Yet another long weekend descended upon us at the beginning of an unusually scorching July and for once Beth and I had a calendar that aligned and an appetite for an adventure. It took us a while to narrow down the scope of our psyche to a long alpine rock route with a non glacier approach (only to reduce the logistics and time in an approach vs maximise time on rock). We set our sights on a route called Dreamer on Green Giant Buttress in Darrington Washington. I’d driven through Darrington before but neither of us had ever climbed there, although Beth and Paul had previously tried to get on the route but had gone painfully wrong on the approach resulting in a 6-hour bush-whack that took them no closer to the base. The ordeal seemed to cause them both a lot of heart-ache so I didn’t push for more information. I guess it was long enough ago for Beth’s psyche for the route to return again though.
(Green Giant Buttress in the centre)
Dreamer offers a 10-pitch climb on swooping granite slabs with lots of interesting stumpy chicken heads for delicate 5.7-5.8 climbing low down and burlier crack climbing for the 5.9 grade higher on the route. It sounded like a great proposition for a fun outing for the Denny-Jaddles partnership to be reunited.
Both in need of a bit of a rest (and because we couldn’t really agree on a destination that got us both inspired enough for 3 days worth of climbing) we favoured a leisurely Saturday morning departure time over the usual Friday night-right after work-scramble to the border. This would find us at camp after a shopping stop off at REI in Bellingham and a good feed at the taco truck still with plenty of time to set up our tents in the light, get organised for the route the next day and make up a good dinner. As an ode to our friends who were away on a ‘Pontiki’ adventure on a boat on the sunshine coast, which we slightly guiltily opted out of in lieu of a climbing adventure, we made up our own ‘backcountry’ tiki drinks with a cleverly crafted umbrella Beth made from an old trail map and some twigs! The chilled cocktails were very much welcomed in the continued evening heat.
(Back country tiki drinks!)
With a full summer day ahead of us and a possibly unwarranted confidence about our ability to thrash out 10-pitches of 5.9 in a reasonable time, we took a reasonably leisurely approach to starting out in the morning. Rising around 7am and leaving camp around 8am by the time we had tackled the dirt road challenge in Matey (Beth’s trust Toyota Matrix) to the assumed parking spot we were probably on the trail not much earlier than 9am. Still feeling good about the time and the remaining daylight.
We shortly stumbled across a disheveled looking duo bivvied by the side of their truck a little way up the path who we assumed must have done something huge the day before. They looked pretty beat as they slouched out their sleeping bags to make coffee with effort. As we chatted to them they revealed they had endured a ‘huge’ day on Dreamer. We felt a little guilty stumbling in at the slovenly hour that it we were compared to their ‘6am’ start. Thier one imperative piece of beta being to ‘take PLENTY of water’. We walked away as I reassured Beth were still on the money with our decision making, almost cocky with complacency.
It didn’t take long on the walk-in to work out that the temps that day were going to be excruciatingly grueling. Beth found the hidden tunnel opening essential to picking up the runnel trail through the drainage line pretty easily and we started what would turn out to be a 2.5hr slog to the base of the route. As Beth groaned with every thorny bush that attacked our bare skin I threw back stupid amounts of our water supply, stopping to catch my breathe in the insane humidity much more than I would usually need to. My stoic confidence started to reveal some cracks as I wondered if maybe ginger beard and his buddy from the bivy earlier were right about the seriousness of the long day ahead of us and the amount of water we might need, I wasn’t ready to admit it though.
We popped out of the vegetated runnel with a bit of a battle with branches and thorns and as we emerged onto the baking slabs near the base of the route I realised I had lost my half full water bottle somewhere in the midst of the undergrowth. I was a little too preoccupied with awe for the cool looking granite sweeping above to worry too much about it at the time though.
Thankfully we found the start of the route with relative ease at a bolted belay and soon I was romping up the first 5.7 slabby corner with ease. The pitch was run out but I felt confident enough to enjoy the climbing without much stress, with the thick black rubber under my feet burning my flesh with every step though I did ponder how stressful the situation might be for the 5.9 climber, let alone the 5.7 climber. Beth made short work of seconding the pitch, trailing another line behind her for the abseil and with a swift change over I was off on the next pitch. This time a 5.8, equally run out and slabby with some really cool chicken heads scattered about the rock for the occasional solid foot hold. Although in the heat the polished little features felt pretty slick and not as reassuringly solid as I had wanted, I moved quickly so that my shoes didn’t have time to slip off and so that I didn’t think too hard about the quality of the old, thin bolts that I had only clipped every 10m or so.
