Beautiful Winter Day
The decision was made. Thielsen. We only had 2 days, and few other mountains could be climbed in the dead of winter in 2 days. So we headed out. The weather was beautiful. Sunny, windless, and clear. As we left the car we immediately were rejoicing as we plowed through all the fresh powder. It was tough going up, but we had our snowboards on our backs for a reason. After a full days work of pushing through deep snow, even with big snowshoes, we made it close to treeline to dig a snowcave. We had time, so we made a nice big comfortable cave to hide us from the cold night. After boiling some extra water we headed to bed for rest. We had no idea what was in store for the next day.
Keeping Track of Time
Once morning arrived we slowly arose from our beds. After some food, we headed out into the sun. Again, it was beautiful. We could see Baker behind us, all snowy white. Once we got out into the open, we no longer needed our snowshoes as the snow got icy, so we traded for our crampon's. As we got up higher, we eventually had to ditch our snowboards. We dug an avalanche pit, and found there wasn't major danger... but enough that we didn't want to risk a crash on our snowboards. So we stashed them next to a rock and kept heading up. Finally we reached the final pitch. We were awed. Huge drop offs were behind us, and standing on just a small patch of snow was a little nerve wrenching. But we were close. So we pulled out all of our gear and started belaying each other up the icy rocks. It was our first attempt at mixed ice climbing, so it was slow going. After we both made it up to the first safe spot we looked at the very last 30ft. It looked hard, we couldn't see a doable route with snow covering all of the rocks. Then we looked around and realized we were surrounded by clouds. In fact, it was starting to get dark. We hustled down, as carefully as possible back to our patch of relatively flat snow. It was now dark, and snowing, hard.
Lost in a Storm
As we headed down, everything got thicker. All the rocks we looked at as we hiked up now began to look the same. We looked for our snowboards, but couldn't find them. We looked for our snowshoes, but couldn't find them. After hours of searching and crisscrossing what we thought was the right area, we finally found our snowboards. This helped a little, but only a little. After many shivers and frustrating conversations, we decided to head into the trees without our snowshoes. Whether that was a mistake or not, I'm not sure, but it had consequences. In the trees the snow was waist deep. Even with our boards we were plowing 3ft under the snow, which was causing even our most waterproof clothes to get wet. It was also 15 degrees F outside. It was cold. We needed shelter now.
We kept checking with each other, swearing that we were standing within 20ft of our cave and sleeping bags. Headlamps are great for hiking, but not so great for piercing through a dark forest while trying to find a hole in the ground. We finally gave up. Things were not looking so good. We were caught in a storm, with just our day stuff, while it was rediculously cold outside, and getting colder the whole time.
So we did what we had too, we dug another cave. We took turns digging to keep our blood warm. We were also running out of energy from the days work. As the hole got bigger, I chopped down tree branches to sleep on. We made the hole go sideways and then back up, so as to trap all the warmth. With a thick layer of evergreen pine branches under us, and the entrance mostly blocked, we huddled together. I had to get my boots off, despite the cold. They were better cold and dry than moderately cold and wet. The night seemed to last forever. The shivering was uncontrollable. I was thirsty, all my water had frozen. I was hungry, and sadly, had tons of food in another cave not too far away.
When morning finally came, it was sunny again. We got out and almost immediately knew where we were. We were only about 100 yards from our other cave. We rejoiced and jumped into our sleeping bags for some very welcome warmth. We heated up water, and ate and slept. Later that day I was able to go back up the mountain and retrieve our snowshoes.
The rest of the day we were both drones as we slugged out of the wilderness. We made it alive though. One of toes was numb for about a week, but otherwise we even held off most frostbite. Even though it was scary, and crazy, I would have to say it was quite the adventure.
PS: I am a firm believer in GPS systems now.