On the 9th, 10th of October 2012, Colin B. and I climbed the West peak of Garfield via the West ridge. The West Garfield group consists of 5 peaks total with the highest peak being Garfield West itself which is situated in the center of the group. Four of these peaks lie along this East/West trending mountain ridge with the Infinite Bliss Summit the Eastern most of the group. One of the peaks is on a spur ridge Northwards from Garfield West.
This was the culmination of an off and on 3 year project. The Garfield West summit was first climbed in 1940 via the West ridge. Virtually no route information was available so it was an exploratory climb. We approached and gained the ridge from a different direction and location than the first ascensionists. We simuled most of the way and bivied on a flat spot on a bench to the North of the I.B. summit. We only took 3 quarts of water each and ran out by the morning of the 2nd day. There was no water or snow anywhere on the route.
We were unsure of which summit was actually Garfield West and we only had time to summit the tallest peak. We thought at the time that Garfield West was the next one on the ridge, which meant we had failed to summit. Back at the house I looked again at the topo and determined that we had indeed climbed Garfield West.
It was a lot of scrambling, a lot of mid fifth with some 5.6, 5.7. and lots of big exposure. Very little bushwack on the approach and most of the trees on the ridge were avoidable. Remarkably clean rock if you stayed right on the crest but not much gear, mostly slinging trees. The plan was to descend south from the saddle between the I.B. Summit and Leaning Spire but with scary conditions and an arrested fall we retreated to the I.B. 60m rap line with our 50's and only the memory of looking at the topo a few years previous and never having climbed it.
two 50m twins,
5 camalots to #1,
16 single slings
2 dbl slings
2 quad slings
Camp Nano beaners
1 light axe per
L---O---N---G version. This alpine climbing tale is at least partially true, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
He wasn't really sure exactly when the whole concept of an alpine climb to the lofty and remote Western summit had first coalesced. It could have been on the trip up to reconnoiter the start of the somewhat controversial bolted route, yes, Tandar reflected, that was probably it. There was some anticipation that had built up over a period of months nay longer, it really was years. A washed out bridge had delayed the reconnoiter of the longest "sport" route in North America, and most would agree an unanticipated delay commonly results in a commensurate increase of unmitigated desire. America's failing and neglected infrastructure, damaged by the forces of nature, combined with monetary resources stretched woefully thin. Wars and banker bailouts were far more important or at least supported by advocates more diabolical and/or with deeper pockets. Somehow though after a seemingly interminable period the cumbersome bureaucracy had managed to push its way through and fix the broken bridge. So Tandar had finally headed East and taken the long and ever rough dirt road, parked the car and proceeded to walk up to find the trail and then the base of the now long anticipated climb.
Being alone, as he unfortunately was so many times during these years prior to the internet bringing consistent and plentiful partners, he had resigned himself to just a recon on this first trip. Just locating the trailhead so it could be done in the dark, and soloing the first few pitches. Partly just to get some climbing in that day, but primarily in order to acquire a taste, to let the beast get its hooks firmly into him. And it did, it really really did. Even just the thought of it, twenty two pitches, nothing but bolts, a long and quick, maybe somewhat unaesthetic run for any climber that leaned more toward the trad end of the climbing spectrum as he did. But longer and higher had always been better in this climber's book. Ever since going from single pitch crags to the six pitches of Outer Space with a perm-a-grin affixed to a chalk smeared face. The higher the better, more exposure means more adrenaline. And ever since that natural drug had wrested priority from the external garbage that is foisted upon the youth of America, he had been on a more or less continual quest of actively searching it out. What better way to do so than out in the midst of mother nature's wildness? They say we have lived millions of years as hunter gatherers. We have been out in the wildness, exposed to and a part of nature for thousands of generations. You can not and should not deny that which is deeply ingrained into the human psyche, that which your very DNA are mapped out to and coincide with. The beautiful, vast, and untamed natural world.
Maybe that's why he had for some number of years now, eschewed the hit and run, smash and grab, speed climbing style that had become somewhat prevalent in this day and age. The going ultra light car to car does have undeniably positive aspects, but it's still fairly easy to forget some of the pitches or even which pitch was led by whom. He had traded that need for speed for the slightly heavier, night under the stars total immersion multi-day carryover. The full meal deal, the complete and utter absorption into the natural element. Just like an alpine mountain route of greater distance and elevation, the drawn out passage of time spent in that world also carried a distinctively positive appeal. While the young guns have run back to the car, the city, the house, and the mundane of everyday life in their quest for speed, he is still out in the thick of it. Feeling the weather on his face, the rock under his hands and feet and all of mother nature's glory laid out before his gaze. Of course the inexorable crush of time may also have come to be factored into the alpine survival equation. At some point in the cycle of it's advancing age the human machine merely becomes incapable of extreme sustained speed. Or at least pushes into a danger zone if one foolishly attempts to continue down that path of racing with the ticking passage of time.
But considering a tad bit longer term and a more sustained perspective it wasn't the long sport route that really and truly captivated his climbing imagination. No, in spite of the fact this climb was large, it resided on a much larger feature, a huge one to be exact. The Mount Garfield massif itself. The path made out of bolts was indeed big, bigger than any other, but it was dwarfed in comparison by the rock that contained it, and by the mountain group that encompassed all that rock. A long series of summits connected by rock ridges honed sharp by geological time. Rising up steeply on all sides, vertical in many places. Thousands of feet of sheer mind numbing alpine terror, breaking hard and dangerous out of the surrounding thick dark forest.
The Garfield Group from the South, from 3000ft up the opposite valley mountainside
For these were truly alpine diamonds in the rough. Found, conceived, and explored long ago but then inexplicably neglected, ignored, and discarded. Down and past the cold dark halls of an alpine lore long since forgotten. Hidden in the metaphorical rough of a perceived loose-and-dirty-rock-bushwack travail of uncertainty, danger, and undesirability. Cast away and abandoned for seventy some odd years. Waiting, biding their time to be re-reconnoitered, re-explored, re-discovered. Painstakingly researched, then measured cut and polished with great care, into the beautiful and true alpine gems that they really were. The best that they could be, the best that they had always secretly been.
Maybe it sometimes takes a certain eye to see that which is hidden in this seemingly diabolical way by the dusty and rusty hinged doors of time? An eye that once might have rivaled a lightning strike has now at certain times been relegated down to a distinctly glacial crawl. A patient eye just looking long and carefully enough, taking the measure of time required to discern that there really is something there hidden in the literal and metaphorical mist. Something frozen, trapped... snared and constrained by time's long and bony fingers. Waiting to be broken from these cloying bonds, wanting and waiting to be released... to be set free.
