For Kent: Mt. Langley via Tuttle Creek 4-25-09

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 4-29-09

The stone house kept silent watch in the grey light of morning as we rounded the bend through the trees, headlamps illuminating the trail heading southwest beyond the storage shed. It was that time before dawn when the only noise was the creek rushing below, our footsteps, and breathing, as we warmed not yet awake bodies in the early chill. After a brief tour, looking out empty windows into the void of Tuttle Creek Canyon, Paul (Lugsole), Rick Lovett (MojaveRedGuy), and myself stepped back into the night and followed worn paths around the south side of the ridge separating the north and south forks of the creek. In the lead, I was tempted by one of two splinter paths rising to the base of the rocks, contouring high through the manzanita and scree slopes. A grouse hen snuck quietly from the brush ahead of me, leading me up the sand and rock to continue our traverse until meeting the creek around 9000ft. There wasn’t much talking in these morning hours, which is how I like to start the day: each of us quiet with different levels of anticipation, fatigue from lack of sleep, anxiety about the route, dreaming of just how good a mug of steaming coffee would have been at that moment as we watched the canyon awaken. Well, that’s what goes on in my head, at least.

We paused beside the creek for a break, eating banana muffins I had made for just this reason. The water rushed by, ice coating extended branches and rock faces from spray. Cairns lay around us on the actual “trail”, leading higher into the canyon and through the pine and willow forest. “Sunrise,” whispered Paul, and I turned to see the cliffs to the north warming golden against sapphire skies. The three of us shouldered packs and bent into the trail, climbing along the north side of the creek past a sage-crusted waterfall and through a shaded camp area around 9500ft. We finally stepped onto snow around 10K, older tracks showing the treachery of afternoon softening for both boots and snowshoes alike. As the pines thinned to moraines , Paul and Rick stashed their snowshoes, since the morning chill was keeping the snow firm, and the wind had carved small ridges for stepping across the slopes. I strode across while the guys donned crampons, putting on my helmet while waiting on the loose boulders. I yelled to the Paul to stay low below the rocks with their points on, avoiding the scraping and wiggling of the boulders.

I finally threw on the ‘pons at the base of the chute , looking at the snow stretching the last few thousand feet to the summit. Rick led out, following his own line to the south, while Paul and I chose to walk in tracks made presumably by Miguel and his friends the previous Wednesday. Powder from the storm of the previous day filled the tracks, but the chute’s surface showed no other signs of accumulation as we trudged upward . A frigid wind blustered up the colouir, swirling spindrift through the exit high above. Paul and I traded leads, with Rick stying strong and steady just beneath us. It was a solid effort from all, and we emerged into the sunshine and dying wind at the top of the chute , the south plummeting to the Cottonwood Lakes , the ridges to the east blown free of snow. We crested onto the summit plateau, the rocks dry and scraping on our points as we made our way to the top . Air temp of 20 degrees, skies blue and bright, the topography of the Sierra lying at our feet. Whitney’s plateau showed the most snow, with the rest of the southern faces clear and clean and grey and gold in the afternoon sun. We did not linger long beyond entering our names in the register , and I wrote a note to Kent Ashcraft, borrowing a phrase from my friend Sooz, “You are with us always. Closer to you here on the summit.”

The descent was steep, but the snow softened as the wind became calm and the sun baked the chute. We plunge-stepped the colouir (OK, actually, I plunge stepped, and Paul walked in my steps), with Rick carefully picking his way down. The snow at the base of the moraines had indeed softened, and I disappeared a few times into lethal moose-traps between boulders. The guys picked up their snowshoes at 10K, Paul walking along the remaining drifts while Rick and I floundered for a quick 1/2 mile. We tanked up here for the descent as well, where the creek emerged full force from under the snow. As the sun set behind our backs and the ridge, the Ashram and the parking area came into view, and Rick pulled a few cold ones from his cooler on the tailgate.

Another grand day with two wonderful climbing partners: thanks, guys.

A few other moments from the day:

Rest of the pics are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.



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