Yeah, I often cut corners with the essentials, you all know that. But here’s a trip that slapped me in the face and called me an idiot in the most pleasant, enjoyable way possible. My Polish heritage shone bright and strong on this one. From the beginning (for me, at least) it was already a struggle. Saturday morning arrived, and I was crabby. I know, I know, that’s how most of my favorite climbs start. But this was more of a frantic, active crabby than a resigned-to-my-fate crabby. My flight back from San Diego had landed late Friday night. I was not packed. I had done no research besides knowing we were taking te West Ridge, which at its best is a 5.7. I did not know where my slings were, where my quick draws were, where my cams were. How many slings were in my closet? Were most of them in the trunk? Do I need to poach from my pickets? How many biners do you still have? WHY AREN’T ANY OF THESE COLOR COORDINATED? I was a disaster. I considered bailing. No don’t be a flake. I left late, despite waking up at 5am. I hit traffic. I considered bailing again. Traffic cleared. Woo! I hit more traffic. Everyone else was at a bakery in Concrete and I was stuck behind a semi in Marysville. I was definitely bailing. I had forgotten my camera. I messaged Calvin asking how much I’d fuck up rope teams if I bailed. The answer? “A lot.” Suck it up, buttercup.
Well, despite the entire world yelling at me not to go, I made it to the bakery, had an amazing scramble for breakfast/lunch (….brunch), grabbed a cinnamon roll for the road, hopped in Tony’s car, and we were on our way after a brief stop at the ranger station. Which you should stop at, because the rangers are super chill with tons of knowledge and they have this really cool 3d topo map you can geek out over for hours, if you aren’t shoo-ed out by your friends.
We get to the trailhead and who’d have guessed, the peaks were all out in full view! And the weather was only supposed to get better. We were in luck. We started up the approach. I almost asked how the approach would be on the way there, and then I remembered Calvin abhors approaches (“hate” doesn’t cut it) so the approach must be short and awesome. And it was! We were at camp in what felt like an hour. It was more like 90 minutes, but after the past few trips, it passed in the blink of an eye.
We set up our tents on what flat ground we could find, and started dinner. I had nearly brought a bivvy because it was so clear out and weather was supposed to improve (it was mid June!), but had forgotten mine when I hopped into Tony’s car. Andrea refused to share her shepherd’s pie. JT had sour patch watermelons for dinner. I, shockingly, was not hungry, so I made hot chocolate and sipped that while soaking in the views and the roiling clouds. The ignition on Tony’s stove wouldn’t work, and I was so excited to save the day with my lighter when someone else stole my thunder and offered their lighter. Essential #1: firestarter. Stove doesn’t count.
Within an hour, the views we had were gone, it was windy, and it was snowing in various directions. Essential #2: Shelter. Bivvy would have been okay, but damn was I happy to have a four season tent. In mid June. I bailed on the group and went to hang out in my sleeping bag. After maybe an hour I heard JT say “hey is anyone bored enough to go for a hike?” Yes, I was probably bored enough, but I had also just regained circulation in my toes and fingers and was not about to head back into the snow after getting dry and cozy. Can we just talk about hiking instead of actually hiking? Sorry guys, I’m gonna be a princess on this one.
I dozed on and off for 12 hours, wondering whether the wind and snow would stop. I eventually got up around 7am and unzipped my tent to reveal blue skies, sunshine, and several inches of fresh (did I mention it was mid-June) snow. And Tony, impatiently running around camp.
We made a quick breakfast. I tried Andrea’s dehydrated scramble and nearly vomited, devoured my cinnamon bun instead, and still spent the next 20 minutes fighting off nausea because it was way too much straight sugar at 7am. We weren’t sure how conditions would be, so over coffee and tea we debated whether we’d need crampons, gloves, would it be half snow half rock, will it be wet from snowmelt. I’ve never led a climb in less than stellar conditions, so I was anxious about potentially having to wear gloves and deal with wet rock. But I need practice, and I figured we’d be back down by early afternoon, so it wouldn’t be that long to be uncomfortable. And we had a solid 8 hours of leeway to fuck up before the sun set. Yeah, I drastically underestimated that.
We started up towards the ridge, warming up with some nice 3rd class scrambling. And a move that was supposedly 5th class, but honestly everything from 3rd class to like 5.6ish feels the same to me. If I tell you what a scramble is rated it’s because I read it somewhere. I’m not good at climbing, just oblivious. We stashed our gear at the base of the first pitch, only bringing bare necessities. Andrea and I were one rope team, and she carried the bag. Water, food…. is that all we brought? That might be all we brought. That and our glowing personalities.