So somewhere along the way this climber's attention was shifted to the alpine objective. A much larger animal had brought him within it's sharp taloned grasp. The long sport route would have to wait until optimum weather, long days, and a reluctant partner coincided. He could solo only the first few pitches of bolts but it was possible the alpine choice would go completely within that mode of solitary ascent. Specifically the Western ridge culminating in the West summit of Garfield. For this was the first thing that struck the eye as you reached near the end of the rutted road. Briefly and tantalizingly peeking from the tops of the near all encompassing greenery of the valley floor.The Becky guide consulted showed a curious and maybe, from the more masochistic end of the alpine persuasion, a somewhat attractive set of circumstances. For this climb, and pretty much every other peak in the Garfield group, there was very little associated specific information. A quick internet search revealed not much more than that either. So it would be a voyage more of new discovery than many of the other climbs in the area, a beta-minimum or beta-min climb if you will, a challenge to re-discover the frontier of the unknown.
West Garfield's West ridge, from the only visible spot on the approach road.
While by strict definition the climb was not a first ascent, it had all the other characteristics of the same, a born again first ascent if you care to ponder long enough. The mystery of the unknown, taxing routefinding skills to the limit, finding the hidden path that avoids high danger and hopefully connects with summit success. Some excerpts from Becky included the description of Little Flat Top (a subsidiary summit just Northeast of the main Garfield summit), "Details are lacking, probably one class-5 pitch". Or the description of Courte Echelle (just North of Garfield main, the phrase meaning the maneuver of a climber standing on another's shoulders to reach a higher hold), "History is uncertain, but a route has been reported...probably class 5." And the description of this desired goal of the West ridge of Garfield West, "Route details are unknown...extensive brushy scrambling should be expected...This will be a taxing workout." Of course then, as anyone knows who has taken anything more than a cursory glance at this group of peaks, there is the primary descriptor presented by Becky. Garfield is the "Hazardous Enigma", maybe such a label applied by the consummate hardman himself should not be taken too lightly.
So it was with some trepidation that the first foray into reconnoitering the West ridge climb was begun. "Extensive brushy scrambling" sounded sort of off-putting but the view of the ridge from the road did not look all that bad. It was the first week in June and there was still some snow on the summits especially on the North sides. That year the Middle Fork River road was closed just past the bridge due to a washout. But the start of the approach was very close to that point anyway so this was not really an issue. He started out just before dawn and was pleasantly surprised that most of the early part of the approach was relatively brush free open forest. The slope was steep from right off the road and did not relent until the first cliff band where there was a small open area at the top of a lower cliff band. He went out onto this cliff top and was rewarded with a closer unobstructed view of the climb ahead, including the ridge and one of the Western peaks. Little did he know this view would be the last before the base of the final cliff was reached.
West Garfield's West ridge, from the only place on the approach that has an open view.
He had some experience routefinding in deep forest but only for short distances, and this was on a considerably higher level of difficulty. Consider deep forests without a view to be akin to a permanent white out, with visibility never more than about a hundred feet or so. A green sea of cloud that never lifts, conspiring to befog and befuddle the sometimes unsuspecting aspiring alpinist. Throwing a wooden wrench into the gears of alpine puzzle solving machinery.
And this approach involved several cliff bands that could only be navigated at specific points along them via fourth or easy fifth class climbing, the other sections being too steep loose and dirty to possibly surmount without gear. The surrounding forest meant that each cliff passage had to be located with minimum visibility. No easy general direction descent back to the road but a narrow specific path had to be followed to avoid the high levels of danger presented by these steep rocky escarpments. There were several places that had to be traversed to locate these passages, with some backtracking here and there involved. So with these losses of time it wasn't until near the designated turnaround time that the base of the final cliff was ultimately reached.
Again there was a partial view but it was not anything as revealing as the first clearing had been. It was up against the base of the final cliff in a sort of shallow gully, both these factors limiting visibility. He could see the way ahead was steep and difficult but not anything vertical or as sheer as the foreshortening of the view from the valley floor implied. Having only packed for the day and knowing difficult route finding would slow the descent back to the road he decided to make this the high point of this trip. He knew he was close to the ridge top where the difficulties would change. The routefinding problems would ease as the climbing and exposure difficulties increased. It was also now apparent that retreat from further on the route would require rappels, also something that he had not geared up for on this reconnoiter.
On the descent it soon became apparent just how difficult the forest routefinding could be. He had taken a few compass and altimeter readings, built some cairns and set out surveyors tape at key junctures, but these alpine tools afforded only limited assistance. Several times he had to backtrack and explore other avenues to find the specific places where the mossy cliffs could be safely descended. Temporarily lost more than once, and at one point even laboriously re-ascending a few hundred feet to find the one hidden passage that safely allowed egress. Sometimes in these types of scenarios he felt like he was tapping into the subconscious, the primal instinct to search and find the true path. Feeling and knowing the way ahead with a utilization of all the known senses and maybe some of the unknown.
This first trip gave just a taste of what the climb might be like, for it was not really a serious attempt to gain the summits. Merely a reconnoiter to check the viability of this climb even being a practical possibility. And in that goal it was a success. He now knew there was a relatively quick and brush free way to gain the upper cliff band that led to the main ridge, and that that final cliff was steep but not an impossible barrier to that ridge. This was pretty encouraging and plans were laid for the next trip, with the thoughts of seriously tackling the technical terrain that lay ahead and that the summit might also now be within reach.
Just a week later he again tackled the climb. The lower forest and cliff bands went well, this time he laid a more comprehensive trail of neon tape, knowing it might make a possible return less problematic. He quickly achieved the previous high point and had no problem committing to the first pitch of the upper cliff band, a mid fifth class affair involving a shallow and somewhat loose dihedral. But recent rains had left some of the rock wet, and combined with the moss he soon was in some slippery terrain. He managed to work past the cruxes of the first pitch and gained an upper gulley. The rock was smoother in this gulley and the wetness drove him to traverse into a treed area for more secure footing. He continued up through the trees of another gulley to finally gain the top of the ridge. The exposure then suddenly acquired a much greater and more frightening dimension. Above and away from the forest, with the openness of the ridge it was now possible to look to the very bottom of the mountain and it was a very long way down on both sides, the North side being equally steep to the way he had approached.
He made his way up the ridge and the exposure only increased. The constant pressure building now as the day wore on. A little bit of tiredness tends to make the pressure seem to increase, a depletion of the body's resistance to the seemingly unending weight of facing danger head on. The view to the bottom became even clearer the higher he went, as the approach had been from a Southwesterly direction and now looking straight south and down it was nothing but sheer cliffs for thousands of feet. Here too the Northern aspect was no easier vista. The top of the ridge being only a few feet to inches wide in places, at some points just a sharp edge of rock with the abyss hugging tightly from both sides. Down close to the ground a ridge like this would be no problem, and it was only a moderate problem from the technical standpoint. It was the mental aspect that had become so very difficult. A sustained test of penultimate mind control, knowing that even the slightest mistake can lead to grim and unthinkable consequences.
