Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rainier Climb: Education

Ashford, Washington is a quaint place. The city vanishes into a lush valley of green with rivers and lakes and other visual pleasures that would have been much more enjoyable had a massive hunk of stone and ice not loomed over everything. Yes, I could enjoy the scenery, but these same vistas constantly reminded me of my goal, a goal resting nearly three vertical miles off the valley floor.

We had reserved a spot in a bunkroom at Whittaker's Bunkhouse, a climber's hotel affiliated with the Rainier guides. The place was wildly stimulating. Climbers who usually stick to crags were testing their skills on a climbing wall or on a tightrope. Others were planning climbs of Rainier as a step toward a Denali expedition. Folks coming off the mountain seemed haggard, and those of us about to head up were wired with anticipation. Nerves were building.


We found our room, picked up the rental gear, and headed to the bunkhouse to sort and re-sort, to pack and unpack and repack, to anticipate and get anxious. Eventually we dropped our tasks to head out for some pasta (carboload) and salad with blackberry dressing before eating some blackberry pie (they grow enormous loads of blackberries in the area, so nearly every dish had been topped with various derivatives of the succulent fruit).

We returned to the bunkhouse to try to rest up for climbing school. As we walked in, we met a guy who was preparing to head out the next morning for his second climb of the mountain. He began a strange rant, what seemed the product of decades of serious experimental drug use:

"You guys goin' up the mountain? It's a huge, freakin' mountain, man. I mean, that is a huge freakin' climb, man. You just got to stick your face in the mountain and don't look down, man. 'Cause if you look down, you're comin' off the mountain, man. You're fallin' down like 'aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!' (arms waving wildly), man. You just got to stick that ice ax in the mountain and keep going up. You look down, and it is over, man, over. It's over. Just look at the mountain."

I tried to dismiss the comments as insane, but my anxiety latched onto his words and the fear mounted.

"So, here's what you need to do tomorrow. You'll go to climbing school, and you'll pay attention. You'll learn what to do, and you'll pay attention, man. Then you got to come back here, and hit the climbing wall. Just burn it out. You have to burn it out. Just hit the climbing wall and burn it out. Just burn it out, man. You know what I'm saying? Just burn . . . it . . . out . . . man. And then you'll rest, you'll sleep, and you'll head up the mountain. Remember to look at the mountain. Don't look down. Just look at the mountain. Then come back down, get some food, have a cold beer, and then hit the climbing wall and burn it out. You have to burn it out, man. Just burn it out. It's going to be awesome, man. Just burn it out."

Sweet. All I had to do was burn it out. No problem. Just had to burn it out. Fair enough. But I was a little more concerned about the "aaaaaaaaah!" part of the climb. Somehow, Gabriel and I extricated ourselves from the deranged monologue, and proceeded to our bunkroom to quietly express our shock and incredulity. We packed and unpacked and repacked and tried to sleep.

Climbing School

Climbing school was brilliantly designed. They managed to take a tremendous and daunting task and make it seem achievable. I was thrilled to finally have crampons on my boots for the second time in my life. I broke out the climbing glasses (old school-style with leather shields on the side), and I was happy to be moving around the snowpack. We practiced arresting a fall, learned how to work with rope, learned that we needed much more sunblock and generally figured out what we were going to have to do. Here is a picture of Gabriel and me enjoying climbing school . . . notice the massive summit looming in the background:

I also learned that I needed to reevaluate my gear situation, something that I love to do. After watching my father over the years, I realize that I am genetically predisposed toward "gear-headedness"--it's a recessive gene that effects some individuals. While a problematic condition, at least financially, I note the genetic advantages that the condition brings. A gearhead often accepts his or her own limitations, limitations, physically and mentally, to what they can accomplish in climbing or motorcycling or hunting or photography or cooking or golf or whatever. Then, the gearhead does extensive research to ensure that their equipment will eliminate as many of these limitations as possible. So, for example, I knew that I was not in condition for the climb, so I grabbed my lightest backpack and proceeded to pack in the most efficient manner possible with ultralight long underwear, ultralight shell, etc. Of course, this also meant an ultralight disposable camera which left the climb poorly documented, but, heck, I needed my gear to work for me because I was definitely not strong enough to do it myself.

