Scrambling peaks isn’t easy, but it has its rewards

  • By Jessi Loerch, Herald writer
  • Friday, January 17, 2014 4:06pm
  • Life

Brian Booth loves high places. And he’s willing to work hard to get there.

Booth is one of the instructors for the Everett Mountaineers scrambling course, which begins in February. Scrambling is off-trail travel to a summit. It’s somewhere between hiking and technical climbing.

Booth has scrambled many peaks in the Cascades and one of his favorite is Mount Ruth, an 8,690-foot peak near Mount Rainier.

So in July last year, after the Everett scrambling class was done, he organized an epic weekend near the mountain.

With him were three students who had just finished the Everett class, along with four students from Seattle and two scramblers who already had experience.

As part of the scrambling class, students must complete three scrambles after the course to graduate.

This trip helped fulfill that obligation, and gave the students undeniable bragging rights.

The plan for the weekend was to summit two peaks: Mount Ruth and Goat Island Mountain, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

The group arrived the night before, to camp together. Early Saturday they hit the trail. But this is scrambling not hiking, so they weren’t on a trail for long. They climbed to the top of Mount Ruth, 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

“It was a bluebird day,” Booth said. “The view was unbelievable.”

From the peak, they had an excellent view perched above the climbing route. And they could look over the edge, nearly a 4,000- foot drop, to Rainier’s Emmons Glacier.

Eva Wilson, one of the Everett students, remembers watching people make their way up to Camp Sherman on the way to the peak of Rainier.

“Rainier seemed doable from there for the first time,” she said.

Scrambling is an adventure. It doesn’t require the ropes used for technical climbing, but even without the ropes, it requires many skills. Scramblers need to know how to use a map and compass. They also need skills such as self-arresting with an ice ax and glissading.

The students experienced glissading, a controlled slide down a snow or ice field, on the way down from Ruth. It’s part of the appeal of the peak, Booth said.

He thinks it’s the best glissade in the Cascades, with the exception of Mount Adams. The slope is long and just the right angle; it’s fun but not so steep that the glissader has to constantly control speed.

The next day the group tested many of the other skills they learned in the class, including endurance.

On that day, they headed to Goat Island Mountain, elevation 7,288 feet.

“Goat Island is more technically challenging,” Booth said.

The route is not as straight-forward, and requires a lot of map and compass work, as well as plenty of bushwhacking.

By the time the team reached the summit, they were tired, and they’d earned the view.

“It was just an absolute gorgeous day, and there was just an absolute sense of accomplishment among the group,” said Ken Bosket of Arlington, who took the scramble course in 2008.

“We could really see the majesty of the glaciers from that perspective.”

Then came the real test of their skills: descending a different way than the climb up.

“There were features on the ridge that were not on the map. There were only two easy ways down, but the map makes it look like you can go any way,”Booth said.

“We went laterally at least three times before we found a way down,” he said.

After that they still had a tricky creek to ford and some more navigating through the forest before they finally reached the relative ease of the trail.

Even though it was challenging and exhausting, Wilson has fond memories of the trip.

“It’s kind of fun to be lost. I wouldn’t say we were lost — it’s like looking for treasure,” she said.

Once they were back on the trail, the trip was straightforward. They were only delayed one more time — by a herd of elk crossing the road on the drive home.

Wilson, who spends as much time as she can in the mountains, discovered that her Mountaineers training has opened doors for her.

“Some people don’t want to hike with you unless you have Mountaineers training,” she said. “It’s given me more confidence and people recognize it.”

Everett scrambling

The scrambling course begins Feb. 20 and includes six lectures and three field trips. Students need to complete a navigation course. Get more information and register at www.everettmountaineers.org/scrambling/scramble.html.

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