A patch of wet moss, a large loose rock, or for that matter even a small one. You take a gamble to a certain extent, the further you go on a ridge like this, the longer and consequently more dangerous the retreat becomes. The bodies energy is not unlimited, at some point you must rest, but in a place such as this there is no real rest, neither mental nor physical, only an enduring. A prolonged gamble in which the stakes of the unthinkable could not be higher. There are lines that should not be crossed because this is a game of survival and that more than any other facet of existence is so deeply ingrained as to be at some point totally irresistible. If man is just a meat android designed and constructed by higher beings in the chain then there is a primary directive burned deep into the core of the central processor. You must, you will...survive.
And it was now apparent that this thing was much bigger than he had ever previously estimated. After making his way for a few hundred feet he was just barely approaching the first minor peak on the ridge, and this was less than a fourth of the way to the base of the first major one in a chain of four. It was clear now that this would be a two day climb and again he was not prepared. Maybe too it just didn't feel right, call it biorhythm or the phases of the moon. Whatever it was the proper climbing psyche necessary to carry on was beginning to fade. His mind commenced making excuses to call it quits, to turn around and come back another day, better prepared, in dryer conditions.
The first minor peak rose ahead on the ridge and as he made it to the base of this looming feature it became obvious that it was time to cash in the day's chips. This might go against the grain of a mind more aligned to the desire to accomplish an established goal, deeply invested in the need to win. But it can't be at all costs and the stakes had become so very high. The steep start of this sub peak was also wet in places so everything came together and the choice became retreat, it had to be. Maybe too in the back of the mind he knew, for he had already thought of climbing over and down the other side, yet this time he had left a lot of tape behind on the potential retreat. Maybe a subconscious admission that he knew it wasn't going to go on this try.
The down climb of the ridge to it's access point was just as difficult as climbing it maybe more so. He made it back to the notch where he had gained the ridge and proceeded down the three pitch cliff, making a few rappels along the way. One of the anchors was a small evergreen but it was in good shape with a moderate sized trunk. Maybe eighteen inches tall and about an inch and a half at the base. Familiarity with the local greenery had brought him the trust that it takes to rap off something this diminutive in size. The descent through the forest went without incident even though it was still somewhat tedious to find the exact route down through the cliffs.
Now you may be thinking at this point that this project was becoming an affair without reward, but that is not entirely the truth. The main problem was he had underestimated the depth and breadth of this climb. Specifically that it was much longer than he had anticipated, both geologically and chronologically. So all the effort up until now was essentially just to gain the information necessary to complete the climb. Maybe it was sort of like the rock soloist first climbing a pitch that is at his maximum difficulty level. He climbs up a few moves at a time and then down-climbs, then he climbs again to another high point and down-climbs again, repeating these actions until he makes the top. This is to prove to himself he can retreat safely from anywhere on the climb.
But it was also now obvious that this would not be an out and back affair. It was going to be up the hard way and down a hopefully easier side. Therefore it was a little different than a soloist on a single pitch. Because at some point somewhere past the halfway distance it was safer to commit to the unknown that was ahead than to try and downclimb such a long and dangerous ascent.
In the next few weeks he tried to get any one of his close regular partners to go along on the next attempt, but his efforts were fruitless. Either because of the all too common schedule conflicts or just because not everyone is all that interested in this type of alpine adventure suffering. In the interim before his next attempt he did some generic multi-pitch rock with his regular partners. The typical classics for which there is no shortage of beta. These climbs while enjoyable did not have quiet the same attraction as in times past. No, now that this special climb had it's hooks in him there would be no complete satisfaction until it was accomplished.
West Garfield's West ridge, from the South across the river.
So Tandar set off alone once again, again more prepared both mentally and logistically from the time previous. All the prior attempts building on the knowledge necessary to garner success. Everything went according to plan up to his previous high point, and very smoothly and in shorter time than any of the previous attempts. Here he was faced with the first minor peak on the ridge. While the direct crest of the ridge looked possible it also looked more difficult than any previous climbing on the route, it at least justified looking for an easier path. The north side was out, nothing but a smooth blank slab, so he traversed out on the south face where it looked easier, but the rock quality turned suspect. He was faced with some easy moves but it mandated climbing over a large detached block.
Sometimes there is just no going around a particular loose feature such as this, you have to climb over it. You say a little prayer maybe and then commit. Trying to will your body into lightness, and delicately moving upwards, trying to distribute your weight as evenly as possible with slow and careful motions, until you pass the offending threatening feature. Luckily he made it past this death block and continued up the small peak. The technical difficulty relented somewhat but the exposure only increased the higher he climbed. He reached the minor summit then started down-climbing it's other side. Again the difficulty escalated until he was forced around a side. This time the North side was good. He found a little ramp and made it to the next notch without incident.
The notch was a beautiful little Japanese garden in the sky, so scarily remote and yet so comfortingly pristine. Small firs and pines, alpine heather, arranged among the rocks like you might imagine from the hand of some divine gardener. It was also the first flat bivy size spot he had seen since somewhere far below and halfway through the trees. While it was still too early in the climb to be of any practical use, it was a much appreciated rest from the continual exposure experienced up to this juncture. He had maintained a good pace up until now and it was about the time of day when he would occasionally take a power nap. Past a certain age you tend to do these sorts of things in order to try to somewhat compensate for the downhill path you are on.
But being wound up from the adrenaline inducing climbing up to that point, any sort of nodding off was near impossible. He lay down in the heather but his mind refused to downshift enough to come close to the unconscious state. There is one potential pitfall with power napping though, and he had not yet discovered it at this point in life. That pitfall is that if you attempt a powernap and can't fall asleep you will be left in a slightly mentally impared state after the attempt, sort of a groggyness that takes a while to wear off.
On the 3rd recon, looking East on the ridge from near the start.
So he was unable drift into sleep, a seemingly innocuous occurrence at the time. He then proceeded to continue climbing in this unfortunate state of somewhat dulled senses. Again faced with a steep section on the crest toward the next summit, in hind-site he should have taken it straight on. A little harder technically but probably preferable to the generally loose conditions on the southern aspect. He traversed down onto the face and located a way that would lead over and upward. He was very exposed in this position, heels perched above the multi-thousand foot abyss, left hand on a nice jug of a ledge, he reached up directly above him to the next hold...and his whole world came suddenly and irrevocably crashing down.
The large rock above him, a boulder of about 150 pounds and the size of a large watermelon, that he had reached up to grab and pull up on was in fact totally detached. Overhanging in it's position and held on by a hair-trigger connection to the face. He had pulled that trigger and in that short fraction of a second the whole climb was turned on its head. In his temporarily dazed state he had grabbed the rock without even looking at it. Violating one of the primary rules of climbing free solo, to always look before you touch.