Everyone switched to rock shoes. Except me, because
I am dumb I had never done an alpine climb in rock shoes before, and it literally did not occur to me to use anything besides my Nepal Evos. So that’s what I had. Calvin lent his rock shoes to Tony and wore mountaineering boots himself, so at least there were two of us. I spent the next 18 hours (that’s not a typo, 18 hours) hearing how much better rock shoes are.
JT and Bish started up the first pitch. Calvin was managing two ropes and bringing Tony and Quinn up behind him and went up a slightly different way. I started up JT’s route so we could climb at the same time. Choss city, baby. I always find the first pitch awkward. It’s like warming up swimming, I never remember how it’s supposed to feel and I’m uncoordinated and slow. I got a mediocre cam in followed by another mediocre cam, and grabbed a large handhold only to hear the entire thing creak as I put my weight on it, so I immediately bailed and went to climb a corner crack instead. Yuck. I don’t care how easy rock shoes might be, those Evos can edge on anything.
I clipped into Calvin’s anchor and belayed Andrea up, who kind of alternated with Quinn and Tony. Andrea floated up to me (Andrea I’m gonna tell you right now I do proofread but I keep accidentally typing “Andrew” so if you see that anywhere I AM SO SORRY) and we waited for Quinn and Tony to reach us. JT and Bish were already on the next pitch. My nose was already getting sunburned. Essential #3: sun protection. Don’t be Rudolph.
This continued for the next few pitches until we decided to just go ahead of Calvin’s group, because hauling two people up on two individual ropes is not very efficient and I’m impatient. Andrea and I quickly caught up to JT after an easy pitch to the ridge and a light ridge scramble. We protected the ridge, though I will admit I had one or two half assed anchors (I doubt Andrea was reassured by the shrub tiny tree I tossed a sling around like 15ft from where I set up my belay station). The main reason we caught up to JT and Bish was that they were stumped by the fifth or so pitch. We weren’t sure where to go. We had an idea, but figured it was best to wait for Calvin & co, so we sat around for an hour or so while they made their way over to us. Essential #4: Map and Navigation tools. Did we know where we were, and could we get down safely? Yeah, but I mean, I’m impatient and I wanted to go up. Going up requires navigation too.
I usually do so much research before climbs, but I had done zero for this one, and route finding was getting less obvious off the ridge. Calvin had a photo of the exact section. We eventually found our way to the next pitch, which JT stared at for 10 minutes, with every minute letting my mind question my abilities more and more. And then Calvin caught up. Do we climb the juggy part (eventually dubbed “milk jug”) on the left, or the crack on the right? Calvin and JT discussed it while I sat there staring into the distance losing confidence by the second. Finally JT got started up. He and Bish didn’t totally make it look easy, and I was sitting there like okay if their muscles were shaking on these moves, I’m fucked. This was only my second climb of the season, and Dorado Needle barely counts. But we’re here, so fuck it, let’s see what happens. Essential #4.5:
A huge pair of balls Confidence and/or Ignorance.
JT left his gear so I wouldn’t have to waste time bothering with placement. Besides the stopper that had slid out of its place once he got above it. I placed another stopper, hesitated before the move, heard Calvin saying something behind me, and finally said fuck it and started up. And turned around at the top to see my stopper had popped out just like JT’s. Great. Luckily the moves weren’t nearly as bad as I had thought they’d be. I anchored to a less than stellar horn along the ledge that JT had slung, and Calvin came up next, making some comment about placing a better stopper. Yeah, his fell out two minutes later too. That sneaky crack.
Calvin made it up to me, and I belayed Andrea up. JT was halfway up the chimney, and I could hear him. A series of grunts and scraping, followed by “I hate chimneys.” But he did well, and soon enough Bish was on his way up behind JT. Once Bish was out of sight, I started up with Andrea belaying me and Calvin peeking around the corner. Which was helpful, because eventually I got stumped hanging beneath a chockstone until Calvin gave away the secret – put your foot against the wall behind you. Duh.
