Tricky gullies in the CloudsIn spite of reading the trip reports and studying images carefully, in the clouds, we experienced yet another kind of route finding problem on this mountain.
First, yet another perspective of the "downclimb" near the east gully. We did not even really notice it. Only now, after reading again the trip reports do I recognize it. To me, it seemed like only about 2 consecutive exposed moves on/around (not going down much) some big rocks, and the "gap" did not give us pause at all. After I finished, not knowing that others had even commented on it, I apologized to my partner for going so slow and careful and he said "it's okay to have been a bit nervous on that".
The clouds were pretty thick all day and believe it or not we missed the east gully completely! Later after failing on the next 2 gullies and starting back, we easily recognized it. I think what happened was that the clouds obscured it and when we got to the far side of it we were looking ahead (relative to the direction of travel) and saw the obvious trail continuing across. Plus the first cairn you might see is up the gully a little bit, and not very large. I don't understand why the trail even continues. Certainly not too many people want to do the bottom part of the west gully do they?
Not realizing we had missed it, we soon found an obvious gully and I was confident it was right. My son was doubtful because there were no cairns. We went up a few hundred feet before it required a class 4 climb up a rock in the middle of the drainage. I took it to see what lay ahead and up a few yards was a notch to go through. But alas peering through it all I saw was a steep DESCENT even if we could squeeze through! I wonder if this was to the bottom of a ledge?
So we went back down the gully and then further west. We came to the next gully which required an entrance down a loose dirt rib. The reports mentioned a downclimb to the entrance of the gully so I thought surely this was it. As I mentioned I had not even noticed the downclimb that we had already done at the start of this report. Ascending this gully, which I now believe to be the bottom of the west gully, proved to play out also into a dangerous climb up to the left onto a rib. So we bailed out again and pretty much had given up making the summit.
But on the return, as I mentioned, we recognized the true east gully as obvious as it could be. In spite of fatigue from wasted gully climbing, and cloudy weather than risked real rain, we decide to at least go up and take a look at the transition up the rib to the west gully.
It was not long before we saw the obvious dihedral and the transition path. The rib was not as high as I had imagined, and less exposed. So we decided to proceed. At the bottom of the dihedral, the step down and across to the west side was a bit exposed so we were very careful and guided each other, but it was only one move. The climb of the rib was no big deal with perhaps one move to be careful on, at the top. The markers on the top were very reassuring. But really, we can't imagine how it is possible to miss this transition. Pretty funny since we missed the broad entrance to the gully itself! I guess we were moving so slow and watching so closely with the bad weather that it was more obvious.
The west gully was longer and steeper than we expected, but no hesitations were needed. It misted on us for the last 1 hour or so of the ascent up the gullies, but remarkably the rocks were not slick, even when wet!
On top, of course, the rain turned to hail and we had a full 20 feet of visibility, bummer!
The next thing to note is that I almost took us down the wrong gully too! This must have been the top of the gully we had bailed out on which was west of the correct west gully! Fortunately my son did not take the bait of the broad, easy start, as it did not look familiar. So we walked a bit more and then it was clear we had found the right one.
We were about 500 feet down the west gully when we heard a voice of a climber nearby calling for our attention. The visibility was terrible, but we knew we were close to each other. The other climber, in a party of 2 on their descent, was in the wrong gully I almost had us go into! But they knew it was clearly wrong at that point. He wanted to know if we were in the right gully and if we could see a safe path over the rib. He was near the top of the rib, on the other side. It was only perhaps 40 ft up/down the rib, but it was too dangerous. So he decided they would go back up to the summit and go over to the gully we were in.
The weather got a bit worse, but it still was more like mist than rain and there was no serious electrical activity. It was not until the next morning when we were starting Humbolt that we learned that they had to sleep on the mountain because they got too wet, tired and were trapped on a ledge! It turns out that there is great cell reception on these mountains so the ending was good as a rescue got to them the next day. But they had to be helped to rapel down the ledge they were on!
One more note on our descent. On the path across to broken hand pass we again almost made another mistake, again because our visibility had been so bad on the way across that we could not recognize things on the return. There is a couloir at a notch, that is pretty narrow, but from the top looks okay, just below the "downclimb" discussed earlier. I guess I'd say to keep in mind that the journey back to the pass may seem longer than you remember (aren't returns always like this), but you will have no doubts when you are at the real pass as it is broader than the couloir and has broken hand mountain on the other side. My son again recognized it was not right by remembering that he had said "it's okay to be nervous" at that part on the way up.
On a clear day I think we would have made no mistakes and handled this mountain easy. Certainly it is less risky than Wetterhorn, Euolus and even Longs. But in the clouds it tricked us and we feel that we were blessed to have not been trapped overnight on it!