It's been two years since I have climbed anything. In those intervening years, I have put on 30 pounds and lost some of the fitness I developed racing bicycles. Now don't get me wrong, I am hardly overweight and I am still well above average in fitness, but let's just say this trip was just on the edge of my conditioning for a one day trip.
For well over a week, I had been trying to find a partner. I think I posted on every climbing web site known to man. And yet, no luck. Much of my climbing experience in the mid 1990's was on the Cascade volcanoes, and most of it was solo, so that option was a comfortable one as well, albeit a bit lonely.
In 1994, I worked to for the wife of late Everest pioneer Willi Unsoeld (FA on West Ridge). At the time, she was a 65 year old Member of Congress, representing the people of Southwest Washington. I was hired to help keep her in office (she was incidentally also the first woman to climb the North Face of the Grand Teton). That's a long story, though perhaps if I had spent more time securing the votes of absentee voters and less time climbing on weekends...well, she probably still would have lost.
With little response to my search for partners, I decided to go it alone and see what happened. My last climbing adventure was two years ago and was an unsuccessful attempt at the Casaval Ridge of Shasta. It was windy to say the least and my partner was suffering from AMS, so we never got past about 12,600. But it reminded me how much I love climbing. Just as I was preparing for last season, my Father passed away unexpectedly. Let's just say that is the primary cause for my additional 30 pounds. It also consumed my life in a way which precluded climbing last year and another season passed without a return to the hills.
The afternoon of Friday April 12th, I had a meeting in Merced. I borrowed my brother's truck in return for promising to get the oil changed and having done so headed for the hills.
The past year has been a series of peaks and valley (if you'll pardon the metaphor), as anyone who has lost a parent will understand. I felt truly alive that evening driving up to the trailhead. I had bought new gear including a new ice hammer (didn't even need it), bivy sack (didn't use it but glad I had it) and a new pack (used it, loved it, got a great deal on it...Marmot Eiger in case you are interested) and a new North Face Kichatna jacket (very sweet, didn't need it). I felt a bit like a lowlander fraud, adorned with all the best new gear. At least my helmet had some dings to show I had been around the block once or twice.
I arrived at Carson pass late Friday evening, having picked up a very interesting hitchiker and driven him over the pass to Nevada (God I am a nice guy). He said he was from Seattle, and had been raised in the Yukon Territory, but quite frankly I didn't really catch much about him (including his name, which I could only make out to be something like E), as his broken English was hard to understand. So, we listened to a mixture of Chris Isaak and Sarah Harmer, hardly the best mix for a climbing trip, but groovy tunes anyway.
After a highly nutritous dinner of pizza, I headed back up to the Pass to crash in the back of the truck. I sorted my gear, packing my summit pack for the trip, making some PB & J sandwiches for breakfast. Now, you need to understand. I am SO not a morning person. The concept of the alpine start simply does not resonate with me. And yet, I know enough to know that I need to get up and get going. Having packed everything but the kitchen sink, I did manage to forget a proper watch. So, I set my Palm Pilot to wake me up at 5:30 and proceeded to doze off in my brother's +15 sleeping bag. To say I was cold would have been an understatement. But then, I sleep cold. Not brutally, but certainly enough to make sleeping difficult.
5:30 came very early. The Palm Pilot Alarm chimed and I was greeted to a note saying, "Wake Up Bitch!!!". I sat up in the bed of the truck and grabbed a sandwich which tasted not at all appealing. With considerable expenditure of energy, I rousted myself and organized myself, brushed my teeth and prepared to roll. I left the car at 6:30. Once again, hardly an alpine start, but for me, not bad.
Having never been there before, I made the mistake of following the marked trail, which wound circuitously through the woods. I don't know if that was the 3.5 mile trail that route descriptions claimed, but it certainly felt longer than that. The snow was reasonably well consolidated by now, but that didn't stop me from sinking in every 3 or so steps. Figuiring that since I had them, I might as well use them, I pulled my snowshoes from my packed and put them on. Big improvement. It's not to say they are really neccessary at this point, but it was certainly a nice improvement.
I took my time, knowing it would be a long day, Arriving at the base of the face at about 9:00 (yes, I took it very easy). I attached my crampons to my new Asolo North boots (well, actually I bought them used...must have been used only once on Shasta, because they still had nubbies on the soles). I have been hiking in them now for a couple of weeks and they are simply the best climbing boots I have ever had.
I headed up the snow slope, looking up the Crescent Moon Couloir with great anticipation. I had forgotten exactly what 40 degrees looked head on and it looked pretty damned steep. The beauty of this route, however is that for the most part, if you fall, you will just get shot out the bottom onto the snow field at 80 mph. Real damage to body isn't too likely. A pair of climbers had already started up the route and it was my goal to merely keep pace with them. It turns out these guys are both pretty hard core climbers and were in good shape, but I was pleased with the progress I was making. I was a little bit slower, but not much.
The snow in the couloir was pretty soft already, but certainly not too bad to climb. The snowpack was very stable and though a little deep and tiring, very passable. I worked my way up the left side of the couloir, every step sinking in to at least mid calf. The climbing was easy and straight-forward at about 40 degrees. The route allows for three different variations, and I took the most obvious, right gully. The route as a whole was pretty straightforward and easy, however the top 50 feet provided a new level of challenge. The slope steepened to in excess of 50 degrees, with the exposure rising dramatically in the last 20 feet. The exit pitch turned to the left, heading straight up for the last 20 feet or so (note: I am bad with distances...use beta at your own risk). A cliff fell away only few feet below. This is not a place you want to consider falling.
Upon arriving at the notch above the couloir, I encountered three crazy bastards who were about to ski the route. I will ski almost anything, but the top of this did not look like fun to me. The fall potential is pretty high and at that particular point...no thanks. I scrambled up to the west summit and took in the fantastic view. I could not have asked for a nicer day.
I descended via the West Ridge, which was quite loose, but very passable as well. I was boiling in my fleece pants, so at the col, I removed them, replacing them with thin nylon summer pants, which upon reconsideration would have been very wet if I had glissades. I plunge stepped back down, grabbed my snowshoes and marched back to the car.
Round trip it was almost 7 hours. That, however was primarily the result of my lacking fitness. I was, however out by 2:00 PM and back in the Bay Area by 5:30 (including a very good hamburger in Jackson...I think it's called Mels Diner...Mmmmmmmm).
I am looking forward to more trips like this one. Good weather, an interesting route at just the right level of difficulty and a very good workout...what more could I ask for.
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, awake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it reality."