Up and over the chockstone and onto some gravelly scree, where I finally slipped and started sliding. I managed to catch myself before the rope did (I got complacent, don’t get complacent) but unfortunately I kicked a football size rock onto Andrea. Who took it like a champ and sacrificed her wrist to keep me on belay! I felt terrible about it but couldn’t help but think that if I had kept sliding and hadn’t caught myself before the chimney, that belay would have been pretty damn important. We duct taped her wrist for stability, luckily no blood to worry about. Essential #5: First aid.
The next two pitches were straightforward but trickier than I expected. My amateur opinion is that there were one or two more 5.6ish moves between the chimney and the top. And so, so much rope drag. Extend your protection, guys. Hauling rope is brutal with that much rope drag. I had to get creative with pro, since JT had some of my gear and much had been left behind for Calvin’s team. I had Andrea clean the second to last pitch so I’d have some left for the final pitch.
We finally got to the step below the summit. Which I was told was a scramble, but looking at it (maybe I took a bad route), I wasn’t positive I could make the move without falling backwards (which would be unpleasant when leading), and I had JT throw me a loop of his rope. It was probably all mental because naturally as soon as I was on his rope the move was a piece of cake. Again, Essential #4.5. I whipped out my phone to take a summit pic, aaaaaand… my phone died.
I cried a little on the inside and belayed Andrea up. She enjoyed a hilarious summit pee (sorry Bish and JT) and we had summit chocolate and took summit photos. I took like 11 selfies on JT’s camera. Eventually it got cold and I realized how late it was. 7pm. Also I was out of snacks. Essential #6: Extra food. Well it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours to rap down right? JT started setting up his rappel as Calvin & co made it up to the summit. I was getting impatient and briefly celebrated them before getting annoyed. Blatantly annoyed. Poor Tony. He’s seen me snap a few times now. No I don’t want to take 20 more photos, it’s time to go down. I suggested stacking rappels on one rope to be faster, and everyone agreed. JT dropped down the first rap, followed by Bish. I was ready to get Andrea all set up when Calvin decided he’d teach Tony, Quinn, and Andrea how to rappel, and I could just go off with JT and Bish, which was music to my cranky impatient ears. We’d go down and figure out the route, which would make it easy for the other four to follow us.
Tony snapped a sweet picture of me rappelling which made me a little happier. I dropped down to join Bish and JT and we pulled the rope and set up the next rappel. It was a race to see how far we could get before the sun set. It was already tough enough to figure out where to go. I’m convinced we did not take the best rap route, but we were following obvious slings and rap stations for the first few, so it had clearly been done.
Bish and JT only had fleece sweaters over t shirts. I at least had a puffy. None of us had headlamps. Andrea had my water, Bish and JT were out and Bish’s extra water bottle was at our gear stash below. I recall looking at the sun setting over the peaks and seeing it halfway below the horizon and thinking wow, it’s gorgeous, but we might be fucked. Essential #7: Hydration.
The first hour after sunset is still light, and we carried on our merry way, getting colder every minute. Eventually it was dark, and we couldn’t see rap stations below us. We got down to a gulley, scrambled a little further, followed a broad ledge around a corner that I was hoping would lead us to where we had left our gear. Nope, still a few hundred feet up. Shit. But wait is that a rap station?? By that tree? I couldn’t tell until I was like five feet away. Yes!! Old slings! YES! JT caught up to me and we took stock of the situation. Was there another ledge below us? Two ledges? Could we even cross the snow if we got down to it? “I’m waiting for headlamps” JT declared. “You wanna lead that?” I laughed, or tried to. “Nah, looks like we’re waiting!” “Well, I’m going to go huddle with Bish to stay warm, wanna join?” It’s 1am, it’s pitch black, we’re fucking freezing, and we have no headlamps. Or water, or snacks, or layers. Yeah, I’ll come snuggle with you guys. And you know what? To everyone who told me how much better rock shoes would be, ask me how warm my feet were. Well, not warm. Ask me how not freezing cold my feet were. Essential #8: Illumination. We wouldn’t have had to wait over an hour if we had brought headlamps, and we’d have been moving a hell of a lot faster.
That’s when I realized just how fucking cold JT and Bish must be. Essential #9: Insulation. We were all shivering, but they had basically no layers, I at least had a light puffy I had worn all day and mountaineering boots. So we huddled. For ages. And ages. It actually helped. Every time we turned around it looked like the other four had made zero progress. We watched their headlamps slowly descend. Finally they were on the broad scree ledge, and made their way to us. We got Tony involved in the group huddle and I felt tolerably warm for the first time in a while. I have no idea who said what, but I remember someone making me laugh (more of a soft giggle because laughing was hard and loud and would make me breath more cold air) as we sat there shivering. I knew we had to head down but damn I was enjoying sitting there. The other benefit of illumination? You can pretend it’s the sun and feel warmer.
