Eastern Sierra Nevada, California
Sept 27-28, 2002
Romain Wacziarg and René Renteria
I wake up and look outside. Clouds hide the moon. I can hear water from the melting glacier pouring into the lake below the moraine and small stones tumbling down the talus fields. The flapping of nylon is less insistent than it was, but it is cold. My socks, soaked from a water bottle accident in the middle of the night, are frozen stiff like two plats of balsa wood. Later, I wake up, yet again, and check my watch. 4am, our planned wake-up time. I can hear tiny pebbles of ice falling onto my tarp and rolling off to the sides. I roll over onto my other side, pull my bag over my head, and go back to sleep.
When I emerge into the gathered gloom at 12,000 feet, snow gently falls on the Palisade glacier, coating the talus with a white dust brush. In its own way, it is a beautiful day. The mountains have put on their inhospitible face--such power and beauty in this world!--and the fog makes it clear that we will not be climbing Starlight Buttress today. Romain pokes his head out of his tent, he makes us tea, and we start packing up our camp.
In what conditions would we have given the route a try? Thunder is a deal killer, but we had heard none. Snow, fog, cold--all sending in their applications to join our epic organization--stopped us without too much thinking on our part. What could we do? Who can fight the weather?
Real mountaineers do, those old Alpinists of yore in wool coats smelling of sheep and hair grease in yellowing pages, shaving every day on the glacier and sporting jaunty caps for their feats of derring-do, staring out with preternaturally bright eyes from cracked black and white prints. Give me news from your side; direction; a pat on the back for you, old sport--heart.
When is the pursuit of safety killing the soul of the modern world?
"Real mountaineers"--Ha! I laughed at that one, all the way back to the car, and enjoyed the hike out in the falling snow under gray skies. The birch were in their shocking colors, yellow and orange, with pretty, wet bark. I could hear the laughing of the water, descending from the glacier and hidden underneath the blocky talus, and it was pleasant, like the twittering of the birds, making me smile. Halfway out, we paused near Big Pine creek to rest, and a giant slicked rockfall came tumbling and pouring down Mt. Alice, bidding us farewell. We could hear it, but we couldn't see it, on account of the fog.