Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Suprise, Suprise

"No fruit tomorrow?" Harvest is a busy time at work, but the rare break between pressing grapes to make wine has me scheming other plans to fill the coming day. By 5:00 AM the next black morning my foot steps mark the muddy, then frosty approach to Sherpa Peak.

Sherpa Peak's NE Coulior

My friend Patrick and I squint at Sherpa's North Ridge, a cool looking feature on a mountain I have only summited once. This is the line we've come to do. Snow decorates the upper reaches of the route and though I have added extra cams and an aider to prepare for a snowy battle on rock, I realize our one day time limit (work!) will not allow us to get the route done. I toss my pack in the talus and search for other options. A coulior rises up the NE face, but I wonder if we can safely manage it with only one axe each, rock gear, and strap on crampons. We came prepared for a wintery ridge climb, but I see ice in the coulior. I really want to climb it. At least we have boots.

Patrick climbing out of the first schrund

I lead off, getting good sticks, well, good stick I guess you would say. Even though the coulior is moderate, late season schrunds break the shoot into short ice and mixed steps. One tool barley gets me through. Ice and snow of all sorts take us to a notch on the east ridge. A wind swept sunshine warms our bodies. I fire up the stove. The coffee tastes so good.

Looking down, high in the chute

The east ridge flows along an orange granite spine. Consolidated snow fills grooves, but leaves the cracks alone. The pro is good and the climbing magnificent. I turn over to the north side and the exposure rips down the face all the way to the basin below. Impressed with the drop I weave towards the summit and then find my path halted by a square block of stone. I stare at the flawless rock. "I don't think I can climb this in boots," I think. Smiling, I make a belay and bring Patrick across the ridge. I dig for my rock shoes and hang my boots and crampons on the belay. This is so cool.

Brilliant mixed climbing on perfect snow and rock defined the east ridge

After summiting, we rappel down to the notch at the top of the coulior. A south side sand slide drops us below the snow line. The crappy traverse over to Sherpa Pass seems to take forever. The slog back over to the north side of the range burns my legs. When we reach familiar ground I lose the trail. I know I am a tired idiot right now. The cairn that I keep circling back to affirms this. Finally Patrick steps on the trail. The tension fades into the crystal clear night. The forest silently takes us home.

Incredible climbing on the east ridge

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