Calvin led the first rap down, and the rest of us followed. My harness was killing my hips. It took my breath away when I started each of those last two rappels, it hurt so badly. I debated not backing up the rappel because it’d be faster, but realized that being so tired, this was absolutely the time to keep using that prussik to be safe. There was one more rap to get down to snow below, where we could traverse over to the saddle where we had left our stuff that morning. Oh wait, I mean where we had left our stuff the previous day.
Calvin rapped down first again. “FUCK!!!!” is the first thing we hear drifting up over the wall. Followed by several sentences comprised of 90% F bombs and 10% various incarnations of shit. Some of our group laughed. I looked at JT and said “that sounded like a real fuck, not like Calvin complaining about approaches.”That snow we were looking at? Our concerns had come true. The snow was firm and icy, and no one had brought crampons.
Here’s where the nut tools came in. Calvin was cutting handholds in the snow! Ha! It’s all about improvisation. The steps were solid enough for me, but the nut-tool-cracks were good for balance, and I can only imagine how this would have been in rock shoes. Like using your bare feet to walk across a steep icy slope. Even I’m not that masochistic. I think.
Turns out JT meant knots to use as handholds. Whoops. Oh well. Calvin made it to the rocks on the other side and set up an anchor and I clipped into our little hand line (which ended up being easier than knots and holding it would have been) and repeated his steps, kicking them deeper and more frequent for the plebs in rock shoes behind us. I got to the other side and unclipped and waited with Calvin. Why the hell didn’t I bring a headlamp. I hate relying on other people and here I was waiting for light. Until I got impatient and said fuck it, I’m just going. I headed up to where our stuff was, whooped, and waited there for everyone. I tried to figure out what stuff belonged to everyone, but that’s tough in the dark.
The scramble down was easier than the scramble up. We dropped down quickly, and finally made it to scree that you could just plunge step down. We reached the snow, also icy, and Calvin and I slid down on our hips half-self-arresting at the same time. I was ecstatic, so close to camp and enjoying the slide down ice, until we heard “ROCK!!!!” from above us, and looked up to see a few football sized rocks tumbling towards us. Calvin miraculously ran to the side of the slope. I’m uncoordinated and awkwardly bear-crawled-with-an-axe to the side. Rocks dodged. And yes, between the harness misery and the arrest-slide I did wake up covered in bruises the next morning. As in Tuesday morning. Because the sun was rising, and it was Monday.
I went to grab water from the stream. Nectar of the Gods. Tony said he was going to make coffee. I said fuck no, you will not make coffee, I have to get to work and you are my ride. JT and Bish packed up and left in like 10 minutes, while I paced around bitching about it until everyone else was packed up. If I turn bitchy just put all the group shit on my pack when I’m like that and I’ll a) be slower and b) probably stop bitching because I’ll be too busy being proud of what I’m carrying.
Andrea took off on the way down. I kept stopping for water and layer adjustments. Calvin and Quinn and Tony were somewhere above us. We got to the forest and did a pretty good job of crossing a questionable stream on an even more questionable log. We lost the trail in snow but found it five minutes later and soon enough we were back at the road waiting for the boys. You might notice I never used the 10th essential, which is a repair kit. The only thing that needed repairing was my pride.
We changed into fresh ish clothes (new pair of underwear = whole new day) and got water from the stream across the road. I apologized again for kicking that rock down on Andrea’s arm and she once again lit up with pride that she had held the belay. We definitely heard an f bomb float out of the woods, and laughed. They must be getting close.
The four of them finally popped out of the woods and we straightened out all of our gear. Back to civilization and straight to work! 18 hours of straight hiking and climbing. A blizzard, a bluebird day, killer trad lead practice for yours truly, a summit, a moonrise, a sunset, a moonset, a time warp because that’s what happens when it’s pitch black and you’re moving, and a sunrise. And you know what? There’s something to be said for watching the sun set from the top of a mountain, moving through the dark, and then seeing it rise as if no time had passed. I was totally into it.
That’s terrifying! But exhilarating if you survive, I guess. Be safe! And watch your language!
really enjoyed this read!
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