Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Category: Mountaineering

Wasatch Mountaineering Part Four: Lone Peak Alpine Style

Guess I’m a junkie — I couldn’t even make it ’til July without doing another long mountaineering route here in the Wasatch.

On June 29 Mark and I met up at the LCC park ‘n ride at 2am and car-pooled to the Bells Canyon trailhead. I had been excited for quite a while to do a climb with him since he has provided most of the route descriptions and photos for all the mountaineering I’ve done via SummitPost.

Not five minutes into the hike we walked by a residential area and were blasted by someone’s automatic sprinklers. Though the forecast called for 90+ in the valley that day it was still a cool desert evening; 12 hours later and it would’ve been real nice.

As it was we scurried up Bells Canyon with Mark setting a torrid pace. I’m in decent shape so it was nice climbing with someone at least as fast as myself — By 330 am we were well up the canyon with the stream roaring at our side.

Somewhere around here things turned sour. I considered Mark to be the crusty old veteran and trusted his routefinding decisions, but regrettably we got off the main trail and ran into some heinous bushwhacking. Two miles and much blood later we found ourselves traversing snow slopes on the west side of Bells Canyon as the sun peeked over the ridgeline.

Trail
Lone Peak’s NE Face in winter. My line was right below the leftmost summit.

The original goal was to start the climb at sunrise so as to catch the snow in ideal conditions. Though it was nearly July there was still a ton of snow in upper Bells, and a surprising lot on Lone Peak’s NE Face itself. By around seven we were at the base of the face scoping out potential lines. While Mark had his eyes on the couloir directly beneath the summit I was eyeing the adjacent South Summit Couloir.

After gearing up with crampons, ice tools, harnesses and some snow pickets we headed up to the climb. The idea was to simul-solo the rock sections and place pickets in the snow to protect the couloirs. After about 30 feet of class four scrambling (with crampons no less) Mark decided to cut right to attempt the direct couloir while I continued up where I was. We agreed to meet farther up the face where it looked like the two couloirs convened.

It was the best climbing I’ve experienced on a mountaineering route in Utah: surprisingly solid granite mixed with snow pitches just compact enough to hold your weight. The scrambling never got more difficult than 5.3 or so and except for a couple sections it didn’t feel too exposed. Mixed climbing is quite fun; though I only used my ice tools in the actual snow I was making rock moves with my hands and standing on my crampon points. I had had a taste of this on Timpanogos but this time the climbing continued for hundreds of feet.

By nine AM I was on the most spectacular summit of the Wasatch: a 10×10′ block of granite overlooking all of the Salt Lake and Provo Valleys as well as the four hundred foot cliffs directly below the peak in the Lone Peak Cirque. It was truly mesmerizing. After taking it in for a while I took a nap while waiting for Mark to come up. After an hour, though, I started to get a bit worried and sent him a text message (yeah, yeah, pretty lame I know, but I had four bars up there). Surprisingly, I got a response pretty quickly. Apparently he had encountered poorer snow conditions than myself and decided to bail on the climb about halfway up the face.

Right before I geared back up for the descent I heard the unmistakable BAAAAA of a baby mountain goat. No more than 50 yards away was a family of the beautiful white beasts traversing the summit ridge. The smallest one would get stuck behind her parents and jump around haphazardly on granite slabs blissfully unaware (?) of the sheer four-hundred-foot drop awaiting a slight slip. On the other end of the summit ridge, just past the South Summit, was another family of goats making their way South. Lounging on the summit, I had a clear view of no less than fifteen mountain goats going about their business. What a day to forget my camera.

The descent was thankfully straightforward, safe and quick, and well before 10 I was waking up Mark in the middle of his own snooze. We hung out for a bit then packed up to make the eight-mile trek back down to the valley.

Spring* Mountaineering 2008: AF Twins

Well, yesterday it hit 96 in the valley and I think that’ll mark the end of the spring mountaineering season here in Salt Lake. Of course, I said similar things about the ski season way back in April so who knows; weather’s pretty unpredictable at 10,000 feet. Over the past few weeks I got in a few quality climbs, though:

June 1 | American Fork Twin Peaks

I have a lot of peaks on my list, and this one has been right near the top for about a year now. It is the highest peak in Salt Lake County at 11,489 ft. and is best known as the foreboding backdrop to Snowbird Ski Resort.