The boulder had come off with the mere breath of his hand. His lower hand was holding him onto the face above the abyss at the time, so no matter that his instincts were screaming to pull the hand back he could not let go because the other choice was much much worse. The rock crushed his thumb in an instant, pinched between the sharp edged hold that was keeping him on the face and the inertia of 150 pounds of jagged boulder falling from several feet above. It then crashed into his right hip, trying to throw him completely from his precarious perch above certain death. But this time his instincts won over and a very bad situation was not turned into the unthinkable. Lightning reflexes spurred by a maximum dose of adrenaline and the rock was sidestepped and went crashing down into the abyss alone, unable to drag down it's intended victim on it's gravity bound path towards destruction.
You may ask what is the first thing to cross your mind in the immediate aftermath of a situation such as this, far out on this proverbial limb of deadly exposure and suddenly being unavoidably confronted with such an awful turn of circumstance? The first thing of course is having to face the damage, a proper assessment in order to decide on a plan of action, time of course being a critical factor also for it's not unlimited. The thumb is crushed to half of it's normal thickness, it's bleeding but not profusely, a gruesome site and one he can not bear to look at for long. A quick bandage is made out of a piece of a knit glove and the white tape that's always carried holds it in place. Quickly done in order to keep a clear head maybe? It goes without saying that to remain in mental control is a virtual necessity. The pain is not as bad as expected, not strictly debilitating it seems, although the question quickly becomes will he be able to climb with this compromised hand?
Thought of rescue is contemplated, or at least to give a heads up, and the cell phone is brought out and an attempt to call his emergency contacts is made. But it's all for naught as this far up the remote valley the first bar doesn't even flicker. So that was how it was going to be, regardless of his position, he was on his own until if and when he could get back to the road. There was no rescue and in the next couple of days or so a front was coming in. So it would be self rescue or no rescue.
4 pins at 1 week
With much trepidation he gathered his things and proceeded to carefully down-climb the ridge. Quite slowly at first until it was thankfully apparent that he had at least partial use of the damaged hand. He made several raps and after a long and nerve wracking period he was back down in the forest, where the exposure and constant pressure he had been under eased just a bit. He made his way down through the forest reflecting on what had happened and trying to brace his mind to face the coming doctor's diagnosis, for this could be a life changing event. While he tried to be optimistic it had looked like the thumb was damaged so badly that it would not be a very good recovery.
Living in the USA means dealing with a health care system that is sometimes problematic and this case was no exception. But the end result was not that bad, at least better than had been expected and within a reasonable amount of time he was back to climbing normally. After this incident the interest in the climb waned for a certain period. Maybe it was the injury, or the lack of interest from his normal partners, but he just wasn't as excited as before about the prospects of getting it done. It was put to the back burner but maybe it was still simmering. A year went by and then two. In the interim he climbed many things but nothing that was as much of an unknown exploration, and maybe that is what finally drove him back.
It was near the end one of the longest dry spells on record, and if you climb in the Northwest you know that you have to get while the getting is good, because the wet spells will be there before you know it. He again talked about the climb, to friends and in his mind. Then a partner bailed at the last minute on a day climb and he was in the area and decided to do some more reconnoitering. It was a spur of the moment chance sort of thing. He didn't have any of the collected reference material with him, not even a map. But fortune smiled on that day and he found the desired rocky ascent gulley of his planned descent and connected with a moderately easy forested ridge that stayed relatively brush free. He followed it up to near the expected descent point East of West Garfield.
Sometimes in this process of hunting for these hidden gems it becomes apparent that some things are just meant to be. This is how it felt on this reconnoiter and it re-invigorated the interest he had felt so strongly before. And things had changed in the two years since the last attempt. The internet was finally coming into it's own as a place to connect with like minded individuals and in the last year he had done just that. Reliably hooking up with a number of great partners and having some pretty successful ascents that he really couldn't have done solo. Or at least it would have been more difficult and less enjoyable that way.
Then one afternoon at a local gear shop he happened to come across a local climber who had done some pretty big first ascent traverse climbs. Just a chance first meeting but he decided to try and follow it up. The prospects seemed promising at first but it was a busy time at work for this individual and he couldn't get enough days off for what he thought this climb would require. His thoughts were that maybe this was bigger than it looked and it might be better to go at it well rested instead of straight from a hard work week.
Perhaps this more experienced climber was correct in his assessment but with the beautiful weather Tandar desired to further this adventure even if it was not ultimately successful. And going with a partner would certainly carry greater potential than the previous solo attempts. No matter the outcome it would at least be more information gained. So he turned once again to the reliable climbing forum hook-up. Even this consumed another week of stellar weather before he could line up days off with the first qualified person who sounded interested. Ortan was the son of a climber and thus had started down this road at an early age. He had also done some difficult soloing and filmed and edited some impressive climbing videos. So it appeared that he could be an asset in more ways than one.
Ultimately it all came together and there they were car-camping the night before at the trail-head with a quarter moon and clear skies for company. They both slept well and were up early and on the start before dawn. It had been two years so Tandar wasn't all that sure of the start. It was a relatively faint trail and two years of Northwest plant growth and blow-down were quickly conspiring to cover the puny efforts of man. The trail was lost early on, then they were sidetracked by cliffs and the obligatory wild hornets nests. After some hiking back and forth in the steep forest they found the trail again just as the sun's light first cracked the gloomily indistinct horizon. They followed the faint trail to the base of the first cliff passage and in spite of the two years hiatus they negotiated the one sure path in it's entirety to the base of the upper cliffs, and did so in a pretty good time.
The first pitch out of the woods on the upper cliff that ends at the start of the ridge
They roped up with the 50 meter twins they were carrying and, having been here before, Tandar shouldered the sparse alpine rack and took the first lead up to the base of the gulley and then the simul climbing lead up the couple of pitches to the ridge crest. The day was as clear as their prospects and they paused at this idyllic precipice to soak in the beautifully huge exposure that they knew would hold them captive until they had either completed this adventure of exploration or submitted to retreat.
Looking ahead on the ridge the task appeared at points to be near impossible, but Tandar knew that up to this point it was mostly the optical illusion of fore-shortening. Additionally the steep sides of the visual profile to the North and South added to this impossibly sheer impression. Unbeknownst to our intrepid pair there was also another illusion at work, but this one lamentably applied it's affects in the opposite direction. For the climb ahead looked big but it would turn out in actuality to be even larger than first appearances. For while the ascent of every peak ahead was visible all the descents down the ridge from these peaks were hidden by the relative position on the crest, and all these descents were of course equal in distance to the total of the ascending terrain.