Anyway, I had expected my time on the glacier to be a cold experience (gear switch: ditch Smartwool Mountaineering socks). Instead I found myself gushing sweat, massive loads of fluid pouring off my skin. I might as well have been running a marathon on a July afternoon back in Texas (gear switch: use Patagonia lightweight long underwear, switch to a lighter padded Smartwool sock). The side effect of the sweat was the need to constantly reapply sunscreen. It also meant a stream of metallic taste into my mouth, which was less than pleasant (gear switch: Burt's Bees lifeguard lip balm to reduce metallic taste). The intensity of the sun was truly stunning, and the hat I had purchased the day before at Seattle's REI offered little shelter (gear switch: acquire goofy hat with extra long bill and protection for neck and ears).

With climbing school over, we enjoyed the new education. I made some gear adjustments and packed and unpacked and repacked. Gabriel and I headed out for a dinner, a "last supper" of sorts. We felt tired in a great way and ready for the task. I enjoyed more salmon with blackberry topping of some sort, and looked forward to a good night's sleep. We'd need it for the tour de force.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rainier Climb: Preparations

"This is crazy, just crazy. Utter insanity. Absolutely crazy." I kept muttering this to myself, fortunately unheard by my cabin mates. It was roughly one a.m., and I was shivering as I stuffed my sleeping bag. The plywood bed had offered little rest, but I doubt a feather bed would have allowed me to sleep given my nerves. I choked down a couple doses of oatmeal and a Cliff bar, chugged a load of water, and re-laced my boots. My hands were shaking out of a perfect mixture of adrenaline and frigid air. In what seemed like moments, it was time to head out onto the Muir Snowfield and rope up. The summit bid was on.

Getting Ready

Six months earlier I had made the initial decision to climb Rainier. Having read about mountaineering adventures for years, I decided it was time to actually have an adventure of my own. I had visited Everest Base Camp and handled the altitude with ease, so I needed to find a good test. More importantly, this test would have to fit within a five-day vacation window at the end of June. My objective would have to require ice ax and crampons, and this pretty much left me with Rainier. Coincidentally, the last week of June tends to offer the best climbing conditions on the mountain, so all signs pointed to go.

I was reluctant to head off on this feat alone, so I began searching for a climbing partner. I had to find a person whose idea of a great vacation also included hauling a heavy pack up a massive glacier. Gabriel Rainisch was just the person. He and I had not-so-gracefully gone swimming in a class four rapid named "Tablesaw" just the summer before. Although we both swallowed our fair share of the Ocoee River in the process, we had survived--so surely our good karma would carry us up and down Rainier.

So, we booked the trip, reserved some rental equipment, and spent the next months intending to train. Instead of training, I studied, ate lots of food, and began a clerkship at a law firm. Gabriel got married, bought a house, and worked long hours. It quickly became clear to us that victory on the mountain would have to be a result of willpower and determination. As Gabriel put it, our climb would be a "tour de force" in every sense of the term.

Lift Off

Departure day arrived quite suddenly. Gabriel and I had been chatting often that week trying to figure out gear, meals, and generally venting our nervousness. I spent an edgy day at the firm before leaving a bit early and heading to DFW. Somewhere in the midst of trading my wool suit for climbing pants, I realized that I was really going to have to climb this thing.

The flight passed slowly. My nerves built as I reread Jim Wickwire's excellent climbing memoir Addicted to Danger. Wickwire accomplished amazing achievements in mountaineering while also practicing law. I sat on the plane wondering whether I would follow in his footsteps or find my own climbing career end on my first three-day "expedition" up the easiest route on the mountain.

As the plane descended, I spotted a peak in the distance, and I felt really confident. It didn't look so bad. I really couldn't see what the fuss was about. Even adjusting for the distance, the peak really didn't seem like a big deal. Rainier ray-schmeer. Apparently the money I had spent hiring the best mountain guides on the planet was unnecessary.

And then the plane landed and turned around. I'm not sure what peak I had spotted earlier, but Rainier was now in my window--and I lost my breath. It's enormous. Absolutely enormous. I knew the mountain was 60 miles away from me, but it still loomed over everything. Tour de force.

I waited for my baggage as Gabriel reserved a rental car. I noticed that my baggage was different that most. Almost every other person from the Dallas flight picked up a rolling bag and a cooler. These people, the sane ones, were up in the Northwest to go fishing for salmon. This is a healthy activity with little chance of plummeting into a crevasse or losing fingers and toes. I picked up my Mountainsmith pack and wondered why this was going to be better than fishing.

