Wednesday morning there were low
clouds drifting up from the cool valley but the sky above was clear and bright.
The team was repacked and dry. After breakfast we assembled outside the lodge
before a small crowd of well wishers and press. A brief statement about Judy's
decision was made. Jim reminded the members of the press that they had agreed
that they would not interfere with the climb. Even before the trip to
The weather was perfect; spirits were
high; the team was prepared; and everybody knew that the real climb was
beginning. Adding to the spirit of determination was a sense of sharing by a
number of people who had volunteered one to two days of their time to help
carry equipment to
Rest step—Rest step.
A week and a half of practice was
evident as the colorful parade of forty climbers and porters moved like a
centipede up the asphalt walks to the snow, past the last stubborn fir trees
and blossoming heather to the rocky trails, and finally to one long continuous
field of snow. The distance to
The first few climbers formed a small trough in the soft snow which others try to follow. Steps would be synchronized for a while; somehow everybody's right foot would end up in the right foot hole. Every once in a while someone would lose his balance or slip, or do something else to throw off the sequence, and a third foot hole would appear.
Inexperienced climbers sometimes start too fast, go a few hundred yards and slow down, and eventually are passed by those who started slowly. Jim, Dianne and I constantly reminded the climbers to breathe deeply, lock the knee, keep the weight on bone structure--not muscle; to go slowly, and keep moving.
The Nisqually glacier is on the left
for climbers going up to
Gibraltar Rock looks like a tilted slice of
a many-layered chocolate cake. It was formed as one lava flow after another
spewed out of the crater, piled up century after century and was then carved by
the glaciers and rotted by the process of weathering. It is possible for huge
sections of the "Gib" to break off and destroy anything in the path
Richard Rose had been guiding Judy
After our stop at Pebble Creek Rich started out too fast and Judy started to weaken. I suggested to Rich that I would guide Judy and he could move on up with the others. With Jim in front I didn't have to worry about the others getting lost on their way to Muir. I lapsed into my chant on breathing and resting until Judy regained a rhythm and breathing pattern which matched her energy level. Then for nearly two hours the only sounds were the repetitive crunch of heavy boots kicking into snow. Anvil Rock a peak like outcrop at 9,854 feet above us on the right slowly moved down hill as we passed below it. My thoughts drifted back over many trips to Muir over the past thirty years hiking, skiing, and climbing. When a person is in shape, the easy pace of a long climb on snow is perhaps one of the most peaceful of body experiences. The body relaxes and effort dissolves into the sound of wind and the warmth of the sun reflecting off the snow. The steady pace becomes somnambulistic. Thoughts are punctuated by even, deep, lung-filling breaths.
"Boom" The mountain spoke.
Inhale, "...there's an avalanche up there somewhere."
Exhale, "... above the Gib"
Inhale, "... Sounded like a big block of ice."
Exhale, "...I wonder where?"
Inhale, “... It's so far above me that by the time the sound gets here the ice blocks have stopped falling."
Exhale, "...Look some more, sometimes falling ice looks like a river or waterfall."
Inhale,.. How is Judy doing? Turn around and look."
Exhale, " Looks fine. ..
Inhale, "...I've always wondered how it sounded when the front end of
Exhale, "... fell off in 1952. They closed the Gib route."
Inhale, "...There's a spider on the snow."
Exhale, "...Blew up on a warm wind from the valley below."
Inhale,"...Glaciers and snow fields are covered with bugs."
Exhale, "...Snow worms? --too early."
Inhale, "...Hmmm. Where's the bottle of snow worms I collected in '1957."
Inhale,"... They're supposed to
"Phil. How much further?" Judy broke in.
Exhale. "Another twenty-five minutes. You're doing great, Judy. Did you hear that large avalanche a few minutes ago?"
"Yeh. Kind of scary. Is that the kind that killed the climbers last week?" Judy asked.
Exhale. "Probably, if they were under one that sounded like that."
Judy and I arrived at
Everybody was tired but elated. Doug said it was the most demanding physical thing he had ever done in his life. He wondered if he could make the summit but decided he really wanted to. Jim explained that getting to Muir is the hardest part.
The Guide Service has a bunk shack on the north-west side of the commons, a rectangular fifteen-by-twenty-foot box covered with tar paper and a tar roof which will sleep twenty to twenty- five. Bunks are three tiers high. The head room at the top level is so low it is impossible to sit up. The Guides also have a storage building and higher up on the rocks to the north, above the other building, a cookhouse. In addition to the four buildings, there are a couple of chemical toilets and a rack of refuse containers which are carried out by helicopter twice during the year.
On my first trip to Camp Muir in 1952, before the guide bunk shack and cook house, there was a traditional outhouse with a hole that opened over a cliff. The next year somebody forgot to close the door and snow and ice filled the outhouse and it never thawed out.
The view back down the slope is to
the south. In the clear air the distant peaks of
Stoves were placed on a large fixed outdoor table which stood about four feet high. Jim made dinner. Some ate standing up looking at the scenery, some ate sitting on the large chunks of volcanic basalt and pumice bordering the commons area.
We slid into our sleeping bags around . I slept in the Guide bunk shack with the disabled climbers. Our "porters" slept in the public shelter. The space was cramped on the sleeping platform- bunk and the blind sometimes had problems locating the opening to their sleeping bags. Justin inadvertently started to slide a leg into Bud's bag and stopped when Bud commented in a droll tone, "Queer." This caused a choking round of muffled laughter as we fell asleep. We tried to be quiet because another climbing party who was going directly to the summit had gone to bed around five in the afternoon and were already asleep. They would get up at and climb all night while the snow was still solid and try to return before the late morning avalanches started. The route up the mountain is on the eastern side and the snow starts getting soft and melting as soon as the sun rises. Pelion was planning only to go to high camp on the next day and would not have to get up until seven or eight. The only clue the early rising team might have to their unusual roommates was Charles' leg lying on the bench.
The summit party got up at midnight,climbed to the summit while we slept, and returned to Muir while the Pelion crew was gorging itself on pancakes. The guide reported that the route was in great shape.