North Buttress 5.9
Trip ReportNorth Buttress of Mt. Goode, with a detached retina
"Mr. Muenter, the bubble is your FRIEND!" encouraged my ophthalmologist (with his distinguished Indian accent).
It was Monday in late August and I was in disbelief; only days earlier I looked out from the Mt. Goode summit imagining a late-summer full of more high-Sierra dreams.
But now there was a bubble of C3F8 gas in my right eye to repair its detached retina, exiling me to life at sea level for 6 to 8 weeks.
The bubble was NOT my friend. I'm no Homer Simpson and acceptance was not easy.
My favorite stages were denial and bargaining (hence my doctor's statement) but deep down inside I knew the risk.
Thank god for that Mt. Goode trip. At least it was something on which to reminisce while staring at the floor for 10 days. (You have to keep your head pointed down so the bubble holds the retina in place.)
The idea to climb the north buttress of Mt. Goode was Aaron's and I jumped at the chance. He's a solid, safe, and strong partner. He once demonstrated the risk of rapping off old slings by ripping them apart with his bare hands!
In early July there was a sudden increase of 'floaters' in my right eye but I convinced myself it was somehow 'normal' aging. A few weeks later a small ambiguous blind spot appeared but it was subtle and easy to put off. (It was like this: put a finger on the bridge of your nose and look straight ahead. You can still see the tip in the corner of your eye, right? I couldn't.) In retrospect, it's possible I might be partially responsible for requiring the bubble by procrastinating nearly 2 months but, if 'if's' and 'buts' were candies and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas as my old college roommate used to say. So far it seems to be working out OK except for the mountain withdrawal.
(In all seriousness, don't put this stuff off. With no treatment there's 100% chance of eventual blindness.)
Regardless, the bottom line was that the Mt. Goode trip was scheduled for before the eye appt although whether we'd actually CLIMB it was in doubt as we drove down 395 towards Bishop.
Sure enough, just as we got to the trailhead the skies let forth with torrential rain, thunder and lightning. (On the plus side it was easier to get a parking spot.) We sat in the car contemplating the options, from bailing entirely to coming back tomorrow for a car to car, but by 5 pm the rain eased up and we decided to go for it. By the time we set up camp things looked promising.
The next morning was beautifully crisp and clear as we hiked to the North Buttress base. Unfortunately there's no pictures because it was cold and I didn't want to stop to get the camera out (and I was sucking air).
Eventually we arrived at the base and after some checking and re-checking of topos found the start of the route. (2013 conditions beta note: the final approach was doable - scarefully carefully - in FiveTen Daescents but I wish I'd taken up Aaron on his offer to loan me his spare pair of strap-on crampons.)
Earlier we'd settled on each leading one of the 5.9 pitches and Aaron got the traverse so that meant that I'd start the route. The original plan was to link the first two pitches but given some details I won't go into here (OK, I will: It was cold and I was nervous) it got split it into 2 pitches anyway.
Some views of Aaron coming up the first couple pitches:
At that point Aaron took over for the traverse.
He was moving at a steady pace until going out of sight, after which the rope movement slowed almost to a stop. Hmmm. But just as I was starting to worry came the "OFF BELAY" after which I had the opportunity to discover the source of the time dilation which you already understand if you've climbed the route, or will learn when you do. Nice lead, Aaron!
The next pitch was easy (but chossy) and I got a little confused by the topos (we had three: ST, MP and Croft, all of which are slightly different), but in the end it's pretty obvious where NOT to go and eventually I made it to the notch and set an anchor.
I stared up at the next 5.9 pitch. Intimidating! Fortunately, to quote Croft (The Good, The Great and The Awesome), "...great protection, solid moves, nothing to worry about." Looking down the pitch:
Aaron led the next pitch, up the fun chimney.
We were moving at a good pace and having a blast, but always *just out of reach* of the sun. FINALLY, on that next pitch I reached out around the arête into the brilliant radiant energy of that magnificent star that bathes our cold rocky orb with light and warmth (cue the 'angels on high' chorus). It felt great!
The summit was close enough to taste! The next pitch had a cool tunnel-through and you would see Aaron leading it here if my camera had X-ray vision. (Do X-rays penetrate rock? Maybe not. Gamma ray vision...?)
He was planning to top out but rope-drag insisted otherwise so with one more quick swing of leads we topped out with plenty of time to check the summit registry and enjoy the views.
We to headed back to camp in the fading light, tired but content with the fine day behind us.
The next morning was glorious, with Mt. Goode and setting moon to greet the day.
A final note:
HUGE thanks to Steve, Rita and Liz who drove me to the eye appointments while I was incapacitated.
Double thanks to Steve for loaning his belay glasses so I could look at the computer and TV with my head down. My retina specialist never heard of these and was impressed, so if the Belaggles folks are reading please send me a cut of all your future profits from the ophthalmalogical orders.
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