last weekend i was cajoled eagerly accepted an invitation to climb a relatively local peak, under the auspices that the recent span of nice weather would make it a quick, painless, 3 mi trot to the summit. ‘but there might be snow up there, and we don’t have the gear’ i protested. ‘we’ll turn around if we have to’ was the quick, and reassuring, reply.
leaving in the pre-dawn darkness, i was tired, but thrilled. i have been dreaming of summitting emigrant peak for some time now. my regular running habit gave me the confidence that i could climb the 3 mile trail – so what if it went up 5’000 feet in elevation? bring it! i had coffee, a good friend, plenty of warm clothes, and my dog. pulling up to the trail head though, i started to grow weary. and by the time we got a mile in, something in my brain simply stated ‘i don’t want to do this today’. maybe it was the graduate student guilt of the midterm exams waiting at home, or perhaps i knew i would get into another… ahem… situation. but i pushed through it, thinking i was being silly.
emigrant peak - on the right. not my picture - there was MUCH less snow when i was there!
yeah, those gut instincts? they’re usually right. and i need to listen more often, even if it means looking like a tool.
i made it most of the way up, and it was tiresome. about halfway in, we hit the snow line. snow that had fallen and accumulated at least two feet in depth, and spent the last several days in 50F+ temperatures. the ascent wasn’t atrocious, as we were within a wooded area, and the snow offered some purchase and stability. it just slowed us down quite a bit. and when the treeline ended? breathtaking views.
snow-capped mountains in all directions
for example, the image to your left.
and that’s about when i stopped taking pictures. because all i could see up ahead was snow-littered rocks, and an ascent that went pretty much straight up into the sky. no big deal – i had crampons on. and for the most part, it was a difficult, but not dangerous, climb.
until the wind came.
and got worse.
it got to the point where i would lift my leg to step forward, and if the wind picked up at the same time, resulted in actually knocking me over. i’m not exactly a tiny girl. but let me tell you, having the wind knock you flat on your ass makes you feel like the most insignificant creature on the face of the earth.
but still, the ground was relatively firm and the going was good. slow, but good.
until i had to start crawling on all fours, punching my hands into the snow in front of me, and using my crampons to keep me from losing my footing. at about the 10’000ft mark, i realized that it wasn’t worth it. should the wind knock me over, i wasn’t going to just fall into some rocks. i was going to fall of a ridgeline. i’m not ok with death. not yet.
and so i got to a relatively safe and sheltered place, turned to my partner and said ‘this is where i get off’. he didn’t put up a fuss, just asked if he could continue to summit. why should i care? i told him to go for it. from where i sat, behind the shelter of a rock and cuddled up with the dog for warmth, this is what the route to the summit looked like:
well, it doesn't LOOK bad
i would have walked up it myself. except for the fact that you couldn’t walk up it. the wind was so bad that it would have involved continued crawling on all fours. and should the wind catch you off balance? well, that’s a 5’000ft drop off to your left. now, this isn’t my picture – i blatantly burgled it from another climber (one who did this hike with no wind, and with crampons and an ice axe). when i was on the mountain, there was more snow – none of this visible rocks business. and the sun was on the snow – melting it.
i’m glad i didn’t summit.
but i was irate when at one point, i had been left behind on the descent. i had effectively gotten myself into a jam, and was going to have to cut steps into the snow in order to cross about 15 ft of unstable snow and loose rock at a 45 degree angle to get to safety on the other side. and the snow shovel? with my partner – now long gone and out of earshot. with every step, packing down the snow and testing it for stability, jamming my frozen hands into the questionably stable snow pack at eye-level, i knew that i was out of my league. i knew that we had no business being on that mountain. i also knew that a supposed “day hike” had effectively turned into the most miserable adventure i’ve yet to be on.
we eventually made it down. and it was rough. once in the trees, the snow became impossible to walk through, and the choices were to either glissade from tree to tree, or just free fall. in a hurry, my partner took the latter, while i took the former. and received a brash chastising for doing so – because it “added time” onto the hike.
we finally got back to town, and i thanked him for an enjoyable hike. i drove away, fuming. and starving. and resolved to no longer go on mountain summits with this individual. ever. again.