Claire and I met up at the Little Cottonwood Park n Ride at 7am sharp to tackle the Pipeline Couloir. We were the only car in the westernmost lot of Snowbird and headed up some groomers for the 2-3 mile approach to the base of the bowl right below the summit massif. It was pretty smooth sailing with a lot of traversing, and by around nine we saw the first few skiers and boarders coming off the lifts on the groomers. The SKRRRRACCCCK of metal on ice didn’t sound overly appealing, even though I had been up at Snowbird the weekend before (that was two days after a foot dump of snow, though, and conditions were money!)

We were about to gear up with crampons when a skier came over to us. Immediately I knew it was ski patrol and that we were probably f-ed when it came to going up our desired route.

Routes

American Fork Twin Peaks Routes

I had read a warning on SummitPost about trying the couloir while Snowbird was still open but disregarded it, figuring that there was no way red tape could get in the way of my mountaineering experience.

Well, I was wrong. The ski patrol kind of skirted around telling us that we weren’t allowed to do our intended route. He was a young dude, maybe about my age, and didn’t seem too happy to have to tell us this, so I prodded a bit to see what the real deal was. Basically the entire route was off-limits because it’s in a “permanently closed” area of the resort. I was pretty ticked. A few options crossed my mind:

  1. Wait for him to leave, then go up the couloir anyway. Avalanche danger was nil; why the hell was it closed? And what are they gonna do, land a helicopter on top of the summit, handcuff us or give us a ticket? Pssht.
  2. Traverse east and head up the adjacent bowl even though it was closed, too. I figured they’d just let it go as long as we climbed fast. What would be the point, though, it wouldn’t be any more fun than the ridge.
  3. Traverse over and up through the backcountry access gate, gaining the ridge and following it to the summit, then coming down the other side. Might not be too bad, and we’d be legal the whole way.
  4. Turn around and go home. HA HA!

We decided on option three. I was a bit POed; it’s one things to get booted off a route due to poor conditions or lack of experience, but by ski patrol? WTF man!? It didn’t matter, though, by the time we gained the ridge and had a sweet view of Mineral Basin on the other side I was plenty psyched again. The terrain was pretty mellow, probably class two all the way up to the East summit where it dropped to easy class one over the col and to the West and highest summit. We made short work of the ridge and summited around 11 to a phenomenal view of the canyon and surrounding peaks.


After about a half mile of descending I was kicking myself for not having brought skis. By that time the snow was getting really soft and corny, and the ride out would’ve been awesome. After some sporadic postholing on the ridge, we settled for a few sweet steep glissades and cruised on out.

So, all in all it was a pretty sweet outing. Claire was impressively fast and a positive, proficient partner. And ya can’t complain about a 11k foot snow-capped summit for yourself on a cloudless day in June!

*ok, maybe summer by this point

Spring Mountaineering: Part Two

Well, it’s June and I’m still hitting the peaks. The past couple weeks have seen two storms dump a foot of snow apiece in the mountains, which has ensured good conditions for another few weeks. This is what I’ve been up to:

May 17 | Dromedary and Sunrise Peaks

The triple traverse has been on my list for quite a while, but all the organized trips I’ve come across I have had scheduling conflicts with. So, on the 17th I thought I’d give it a shot, with the vague goal of getting up at least the first two and perhaps Broads Fork Twins too.

At 7 am I was on the trail and hiking up Tanner’s Gulch. During the winter this gulch funnels enormous amounts of avalanche runoff and is undoubtedly one of the worst terrain traps in the state. However, in the Spring it’s pretty benign. The first half mile or so was hiking on bare ground to a stream running out of the gully.

Traverse

My route up Dromedary (right peak) and Sunrise


From there the snow started and eventually bridged the stream. Already, streams of runoff were running down the gully walls. It was a pretty cool, if not eerie, sight. After an hour or so I emerged from the tunnel of the lower gully and started climbing steeper snow into the bowl between the two peaks. The whole time I could hear the roar of water beneath me, where the snowmelt was running down the rock 20 feet beneath me. Pretty unsettling. Rarely, glide avalanches cut loose in similar conditions, where the entire snowpack cuts and glides down the lubricated rock. These types of avalanches are entirely unpredictable, but thankfully, extremely rare.

After another few minutes I caught up to the two climbers ahead of me, one of whom I recognized from SummitPost. They were hoping to summit both peaks as well, but ended up turning back early. We climbed together for a little while before I pulled ahead, right about where my route takes a right-hand turn in the map. From there I gained a ridge and fought through some horrendous waist-deep postholing to make my way to more solid ground on the upper ridge just west of the Dromedary summit. From there it was easy class two terrain to the top.

