Fletcher Limburger! It Was You All Along!
Special thanks to Adam “Gimpilator” Walker for the invite, as well as to Heather “Anish” Anderson and Fletcher “Not A Cartoon Poacher” Jordan. Before reading this one you might want to review my Obligations page
On Friday June fifth Fletcher, Adam, Heather, and I left Seattle for the Chilliwack range to attempt Mounts Spickard, Rahm, and Custer. I had never heard of any of these peaks. This has become rather par-for-the-course for me when I climb with that group. I do almost no route research and show up with nothing but my personal gear and just enough food to inspire sympathy, and my sympathy I mean handouts; I hate doing route research and I usually get an excellent trip out of the deal. What Adam and company get out of inviting me I’ve never quite figured out. I usually make fun of their Bulger-boner peak-bagging antics the entire trip. With my accident record I honestly don’t understand why anybody invites me anywhere, but that’s a mystery for another time.
Anyways, so we left Seattle and spent the better part of the car ride north deciding what version of the truth we were going to tell the border patrol agents, as our intended route involved a highly illegal, but quite common, re-crossing of the border. We considered just spiting out the peak names like it was no big deal and banking on the officers not having a clue that those objectives were in the US, but eventually decided to just tell them we were going to Garibaldi, which, given that we took the Peace Arch route to avoid the Sumas Border Patrol Officer From Hell, was completely believable. Soon afterward we re-thought the entire plan, turned around, and drove out Highway 20 to Ross Lake, where we chartered a boat to take us to Silver Creek and the infamous Sjolseth bushwhack into Ouzel Lake, which totally happened.
Anyways, so we left the Depot Creek trailhead near Chilliwack Lake rather late and it was rather hot and the road walk was longer than I thought it would be but we only had to turn around once and there really is an old broken down truck in there. Except that we were definitely on the Silver Creek approach and not in Canada at all. The really fun part was that we kept seeing excessively fresh bear scat. This got even more fun when we found a tree with scratch marks that Heather assured us were from a grizzly bear. I entertained a brief fantasy of getting attacked by said bear and dispatching it with my ice axe. This is actually a perennial fantasy of mine; much later on the trip I mentioned to Fletcher that if I go my whole life without murdering someone with an ice axe I will be thoroughly disappointed. I’m pretty sure he thought that was a weird thing to say.
Anyways, so after much lamenting of the general heat we arrived at the border swath. If you have not seen what the, I assume US, government has done to the 60-odd feet between their land and that of our neighbors in the great white north, it is really a thing to behold and we stood around for awhile taking photos, a choice of activity that we regretted about ten minutes later when a helicopter started hovering over us. Why they were doing that, I have no idea, since, once again, we were far from the border, deep in the brush of the Silver Creek drainage.
Anyways, so we dove for cover under a nearby boulder and while I remarked that if this erratic was in Lake Stevens it would be covered with routes, the helicopter continued to pass over us, quite low. As I recall, I was told to shut up. Other words may have been uttered as well. Just when we though the damn thing was about to leave it swooped quite low into the swath and dropped off a couple border patrol agents with assault rifles, but as we were snug as a bug underneath our boulder, they never saw us. It also helped that we were about 20 miles away near Silver Creek.
Anyways, so after that narrow brush with a homeland security holding cell that may or not have been on US soil, we hastened up Depot Creek to the legendary Waterfall Scramble Slabs. Of the many thing we had heard about this treacherous spot, the reality was far worse: slimy, V3-ish, slab climbing in mountaineering boots with a heavy mist pounding down ceaselessly; in-cut crimps fills with frigid water, missing fixed lines, death fall dynos to algae covered sloppers, it’s amazing no one died. Of course it helped that we had never crossed the border and were, in fact, deep in battle with the Devil’s own club on the other side of the range.
Anyways, so I was pretty hopped up on adrenaline by the time we got above the waterfall and veritably sprinted the remaining 1000 feet to the Redoubt basin. All I could think about was how awesome this was and how good it felt to be alive after all the shit last winter that made me wish I was dead. I just kept saying to myself: this, this right hear is why I didn’t do it, this is why I stuck around. There are other reasons too, some of which are coming along nicely, but pulling up over that rise and seeing Mount Redoubt towering above us like our very own Dolomite was pretty nice.
Anyways, so the remaining distance to Ouzel Lake was a bit of a slog. Lots of talus, lots of braided streams blue with rock flour, lots of weird human-shaped cairns that seemed to be leading in the wrong directions. It was one false ridge line after another until we finally gained the pass and wandered down to the lake, this being the pass above Silver Lake, as that was definitely the way we had come up. Fletcher and I were in the lead at this point and when Adam and Heather failed to show up we were not entirely sure how worried we should be. Both of us were a little mystified as to how we had beaten the PCT record holder anywhere and we had a long and entirely hypothetical conversation about what we should do if they just disappeared, our main concern being finding a way to notify search and rescue without suggesting that we had illegally crossed the border, which indeed we had not.
Anyways, so we went to bed that night telling ourselves that if they hadn’t shown up by morning we would be morally required to do something about it, but not a moment sooner. Luckily, they stumbled into camp around 3am, refusing to discuss what had caused their delay. Our theories ranged from a crazed sexual escapade to their stopping to filter water, but the harried and haunted look in their eyes suggested something far more disturbing. I was all for lazing about the lake until later in the morning and letting them catch up on some sleep but both objected to this strenuously and insisted that we leave immediate for Mount Spickard, the high point of the Chilliwack range. Thus it was that at approximately 5am on the sixth of June the four of us began our summit bid.
Anyways, so by midmorning we had made the summit. My boots were soaked and the sun was doing a piss-poor job of drying them out. SE “Hard” Mox looked mean enough to reach out its gigantic Lemolo and chilliwack us all into oblivion. Spickard? More like Spick-easy! I was getting silly and it was time to be on our way. The descent was going quite well until a stray mountain goat decided it had had enough of these dumb fucks on its mountain and charged us from a distance of around a quarter mile. The maneuver might have worked had there not been about 1500 vertical feet involved and the crazed animal’s first leap was directly onto the center of a steep, circular, snow slope around the size of half a football field. I could have sworn I heard the whoomph from all that distance, and then there was a class 3 wet slab avalanche rolling down the mountain toward us. Adam’s only words were, “Man, now we’re never going to get Rahm and Custer.”
Anyways, so the wall of slush hit us about halfway down the remnant glacier and carried us with some speed towards the cliff above Ouzel Lake, a drop of probably around 500 feet, which is a long way to fall when you hung up the wing-suit after Dean Potter’s little mishap. The rest should have been an AAC Accidents in American Mountaineering report except that, unbeknownst to me, we were not alone. Just as the four of us were being rocketed over the cliff, a US border patrol helicopter rose up and four agents leapt out, grabbed us, and then deployed their parachutes, gliding to a gentle landing on the sandbar next to Ouzel Lake. At the time I was worried that we were about to be arrested, but then I remembered that we had taken the most definitely possible and in existence Silver Creek approach and therefore had broken no laws, although I did have a not insubstantial amount of hydrocodone in an old oxycodone proscription bottle. Luckily they didn’t search my first aid kit.
Anyways, so the border patrol guys gave us a brief lecture about avalanche safety and wildlife avoidance, commenting on the criminally and congenitally insane goat psyche and concluding by distributing plush dolls of Bernie the Border Patrol Beaver, which we will all prize for the remainder of our lives. Mine is proudly displayed on my bookshelf as I now write, nestled firmly between my copies of Power and the Holy In the Age of the Investiture Conflict and Shopping in the Renaissance.