Over the weekend I was part of an expedition to summit a mountain in the Bow Range, far to the south of here. (Mount Temple. The same one we climbed last July.) In the course of events we lost half our party. We were forced to deal with avalanches and inclement weather. One foolhardy climber broke through the ice into rushing water. There were injuries and equipment falling from our grasp. It is a wonder any of us made it back to tell the tale.
We set out that day with fourteen brave souls. Two hours in we had already lost three men to the Minnestimma Lakes. (Actually, three women who had decided to only go that far and then turn back.) The remaining members continued on, assaulting Sentinel Pass. There, we expected the wildlife to set upon us, but once that caught sight of our countenance, they wisely hid. (The squirrels that usually demand to be fed were already full and didn’t beg as much. So we couldn’t get any cool pictures of hand-fed rodents.) However, here we lost two more people to grievous injury. (Two people who had only intended to go this far. The girl twisted her ankle on the way back.)
From here the fight to the top became more treacherous. We were going up, and we had to make our own trail. Still, us nine climbed. But three started to falter, falling further and further behind. Eventually these stragglers could no longer keep up and were losing the trail. They were forced to admit defeat. (Yeah, someone didn’t handle altitude change very well and had to turn back. His two friends stayed with him. Those friends were really ticked off back at camp. The overindulgence in alcohol may have exasperated that.)
With half our party gone from our sight, it became harder to keep our spirits up. The path up became perilous. A route through a crack in the wall, that was previously passable, had come undone; The rock of ages had fallen apart above us. (It is actually interesting to see that a mountain can change in a year. There was a crack in the mountain that we used to climb through to get past some cliffs, but this year, the crack was gone, and the rock/boulder that was part of it could be seen on the scree below.) We were defiant, and persisted. We removed our packs and formed a human chain to pass them up the cliff. But calamity! Our parties’ water supply was not secured and fell from our grasps down the side. (A water bottle fell out of a side pocket. It dropped a few meters where one of us picked it up and passed it back.)
With supplies running low, we stopped for nourishment. I noticed some of my provisions weren’t fairing that well in the upper atmosphere. (My airtight sandwich bag had ballooned from the air pressure.) I decided to save that consumable for later and to instead indulge in liquid courage (AKA Boost.) But cruel fate! My victuals proved poisonous and I was distressed. (Don’t chug a bottle of Boost. It will give you a stomach ache for half an hour.) Still, I would not admit defeat.
Up we climbed! Our numbers spread out further apart, but above we could see our goal. Our destination!
Then the ominous rumbling could be heard. Was it stormy weather coming to assail us? Nay. An avalanche! (On another mountain. There were several of them. Cool to see. Glad they didn’t happen on this mountain.) Luck was on our side and we avoided the worst of it, and all hands survived. Despite the snow we persevered, and forged our way to the very peak. To the heavens themselves. And there we let our presence be known to all. (I, ahem, “marked my territory”. Plus I could get cellphone reception, so I called a few people to crow about where I was.)
Our battle to reach the top was done in a mere six and a half hours. (An hour faster than last year!) We enjoyed the fruits of our labor for half of an hour before the grim realization of what awaited us became clear. To prove we had conquered, we would have to return from whence we came. Our ordeal was not over.
We steeled ourselves and descended away from the firmament. Truly this was easier, but still it could not be done lightly. Our muscles were pained, and the slope was slippery. (Knees hurt when you are pounding down on them.) At times our way was blocked by drifts of snow. We laughed at this attempt to sway our resolve. Instead we used it to our advantage and gamely slid down them. (Sliding down on our butts. You can go faster than you would like, and it looks comical to the people who aren’t doing it.)
But all was not a walk in the park. (Technically it was, in a literal sense.) Ways that had been clear and obvious in years past were not so anymore. (It was better last year. Back then the scree was easier, or there was a more obvious path. But we seemed to get lost in an area where that seemed impossible. Like getting lost in an open field.) We were blocked by a river of water, rushing through the ice. (Actually a small stream of meltwater.) After searching we were able to find a ford, before it descended under the snow and ice. With no idea where the deceptive water was hiding, we returned to the honest rocks. But one of our party was not so careful. He, in memory of our previous encounters with snow, decided to once again slide down this one. Tragically, he fell through into the rushing water. (Well one leg broke the ice and got scraped up a bit; In the hole he had made he could only hear rushing water. It didn’t deter him and he continued to slide down the snow all the way to the bottom.) With this lesson learned, the rest of us stayed on the rocks until we had returned to the relative safety of the Minnestimma Lakes. (We had misheard him yelling that he had gotten waist-deep in water, so we didn’t follow.)
From here the path was clearly marked, but the heavens opened up and tried to drown our commitment. (A light sprinkling of rain. Eerie, because you could see it hitting one part of a lake, but not the other.) But with the end in sight, we continued on. And soon we had reached civilization. Broken and weary, but together and triumphant. (It took us four hours and forty minutes to get down; Forty minutes longer than last year. I guess we really did get lost on the way back.)