After a snack I pushed on to Sunrise Peak. Downclimbing the ridge was pretty easy, but this time I continued all the way down to the saddle, having to do a slight traverse around a cliffband. From there I started up the ridge up Sunrise, which entailed the most fun climbing of the entire day. 60 degree snow slopes and sustained class three rock scrambling gave way to more gentle snow slopes all the way to the summit. It was pretty sweet.

The descent was ridiculously fun, too, at least once I got back down into the bowl between the two peaks. The snow had turned pretty slushy by then so I decided to glissade. It was hands-down the most fun glissade I’ve ever done, where you’re basically riding a sled of snow for 1500 feet until the slope gradually eases. I took a video of one of the shorter glissades (small | medium),
with which I will include some commentary:

  • 0:14 > run over a rock. Ouch.
  • 0:19 > run over something else. I ignore it and continue sliding since it’s so sweet.
  • 0:31 > Realizing I’m about to collide with a rock outcrop, I attempt to turn.
  • 0:33 > Turning is less than effective; as I glance off the rock, softening the impact a bit with my boots. I am still gleeful and continue glissading unperturbed.

The rest of the descent went off without a hitch, and I was back at the car by one, sunburned but satisfied.

2008 Spring Mountaineering Kick-off

This past few weekends I’ve finally gotten to do expressly what I came out here to do: Climb big mountains via difficult routes. “Big” and “difficult” are of course very relative terms, but here I’m using them from the perspective of someone from the East Coast. Perhaps definitions are in order: “Big” mountains here are over 11,000 feet and “difficult” routes require crampons, a mountaineering axe, and some exposure. By that definition there are an infinite amount of “difficult” routes up the 19 “big” peaks in the Wasatch Range.

Technicalities aside, my last three weekends have involved summits or attempted summits up the largest of these peaks. Three weeks ago I attempted the Everest Ridge of Mt. Timpanogos, the second highest peak in the Wasatch. It’s important to get an early start on this climb since it faces southwest and is a snow climb. The sun creates all sorts of problems on a steep snow climb, from exhausting postholing to wet avalanches.

April 5 | Mt. Timpanogos: first attempt

Thus, I was out of bed before 2am and on the trail by 330. It reminded me of my Mexico mountaineering trip; climbing steep snow in the dark by headlamp with a fantastic view behind you. The biggest differences here was the metropolitan area 3 miles away the luxury of going from my warm bed to a mountaineering route in two hours 🙂

Eventually I ran into a few people from the Serac Club (a local mountaineering club out of Orem) on the ridge. They were turning around because of some problems routefinding (been there, haha) and a pretty nasty storm was rolling in. We were at about 11k feet when a driving wind picked up, pummeling us with horizontal snow pellets. I hadn’t anticipated the weather and was dressed a bit lightly, but decided to at least go up a bit higher and scope out a route. After some hairy scrambling and numb fingers I decided to turn around, a bit dejectedly. I always hate retreating from a climb.

April 12 | Mt. Timpanogos: summit!

So, I decided to tackle it again the next weekend. The weather forecast called for clear skies so once again I was up before my roommates had gone to bed on a friday night and set off from the trailhead at 2:45am. I was surprised to find some footsteps in the snow and saw the faint glow of headlamps far up on the ridge. It was nice to (again) have someone else breaking trail. By about 7:30 I made it up to my high point from the previous weekend and took the same route, a 4th-class scramble up some short vertical rock and 70° snow. It was a ton of fun, and before I knew it I had gained the summit ridgeline and was traversing over to the main 11,750 foot summit.

At the main summit I ran into the two guys I had spotted from before hanging out in the summit tower. One guy, Jeff, was a bit shaken up from having almost broke through a cornice right at the summit.

TraverseTraversing on the Timpanogos descent
He asked about possible descent routes, and I admitted that I didn’t really want to traverse back to the ridge again and suggested heading straight down a ridge directly below us. It was a spectacular clear morning, so I briefly took in the view, snapped some photos, and started the 6,000 foot descent back to the trailhead.

Routefinding on the way down was non-trivial, we were constantly getting caught above cliff bands and having to traverse steep snow slopes to go around them. A few wet avalanches had released the day before in the gullies nearby, so we avoided the slide paths and glissaded for thousands of feet until we ran out of snow. It was sweet. A grueling ten hours and 12,000 vertical feet later and I was back at the car.

