The events of today are far and away beyond the means to experience vicariously through words. Being, however, that it was one of the most exhilarating, full, and altogether surreal days of my life, I will attempt to make a record of it.
I’ve never been a coffee drinker. Some people like it as a little eye opener first thing in the morning. I have tried it and it is effective in that regard. Nothing, however comes close to a twenty five foot forty degree barefoot creek wade for chasing away Mr. Sandman. We got to do it twice by breakfast.
Soon after our third ford, we climbed up onto a plateau and lost the trail for 85% of the rest of the day. At my insistence, we took a two mile wrong turn. It was graciously termed a “side trip.” Being out in the middle of a giant snow filled basin at high elevation and surrounded on all sides by a rim of granite peaks feels like being in a frying pan. The amount of UV bouncing up off the snow is imposing. Tyndall creek was our last ford for the day and the most formidable. The current was too swift and the bottom too rocky and irregular to do it barefoot. We waded it in out hiking boots damning us both to sloshy wet feet the rest of the day.
By lunch at the basin below Forrester Pass I had changed socks three times in an effort to prevent my feet from turning into frozen blocks of numb uselessness. The pass itself, well… My mind was something like a passenger in a car. My body required it to operate yet seemed to carry its own automaton momentum. A forty five to fifty degree snow slope gradually gave way to a granite cliff wall. The wall had switch-backs dynamited out of it. Really that part wasn’t so bad. The trail was wide and well built up. One of us commented about how it wasn’t so scary. Dyl added, “Yet.” Eventually, near the top, the trail rounded out a corner and dumped us onto a narrow and extremely steep coular, or snow chute. It went down and down forever out of sight. The snow was soft. A mixed blessing. It was soft enough to kick steps into; but, the cornice lip thirty feet above our heads would collapse and avalanche if soft enough. After silently watching Dylan pick his way across, I set out. Half way my down hill leg slid out and my heart went into my throat where it stayed for the duration. The trail crossed to a wall at a facing angle to the one we had been traversing. It was a series of tight switch-backs built up with mud masoned flat rocks onto the cliff wall. A twelve foot seventy degree sloping drift capped the last couple switch backs. Dyl slowly traversed over a segment where the snow came down to cover the diminishing trail. He was a short slip away from an eight foot drop into the coular. Out then on the last remaining visible trail segment he faced to climb the embankment. I decided to climb it from where I was as his exposed traverse really left him nothing more that exposed. Where I stood was at the edge of the drift and the rocks seemed to add some hand holds and general stability. My left hand would grasp for a rock hold while my right hacked out an anchor with the ice ax. Climbing, I went into sheer survival trauma auto pilot. Dylan, halfway up and kicking steps with nothing to hold onto except his ice ax said to me between clenched teeth, “This is the scary part.”
The views off either side were dominating. It was, in spite of daily ups and downs, overall down from that point all the way to Canada. We were facing the north slope, covered in a considerable amount more snow, with the sun on its way behind distant granite spires. Oncoming cold of late afternoon shade would turn the entire thousand foot slope into icy slick hard pack. With great haste, we began to make our way down. Glissading helped us to lose elevation quickly in addition to being fun and lightening the mood. Past a group of lakes, we entered the head of a canyon that lost elevation down to an eventual snowless spot for us to camp on. After seven miles I was experiencing some of the superhuman psychosis that I experienced on the day we ran through the wind farm. Not even wet soggy boots held back the pace. We would fan out once we hit forest. When a tiny trail segment could be spotted, or if the snow was shaped in a telling way, one of us would simply yell, “Got it,” and our staggger would shift that direction. The euphoria initiated by the danger of the pass and perpetuated by utter exhaustion kept us maniacally hopping snowdrifts until it was almost dark.