|The wall that looms over Camp 2: better than coffee|
That sound, I find, is both soothing and ominous in the deafening silence of such a wilderness, and its portent is never known until you yourself start moving, too.
|A view of the scorpion-tail of Mt. Hunter|
Our rope team order has now been well established. Nate leads, Craig belays from the middle, and I carry large bunches of 4-foot willow wands and mark our route. My other two jobs are 1) to pull the protection pieces Nate has placed above as I pass them—ice screws, snow pickets, and other anchors—and 2) to place those same protections for my team behind me as I lead the rope team on the way down.
A few days ago, I was in this same role in the larger group's carry from Crosson base camp up the fixed lines to Camp 1, but I was asked to leave those anchors in place as I passed them because we'd need them there the next day to move camp up the route, too.
|A bunch of wands sticking out of my pack on a break stop. |
Oh yeah, and an INCREDIBLE view.
But because today, like the other day, was just a carry and descent back to Camp 2, I followed what I thought was the correct protocol once more, and left all the pickets I passed right where they were in the snow, thinking logically based on yesterday, that we'd again need them tomorrow.
About 800 vertical feet up the route after some hard climbing, Nate stopped on a ledge and reeled us in on the rope, and then asked me for the pickets back. We hadn't explicitly discussed what I should be doing with them, but he assumed I'd been pulling them as I passed.
Stunned, I had to confess I'd left them all where they were on the way up. He was stunned, too. The problem was that the next sections of the climb above us were far steeper, of much higher-consequence and covered terrain that was significantly more exposed than we'd been on so far, and he needed every anchor we had to protect it.
One thing was certain, however: continuing upward with only the one picket and one ice screw was not an option, Nate said. We would need every piece we had to get up the next several sections, because it presented such serious exposure with just one slip.
|Camp 2 from high on the ridge above. Check out the tent and wind wall.|
Nate then give us careful instructions for the next sections on up to the top of the mountain. "Be very, very surefooted with every step." And we were.
|Climbing... and climbing on Crosson|
Finally, with only about 500 vertical feet to the summit of Crosson, Craig said he thought he might be out of gas, and that he'd been feeling out of breath and was having a hard day—kind of like me two days ago. Having been in that same condition recently, I empathized, and we again discussed options.
We were standing on a huge, open flat area beneath what looked like giant snow blooms and graceful blue ice overhangs carved by the unceasing (and now howling) wind. Our stopping point was beautiful, but the wind had continually cranked up the higher we went, and it was bitterly cold.
|The downclimb - rock-hard snow and a 3,000 foot drop to the glacier on our right. |
|Digging a hole at the cache site|
We'd drop sharply—60° - 70° off ridge after ridge, outcrop after outcrop, until finally camp appeared below us. I was exhausted. While Nate fired up the stove and began cooking a huge, filling, and awesome meal of Thai chicken and rice in spicy yellow Curry, complete with rehydrated powdered coconut milk (yum!), I sat in the tent vestibule and pulled off my boots, scared of what I would see when I got them off.
My toes were all pretty much in complete whiteout, but the big toes were definitely the worst. Nate asked me to test the capillary refill of them by squeezing them, and those results were not encouraging, but I started massaging my feet vigorously and continuously to get the blood flowing again.
|Me... after returning to Camp 2|
It all depends on the weather, though. The weather report that crackled over the radio from the NPS sounded non-promising, though. Nate called in to AMS to double check with Rob Gowler and to get his take on tomorrow's weather. It's still uncertain, he said. I guess we'll know when we poke our heads out our tent in the morning.