I’ve got several more climbs on my wishlist for this spring, but most are either too dangerous to do solo or have access problems due to ski resorts. So, at around 11pm last night I decided to do some ski mountaineering on the 6th highest peak in the Wasatch, the Pfeifferhorn. It’s one of the most striking peaks in the range, with any route to the summit involving at least 3rd class scrambling. The main hiking trail takes a ridge to the east of the peak, spreading out the vertical gain. I, however, decided to directly ascend the headwall just east of the peak, with the hope of skiing down it afterwards.

April 19 | Ski mountaineering on the Pfeifferhorn

The morning was comparatively leisurely; I slept in til 6 am and wasn’t on the trail until 730 (stupid Salt Lake Marathon blocking traffic). This time, though, I was cruising on my AT skis, and having skied in the area before it was pretty comfortable. I set out from White Pine in Little Cottonwood Canyon (just below Snowbird ski resort) and made my way south. I followed some well-defined ski tracks all the way to upper Maybird Gulch, where the Pfeifferhorn completely dominated the scenery. From there I took off my skis, strapped them to my pack, and started the 800 foot or so climb up the 40° slope. Again, mellow 🙂 After gaining the ridge it was another steep 300 feet to the summit, which was surprisingly large and non-threatening. I took a 360° panorama, glissaded back down to my skis, and eagerly strapped in for the descent.

It was pretty awesome. I think I found the only powder in the entire Wasatch mountain range this late in the season, a stash at 11,000 feet on a northern aspect. I hate to admit it, but I pretty much wasted the first half of the descent falling after every other turn. I’m a bit rusty, especially on such steep terrain. Once it mellowed out to about 30° I was back driving turns again. The entire ski out took about an hour and a half, where the snow changed consistency constantly, from mashed potatoes to icy sun crust and back again. Staying on my feet was challenging, to say the least, and I was very happy to make it back to the canyon road a little more than five hours after setting off.

Conclusion

So there were a couple firsts here:

  • First real mountaineering experience in Utah
  • First time ski mountaineering (so awesome!)

And the spring’s just begun! I’ll be writing about my next few climbs as they happen, so stay tuned.


Pictures from Timpanogos

Pictures from the Pfeifferhorn

Takin’ er Easy

Or not. I have been using my still-broken clavicle as an excuse to get back into some activities I’ve been neglecting lately, mainly mountaineering and snowshoeing. From the second weekend after the accident I’ve been out in the mountains in some form on a weekly basis. I started slowly, peddling around Ferguson and Mill Creek Canyons but have been steadily stepping up to longer, more strenuous days in the mountains.

My weeks are still pretty boring since I can’t night ski or climb at the gym, but I have been making up for it each weekend in spades. This past weekend I put in about 20 miles in the mountains with ascents of Mt. Olympus (a walk-up except for a short steep stretch at the end) and a long tour six miles into the backcountry in Mill Creek Canyon. The latter was awesome; the first bona-fide backcountry day in the finest deep powder Utah has to offer. Over the next couple of months I’ll be focusing more and more on the mountaineering aspect as the avalanche danger subsides and my shoulder gets stronger. For now I’m happy going on long tours (with one ski pole..) until I have built up some strength in both arms to use ice tools or do some scrambling.

My shoulder has gotten remarkably stronger over the past few weeks, which has made life much more pleasant and allowed me to resume right-handedness. The climbing will come back with time; otherwise things are pretty much back to normal.

Photos from my weekend jaunts will be up soon…

Mexico: Part Two

It’s the middle of the night.  It’s about 50 degrees and we’ve been sleeping for about four hours.  We cook up some oatmeal, assemble our gear, and are out the door by 1:50 AM.  Not badThe mountain

Adam immediately took the lead (apparently he was feeling good), but I ended up taking a different path up the aqueduct and led the first pitch up the mountain.  We moved at a pretty good pace all the way to the top of the first pitch, or up to the first wall in the picture.  From there Tim, Curtis, Greg and I took turns leading and setting a pace.  It was difficult setting a pace for six people so we ended up going a bit slowly, but still got up to the labyrinth 40 minutes quicker than the group had yesterday.  However, from there there was no path to follow, and we would have to make some routefinding decisions, through a field of boulders, in the middle of the night.  We went up on the left side of the labyrinth (not visible in the picture) and eventually got to a point where we couldn’t go right anymore due to a large rock wall blocking the way.  I was starting to get a bit nervous because it felt like we were off track, but we plodded on anyway, eventually putting on crampons to climb some steep ice pitches.  At that point Greg and I were probably feeling the best.  However, after eating a couple handfuls of trail mix I started to feel nauseous and developed a mild headache. 

