This trip report was originally titled “Mount Constance with Matt.” The name seemed fitting since that was our intended objective for a four day climbing blitz in the Olympic Mountains, but we never even saw Constance.
I had purchased two tickets for a Memorial Day weekend trip to Washington last December. My girlfriend and I were planning a five day getaway to the Olympic Peninsula with the intention of checking out Port Townsend for a potential future relocation, but we broke up right when I got back from Switzerland in early March. It was too late to get a refund on her ticket, so I was looking forward to having an empty seat and a bit of extra space on the flights. Just a few days before the trip, I invited one of my original climbing partners on a whim; her plans for the long weekend had fallen through, and she eagerly accepted.
Kelly and I caught an early flight from Minneapolis to Seattle, and by 1130 we were driving with my brother Matt toward the Olympic Mountains. The plan was simple: bike and hike into base camp that day, climb Mount Constance and possibly some other, easier objectives in the next three days, and then bike and hike out to catch our return flight on Monday evening. The reality turned out to be much different than the plan.
Matt and I biked the five miles up the washed-out road to the place where the trail reared straight up a steep hill. We only had two bikes so Kelly had to hike, but with the consistent uphill grade and heavy packs slowing our pace, she was able to keep up with us. We cached the bikes under a bridge…and proceeded to walk/climb/suffer straight up the goddamned hill. I’ll cheerfully admit that my cardiovascular fitness was lacking, but I have never ever hated a trail so much as I despised that thing. Upward progress quite often required hand-over-hand climbing, and the original trail setters had apparently never heard of switchbacks. Straight up was the name of the game, and we were all cursing, sweating, and panting a few minutes into the adventure.
As we reached the halfway point of the three thousand foot climb, my stoke level was close to zero. I had left Minnesota with my grandma very close to death, and with each step further into the mountains, my heart felt heavier and more guilty. The mountains have always been a sanctuary for me, a place where I can run to find peace when everything else in life is going wrong. Now, for the first time, the peaks around me felt hostile. I didn’t feel peace or happiness, just an overwhelming desire to get back into cell phone range so I could know what was going on with Grams.
I told Kelly and Matt how I was feeling. Matt’s head was in the same place, but Kelly wanted to keep going. We couldn’t blame her; she hadn’t spent money and taken time off work to sit around Port Townsend and mope. We trudged on, determined to make base camp before the sun went down. Another hour brought us to a short, tricky climb on the trail and an apparent stream crossing. All of us were pretty fed up with “this bullshit” by that point, and we unanimously decided to turn around and make camp a ways down the trail. We continued our downward progress the next morning, and we were back at the car eating pringles by 1030.
We drove back to Port Townsend, each nursing our own thoughts about the misadventure. I know Kelly was disappointed and a bit miffed, but I felt only relief. I was glad to be back in touch with family and have access to updates about my grandma’s condition, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something would have gone horribly wrong if we had stayed in the mountains as planned.
The three of us climbed Mount Angeles on Saturday as a consolation prize, and it was a blast. We got on a bit of low-angle snow, climbed some fourth and fifth class rock, saw a mountain goat, and stood on top of a spectacular summit with amazing views.
Kelly and I attempted another easy climb on Sunday, but bailed one third of the way up because of the smothering fog that moved in and reduced visibility to about twenty feet. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I probably wasn’t good company for the rest of the trip. I tried to put a smile on and be excited, but my mind was fixated on getting home and spending time with Grams before she passed away. I’ve spent a lot of time since the trip thinking about climbing, family, and priorities…about what really matters, and what just seems to matter.
That, however, is a different post for a different time.