Tomyhoi Peak, WA - Southeast Slopes

July 26 - 27, 2004

Dave Svilar, Chuck Schelle


For a brief moment I was transferred to another time and place.  Chuck's eyes, barely visible behind an overgrown mop of a haircut, were undergoing the first phases of turning bloodshot as he sipped this week's cheapest beer from the local grocery, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  On the opposite end of the couch Martineau's shirtless chest revealed sagging pectorals and sparse chest hair that seemed to be attempting to cover what was becoming of his post-college body.    Without even taking his hand out of his pants as I walked through the door Martineau grunted a familiar greeting, "where is my beer?"  Watching Martineau blow his nose into a dirty napkin and then throw it on the floor made me realize just how much things had not changed in the past five years.

Minus Fred, Chuck and Martineau for better or worse, were my college roommates at Western Washington and still two of my best friends.  Gone were the days when Martineau would hang pictures of me sitting on the toilet around campus, or when Chuck would assume his second persona, the Cobra, and deliver sermons about 'what it is to be a Viking' to the freshmen dorms.  But, for a brief moment, the three of us sitting around with our hands down our pants watching SportsCenter took me back to the days when we did the same thing on Friday nights and wondered why none of us had girlfriends.  Now we were older, which simply meant instead of sitting up until 2 a.m. we passed out before 11 p.m.

Luckily, for Chuck and I our motivations went beyond sitting on the couch and watching television - we were to climb Tomyhoi Peak via the scramble route.  Our plans opened up, so we decided to make it an overnight instead of a one day outing which lent time for a stop at the local grease-ball cafe for breakfast.  Besides myself Chuck would be the cheapest person I know, so when the bill came it sat between us for several tense moments.  We finally agreed to split the days expenses, after all we were two old pals who hadn't spent much time together in the past few years, and now was hardly a time to get bogged down in our own stinginess.

The trail started at a higher elevation, so the tree line came before we were ready, exposing us to the heat of the midday sun.  It was fun to catch up with Chuck as our paths on the road of life seemed to be merging once again.  My first memories of Chuck were in heated basketball traveling team matchups in junior high, and later as fierce rivals for the Snohomish Panther and Everett Seagull hoop teams.  We became closest of friends at school in Bellingham suffering through long hours of study in the chemistry building.  After graduation our paths hit a fork in the road as Chuck headed to Santa Barbara for graduate school and I headed towards the misery of a lab job.  As we passed open, grassy slopes spotted with the occasional wildflower it was almost ironic to me that we were once again on the same path - to become high school science teachers.

NOT A CINCH  Finding a bivy was not easy as the crowds forced us upwards from the lakes.

We approached what are known as the Yellow Aster Buttes, which are a couple of lumps on a ridge with a series of attractive tarns dotting the alpine meadows below.  Even through a thick mat of haze views of nearby Mt Shuksan and Mt Baker were extraordinary.  Unfortunately, the easy nature of the hike and the appealing scenery had attracted a large gathering of women.  I say 'unfortunately' because these weren't the type of women that you always dream of finding in the woods.  Quite the opposite, these women were not only unattractive, but seemed to have no regard for the fragile terrain in which they were trampling with their well-fed bodies.  One woman who resembled her dog, a mutt cross of Dotson and Basset Hound, didn't even make an effort to stay on the trail, dragging herself and her ugly dog across fragile alpine grasses and heather.  Chuck yelled at her stay on the trail and I chose to seethe silently.  We made the wise decision to continue up the arm towards Tomyhoi since that was our objective anyhow.

TOMYHOI ARM  Chuck takes in views of hazy Mt Shuksan.


DO NOT EAT  Never taste the pink snow.

Views of nearby peaks turned into views of endless ridges of rugged terrain that improved with each upward step above the Yellow Aster Buttes and the treacherous group of women who were threatening the meadows.  Relieved to find water from snowmelt we came to the crest of the ridge before it drops down into a saddle and decided to throw down our bivy sacks.  Shortly after a light snack and some water we made the rest of the hike to the summit problems of Tomyhoi Peak. 

According to Chuck, this was the point where he usually decides stay back.  I assured him (after all, I was a climber) that although I did not have the route description in hand, the climbing was only Class 3 (need to use hand and footholds, but easy climbing).  We dug out our ice axes to pass the top of the glacier and then came over the top of a false summit.  Looking down and across towards the last couple of hundred feet to the summit I mistakenly deduced that the rock looked too steep and the glacier was once again the way to go.  As the snow became steep we dove into the moat formed between the melting snow and rock.  At the end of the moat the choices for the final 150 feet of climbing were a steep 45 degree snow finger and wet rock to the left.  Remembering that it should only be 'class 3' I urged Chuck on and started the rock climbing.  At this point Chuck wisely no longer trusted my judgment and decided to stay put.  This was about the same point I realized it was certainly not class 3 as I was precariously stemming between the steep, wet rock and snow.  Fifty feet of low class five moves put me back on the ridge where I topped out a couple of minutes later.

OFF ROUTE  Chuck dives into the safety of a moat.

I tapped the summit and immediately headed down more than a little worried about how I would get down in one piece.  Using hand jams and underclings I swung back into the moat, this time on the other side of the snow finger.  The opposite side proved to be even less promising as the rock was steep, polished and covered with a layer of traction-less slime.  Somewhere near the verge of panic a snow ramp appeared like a beacon in the night allowing me to exit the dreadful moat.  However, the battle was not yet won, as I continued my mini-epic by down climbing the steep snow finger without the use of my ice axe.  To my extreme relief the snow was perfect for step kicking and I cautiously proceeded down using my steps for handholds.  The entire time Chuck watched and yelled words of encouragement, but probably thought to himself, "this guy is supposed to be a climber?"

Upon reaching safety we quickly retraced our steps back to camp knowing we had a sunset to watch, a meal to eat, and alcohol to consume.  To me, nothing is as joyous as a bivy in a pristine alpine setting of the North Cascades.  Alone on this unspoiled ridge top Chuck and I finished the last of a Monarch Vodka pint and promptly downed a small dinner.  The sun setting at our backs over the tidewater that separates Canada and Vancouver Island lit up Shuksan, silhouetted Baker and made the lovely alpine meadows around us glow.  Already a bit faded from the cheap Vodka, Chuck broke out the cheese and crackers, and I uncorked the wine.  Nothing could take the perma-grin off my face on this splendid Cascades night, not even the mosquitoes who must have been drunk themselves from sucking our blood. 

O' CANADA  Chuck points towards the Border Peaks marking the entrance to his homeland.


CUTTIN' THE CHEESE  Chuck prepares the cheese and crackers.


WINE AND DINE  Dave sips the last of the wine (Tomyhoi in background).

Warm temperatures and swarming bugs in our ears, even at 6,000 feet kept us awake most of the night.  I arose a couple of hours before sunrise and scouted some photographs in the meadows near where we were bivied.  A couple of hours after sunrise we packed and headed down the trail once again passing the grim sight of the tarns of Yellow Aster Buttes.  Congratulating ourselves on the decision to camp higher we passed what seemed to be a tent in every meadow and every rock.  Glad to have spent quality time with Chuck before heading back to Colorado I split with him back at his filthy house in Bellingham and headed south to the Indigo Girls concert scheduled later that night at the Pier in Seattle.  There is nothing like a summer in the Northwest.     


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