It’s been exactly five months since the avalanche. Fabio said the group had settled on 13,900 foot Drift Peak this Saturday. Did I want to go? Just 6 miles round trip, 3,000 feet of gain, class 2. My arm is recovering, full range of motion, more than 50% strength. I hiked 20 miles last weekend in Tucson. Sure, I’ll go.
Later. Is this a bad idea? Thirteen thousand, nine hundred feet. A big hill. Will I hold the others back? Will I re-injure my arm? What if I don’t even like doing this any more? What if I have drifted away? Climbing, even peak bagging, has moments of doubt, as David Roberts eloquently noted. These are normal doubts, push through them. Andy picks me up at 5:00 AM.
At the trailhead six of us, all from SP, agree that it is cold. Jacque Peak shines in a mantle of fresh snow to the west, but in our direction a cloudbank has settled. The hidden peaks can only be sensed.
We ascend the untracked slope before us. Picking our way through trees, we head towards an unseen ridge. My turn to break trail. The familiar, fluid rhythm returns. Breath and body flowing together. This feels good. The fresh snow glistens with every color of the rainbow, like a carpet of gems. He’s got diamonds on the soles of his snowshoes.
The earth steepens at the bottom of the ridge. Kane’s route description says class 2+. Kane, man, I will take note the next time I see a plus on one of your routes. Does cold, wind, and snow add another plus? Guys, this is more than I bargained for. Amy and Charles have descended already, so Peter says he has another date with this mountain. He’ll turn back any time I want. Thanks, man. Let’s see what’s at the top of this bulge.
Oh look, another bulge, just 100 meters away, not much higher. Let’s see what’s up there. It’s steeper than it appeared. The snow is slabby. The rock underneath is slabby. Careful, we should have axes and crampons here, not poles and snowshoes. Mine are at home. Fabio and Andy are carrying theirs. Did they not use them out of consideration for me?
Mortar rounds echo In the distance. Someone doesn't want an avalanche to happen. I know what you mean, man, I know what you mean.
It’s noon, it’s windy, there are 1,500 feet to go. We must decide now to go for it, and go fast, or call it a day. You are right Peter, good thought. It’s a consensus. We go down. At least I’m not the only one thinking that way. Still, it would be nice to go higher, but not today.
Decision made, now we can pause. Look where we are! A reward for the effort. Sunlight and shadow flow across Pacific and Atlantic Peaks. Jacque Peak is a crystal. On the horizon the tough, rugged Gores are ethereal, a mirage floating beneath clouds. This is what it’s about. Mountains don’t care how you climb them, but they reveal beauty to those who do. I am glad to be here.
A grassy gully drops 1,000 feet straight down to Clinton Reservoir. The snow is blasted off it by the wind. A tempting shortcut, easy walking, a circular route avoiding the steeper slopes we ascended. We can't see the bottom. What if it's a cliff? What if it's loaded with snow? What'll it be guys, the devil we know or the devil we don't? We carefully return the way we came. Later Charles tells us there is a cliff at the bottom.
Back on the flats of Gold Hill we pause and relax once more. The wind has subsided, what a magnificent location. Camera shutters click.
We follow Charles and Amy's tracks back to the car, back into the diamond snow. A Chevrolet pickup truck is crashed into a tree, a 2002 copy of Penthouse lying on the seat. Must be a story there.
Down to the shore of Clinton Reservoir. Man, this is work. I see Andy lean on his poles for a moment. Maybe it was a tough day after all. This last mile is going to take some effort. One of those things when you are coming out of the mountains. It takes whatever it takes. It's good to be drifting back.