Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Ugly Success...

If you recall, at the end of the last month, I attempted to climb my first 14-er. You may also recall it didn't end well, it was more of a beautiful failure if you will. Since I'm not the best at accepting failure, my partner and I decided to head back this last weekend for some redemption. Without telling anyone except my roommate, The Alpine Hack and I took off towards Ridgway, CO around midnight on Thursday. We had decided to follow the same plan of attack as last time, drive through the night and hike into camp early in the morning and get some rest to climb the next day. The approach hike in this time had significantly less snow than last time, as in absolutely no snow, so the hike in went much faster this go round. What took us about 3 hours last time, we ticked off in under 2 hours this time. Things seemed pretty optimistic already!

New view from our old campsite

We arrived at our old camp super early and figured it would be best to keep hiking and set up camp higher since there was so much less snow this time. Once camp was set up, we took some silly pictures, made dinner and crashed hard. The alarm was set for 4 am and we had every intention of getting an early start. After unexpectedly waking up at 2:30 am we both decided to go back to sleep for a few hours... Only to wake back up at 5:30 am realizing the alarm didn't go off... Just to inadvertently fall back asleep and wake up again at 7:30 am. So much for an alpine start... We drug ourselves out of the tent and quickly made some oatmeal while getting our packs organized for the day. Shortly after our mid morning hustle to get out of camp and a hike through the talus field from hell we found ourselves back in the snow (all of which went 1000x better than last time thanks to Julbo!). We took a quick break to throw our crampons on and started the trudge up the snow field to the base of the climb.

Talus from Hell

Time to trudge... Almost there!

We finally arrived at the base of the climb and climbed up to a nice little ledge. Off came the crampons and out came the rope. We were finally climbing the North Buttress of Mt. Sneffels!  We pitched out the first few pitches of the climb before deciding that time wasn't exactly on our side due to our late start and the terrain was easy enough to simul-climb. We continued like that for most of the climb with the exception of a few sketchy spots where I was put on belay. The Alpine Hack was an animal, this was totally his style and it was incredible to watch him in his element. The climbing itself was unlike anything I had ever done. Technically it was easy enough, but I'd conservatively guess that 75% of the "holds" I grabbed were not attached to anything. That took a little getting used to, and as soon as I got used to it the terrain changed on us. We came to a short ice/snow pitch and the crampons and ice tools came back out. After topping out on that we had a short down climb into the top of the Snake Couloir followed by a long snow pitch leading to the final mixed pitch before topping out. The last pitch was kind of tricky, but I finally got to use my Trango Raptors in a way they had been designed for. I pulled through the crux using some dry tooling techniques I had never thought I would ever use.

Ice/Snow Pitch

The tricky mixed pitch

The Alpine Hack had set up a belay right below the summit and from there he let me run up to the summit first. The views were absolutely beautiful. 14,150 feet... I had never been that high and it was incredible to get there via such a fun route. We took our obligatory summit pictures and had a quick snack before starting the descent. 

After an easy hike/down climb we reached some snow. I wasn't very comfortable down climbing the snow, it was steeper than it looked, my feet weren't getting enough purchase in the snow and I got scared. My awesome partner quickly put me on belay and lowered me down almost a full rope length to where I reached a semi flat spot. At that point he climbed down to me and we repeated the lowering process another rope length until I got to the boulders where the snow ended and we could hike out. We started our hike down, hoping we were in the right couloir for the descent route. It was getting pretty late and by the time it started to get dark, we realized that in the rush earlier that morning we had both forgotten our headlamps. It was now totally dark, we were both exhausted, it had been a long, physically draining day for us both and it was no where no close to being over yet. We continued to scramble down through a never ending boulder field of death; falling down and stumbling had become the norm when we couldn't see where we were stepping. It was starting to get really ugly at this point. There was more crying on my end than I would like to admit, my partner and I actually became frustrated with one another to the point of yelling at each other and at one point I contemplated just bivying in the boulder field of death because I didn't think I had anything left in me. My partner insisted that camp wasn't too far away and if we kept moving the terrain would get easier. I was scared and both physically and mentally exhausted at this point, but I trusted in him and just sucked it up and kept moving. Sure enough... We finally got out of the boulder field and crossed over a stream a few times and before I knew it we were at the tent. 

Checking the time revealed that it was midnight... And I had to be back in Salt Lake City by noon to pick my kiddos back up. So after a quick rest we packed up camp and started the hike back to the car. We arrived at the car at 3 am and quickly made plans to stop at Denny's in Montrose (the only place open at this hour) to refuel before the long drive back. After eating, we drove home in silence, stopping to swap driving shifts every few hours so we could each get some sleep. All in all, it was an incredible experience and I learned a ton from it. Things could have gone very bad and we were lucky that we made it out without incident. On the drive back my climbing partner asked when I wanted to do another one. I immediately replied with "NEVER." However, after taking a few days to let everything sink in, I was already turning around and asking him when we were doing another one. 

I had got my summit, but it certainly didn't come easy and it wasn't pretty.


Heather Gannoe said...

I need to come visit you. The east coast is great, but the mountains out your way are breathtaking...

Linda W. said...

Congrats on your summit of a 14-er. Yes, mountain climbing is not pretty, but the rush you feel when finally summitting is worth it.