“Hey Cowboy. Slow it down a little, yeah?”
Per usual, my excitement about the climb overrode the need to keep pace and keep perspiration and exhaustion in check. David stepped up front and imposed his Chamonix-Guide-Pace on the two of us. Step Step Step Squish Splash. I wiped the sweat from beneath my eyes and continued across the sodden landscape towards the back side of North Peak, the trail trading places with the small streams running off the slopes to our left. I had hoped to cross the creek and head up through a relief in the small cliffs below the start of our route, but David wasn’t game.
“I don’t want to go cross-country. There is the trail back there. We should take it.”
I slapped the back of my arms to clear the mosquitoes – he had been here before, and his French accent seemed to add credibility to his opinion, so we turned back the way we came. I turned on the afterburners again, trying to outrun the biting mosquitoes and failing miserably. David followed behind as we made our way up the stomped highway towards the group of lakes nestled below the North Ridge of North Peak. We could see the three couloirs leading down to a large snow patch to our left, and as we climbed higher we scanned the options for the path of least resistance. Long story short: we ended up winding and wandering for probably an extra 1.5 miles when all was said and done, but found our way eventually to the start of the snow.
A wee bird serenaded us as we arranged our kit for the snow climb ahead – sun already blazing in the early day (but not enough to discourage the mosquitoes). We could see already that all three couloirs on the north side of North Peak were snow, with tiny openings at the base of the middle and right chutes. My understanding is the middle route often melts out in the upper portion, so we took advantage of there only being a small amount of rock showing in the very upper portion. I shouldered my pack and we headed across and up.
The middle chute is a little steeper than the more popular right one, and gets quite narrow as you get closer to the top. We kicked easy steps in the firm incline, and we were at the chockstone in a flash.
It turned out you could tunnel under the chockstone, so I sent the Frenchman first to test the water (literally). He discovered quite a bit of cold running agua just under the stone – it moated-out in a manner of speaking, so the best option was crampons on the rock. I took advantage of the beta and made it through unscathed, but as we finished the steep snow beyond the stone, David left small bloody imprints where his knee pressed against it. Don’t eat the yellow (or red) snow, I guess.
We left the crampons on for a spicy mantle up and over towards the summit, kicking steps in the snow on the slope leading past the notch of the right couloir and over to the 4th class finish. We had a quick snack and shoved snow into our water bladders, anticipating a long hot day ahead. Crampons off, the rock finish to the summit wasn’t very hard, but had a nice little traverse over and around to an easy walk to the finish.
A couple/three moments were spent on top, but our joy was lessened by the clouds forming off in the distance, clearly dumping rain over the mountains on the other side of the 395. We cursed ourselves for the route-finding funk earlier in the day, as we’d have probably been mostly finished with the north ridge of Conness by that point had we been more direct. Nothing could be done about that, so we made a beeline for the start of the ridge, traversing slightly left around the first big cone to the ridge-proper. We were moving fairly quickly, the wind building a little as we climbed along and up, reminding us of the possible weather we faced.
First tower came and went, but I think we did a compromise between the easy traverse below it and the downclimb off. Twas a little awkward in spots, but hands and feet held true and we were on our way towards the second tower. In the distance, sheets of rain fell on lower elevations...would it blow this way? Who knows? Who gives a crap? Keep moving! Pro stayed in the pack still, providing that much-needed dead weight. We were feeling okay so far in boots without the rope, and decided we would continue this way until we wouldn't. We found a few 5.easy cracks to test our clunky feet and handjams, but for the most part it was glorious 4th class.
Rope came out for the raps off the 2nd tower, but it was very doable for the downclimb. In fact, I had to retrieve the stuck rope and downclimb anyway on the last rap, so effort = wasted. We were unable to see the weather at this point, our view blocked by the final pitches of Conness.
Although I was distracted by thoughts of storm-scenarios, I focused on making solid moves as we crept up the ridge - most of it was cruiser, but there were a few spots that gave me pause as I reminded myself we weren't tied in. Such great rock, and the holds were all there. David shouted down alternating words of encouragement and insults. It was glorious. We finished the nice exposed edge, and after a few interesting false summits, we were on top. No rain.
Another couple climbers came up the West Ridge as we rested there, one of them carried a penguin - I believe this penguin went by Penny, but don't hold me to it. We talked of shoes, and age. And poetry. She left a poem in the register box, and we said our goodbyes and headed down the east ridge - the two of them growing smaller as we bounded down the exit route. The walk out would never end, but we survived the onslaught of mosquitoes and the sketchy waterfall downclimb. A well-deserved burger and a little whisky in our bellies, I was out minutes after I laid down my head.
Following day brought a 2:15 car-to-summit on Tenaya. The approach was wet and the rock was fantastic (as were the views). We did the whole thing in approach shoes and smiles, and wrapped it up with a dip in the lake. I can't believe my life is this good. We are lucky bastards indeed.