Ortan quickly established his fearlessness by tackling the first set of difficulties on the ridge, possibly even surpassing Tandar's style on the previous efforts. Where Tandar had dropped down the sides to avoid the harder bits Ortan took them head on. Although the protection was at times difficult the crest of the ridge proved to have more solid brush free rock than either of the opposite faces. The two climbers soon discovered that in spite of the insurmountable appearance of some of the steeper sections that they would always turn out to be moderate once attempted. This continued to the first flat bivy spot, where a belay was set up in the small garden notch, as the gear had run out from the continuous simul climbing.
The first minor peak on the ridge
The second minor peak on the ridge
Tandar was once again reminded of his previous travail as this was the scene of the unfortunate accident two years previous. He had intended to examine the location where the boulder had come loose on him but the undeniable attraction of the direct path up the center of the ridge was more appealing and the limited time frame afforded by the shorter fall days also precluded it. So the setbacks of the past were soon and gratefully forgotten, for a positive outcome in the here and now requires a similar mindset.
There was a very nice looking knife edge section of the ridge ahead when it was Tandar's turn to lead again and emulating Ortan's example he took it straight on. This turned out to be the most physical part of all the technical climbing. For the wild exposure drove Tandar to attack this smooth edge with an "Au Cheval" technique, and the ridge was not much like horizontal at this point, it had an ascending angle. The smooth and un-featured sides turned this style into a half desperate attempt for traction in order to ascend. Sort of like an off-width in that it was not that difficult to maintain position but gaining ground was entirely an aerobically physical undertaking. At least there was no effort wasted stopping to place gear, for there was none available in this 25 foot long crux section.
Following this knife edge section Ortan employed a slightly easier technique. He hand railed the edge with both feet smearing and body mostly on the left side, certainly less demanding physically but maybe more taxing from the mental aspect.
Looking East at the 1st major peak on the W Ridge of W Garfield, another major peak behind. The Au Cheval pitch starts out from the notch on the left
The two climbers steadily progressed along the exposed ridge as the day carried on. They climbed it entirely in simul fashion, only stopping for belays when the gear ran out. Most times they would use up the sixteen slings long before the seven cams as there were usually more trees than there were cracks. There was really no psychological or physical advantage to being second on the rope. The route had just as much down-climbing as ascending, so with the sparse gear the follower was just as routinely exposed to danger as the leader. Luckily for them on this day both of them had their lead heads together and there was never any hesitation to advance -under these oft times trying conditions.
There are five minor peaks total in the Western group of Garfield peaks, all them centered around West Garfield. In the latter half of the day they finally summited on the Western most peak of this group, the first peak encountered when approaching from the West. The views were outstanding with the main peak of Garfield now showing itself in the near distance. They tried to identify their goal of Garfield West and at the time thought they had a positive fix on the correct peak. It was two peaks away from this first summit and it was starting to look like they were going to run out of time before making that summit. The climbing had not let up to this point and didn't look like it was going to until past the last peak of this group. In addition there were some smaller sub peaks between them and their goal on the ridge.
Looking from the West, in order front to back, Garfield West, un-named peak, Infinite Bliss summit. Garfield Main and Courte Echelle in back
Garfield West, showing the 5.6-5.7 start from the notch at the left
Garfield Main from Garfield West, Courte Echelle on it's left. North peak of the Western group down below in front. Courte Echelle refers to the method of a climber standing on another climber's shoulders to reach a higher hold.
Garfield West summit from the West
Garfield West summit from the West
The sun was getting low in the sky when they summited on the next peak, just one peak away from their ultimate goal. The energy level of the pair was still high but the psychological pressure was starting to take it's toll. The goal was fast approaching but just as swift was the oncoming night and Tandar started reflexively looking for a way out of the omnipresent danger of the ridge that had been mandatory up to this position. He knew the topographic map showed an easier angled bench on the North side of the ridge. It didn't really start until after the West peak but they were near to that point and maybe it was within the topo elevation line's vague generalization.
The down climb of the second peak was long and convoluted. Tandar followed a path laid out by the crest and then a parallel gulley on the North face. The latter was loose and dirty and consumed more precious time than it first appeared it would do. By the time they reached the next notch they were too close to running out of light to proceed any further. The decision was made to descend to the sloping bench below. Fate again showed favor and from the notch it appeared there was a potentially possible scramble down to safety via a steep loose gulley. It was a sad state of affairs to give up the desired goal so close to the summit, but surviving was more important. And they both felt they had done very well considering the circumstances. For the most obvious fact was that they, especially Tandar who was more involved with the planning, had underestimated the scope and breadth of this climb. But they had covered a large amount of exposed terrain during one of the shorter days of the late fall. They did not win their ultimate goal but still felt well accomplished with what they had survived and achieved.
Pausing only long enough to sort the gear and coil the ropes they then proceeded to bail down the gulley, for they sorely needed to find a flat bivy spot for two before the concealing hand of the fast approaching night fell upon them. The terrain already covered did not hold too much promise for the way ahead, for there had been very few flat spots the entirety of the way since they had left the road so many hours ago. The sloping bench was just that, no area upon it appeared to be flat, but it was an easy enough angle for hiking with the occasional scrambling bit and they proceeded to traverse across it continuing in an Easterly direction.
Westernmost peak of the Garfield West group, taken from the Eest
Alpine glow on Garfield main, taken from the Northern sloping bench below the Infinite Bliss summit.
Alpine glow on Garfield main, taken from the Northern sloping bench below the Infinite Bliss summit.
Yet fate once again would smile upon them, for just as the curtain of darkness was finishing its descent they by chance happened upon a most idyllic spot as you possibly might imagine, and all the more advantageous for it's just as ideal timing. Halfway along and not too far down the sloping bench two graceful old growth evergreens had made a place nestled among a field of large talus boulders. For decades there laying down a flat bed of soft pine needles. Plenty of room for three or four and certainly palatial for two. The weary climbers had found a temporary home in this vast and remote wildness and they wasted no time in shedding their burdensome packs and lounging on the soft ground.
It was a physical relaxation but maybe not so much a mental one. For they were only halfway along in this gauntlet of adventure and water was now becoming a concern. Earlier in the season there had been North facing snow for melting and they had carried a small stove and pot just for that purpose, but it was not to be. Although the bench had some damp places even bordering on marsh this only led to frustration, because there was not a spot of snow and no running water, not even a trickle. They had left the road with three quarts each thinking it would be enough to last and that they would find more, but the underestimated size of the climb had taken it's toll and they were down to only one quart between the two of them.
