| Summit Fever at 13500
"More mountain porn? Really Ben? You have a problem."
It is September and I am in my first semester of college in New York City. I am going through mountain withdrawal being displaced from my native state of Colorado. My girlfriend thinks I have a problem. Scratch that. She knows I have a problem.
Fast forward to Monday, January 4th. Two friends and I have planned to climb Mt. Sneffels tomorrow. It is our first winter ascent but as I jokingly put it "It's named Sneffels! How bad can it be?"
One partner calls me up and says she has a cold. If need be she can slam advil and drag herself along. I know thats not gonna happen in winter. Within 15 minutes of her call I get a call from my other partner. Wrenched his back. Funeral to go to Friday. Leaving Sunday. It sounds like we're freakin old and none of us can even drink (legally)!
So the climb is rescheduled to Friday and Saturday. One partner can't come, it's just two of us. Lots of borrowed snow gear, 3 rockstars and 8 hours later we are in Ouray and putting packs on!
A great help to our climb was the Ouray Ice Festival. Road was plowed pretty far (even though it was impassable by cars because of the ice) and we could follow skin tracks pretty far along the trail!
When the road ended it was snowshoe time. Both of our first times on snowshoes, but we got a break because the first mile or so was trenched in by other snowshoers/skiers.
About 1.5 miles in the agony started. I had been at sea level busy gaining the freshman 15 for a semester and my partner had not played soccer in quite a few years. Again, we felt freakin old. I remember the conversation I had with a friend who loaded me the snowshoes: "That approach is an ass kicker. All that San Juan powder. You guys really fit?" "Yeah, sure" I lied.
As we were crossing a particularly deep stretch of powder, I just could not a get on top of the harder slab. Step after step I would break through to my thighs. Then all of a sudden we heard a WHOOOOOOOOOMPH!!!! spread out around us. The entire snowpack settled for about a quarter of a mile around us. My partner looks up and me and says "Did you hear that?!" "Yep. Guess what? We just triggered an avalanche! Thank god we're no on a slope!"
Well, no harm no foul, but we decided to take that into consideration when crossing the avy terrain coming up.
And this is where I don't have any pictures because this was the hardest part of the trip. It got dark real fast, and real cold as well. In 20 minutes it dropped as many degrees. We were traversing a 35 degree slope and drop-dead tired. My partner had it the worst because she was still a little sick so I ended up breaking trail the entire way. The one thing I remember is counting steps and trying to get to 20 before I had to stop every time. My partner was begging me to stop and camp there but I knew we could never do that. Cliff dropped off to the left and avy slope to the right.
In one spot we could see a slab that had sheared off over a week ago. It was pretty tense crossing what was left of it. Finally the most agonizing mile of my life later, we got to camp. Boiled snow, made mac and cheese but only ate a little because we both felt pretty sick from exhaustion. Went to sleep at 8 after I agreed to hike out tomorrow. My partner was pretty sick.
That night I had a dream that my parents hiked up to join us. I explained that if we made a summit attempt and were back by 2:30 we could still hike out that day. They agreed. With their permission, I woke up and pitched the idea to my partner. She agreed too.
We ate breakfast and hiked on. We decided to go pretty light and fast since we already had camp set up 1.5 miles from the summit. After 800 feet my partner couldn't go any farther. This was 11:30.
I convinced her to let me summit alone and I would be back by 2:30. At 3:00 if I was not back she would hike out and call SAR. She finally agreed so I set off with a turn around time of 1:30.
At 11:45 I reached the bottom of the slope. I was hiking just about as hard as I could push myself because I knew time was really tight. The slope itself was hell. I just couldn't stay on top of the snow in my snowshoes and booting was no good. At 12:15 I reached 13000 ft.
From there the mountain just had no plans of me climbing it. The powder was waist deep. I tried switchbacking and it helped a little but I realized I was basically shearing off the slab by cutting above it. So I slogged on but only made 400 feet in the next hour. When I did finally almost reach the top of the slope it was 1:35.
I looked up at Lavender Col. I was at 13500 and change. Only 600 more feet to go. I did the calculations. I could probably summit by 2:30. Then be down by 3:30 and catch up to my partner before she got all the way back. It honestly seemed like a logical idea.
Then reality set in. I had to turn around so close to the summit. So I flipped it the bird and yelled "fffffff***********ck yoooooouuu!" Then I glissaded down.
I was so frustrated that It didn't occur to me to take any pictures fromt eh base of the col, but threre wasn't a whole lot to see anyway. I snapped a few as I rounded the corner at 13000 ft.
The hike back was uneventful except for the pain. We followed our trail out. A couple off interesting things we noticed though. Mountain Lion tracks and fresh! They even followed out tracks for a while.
Another thing was in the middle of the night my partner woke me up and said "Ben, I think I heard a really big avalanche!" I dismissed it as a plane or something but on our hike out we saw a slope that had slid the night before. Anyways we snapped a parting pic of us and completed our descent.
To sum up:
I got my mountain fix for now!
I learned the real meaning of sublime!
Snuffalufagus: 1 Us: 0 but not for long! We will be back!
And most of all we came back alive so now my partner's mom will talk to me again!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):