Even as early as July when we were having the summer gathering, people were already asking about the winter gathering. Jesus, can an organizer get a break? Let’s do one gathering at a time! Just kidding. Nothing gives me more pleasure (other than Jackie) than to get people together and climb mountains. SummitPost has given me that opportunity. Last year’s winter gathering involved a lot of people who had previously climbed together. This year would be different in that we had many new faces and thus....made many new friends. Here we go!
Jackie and I decided at the last minute not to take the RV. Some of my old skydiving friends, Amy and Gary Haass, rented a cabin at Breckenridge and invited us to stay with them. Barry (ATTM) and I discussed it and decided that it would be much cheaper to forego the RV and do the cabin thing. Besides, this way we could take separate cars and I wouldn’t have to listen to him rant about the “Largest Free-Standing Mountain In North America” as we passed through northern New Mexico.
On Friday, we enjoyed a day of skiing at Breckenridge. We never made it to the Kenosha steakhouse as planned because it didn’t look like anyone was coming in on Friday night except Kane. We found Kane wandering the streets of Breck after he spent an epic afternoon trying to dig a couple of morons out of the snow near some backcountry trailhead. So, with seven of us in the cabin, we crashed early in anticipation of a big day on the mountain.
4:00 AM and time to get up. “That mountain ain’t gonna climb itself,” I hollered as I tried to drag six lazy mountaineers out of bed. Kane was whining about the fold-out bed as I wolfed down four pancakes and sipped coffee. Herding cats would have been easier than trying to get seven people out of the door by 5:15 so we could be in Alma on time. But, I must say that everyone was pretty much packed and ready, and we made it out in plenty of time.
We arrived at the Alma post office at 5:50 am. Fabio (brenta) and Peter (pksanders) were there waiting for us. Thanks to my tax dollars, the post office lobby was open, so we sorted gear in the lobby where it was nice and warm and waited for any other SummitPosters who might show up. At 6:10, I made the command decision to leave and Jeremy (Fbomb) showed up as we were driving out of the parking lot.
The drive to the trailhead was uneventful; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find several other vehicles there. James (jjust), and Scott Patterson were waiting for us and apparently, DaveC was hiding somewhere in the woods. After introductions and a group photo, we all began our trek to Kite Lake. Unlike last winter, the group pretty much stayed together and everyone ended up at Kite Lake around the same time. Along the way, we all thought we were crazy because we kept hearing someone yelling at us. As it turns out, it was DaveC who finally decided to come out of hiding and join the group. With DaveC, we were thirteen strong......which was a tie for the most people at a gathering. Once at Kite Lake, a conference was called by the “experts” and the conditions appeared good for the standard route. I was having equipment issues (water bladder) and ended up way behind. But, it turned out for the best because I got a chance to take some photos of the group heading across Cameron Basin (and let everyone break trail for me). At that time the weather was perfect.....clear skies and light winds. Why can’t it stay that way?
As everyone began the trek across Cameron Basin, people began to spread out. As usual, Kane set a blistering pace up the mountain and was followed closely by James, Fabio, Peter, and Jeremy. Not far behind, Amy and Gary were chugging along. The rest of us were strung out behind them and I was desperately trying to catch up after my equipment issues. As we began to climb the slopes below the Mt. Bross gully, snowshoes soon became a hindrance and were quickly removed. Barry and Raman opted for crampons and we all trudged up the hill. Once in the main gully below the summit ridge, Kane took off up the right side of the gully on the correct trail and made the summit rather quickly. The left side appeared to be a shorter, faster route to the summit ridge, so James, Peter, and Fabio started to ascend the left side of the gully. The left side ended up being much slower due to very loose scree and snow. James grunted it out and eventually summitted; however, Peter and Fabio got into some steep scree and snow and had to bail back down to the gully. Jeremy, Amy, and Gary also took the left side and slogged their way up the gully; however, they didn’t gain the altitude that Fabio and Peter did, so they did not encounter the dangerous loose snow/scree.
Once the rest of the group appeared at the entrance of the gully, Amy began to yell at the rest of us to take the right side and avoid the left side. Thanks to her, we saved ourselves a lot of effort. We watched Fabio and Peter very high on the left slope where it appeared they were moving very gingerly across the snow slope. Somehow, Jackie missed the trail and also ended up on the left side of the gully. Eventually, everyone traversed back to the right side where we all met up.
Almost to the summit ridge, Kane and James descended to discuss the situation with the rest of us. They had been on the summit for a long time and were very cold. As Kane and James were on the summit and we were in the gully, a nasty storm blew in. The temperature dropped significantly and the winds picked up to 40-50 mph with blowing spindrift. James informed us of slight frostbite to his nose and Kane warned us of the extreme temperatures and wind. At this point, several climbers decided to forego the summit and descend. I was feeling very good at the time and felt the risk was minimal, so I put on my balaclava and headed up. The higher I got, the worse the weather got. Either I was ignorant or something else, but I didn’t mind the weather. I thought, “Hell.....it’s winter. What did I expect, a tan?” In other words, I didn’t mind the weather at all. Other than my toes being a little cold, I was feeling pretty good. I could see climbers above me and below me headed up the mountain. Once on the ridge crest, it was only a 300 yard flat stroll to the summit cairn. The wind was howling to the point that it was pushing me across the summit plateau. I followed several people to the top who were taking summit photos. I touched the cairn and immediately turned around to head down. By this time, my camera had frozen and was inoperable. As a result, I got no photographs of the summit.
Remember when I said I was feeling good? Well, I felt better than I had on any other mountain. About the time I descended below the summit ridge, a wave of nausea hit me and I yakked my M&Ms all over Mt. Bross to an audience of about six people. The rest of my descent was rather slow as I watched DaveC and Scott Patterson attempt to glissade the gully. As Barry, Raman, and I reached the lower slopes above the basin, I felt much better and was able to eat a couple of cups of chocolate pudding. Afterward, I put my snowshoes on and enjoyed a nice solo hike back down the road. Eventually, I caught up with Gary and Amy, and we enjoyed conversation while trekking down the road.
Back at the trailhead, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. Pizza and beer was on our minds as we headed back to town....but that is a whole other story.
This was another successful SummitPost event. Thanks to Amy, Gary, James, Kane, Barry, Raman, Jeremy, Peter, Fabio, Dave, Scott, and Jackie for attending this gathering and making it what it was. Thanks to Josh for making it all possible and thanks to Mt. Bross for giving us a safe day. Finally.....remember that a gathering is not about the mountain or success on a mountain, but of seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I think we did just that.