Romping in the heat over run-out terrain definitely left me a little short of breathe when I reached the belay stations however and I was certainly feeling the consequences of being so exposed in such incredible heat, light headed and dizzy I chugged back the water clipped to my harness before bringing Beth up who seemed to be dealing with the sun much better than me despite her red-head’s complexion.
After some more wandering slabs and chicken heads we started to reach the 5.9 crack terrain and I concentrated a little more on way finding since many more bolted stations seemed to be appearing for other routes that could easily confuse the situation. Fairly confident we were still on route I enjoyed some burlier crack climbing with natural pro. Although the climbing was well within my capabilities and should have been super fun, the added physicality of the crack climbing only intensified my suffering in the heat and every twist of the foot into a crack felt like someone was taking a flame to my toes. I arrived at the belay at the end of the 5th pitch (halfway up the route) dizzy, delusional and aware I was making some very weird oral contortions in an effort to generate saliva but unable to stop myself from doing it. I was completely out of water and unable to communicate with Beth effectively to let her know I was secure until I had ripped the scorching shoes from my feet. I could tell she was worried and so was I. With five more pitches to go in the midday sun and next to no water left, the prognosis was inevitable. Even if I made it to the top on that little water and despite my cramping muscles, we had ten pitches to abseil too. I knew she was a good enough friend to insist we went down and although reluctant to admit it, I knew she would be right.
As she reached the belay she gave me her remaining water and started to lead the abs. I was thankful that Beth hopped on the task with such conviction as although the line looked fairly obvious and straightforward, conjuring the brain power to take control of the situation for the both of us was way more effort than was within my remit at that point.
Although we were going down my situation wasn’t going to get any better until we hit a water source, which was going to be the waterfall at the base of the drainage line bush-whack, or more optimistically if we happened to magically stumble across the half bottle of water I’d dropped on the way up. Obviously my imagination was pinned to that outcome.
Beth was the best friend and climbing partner one could hope for in that type of situation, with no qualms about sacrificing our success on the route for my comfort/safety and being very understanding about my situation on the walk out despite seemingly having little problem in dealing with hydration and the intense heat herself.
A real low point came when we realised that a lack of nutrition was probably adding to the muscle cramps I’d been experiencing since the second or third pitch. I was too dehydrated to contemplate food but as we coiled the ropes and my biceps spasmed I decided to try to force down the most accessible snack I’d brought – a dry peanut trail bar. This was a complete failure as with next to no ability to generate saliva there was no way I was capable of chewing and effectively swallowing the bar. I tossed it aside deciding to give it a go again when we hit water.
Feeling like never before after a hot and tiring day on the rock Beth and both plunged ecstatically into the pools at the bottom of the waterfall, running to reach them as soon as they came into view. It sounds like I’m really sensationalizing the situation for a good story but if this is how it is reading to you it is only down to the fact that my poor writing skills are incapable of portraying quite how surprised I was at how terrible I felt in a perceptibly typical situation; I mean, its not like I’ve not endured exposure to heat on a rock climb before, or indeed needed to tough things out a little and on top of that, the climb should have been well within both our grade limits, but I honestly have never felt so seriously dehydrated and unsafe to continue before ever.
Despite not finishing the route I think Beth and I both felt like we had endured a challenging adventure that weekend and came away with lots of lessons to learn from: never underestimate an endeavor, there is no such thing as starting too early – you can just go to the pub sooner if you finish earlier than intended, take more water than you think and then add more on a hot day and finally, when we go back to do battle with ‘Dreamer’ again, which I fully intend to do, make sure not to attempt it on the hottest day of the year at 30 degrees Celsius!
As an addendum to this trip report I’d like to pass on the findings of my research on the area and route prior to setting off on the weekend, I didn’t find too much that you wouldn’t in a shorting interneting session, but if it helps to cut that short at all here is where a good topo can be found at http://www.mattsea.com/Darr/pdf/dreamer.pdf. This is totally awesome and a great big thanks to the guys who made it available. Because I get confused easily but because I also like tinkering in adobe I changed the graphics a little to make it easier to read the route if anyone wants it. There is also a good photo topo that came in pretty handy in the Washington Rock guide.