Snowshoe Fail: A Rewarding Experience on Mt. Baker

Kitsap Branch member Tina Fox recounts her first big mountain experience on Mt. Baker, full of struggle and reward.
Tina Fox Tina Fox
Kitsap Branch Climbing Student & Instructor
June 03, 2018

I joined The Mountaineers two years ago – I am new to the “wild” outdoors – with Basic Wilderness Skills (BWS) as my first course. Prior to that, I was having difficulty getting questions answered about what I should wear so I didn’t die of exposure. I came to Bremerton from arid desert climate, where a t-shirt and jeans are the accepted hiking attire. I needed someone to give me the low down on what the heck “hard shells and base layers” were. Susan Graham and the BWS team gave me the core tidbits I needed to do more. 

I took as many courses as I could that first year, then set my sights on trying something new: Basic Alpine Climbing. I worked very hard to be well-prepared during my Basic Course last year, knowing that the physical conditioning was to be the greatest hurdle for me. Most of my peers already had extensive experience with other outdoor activities. I relied upon my self-education, mentors, and friends to make sure that I was well prepared.

Then came Mt. Baker…

I was feeling good about myself, accepting that I might be on the last team up, but knowing that climbing Mt. Baker was now within my abilities. What I wasn’t prepared for was the snowshoe. Snowshoeing had NOT been part of my training program, and I had been on snowshoes twice in my life before this trip – both times with not so great results.

In the prior week, we were advised that needing to wear snowshoes was a strong possibility, and an instructor loaned me a pair of snowshoes specifically designed for mountaineering – yes, all snowshoes are not designed for all places! I had pared my load down to 48lbs, making it 60lbs with a 60 meter climbing rope. I knew I could do it. 

I realized quickly the snowshoes were going to make it rough. I had to pick myself up after numerous falls in the first few miles. As I was nursing a shoulder injury from the previous week, I chose to do this with the pack on. I also did not want to burden the instructors with having to assist me with my pack after each fall. They were patient, kind – knowing I was fighting a personal battle in my head as well. They were giving me beta on technique, even commenting that it had to be the snowshoes…

A few miles in, and just before we no longer needed the snowshoes, the rear sweep changed and Debbee Straub, the new instructor taking up the post, commented that she believed my snowshoes were on the wrong feet. UGH! For the short distance remaining, no more falls! However, the exertion had worn on me, both physically and mentally. Debbee helped me to recover a positive mindset and got me up to snow camp.

All I wanted to do was to crawl into my tent and rest. My tent mate had cleared the area, boiled water for dinner, and was so encouraging, patiently waiting for me with the other half of the tent gear. 

And then the tent pole broke…

This was not as traumatic as it sounds. By this time, I knew I was with a group who focused on the practice that the TEAM is the most important part of every adventure. This will probably be my most perfect imperfect adventure, for it was this trip that made me understand the dedication of The Mountaineers to educate, guide, and be part of the progress of each of its members. Thank you to all of my trip mates who made this such a rewarding experience. They made the trip all the sweeter, and I'm happy to be paying it forward this year as a volunteer instructor for crevasse rescue.... on Mt. Baker.