Higher Than Any Mountain… 8-15-09

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 8-19-09

… is the love of a true friend.

“Hi, Laura. The shot did not work. I’m going to keep going, soaking my foot as often as possible but it slows me down. I’m concerned that I will run out of Advil…” The message was sent via someone Rosie had met at the LeConte Ranger station, just days after I had booted her in the butt from North Lake. I checked with her sister for the schedule, when Rosie was going to be hitting Charlotte Lake, and it turned out to be Saturday. My attention immediately shifted, the long day of peak bagging out of Pine Creek thrust aside for a long walk beyond Kearsarge.

It’s amazingly dark at 0130. Shaking off the urge to plunge back into my bag in the warmth of the TOF, I donned my trail runners and gathered gear into my pack. The dinky headlamp shone a circle at my feet and no further, the screen light from the camera seeming to brighten the pavement in front of me in the parking lot. Around 0200, I finally headed out, feet scuffling along the trail with the clink of poles off the granite lining. Not five minutes in and I glance up into the Golden Trout drainage, the ambient light illuminating… eyes. G-ddammit, why is it whenever I get out this early and by myself have I got to see the eyes. I only see the one set, but I still freeze and start to growl, hair bristling on the back of my neck. Chills from the breeze and fear ripple over me as I slap poles and make myself seem threatening, or at least loud. I know there are bears here: two cars down from mine the driver’s side window was gone, a note from the ranger taped on the back. I move on, still growling, make the turn and continue up. The eyes are still looking back, whatever critter having turned to investigate this strange creature ascending the trail. I know he can smell the cookies in the pack. The fire lit under me, I try to fly up past the Wilderness sign and beyond, no stopping in the thin light of the crescent moon.

The forest beyond the lakes is silent, save for my huffing and shuffling. A cool breeze cuts the trees, rustling pine needles and whispering among the boulders, finally shifting the sand of the upper trail. I turn to look back, mistaking the moon’s reflection on water for another headlamp. I can make out the shadow line of the pass, the black hole of Big Pothole Lake below. I draw my hood up overhead as I crest the pass, the chill whipping up the westside as I dive for the high road. My body finally caught up with the notion of working at this hour of the day, and it’s not happy. I yawn as I reach the cutoff trail, thinking of the puffy jacket in the pack and curling up for just a few minutes. But the eyes haunt me, and I shiver in the stillness before moving on towards Glen Pass.

Grey skies above multi-hued granite, tarns still and black along the trail, a few rustlings of birds as the day begins to wake. I turn to see the pink glow hovering in the western sky, the first sign of dawn in the warming atmosphere. I rise as it descends, my feet tracing the switchers as they cling to the wall. Light kisses the upper blocks, behind me the Great Western Divide glows to gold, the east ridges of Brewer and North Guard casting long shadows. I top out on the pass just as the sun clears the Crest, illuminating the Rae Lakes drainage below. Emerald tarns ripple as the sun pushes cold night air aside in preparation for another bluebird day. I am dropping fast now from the heights, down the north face of Glen and back to treeline as the sun sparkles on creeks cutting in and out of the rock. Sapphire depths and turquoise shoreline shimmer and come still as the day air settles in place, the Painted Lady checks her reflection to ensure each boulder is in place. A single circle emanates from the center of the deep where a fish had risen to grab breakfast from flight, morning light percolating through pine needles soft to my touch.

“I heard you needed some Ibuprofen.” I called out to Rosie from above her campsite. She turned, squinted, then the look exploded into the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. That look alone was more precious to me than any summit I have ever attained. She bounded across her site, enveloping me in an enormous hug. Her new friends in the site above wandered over at all the commotion, confused by my appearance so early in the morning, eyebrows furrowed when I told them where and when I had started that morning. “Do you mind if I make us some coffee?” I asked Rosie with a smile. She almost melted in front of me as I pulled out my stove and the grounds and set the water to boiling. Then I pulled out the cookies. In the early morning air, we sat on the rocks above the lake, gazing at the reflections and Rosie catching me up on her adventures. Another pot of coffee, and we were both sufficiently wired to journey back over Glen Pass to Charlotte Lake. I taped her foot, explaining each step in the process so that she could repeat it herself should the need arise. I helped Rosie don her beast-pack and we were off.

Rosie set the pace on the climb back out of Rae Lakes, and groaned when she saw the wall of Glen Pass above the undulating granite slabs. The trail wound first above the lakes, following the stream back up and above treeline, finally turning rocky at the base of the face. I envied her having been out for so long as she stepped surely up the blocks, pausing for breath as she needed. She told me the tape seemed to be relieving her foot quite a bit, although we did have to stop once on the ascent to let her prop it up. I cheered her on from behind, and at last we rounded the final switcher above the aquamarine tarns and walked the knife edge trail along the top of the pass. “Well, THAT’s done,” she cried, happily dumping her pack to sit and have lunch from our perch. We set out SPOTs side by side, sending OK messages, knowing that her family had been watching progress that day especially (I had let her sister and Ernie (CMC) know of my plans). As I munched on my sandwich, she told me stories of her dad and son, how much she missed them, how much she felt them on this journey of hers. I looked over at Painted Lady and the traverse to Mt. Rixford, peaks I had thought about climbing on my way out to get back to the Kearsarge Trail. But then I turned to Rosie, knowing my place was with her that day, and said, “Let’s go find George Durkee at Charlotte Lake.” Laughing, we heaved packs again and wound down the south face.

George wasn’t there at Charlotte, presumably out on patrol, so I left a note as Rosie picked up her resupply box and we found her a campsite. In organizing her new load, she dumped out the extra bags of jerky and biscotti, uttering, “I just can’t eat these… what was I thinking??”, then laughing at a surprise gift of jello from Ernie. All of the garbage and extra food went into my pack to haul out that evening. Once she was settled, I tanked up in the shimmering waters of the lake, the sun glinting off ripples in the breeze flowing downslope from Mt. Bago. One last hug, another kick in the pants from me, and I turned on my heel and headed for home, Rosie’s smile never fading, bright and strong in the shade of her campsite.

Glare and haze faded the Great Western Divide, muting the Kearsarge Pinnacles above the lakes as I reascended the Pass. I urged my legs onward, leaning into the hill and the final switchers as I thought of the day. There are so many reasons I do this, week in and out. I wondered what others’ reasons might be. To prove something? To go faster? To set a bar? To find your soul? To get back at someone/thing? To test yourself? To touch God?

In the end, it doesn’t matter why I do it, or why anyone else does. What matters is that I do. Each step holds something golden and divine, a new vista, a new challenge for myself, a new chance to see both inside and outside. Doug Robinson said:

“Mountaineering just means glad to be here.
No climbing is required.
Simply from being in the mountains
It will arise spontaneously of itself,
For sheer joy in wild terrain.
— Palisade Notebooks, 1970”

Rosie’s smile carried me home.

The most beautiful woman in the Sierra:

Pics are here .

Sunday I climbed White Mountain with Tomcat, Rafael, and others from the Kern River Valley Hiking Club. A great day with great people. Pics are here .

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

So long.



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