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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Summer began in Anchorage...Part III
Matt Seats
In part II, the Prescott College (PC) summer Wilderness Leadership class had finished an epic 35-mile traverse of the Eklutna Glacier and was heading for North Cascades National Park near Marblemount, Washington. Half of the class headed for Eldorado Peak and the other half hiked toward Boston Basin. Each group had the mission of scouting the region around their camp and determining climbing routes and curriculum to teach students who would join us later.                                                                                                                     

Following our weeks of logistical preparation, snow climbing and mountaineering, lesson planning and location scouting, crevasse rescue practice, risk management discussions and planning, we were ready to welcome our practicum students. The marmots were out in full force, whistling their greetings to the                   newcomers.

The next two weeks were filled with early morning alpine-starts, lessons on snow travel, crevasse travel, and glaciology, rock climbing with boots (and crampons) on, and generally loving our classroom - the mountains of Washington state. Climbing such ominous sounding peaks as the shark’s fin and Forbidden Peak, we led our groups across glaciers and snow bridges, up snow and rock to Sahale, Eldorado (below), and Tepeh Towers.

Weather was generally very kind to us throughout the course. The last two days threw us a little extra rain though. Our final descents off Sahale and the Shark’s fin were accompanied by torrential rain and Volkswagen-sized boulders crashing down the slopes around us. Running and glissading down the rock and snow slopes brought us all down safely, and after changing into dry clothes we all had some great stories to share. The next day, both of our groups hiked back down to the trailhead – where we discovered that we had become part of a group being talked about on the nightly news. It seems that the deluge of rain the day before had flooded Boston Creek. The main bridge into North Cascades National Park (NCNP) had vanished the night before as boulders, trees and high water levels erased the concrete and steel structure from the landscape.

            The official report read, “Thunderstorms moved through the western part of NCNP during the afternoon and early evening of Saturday, August 11th, dumping heavy rain within a short period of time. This caused the Cascade River Road to wash out at its junction with Boston Creek, stranding approximately 25-35 vehicles parked at the Cascades Pass Trailhead 1½ miles above the washout. Sixty-five stranded people stayed the night in their vehicles.”
            Our party of ten, part of that 65, had actually spent the night warm and safe in our tents on the mountain. We awoke enveloped by a beautiful cloud, dressed and had breakfast, broke camp and hiked back to the parking lot…where we learned that we were considered storm refugees. The National Park Service was completely on top of their game though. Food was heli-dropped to all of stranded in the parking lot, and within hours a temporary earth bridge had been built to allow us to leave.

Reluctantly we ended our adventure-filled months of glaciers and mountains and faced south to Arizona. It was time to end the summer and return to school. Some flew back from Seattle, while the rest of us piled into the Prescott College van for a two day road trip. People ask me how my summer was and I smile. It was: fun, cold, hot, hungry, wet, dry, a feast, tiring, educational, thrilling, scary, and AMAZING! 

I will always remember the challenges and rewards of PC Wilderness Leadership.

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