I found Gabriel and we headed to his cousin's house on Bainbridge Island. The scenery was beautiful, but the mountain was always right there in the distance. Gabriel's cousins were skeptical that we would make it up, and I was wondering if I would find any confidence myself. We sat in the backyard, sipping coffee, watching a bald eagle in flight, and I wondered if it would be a smarter decision to just enjoy Bainbridge for a few and head home rested.

Fortunately, we had spent a substantial sum reserving our spot on this climb, so we had to climb, out of fiscal responsibility if for no other reason. The time on Bainbridge rocketed by, and it was time to head to Ashford . . . climbing school was a day away.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Texas Bar Exam: Reprise

The advantage of being a sophisticated blogger of such a popular blog is that I have the technological sophistication to know what brings people to my blog. In the beginning, folks came to the Knapp Adventure Blog by clicking on links that we so generously emailed out. Then folks turned to search engines and found us when wondering about "hardebeest" or "South African wine" or "naked culture shock" (actual search terms used . . . I wish I had been inspired to actually write that exact combination of words).

For the past several months, most folks have discovered the blog by searching for "Texas bar exam." Thus, the worst single task of the past 25 years of my life, mentioned briefly in just a couple of posts, became the major source of new traffic to the website. Meanwhile my lengthy and reflective posts on Tibet and the Maasai have produced a mere blip of interest in a planet full of googlers.

When faced with this issue, I really had two options: a) ignore; b) pander. Obviously, I selected the latter option. So, this post exists primarily to pander to the bar exam traffic and maybe help out those stressed souls desperately hoping for a blog to solve their study problems.

In the weeks leading up to the bar exam, I did my own searches for blogs about the Texas bar exam. I found a great post on Above the Law where Above the Law solicited general bar exam advice for anyone who might be seeking help (which is everyone about to take the test). One comment struck me as particularly helpful: "Stop reading blogs and study." Yeah, probably sound advice.

Eventually, I found something that was somewhat reassuring--one blogger's reflection of his own successful study experience. He took it easy in May (I golfed and socialized in various drinking establishments in May), put forth more effort in June (less golf, more reading for me too), and then dedicated his life to the task in July (ditto). Seems to be the formula everyone employs, and it has worked for generations. Presumably it will work for generations to come until, in a blessed rebirth of human wisdom and profound rediscovery of basic human rights, the bar exam is firmly and finally abolished.

As far as actual study tasks, I worked countless practice essays, enough multiple choice questions to know that I felt terrible about the multi-state, and enough Texas procedure questions to realize that the bar examiners repeat the same 20 questions on nearly every test. Practice added the illusion of comfort, but that illusion was vital.

So that is it. My last and most shameless attempt to pander to any steady source of internet traffic. Maybe my next step should be to head to Africa again . . . some naked culture shock could be in order.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yes, The Blog Still Exists

Literally hordes of readers have expressed deep discontent at the lack of recent posts on the renowned Knapp Adventure Blog. Countless readers have been left wandering the earth in utter curiosity about the lives of one famous couple, bound by fate to journey the globe . . . driven by a combination of madness and insatiable wanderlust.

So an update is in order. I would write about our voyage to Timbuktu, Kathmandu, Ouagadougou, and Tuvalu, but, alas, we have not been to any of those places.

We have, however, rooted ourselves in Dallas in a more permanent, 30-year fixed fashion by purchasing a house in Lakewood. The house is a ten-minute walk from White Rock Lake, so we look forward to days of running, biking, rowing and sailing as we slowly get settled in. Here's a shot of the house . . .

Since my last post, I claimed victory in the Chaco Challenge. Originally we planned to let my avid readers vote on the victor, but Mark Everett conceded defeat. Below is an image of domination. Mark Everett requested a rematch, but my feet find themselves permanently encased in leather dress shoes . . . meaning my Chaco Challenge days are behind me.

We are both settling into new jobs and currently face a void in our travel schedule. We went to Austin City Limits Festival a month ago and had a fantastic time as always. Our next adventure will likely consist of a Thanksgiving trip to exotic San Angelo, Texas. Over Christmas we will be in Brenham and Amarillo, and we're hoping to get a ski trip going in February or early March. Otherwise, we'll be kicking it in the Big D, doing some unpacking, and enjoying the fall . . . and maybe, just maybe, I will start blogging more regularly again.
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