Tree bivy on one of the very few flat spots
Garfield Main and Garfield North Peaks, taken from the bench below the Infinite Bliss summit
No water also meant they could not cook the freeze dried food they had carried and this combined with dehydration meant a limited performance on the next day. They lay down to rest with these thoughts weighing on their minds for they were out on a proverbial limb being this far from the road with so much steep ground in between. Knowing he would have trouble falling asleep anyway, Tandar stayed up for a while taking night pictures with the new camera he had brought on the trip. He had recently been inspired by some of the pictures on the forums and knew this place would have a special appeal if he could capture some halfway worthy images.
Sunset from the bivy
Starlight on the West Garfield Group, Seattle lights behind
Stars through the trees
Moon before dawn
Moonlight on the Garfield West Group
In the morning they woke up thirsty. They equally split their one quart of water and packed their gear and headed back up to the saddle of the ridge beyond the Infinite Bliss summit. The water was gone soon after that and it was not enough, for even by that time the previous exertions had built up a prodigious thirst. They were dehydrated already at this point and had much effort still ahead of them on this day.
Tandar had originally planned to descend Southward from the ridge saddle between the Infinite Bliss summit and Leaning Spire. The sloping bench provided easy access to this saddle but the terrain on the Southern side presented quite a bit more difficulties. Tandar had reconnoitered a descent path from the road to within a 1000 feet of so of this saddle but it was that last 1000 feet that had remained a mystery until this point. And the revelation was not looking to be all that positive. First of all the ground was very steep with numerous vertical cliff bands. But worse than that was the floor of the forest. For it consisted of a very hard pack of evergreen needles. Very slippery and taking quite some effort for their light weight hikers to dig in a hold if it was even possible at all.
The only saving grace was that each of them had brought an ice axe to provide a self belay. As Tandar had noted a similar necessity on some of the terrain covered during the recons. While the approach had very little of this slippery forest ground there had been some on the planned descent. But this was even worse. They started down and immediately were diverted by cliff bands and had to do some traversing. It was okay where there were branches and small trees to hold onto but the open ground was very sketchy even necessitating the chopping of small footholds at some places.
You could even compare these different forest conditions to the different ways that any given snow slope affords traction. For while appearing the same as any other forest slope this one seemed singularly unique in it's slick hardness. Both the climbers agreed that aluminum crampons would be ideal and that it was like trying to climb alpine ice in sneakers without them.
The path down past vertical cliffs was not obvious, nor was it certain how they would reliably connect with the route that Tandar had taken from the road, and the forest visibility here was the same as the approach, in other words strictly limited. So they wandered down a ways, going back and forth as much as dropping to find the way, and the conditions maybe even stepped up in difficulty, with the ground becoming even more steep and slippery.
Then while on a particularly steep and treacherous section not too far above tall vertical cliffs the unthinkable occurred. Tandar was out in front a little ways and he suddenly heard Ortan give a frantic shout. "FALLING!!!" But they were not roped up and this was just a reflex reaction that would give no salvation. Ortan's less than optimum footwear had not too unpredictable lost its grip right as he was moving his axe further down the treacherous slope. He landed hard on his back and immediately started to slide towards near certain oblivion. "ARREST!!!!" But Ortan was thinking very quickly, his mind still not appreciably dulled by the oncoming dehydration and certainly strongly enhanced by a huge dose of adrenaline. Flipping over into the arrest position would take several fractions, maybe even whole seconds, and in that time speed would increase to the point of possibly loosing grip of the axe while attempting to arrest.
For Ortan was using a leash-less technical ice tool and it's aggressive pick and leash-less design was not made for self arrest and would likely be torn from his grasp with the large shock load of the pick suddenly digging into the forest floor. No, Ortan was thinking very quickly, with lightning instincts in fact. He was sliding by and at some distance from a small but stout tree, not close to being within arm's length but possibly within the reach of a fully outstretched axe. He lunged for the tree with all the effort he could muster and just barely hooked his axe around the tree by it's base at the very limit of his reach. His speed was already considerable and the larger weight of his tall build was against him gathering momentum with that speed. In addition he was in no position and had no time to grab the axe with both hands. Could he hold on to the axe with one hand with no leash as his full weight and speed was suddenly and bone jarringly brought to a halt?
Yes yes yes, Ortan was able to hold on, thank the climbing Gods yes. A lengthy and collective sigh of relief went out there somewhere down on the steep forested slope out in the still and quiet wildness. This near tragic event made it now very readily apparent that a shift in strategy was needed, or even more correctly demanded. For it was a long way down on similar and potentially worse ground and with the passing time and increasing dehydration things could only get worse, and this was already way too close to the edge of insanity. The immediacy of the moment demanded an answer and Ortan was the first to suggest, why not just rappel down Infinite Bliss? Sure it's set up for 60's and all we have is 50's but we'll just resign ourselves to rapping from single bolts if necessary.
The Garfield Group from the South, the planned descent went down from the saddle in the middle. The Infinite Bliss summit is the 2nd from left
Looking East, the sharp peaks are Leaning Spire, Garfield Main Behind, taken from the saddle between the Infinite Bliss summit and Leaning Spire
There were times during the planning of some of the previous attempts that Tandar had considered using the rappel line of Infinite Bliss as a route of descent. With the right ropes and a topo it could make the return to the valley floor much easier. But in the specific preparations for this attempt the trad climber in Tandar had gained the upper hand, maybe subconsciously deciding that fair means did not include a retreat down an artificially bolted line. Or that walk offs were usually safer and preferable to long rappels. Hence the 50's that were lighter and of adequate length for the rest of the climb. For emergency purposes a topo of that route could have been helpful but maybe in the short notice preparations Tandar had merely forgot to include it.
Now, facing the obvious demonstrated danger of this steep forested cliffs descent, it was totally apparent that the rappel, while still not easy and fraught with uncertainty, would be the better choice. So two tiring and increasingly dehydrated climbers laboriously made there way back up and over the saddle and back down onto the sloping bench. Here they traversed back West towards Infinite Bliss and were lucky enough to find a scramble gulley to access the ridge to the East of the summit. Gaining the ridge they were pleasantly surprised to find a most peaceful and serene alpine glade. A walk up affair in the midst of all the steep exposure. A temporary respite from the storm of danger, maybe in this case the eye of a hurricane. For sooner than not they would be forced back into the thick of it.
Looking back on the alpine bench below the Infinite Bliss summit
Looking up at the I.B. summit from the bench
West Garfield from the I.B. summit. The North peak to the right
The base of the summit block was soon gained and while the climb to the summit was not terribly difficult Tandar wanted to rope up, for they were carrying the gear anyway, it might as well be applied to bring safety. There had been some question as to which peak was really the summit of Infinite Bliss and although all the pertinent information had been collected there still was not any solid certainty that this was indeed what they were ascending. Ortan however soon removed all the nagging doubt when he found the chained anchors at the top of the climb and right near the summit. Another sigh of relief went out and they girded their minds for the coming commitment to the twenty two wandering rappels of some two and a half thousand feet in vertical distance. All this without any written reference, totally committed to the memory of some four or five years ago when the topo had been printed out and then set on the bookshelf for future reference. Not to mention the fact that the anchors were set up for 60's when they only had 50's. And that some of the pitches were reportedly very run out with virtually no natural gear between anchors, so the plan to rap from bolts between anchors when necessary was by no means a certainty.
