When you get into alpine climbing no one tells you that summit day starts well before the sun rises. Every minute saved by rolling out of camp early could mean the difference between summiting and disappointment.
Alas, I found myself in that familiar place again, groggily emerging from my sleeping bag and questioning my own sanity.
Our team of five roped up before 3 a.m. and began a 5,000 ft vertical push up the Easton Glacier toward Grant Peak.
Trudging uphill with crampons and driving an ice axe into the snow every few steps is about as glamorous as it sounds. There’s nothing particularly enjoyable about suffering up the side of a mountain in the dark, but the steady cadence of foot-after-foot numbs the drudgery and casts you into a trance-like state.
Fucking summiting man. There’s something totally intoxicating about it that words can’t describe. You’ve spent the last __[fill in the blank]__ number of days / weeks working toward this goal, and you’re rewarded with a panoramic view, red morning sun against neighbouring peaks, and the craziest natural high. For a few moments time stands still and you are totally invincible. I’m a badass Amazonian queen.
Until you realize your trip is only half over.
One of my favourite mountaineers and author of Annapurna Ed Viesturs says, “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory.” And boy, it’s the most important thing to keep in mind during alpine climbing. As the sun creeps up snow underfoot becomes slippery and unpredictable. Your legs wobble and confidence waivers. What goes up must come down, and you’re no exception.
Mt. Baker is no Everest (and certainly no Annapurna, for that matter), but ‘summit fever’ can happen anywhere. The desire to reach the top at any expense has cost many people their lives.
That’s something that I’ve been pondering a lot lately — what would it take for me to turn back?
I can tell you that I definitely know my Achilles’ heel — it’s not endurance, strength, or mental stamina. It’s how bloody cold I get in nasty-weather-type situations. The right gear helps, but within 60 seconds of inactivity at high-altitude I feel like my body is atrophying and frostbite is taking over. I’m convinced death is imminent and in 50 years someone will find a Verity-shaped popsicle frozen to the side of a mountain.
So, how bad does my Raynaud’s have to get in order to call it a day?
I wonder if temperature is one of the main reasons there aren’t more female mountaineers? Even on Baker they were few and far between, and I felt outnumbered having to pee attached by rope to a bunch of doods.
Not a problem I’ll solve today, but something to ponder. Speaking of noodling over an idea, as I stood 10,778 ft in the air taking in the spectacular view my gaze became fixated on a giant in the distance: Mt Rainier.
Feeling more confident with glacier travel, crevasse rescue, and the like, I’ve got my sights set on a new challenge.
BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?
PS — some photos for your viewing pleasure, and a video of our climb by Albert Borges!
Amazing summer and super stoked I was able to experience such an incredible summit of Mount Baker!