Monday, June 29, 2009

Solitude on Kaleetan

I really enjoy hiking with others, but today I wanted some solitude: Time to think, time for silence, time for reflection. For me, solitude is a “spiritual discipline” that helps me re-gain perspective on God and issues of life. Going into the wilderness gives me the opportunity to get a first hand look at the greatness of God’s handiwork. So I laced on my trail running shoes and set out for the Denny Creek trailhead.

I have never climbed Kaleetan before. It is a 12 mile round trip, 4000 feet of elevation gain and described by most as a challenging scramble. It is an impressive mountain to see. It was once called “The Matterhorn”. Kaleetan means arrow. That kind of says it all. I have viewed it from the surrounding peaks and wondered what kind of path would enable a person to reach its summit.

Arriving at the parking lot at 8:15 a.m., there wasn’t a single other car in the lot! My trip to Malakwa Lake went quickly. I jogged as often as I could and hiked when running become difficult. Made it to the lake in 75 minutes. The lake was mostly frozen and much of my hiking from then on was in the snow. I slowed my pace as I made my way along the lakeshore and above Upper Malakwa. The snow provided a nice flat service for quick progression up the valley floor.

The valley heading up toward Malakwa Pass is magnificent. Kaleetan and Chair Peaks grew more and more intimidating as I contemplated the climb that was still ahead.

It was near the top of the valley that the real challenges began. What route was I to take? I had a basic scramble route description, but the boot paths from the past weekend were mostly made by crampon wearing climbers who were able to safely ascend the steep slow slopes to the higher levels of the mountain. I had to be careful on the snow. When climbing solo I am extremely conservative and cautious. My adrenaline was pumping with each step.

I was reminded that risk management was the key. I also have a saying that I repeat as I climb: “One safe step at a time”. I paused on a rocky outcropping, snapped some photos and a video, had some water and updated my Twitter. I quickly heard back from a friend of mine who I asked to pray that I be wise and find a safe summit route.

After calming my heart I continued my ascent up a narrow gully, finding strong foot holds and hand holds. I knew that the down-climb was going to test me, but I was still confident that I could make this same route down. Eventually I reached the top of the ridge where I was thrilled to find a well worn trail. This trail took me straight up to the summit with surprising ease.

It was great being on top of this mountain! I signed the summit register, found an old plaque/map, took lots of photos, had some food and water, called my daughter and left a message with my wife. The sun was brilliant; there was scarcely a cloud in the sky and absolutely no wind. The views of Glacier Peak, Stuart, Chair Peak, Rainier and Adams were all impressive.

Going down I was determined to follow the “strongest” and clearest path. I ended up taking a route down a gully closer to the saddle and down the East face. I was afraid I would get cliffed out so I worked my way carefully down as an old worship chorus kept going through my head “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way.”. “We’ll see”, I kept telling myself. It ended up being a real nice route that I was able to down-climb with confidence. The last 100 feet was on snow, facing the snow and kicking foot holds as a worked my way down.

From there I traversed loose rock back down to the valley floor where the smooth surface of the snow welcomed me.

No one else was in this valley today. The first time I saw another person was at Malakwa Lake where a couple of polar bears were swimming around in the ice. It was a frightening sight to see since they were missing their swim suits. I was chuckling to myself as I regained the main trail and resumed my jog back to my car.

In the end I was surprised how good I felt physically. I made great time over the last three miles.

The solitude was refreshing. Overcoming the challenges this scramble presented me with tested me and caused me to address and overcome my fears. I was thankful for the physical health to be able to have this experience. There are several options that take us to our destination – some are easier then others but when you know your destination the challenge is in discovering a good route. It takes patience, humility and perseverance.

Check out all the photos and the video at:
6259 feet
12 miles
Elevation gain: 4000 feet.

Starting time: 8:15 a.m.
Back to car: 1:25 p.m.
5 hrs. 10 minutes.


Anonymous said...

Wow Matt, what a stud! Enjoyed your photos and commentary. I especially appreciate your discipline of solitude and the importance it brings to a fresh prospective on life.

Blessings and have a great day.


Bob Horn said...

Nice work Matt! Cycling across flat Kansas plains in 100 degree heat sure makes me long for the cool slopes and forests of the Cascades! But I had you beat on altitude a few days ago on Monarch Pass, CO. We were at 11,312 ft.!