbing areas in the world, and the Green and Benson guide really didn’t do it justice, while the High Col version is filled with dramatic aerial photography, comprehensive route information and truly gives one an appreciation for this special place. I mean no disrespect to The Mountaineers or their authors, but anyone looking at both books would have to say the same thing.

Another cool thing about High Col Press is that many of their books are literally the first comprehensive guides to their respective areas. The Waddington Guide is a prime example. Located in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Waddington and the outlying peaks of this area comprise another world-class venue for high-level alpinism, yet little has been written about this range, which, in all fairness, is understandable considering the remoteness and the limited number of climbers that make the effort to climb here. Thanks to Don Serl, who has made the range his own personal playground, this area and its namesake mountain now has a guide worthy of its greatness. This was also the first book I bought from High Col, which at that time was known as Elaho Press (the Elaho is a river in B.C.) I have been dreaming of climbing Waddington (and Combatant, Tiedmann and Munday) ever since I got this book.

The two-volume series Selkirks North and Selkirks South by David P. Jones is another couple of books that bring a less-known range into the climbing public’s awareness. There were a few books written about the Selkirks before, but none can come close to being as comprehensive as Jones’ books. The coolest aspect of these guide? There are numerous peaks, especially in the Northern part, that have not been climbed yet. Astounding! Before these books came into my possession, I just assumed that North America was fairly tapped out of first ascents, but these books really opened my eyes. Certainly many of these unclimbed peaks  have since seen first ascents, but just knowing that there is a range that isn’t in Alaska or the Yukon that still has virgin summits is kind of cool. The irony of this is that the Selkirks, in many ways, was the birthplace of alpinism in North America. It’s almost like people started the trend of climbing there, and then just forgot about it.

Alpine Select, my most recent acquisition from High Col, is written by the owner/founder Kevin McLane. While not focusing on a single range or area like the other volumes in my library, this book casts a wide net across Southwest British Columbia and Northern Washington state, bringing the best of many ranges into a single volume, from the North Cascades to the Thiassi Range. Like the other guidebooks, this book has a nice blend of ice climbs, alpine rock climbs and even a few easy glacier plods.

The Banff Mountain Festival Book competition has nominated four volumes for their prestigious award (the award for climbing guides),  and on three occasions (Selkirks South, the Bugaboo Guide and Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West) they have won the top award in the Mountain Exposition category. Impressive indeed.

So what kind of criticisms do I have for High Col press? Well, there aren’t any that I can think of, although I would live to see them make more books to more areas. And maybe a buy-five, get-one-free option. Honestly, if there was one company I would point to if I was giving advice to anyone wanting to make a guide, it would be these guys. They are about as close to perfect as guidebooks can get. So much love and care is put into each volume that it would be difficult to find fault with what they do.

Here are the rest of the books that they have published and are going to publish in the future (not including the books I have already written about): Canadian Rock: Select climbs of the west (Kevin McLane), Skaha Rockclimbs (Howie Richardson), The Climber’s Guide to Squamish (Kevin McLane),  West Coast Ice (Don Serl), Cordillera Huayhuash (Jeremy Frimer), Squamish Trail Guide (Kevin McLane). Upcoming: Canadian Alpine Classics (Kevin Mclane, Marc Piche’ and Chris Atkinson – I am super excited about this one), new volumes of the Squamish and Skaha guides, Central BC Rock (an E-book by Lyle Knight), and Alpine Select Canada (Marc Piche’, Chris Atkinson and Kevin Mclane – a companion guide to Alpine Select).

In summary, if you are looking for a great guidebook for Western Canada, or you are like me and buy guidebooks even if you aren’t planning a trip to the area, then look no further than High Col Press. They are worth every penny you pay. Plus, I really like supporting smaller companies like this, especially when they make a product that is superior to nearly everything their competitors make. Be sure to check them out.