Friday, April 29, 2011

Steepest summit yet

Distance: Unknown. Somewhere between 5-8 miles

Elevation gain: About 3,700 feet

Even for those who regularly climb, Mount Teneriffe isn’t well-known because it is overshadowed by nearby Mount Si. But Mount Teneriffe - which tops out at 4,800 feet - is higher, steeper, more treacherous and offers a chance at solitude that few peaks can.

There’s no parking lot, no signage, just a locked gate at the start of a dirt road in a North Bend neighborhood. The climb is slow and gradual over a network of dirt roads and into a shadowy forest. It isn’t long before the terrain becomes overrun with slick boulders that cut into a series of switchbacks. Once I huffed and puffed my way back into the trees, pausing periodically to peer through the fog at the town below, the narrow path shot upward as rain began to fall.

In a mile or so, I reached Teneriffe Falls and carefully picked my way over a small hill to catch a glimpse of the thundering falls. It was too steep and slippery for me to get right next to the waterfall but even through the branches, the tumbling water looked magnificent. After another few hundred feet of elevation gain, the rain transformed into snow and the temperature noticeably dropped.

It was about then that the trail disappeared into the snow and I began climbing straight up, navigating over a knifepoint and shooting up the mountain. Slowly. There were several feet of snow on the ground and when I’d lose my footing every once in a while, I’d end up thigh-deep in white powder. Within 500 feet of the summit, we began postholing to the point where we considered turning around. But we just couldn’t do it, knowing we were so close.

We reached the mountaintop after a little more than two hours. It was the most anticlimactic climbing moment I’ve had. There was nothing to see but white in every direction and I couldn’t even shimmy to the edge and look over due to the possible cornice danger. So I skirted to a ridge and looked down a few feet before chalking the day up to a summit rather than scenery and heading back to warmth.

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