Ortan in spite of his little brush with death still had no lack of courage and he stepped up to take the first rappel without any prompting. The two climbers hearts now went into their throats and would not come out for quite some time. Ortan soon found a trail of bolts that led straight down to another chain anchor and happily it was within reach of their shorter ropes. He was quickly off rappel and Tandar was then on and soon down to join his fellow climber, now completely into the ragged jaws of whatever this full on descent would bring. The first rappel had gone well and now it was Tandar's turn to scout the way ahead.
Committing to the Infinite Bliss raps, some of them are 60m. 22 pitches, 2500ft. With 50m ropes and no topo, nor having ever climbed it. The only knowledge being the faint memory from printing the topo 4 years before.
Double even triple check all of the single links in the chain of gear in a rappel that is holding you above the abyss. Harness doubled back? Anchor good, knots okay, beaners locked, backup prusik correct? So many things for a dehydration addled mind to keep track of. Take a deep breath and you are off, sliding down a thin twin stranded lifeline. But Tandar's turn quickly took a decided turn for the worse. The first thing was there was no bolts? How curious, it was his recollection that all the top headwall pitches were thoroughly bolted, but this was not the case here on only the second pitch from the top? He tried traversing to the East, there was a large dihedral chimney and he seemed to remember a chimney pitch near the top in some of the TR's. Yes it was a large chimney, but still no bolts. He lowered further, committing to having to ascend the rope if he was mistaken, and still no trail of bolts. How could this be after the first rap had been so easy?
He traversed back to the West but was limited in the distance he could clamber across the wall. For above him there was a slight bulge to the overall dimension of the wall between him and the upper anchor, and the rope had become trapped under the edge of a large flake that was on that bulge. Thinking now without any bolts below the anchor that maybe the pitch traversed in from the West side he called up to Ortan to ask if there was a line of bolts to the side. Yes was the answer. In the preoccupation with the safety of the gear they had neglected to at least glance in all directions for the evidence of the trail they were following.
Tandar lowered further, for his traverse distance was limited by the rope caught in the flake above. There was another chimney way over toward the West, maybe it was the one described. He carefully scanned the rock all around looking for the telltale sign of stainless hangers, but there were none to be found. Lowering even further and after a third of an hour had passed from the departure from the last anchor Tandar gave a shout, "ANCHORS!!!" It was down near the bottom of the chimney, bolted chains again and a tiring climber cannot be more appreciative when he finds such a sight after so much tedious searching.
Tandar clipped in and shouted up to Ortan, "OFF RAPPEL!". Here again they were somewhat slyly faced with death, although in their stupor it did not register on them in a strictly immediate fashion. The rope was still caught in the flake and Ortan gave it a modest tug in order to gain slack so he could affix his rappel device. When he did so all of Hades broke loose. Apparently this large flake was completely detached and the slight tug on the rope broke this four hundred pound chunk of jagged boulder free to take a shrieking ride down the powerful well of gravity. It bounced one time on the face below, broke into only slightly smaller chunks, and proceeded to whistle and scream off and down on it's vertical path of certain destruction. Five hundred feet of terminal velocity free fall before it smashed on the face well below the base of the headwall. ROCK ROCK ROCK FU*KING ROCK!!!!! the warning, and pray to the climbing Gods that there are no climbers below. Apparently the admonition not to get on this climb if there is a party above you was totally sound advice. Please if there is someone below now please let them be spared.
It takes Tandar a few seconds or minutes to appreciate the gravity of what has just happened. He's out of the direct line of fire being West of the fall line and in a chimney. His first thought is are the ropes okay and Ortan answers yes. Then the addled mind finally clicks the relevant synapses together. A few minutes ago he was directly below that death block, monkeying around scrounging for the next anchor, yarding on the rope back and forth, never a hint of a thought that he was faced with his own imminent destruction. Learn this lesson here and now, watch carefully where the rope runs for your life can depend on that. He's known this for a long time, so now the dehydration's affects must be held in check for this is not a path that leads to any good outcome.
Ortan comes down to the chimney anchor and another collective sigh in a now long chain of them goes out. They proceed down the headwall for another three or four pitches to it's base, the pitches ahead more straightforward than the terrible one they had just experienced. Making progress and seeing the way ahead they started to relax maybe just a little bit, after all they had come so far and were still relatively unscathed. But fate would soon again vex them, for unbeknownst to them the pitches below the headwall had no bolts between anchors and at some stations there were not even any bolted anchors at all. For this was the easy angled section of the wall and the first ascensionists either had lots of courage or lacked the funds necessary to bolt every inch of the climb.
Looking up at the Infinite Bliss headwall from 1 pitch down the upper slab
From Tandar's recollection they sort of knew that there were unbolted sections that had to be scrambled, but the memory was not clear enough to pinpoint exactly where they were located. This became sort of frightening because of the experience on the upper pitch and not being able to find a trail of bolts. One long rap down the slab below the base of the headwall, getting near the end of the rope and still no anchors in sight. A time consuming search of practically every inch of rock everywhere below them, not even one solitary bolt anywhere to be found. The slab is very blank, there are no trees or even bushes to speak of, only very small cracks here and there, mostly rotten and flaring, no good for even single placements much less something substantial enough to rappel from.
Tandar resigns himself to sliding to the end of the rope, down to the limit, nothing below now but the yawning abyss. If there's no anchors here it's going to throw them into desperation. For they've looked to either side of this huge slab and it looks like you could possibly traverse on unprotectable ground, maybe over to steep forest but of course that has already been tried and it's not even close to an attractive alternative. But wait... what it this off to the side? Stretching the 50's now to the maximum... why it's another anchor, such a relief it's hard to believe. The shout is given and the sigh follows. It's a total stretch of the rope and Tandar leans down to just barely reach, but it does reach and he's soon anchored in, one more pitch down this giant face.
Ortan soon joins him and then Ortan takes a turn on the lead and again reaches the end of the ropes having passed not one single bolt, but this time after long and fruitless searching there is no anchor to be found. The terrain is really unchanged, the whole slab is bereft of potential gear placements good enough to trust with your life. The only thing in this barren landscape that presents itself at this point is a single small and somewhat anemic looking cedar bush. Being that there is little other alternative left it's given a closer inspection. Low and behold at the base of it's thin and raggedy trunk there is some colored tat. Looking more closely there is even a small screw-link threaded through the tat. Someone before them has actually rapped off from this suspect piece of flotsam in this large sea of monolithic rock.
