"Ah! I'm so excited.....Oh, hey, happy birthday!"
The actual first words out of Mollie's mouth the morning of the 31st. Today was The Day and my birthday. I had forgotten about that fact. Who cares? We had arrived the night before in Washington after driving straight through from Colorado. Never before has getting up at 5:30AM been so easy.
We made some tea, ate a little breakfast, grabbed our packs and headed out. 6:09AM
"Look for a moss covered downed tree at the start of the trail. There is an overhanging mossy tree approx. 30ft down the road"
Solid directions. I don't think there is a worse way to tell someone how to get to the trail head of a mountain hike in the Cascades of Washington. I mean, everything is covered in moss.
The hike was brutal, heinous, extreme, uphill, tough, continuous, and any other word you want to attribute to a hike that is between you and the route of your dreams. I had hiked it before the following December to scout out the approach and gaze in awe at the climb. I never found the start of the route but I knew I was in the right area.
After about 40 minutes of hiking uphill we stopped where in December, I thought the start of the route could be. We looked around for some bolts and all we found was a pair of new Oakley Flak Jacket sunglasses. Sweet. Hey, where is my camera?
Sure enough, I left my camera at the car. I could not climb this route without taking the camera. I don't always want to take photos of climbs or climbing adventure because sometimes things are better left as a mental memory but Infinite Bliss was not one of those situations.
"You want to look for the start while I run back to the car?"
Off I went. Running back downhill to grab a camera just to run back up hill to climb 2,800 vertical feet. What am I doing? What if I get exhausted from this hike and can't climb?
I get back to Mollie with the camera in hand and hope she has found the start of the route and she gave me a discouraging head shake. No? What do you mean, "no"? Where is this route?! Are we even in the right place? Did we turn at the wrong mossy downed tree? What if the National Forest Service finally chopped the bolts? Did we drive all the way out here for nothing? Oh no...
My mind raced with thoughts of negativity. This couldn't happen. Stop it. We got back on the trail, turned up hill and burned out the last bit of heinous trail before it took a sharp left turn straight towards some slab. This is it.
What could you expect from a route like this but a bit of 5 class down climbing to get to your starting belay anchors. Alright! Today is going to be epic.
The first 3 or 4 pitches we simul-climbed before we decided to pitch everything out and get down to business. The bottom 8 or 9 pitches are all awesome slab. I couldn't believe I was enjoying slab so much but how could I not enjoy this? Look where I am! We swung pitches pretty much all day. I took the harder pitches Mollie took the moderate pitches and we split everything else. Pitch after pitch was amazing. "I'm so stoked!" we exclaimed this at every belay. This was awesome and it seemed never ending.
We got up to the part that I always knew was going to be the trouble pitches. Two back-to-back 60m, 5.0 pitches without protection. It wasn't the thought of falling nearly 400 feet before getting arrested; it was the high likelihood of getting off-route and lost.
Mollie took the first 5.0 pitch and sure enough, we got off route, couldn't find the route-anchors but did find a slung bush. Mollie belayed me up to the bush and we took a look around to see what we could see. Nothing but crappy rock. We are standing in the middle of a sea of choss with no chance for pro. Great.
I took the sharp end and started climbing off the slung bush. I hope I find the bolted anchors...I spotted a bush about 60m up and decided to head towards that. Worse comes to worse, I sling the bush and we go from there. This rock sucks. I kept climbing. No need to think about anything else. Crack! A handhold came off in my hand. I think I'll just put that back. I placed the rock back where I found it and found a new one. Just keep climbing.
I arrived at the bush and to much surprise and a little bit of amusement there was a huge tat nest (a jumble of slings left on natural object for belaying and rappelling purposes) on this bush. I guess we aren't the only people that have gotten lost. There were even some brand new slings. Huh, I wonder if those sunglasses belong to the people that left these brand new slings? Man, talk about a sucky day for them...I belayed Mollie up. Yup, still in this sea of choss - with nothing promising within 60m of us in any direction. There, looming above us, as if it had just conquered us, was the final steep headwall, crux pitch and the summit. Oh man, I want that so bad! 5:45PM
We had cruised quite well all day 2.5 pitches an hour. But now, it became real. All day we were climbing, quite literally, in infinite bliss but now it hit us like a brick wall. This is where things could go wrong. We had a couple viable options. 1: Free solo (climb with no rope or protection) approximately 400 ft higher on crappy 5.0-5.4 rock to the trees above where the route should be. 2: Tie the ropes together and belay one of us as we "free solo" the 400 ft to the trees while being belayed off of a bush that couldn't hold a factor 2 fall (length of the fall is two times the length of rope in system. Often can end in catastrophic failure of the anchor) or 3: Bail. Ugh, I hate bailing.
"I'm not cool with free soloing this bit, or climbing unprotected." Me either.
We made the (intelligent) decision to bail. With dwindling light, we found ourselves 17 pitches up (approx. 2,000 vertical feet), 6 pitches from the summit and at the base of the "best climbing on the route" and we had to make one of the hardest decision I've ever had to make. We finished our 2 hour rappel in the dark, hiked out in the dark (Mollie's foot, somehow injured during the climb, kept her from walking faster than 1/2 MPH) and arrived at the car with a full moon looming on the horizon. What time is it?
Never has peppermint schnapps tasted so good.
"Ah, that was so amazing!" These were the last words out of Mollie's mouth before she passed out in the back of the car. Yes, it definitely was.