Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whole new territory

Date: Feb. 19
Mileage: ~10
Total climbing: ~5,000 feet
Time: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Weather: Sunny and hot, 45 degrees, light winds
Details: Ridge trek, 40-90 percent

Only time for another quick photo post today. But what a stellar weekend this was! Today I lazed through a relaxing morning, and in the early afternoon I headed up the Hawthorne Ridge with Geoff (yes, my ex) and Dan. This was unique for a couple of reasons: 1. I can never talk people into hiking with me on Fridays. Dan actually took the afternoon off. 2. This is a ridge near town that I haven't been to yet. Let the adventure begin.

It was a simple grunt up to timberline and incredible views almost from the get-go. The day was so clear that we could see all the way across the Juneau Icefield. The peak on the right, the one that looks like a big hand signaling "stop," is the Devil's Paw, on the Canadian border.

That's Mount Roberts, looking rather gnarly on its south side.

Friday was again incredibly warm, probably near 50 degrees. Because Juneau ridges are usually snow-covered well into July, this was nearly identical to a summer stroll - wind crust, slush and an almost unbearable barrage of snow-reflected sunlight.

Taku Inlet as seen from West Peak.

We climbed up to Middle Peak only to meet the Impassable Precipice of Death. It was a near-vertical drop down a cliff band into a razor-sharp, rocky knife ridge. This is a picture of Geoff and Dan being disappointed that we couldn't go to Hawthorne and loop around Powerline Ridge. I have to admit I was a little relieved, because my comfort threshold is quite a bit lower than these guys', and I could have easily been dragged into something nauseatingly unnerving if the route had been marginally passable, as I was suspected it would be at best after looking at it from below. The Impassable Precipice of Death left no lingering questions.

Here I am standing near the Impassable Precipice of Death. That was as close as I was willing to get to the edge.

The ex.

Dan.

Views were still good from Middle Peak, elevation 3,722.

These boys have a running habit that is tough to match.

Looking back over the climb up West Peak. After much deliberation about the snowpack and spring-like conditions, the boys decided that instead of climbing the peak again, we would go OVER the cornice, into the steep bowl, and back out the other side. Dan's fairly experienced with winter travel and I trust his judgement for the most part, and it is good for me to push my comfort limits if I ever want to take this mountaineering thing to the next level, but, man, I was sweating the whole time. And not because it was hot.

The specter of the snowshoer.

Looking back over the three peaks at sunset. Hawthorn is on the left, Middle Peak and the Precipice of Death in the center, and West Peak on the right. Because it was only sunset and we had so much time to burn (ha!), Geoff persuaded us to cross a secondary ridge and drop into Sheep Creek. The ridge was longer than I anticipated, and then it dropped straight off the world into a near-vertical drainage, which the guys slide down on their butts because they're more comfortable doing stuff like that. I have a problem with being out of control, so I painstakingly backstepped my way down it, using my ax and more than a few painful handfuls of Devil's Club stalks as handholds. I was dark my the time I crawled across Sheep Creek. Then the runner boys sprinted ahead as soon as we reached the icy trail. As I was wandering downhill, I made a quick cell-phone call to a friend to let him know I was going to be late for a play we made specific plans to attend and had tickets for. While I was making this call, I managed to wander off the trail in the dark and was never able to find it again. I spent 15 minutes looking for the trail before giving up in disgust, knowing I was almost completely disoriented and fairly exhausted at that, and then crawled down another steep drainage, ax and Devil's Club stalks in hand, until I stumbled out onto a strange private road. It turned what should have been a 30-minute walk out into more than an hour. It was after 7 p.m. by the time I made it to Thane Road. I had missed the play, stood up my friend, and caused Geoff and Dan to nearly return to the spot where I wandered off the trail, looking for me. (I tried to call them on my cell to let them know I was lost, but reception was spotty.)

Such is adventure. The biggest challenges happen after you think you're done.