(Continued from previous post)
The faint trail had already led us astray once, and now we were slowly picking our way over a vast field of downed tree trunks. Not an auspicious start to our ascent of the highest peak. For encouragement I glanced up at Mt Peale, which momentarily resembled Mt Doom. (I can do this, my heart tells me.)
Verdant meadows, a flowing spring, swarming mosquitoes and gnats, aspen groves, elk and coyote tracks… this was not the desert to which we are accustomed. We’re 5000 feet above our usual elevation and can feel it. Reaching tree line, an unstable talus slope is all that remains between us and the summit 1500 vertical feet above. A pika nearby seemed perfectly comfortable; the marmot loping up the ridge wasn’t winded. (I think I can do this, my heart tells me.)
Up, up, always up — lungs sucking air, I had to rest every little bit to let pulse and respirations normalize. A couple of guys passed us at the bottom of a steep couloir (chute) filled with snow and we watched carefully how they navigated the route. As they kicked their boot toes into the whiteness with each step, and dug in with their trekking poles for traction, Chris and I exchanged a glance; these conditions at 11,300 feet have caught us unprepared. Exploratory attempts on the couloir leave us shaking our heads. (I really wonder about doing this, my heart tells me.)
My hiking partner’s the safety officer at work, and he takes his duty seriously. We conferred. Without ice axes, there’s no way to arrest one’s slide if footing is lost; you’d end up at the bottom of the couloir crumpled around granite boulders. The mental image of a mangled body deters us; concluding that the wisest route was down instead of up, a postponement seemed the appropriate choice.
Mt Peale, you win this round — but August is coming. We’ll be back.