Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's That Buzzing Sound?

It is 6:30pm, we are hiding just below the summit ridge of Mt Temple. The charged atmosphere is causing my hair to stand up even thought it is damped from the unrelenting hail. Our ice axes, crampons, and all other metal objects, including my sterling silver earrings, are buzzing. The thunder started just as we overcame the crumbling black towers. The black towers were the final rock section before reaching the glacier. The rock below the towers was relatively solid but not the towers. The rock on these towers could be compared to fist-sized chunks of granola held together with saw dust, it just kept crumbing off under our hands and feet. We had to belay one another from protected stances, because as the leader climbed these chunks of rock would shower down the steep slopes.

The forecast was not ideal, but after days of looking at the forecast of rain to find each day bringing sunshine, we decided to gamble and attempt the 11,624 foot peak. It rained most of the evening and the morning was full of mist and fog. Most of the day we were climbing in a cloud, it was nice, it kept us cool. It would lift now and then to let us view the splendor of the valleys and lakes below and then quickly swallow us again. The first 2000 feet was easy forth-class scrambling. Then the wall steepened for 600 feet of the “big step” which lead into the chimney with two large chockstones, the highlight of the climbing. A few drops of rain dampened our clothes as we headed across the snow moat to the black towers. One point higher up on the ridge of the towers I glanced back down behind me and it was as if the ridge was cutting the sky one side was clear with view to the lake below and the other side was filled with a cloud.

After nearly 5000 feet of climbing, we topped out onto the final double-corniced ridge above the hanging glacier. This is when we first heard the thunder, but there was no retreating now as the decent route was up and over the top of the mountain. To return the way we came was not an option. We knew we were close to the summit but we could not see it. With a pressing sense of urgency we navigated the crevasses and ridge cornices. We strapped our crampons onto our approach shoes (light weight tennis/with rock shoe rubber) we choose these opposed to boots to save on weight. Coating them with a waterproofing product helped keep our feet dry until we were sinking up to our knees in hail/gropple/snow. Our feet were soon soaking wet. Under the gropple was a hard layer of ice, we were very happy to have brought crampons. Thunder again, “Move faster!” Going from one side of the cornices to the other depending on which was overhung. The clouds would go from white-out to slightly less white out to allow us to navigate. A summit flag…… and this brings us up and over to our hiding place. We set all metals objects away from us and decided to wait 10 minutes or so. We were just 40 feet below the summit still exposed and on a cliff. We need to get down lower. We decided to make the move; it had been a few minutes since the last clamp of thunder. We repacked our bags in lighting speed, and holding our ice axes by the rubber handles, instead of strapping them to our packs as lightning rods, we ran down the hikes trail at full speed. We must of dropped 2000 ft is less than 20 minuets. We were out of the cloud, what a relief!

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