The decision is made to commit for the alternatives are even less appealing, at some point you have to just release yourself into the hands of the climbing Gods. So another rappel is made, again a perplexing lack of even a single bolt, but this time the tree anchor reached at the end of the ropes is somewhat larger with more substantial runners and rings. Not what you would really expect though on a route that was supposed to be over-bolted to the nines. The look of these two anchors in a row makes them wonder if they are on some desperate bail line from some unfortunate party before them.
Finally on the very next rappel some stainless hangers show themselves on the steepening face. The trail of hangers is followed down and leads to a double chain anchor, things seem to be looking up but then defeat again attempts to snatch them from the jaws of victory. For this time with the fat anchors in clear view the rope clearly does not reach. It really shouldn't be any surprise but the short ropes have finally come up lacking. Tandar however has some McGiver blood in him and where there's gear available there's usually some solution to a mechanical style predicament. He ties the quad runner to the end of the ropes and at full upside down extension he can just reach down and barely manage to clip into the anchor. Then after a few moves of tricky down climbing he is there. Ortan soon lowers down and after a similar cluster of a jury rigged system, joins him safely at the anchor.
But their troubles are still far from over, they are only half way down this giant wall and at the next anchor Tandar drops a sling with two beaners. He dully watches it slowly picking up speed and departing downward. Somewhere along here in the middle of this vast wasteland of rock the dehydration starts to make itself more familiar, it comes closer with it's dry parching embrace. A tangible partner in this seemingly interminable dance with the destruction that's desperately being held at arms length. At least once and maybe twice Tandar forgets to clip into the anchors before taking his device off the ropes of the rappel above. While safely standing on a ledge this is still not even something that a clear headed climber would ever do. Then again fate decides to strike them another blow. Maybe she's pissed off that they've decided on this unaesthetic retreat and is giving them trial and tribulation in payment for shirking the hard way down?
For now it's Ortan's turn and he temporarily succumbs to the lack of water and his mind briefly loses it's grip on the here and now. For they of course have gone light as practically possible and there is only one rappel device for each of them. Devices which are crucial to the descent when you are in the middle of a huge wall such as this. While standing on a ledge at yet another set of anchors in this long chain, he fumbles and drops this one crucial device. Desperately wishing they could somehow stop and reverse time they both watch it drop to the slab below them, please please stop on a small ledge, something, anything. Tink...tink.......tink....................tink..........................................tink. They sadly watch it depart down that ever present well of gravity, giving them little ringing metal notes as a last parting gesture, an audible symbol of their seeming futility. "Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn..." Ortan exclaims, "how could I possibly let that happen?"
Of course all is not totally lost, for there is the Muenter hitch. That indispensable knot which every self sufficient climber who commits to any huge rappel should have in his quiver of knowledge. Ortan is young in his alpine experience only knowing of the knot but unaware of it's exact configuration. Luckily Tandar has tied it before although he's never had occasion to use it much, and it's been a while since he has bothered to practice this crucial bit of rope-craft. After a minute or or so he manages to tie the knot but then the now ever present slowness of mind pulls at him as he tries to relearn how to accomplish the pattern in a quick enough fashion to accommodate the numerous rappels they still have below them.
Eventually Tandar is satisfied with the Muenter. It's agreed between the two of them that he will give his rappel device to Ortan, who is too unfamiliar with this knot rappel system to have any trust in it, least of all hang his very life on it. Looking closely though at the system Tandar realizes that the safety knots they've been tying in the rope ends will pass right through the Muenter setup with no resistance, which means there is no back up at the rope's end. So he subsequently employs a locking beaner on his backup prusik to ensure that it keeps him from sliding off the ends of the rope. They've come so far at this point that it would be ludicrous to not employ every means within their ability to stay alive until safety is finally reached.
They carefully pass the single remaining rappel device left between them for Ortan to use and Tandar again heads down. Another rappel passes and another. One wish they have had for a while now is that there might be some climbers heading up this popular route. For below them the vague memory indicates there are tricky scramble traverse sections to negotiate and some full 60 meter rappels that no amount of monkeying around with slings is going to bypass. For if climbers were coming up they would have the necessary 60 meter ropes and of course a topo and more familiarity of the route having just climbed up it. But it was now a seeming impossibility. For the day was far more than half gone and if anyone was coming up they surely would have turned tail by now. For their pace would be well short of making the climb in the normal long day that it required.
At some time in any big adventure there is a moment where the proverbial point of the light at end of the tunnel is reached. And since the dear reader is in fact now digesting these words it should be somewhat apparent that this great adventure did at long last finally get to that now long strived for place. Hopefully also without ever being visited by the pretty much continual threat of mayhem or even worse, the tragic and untimely end of either of our two intrepid protagonists.
Looking down they now saw a stunningly unbelievable sight, for there were two climbers coming up the route.
The two Coast Guard climbers we met about 1/2 way who where coming up the route
That metaphorical unbreakable tech cord noose they had worn for this long time sort of now eased it's grip just a bit. The seemingly impossible now magically transformed into the distinctly possible. For while they most likely would have made it to the bottom without help who knows how long it would have taken and how much more grief they would have had to endure?
These climbers had 60's of course, and an extra rap device, and a topo, and a small amount of water with knowledge of where the nearest plentiful water was. Two regulars in the Coast Guard, on a mission and they didn't even know it. The solitude of wildness is fine but there are circumstances where it's so nice just to meet and talk to other humans and this was one of those times.
They exchanged stories and explained that they were only going halfway which would make sense since it was such a late hour. Ortan and Tandar continued down knowing these climbers would be close behind them as the halfway point was only one pitch above. Two pitches below this point they again tangled with a rappel of greater length than their ropes would allow. While they fiddled around trying to get an anchor in the un-fractured rock their new found friends joined them on the descent.
Of course Ortan and Tandar agreed with the rope situation that they would all go down together on the 60 meter ropes. Knowing that with the ever present loose rock that this would be the safer option. Three rappels later they all reached that small green oasis part way up the wall.
The planet and man's life blood. Unless you think you might want to go try and live on Mars. Normally taken for granted until you get stuck on a big alpine climb too late in the season to find any snow.
By dusk they had hit the ground. Tandar coiled a rope and packed his things. Then while waiting for the others he carefully took the sharp Swiss steel from his pocket and slowly cut the tech cord noose from around his neck. He then cut it in two and tied it to his harness. You never know, it might be useful as a prusik, or leaver cord, or just as a memento of some alpine lore long forgotten.
(post script. When Tandar got back to the house he again looked at the topo and realized that they had indeed summited Garfield West)
Unforecasted clouds rolling in at the end of the 2nd day