By about 4:30 we topped out on a ridge.  It was nowhere even close to the glacier, at least a half mile to the left.  Greg took a scouting hike along the ridge to see if we could proceed.  It looked doable but we had lost a ton of momentum.  Some people were coughing and complaining of massive headaches.  At that point I had a pretty bad one myself and has feeling a bit nauseous.  After some discussion the sun started to peek over the horizon and we r100_1797ealized we were quite a bit behind schedule.  Once climbers reach the glacier it takes about 4-5 hours to summit, and then about the same time to descend.  Not wanting to have to rush ourselves and put us at risk of HAPE or HACE we decided to descend as a group. 

I was pretty pissed.  Three months of anticipation and we didn’t even make it to the glacier.   Greg and I briefly considered splitting off from the group and having a go ourselves but we reneged.  Instead we took some pictures and started the long haul down.   By 8 am we were all the way back.  Having your day be pretty much over by 8 am is a strange, strange feeling.

Joaquin came a couple hours early and we were glad to get the hell out of that hut.  It was a beautiful day; the sky was completely clear, the wind was minimal, and it was close to 50 degrees.  Pretty much the perfect day to be STANDING ON THE SUMMIT.  So I’m still bitter.

No matter, because the next evening we were tipping back beers and watching soccer in a sports bar in downtown Veracruz.  We were in high spirits despite the lack of a summit, and spent the evening drinking on the beach.  One day you’re shivering at 16,000 feet in 10° alpine winds, and the next you’re being warmed by a 70°ocean breeze off the Gulf of Mexico. 

We spent the next day gallavanting across Veracruz, going to Museums, an aquarium, and lying in hammocks by the pool.  The whole time I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind like I shouldn’t have even been there, but rather on the mountain trying to conquer it.

The next day we took a first-class bus back to Mexico City and watched some decidedly non-first-class movies.  It was still pretty relaxing and we arrived in the early evening to the smell of feces that pervaded the city.  Our hotel was easily the most expensive of the trip and the lights would intermittently go off and on again.  We slept in comfort and made it to the airport before dawn to be back in Philly by four in the afternoon. 

Reflection:
Looking back on the trip it seemed that there were a few factors that combined to bar of us from reaching the summit.  I’ll go through them to help future novice expedition leaders plan:

  1. Split up your group if it’s big.  Six people is a big group.  People travel at different speeds, remove/put on layers at different times, stop to eat and drink when necessary, and otherwise hold the group up as a whole.  Splitting the group up by health and speed of travel would’ve separated the able from the unable, and I can guarantee that I would’ve been at the head of the pack.
  2. Scope out any tough routefinding areas in advance.  Here we tried to do this, but by the time the group got to the labyrinth (the day before the actual climb) they were in the clouds and couldn’t see a thing.  Having said that, it seems pretty obvious that we should’ve erred to the right rather than the left because there was much less room for error.  But routefinding at three in the morning and 15,500 feet will be challenging for anyone.
  3. Leave plenty of time to acclimatize.  People will adjust to the altitude at different speeds.  It has nothing to do with how good shape you’re in, but everything to do with where you live.  If we lived in Flagstaff this climb would’ve been cake for everyone.  That being said, another day or two chilling at 14,000 feet would’ve made the climb a lot more enjoyable.
  4. Know your climbing partners.  If somebody isn’t 100% dedicated to the climb, leave them behind.  A 40-degree inclined glacier at 17,000 feet is no place to be asking "Why am I here?"

Mexico: Part One

Hey, I’m back.  So it seems as if I’m going through phases of creativity and self-expression, alternating with apathy.  Bear with me.  When I do post, it’ll probably be worth the wait.  But anyway, on to the post.  I’m going to break it in two since it’s gonna be a long one:

On January 27 I flew down to Mexico City to embark on my first high-altitude mountaineering adventure.  Several months ago the idea was ping-ponging about my brain and I did some internet research to see what kind of climbs would be feasible and within my limited time and budget.  I came across a few candidates, and mentioned one to my roommate Curtis: Pico de Orizaba, an 18,500 foot (5800 m) volcano between Puebla and Mexico City in central Mexico.  Unlike most high climbs, there wasn’t any sort of fee for using the mountain hut and we figured the whole trip would end up being pretty cheap.

Wow, were we wrong.  It was hella-cheap.  I spent $350 on the flight to and from Mexico City and no more than another $350 while there.  Most people spend that just getting to their vacation destination.  Then again, most people don’t sleep with mice or get up at 1 am to climb mountains on vacation either.  But more about that later.

Curtis was immediately in and excited about the trip.  We contacted all our climbing (and some non-climbing) buddies to round up some more people.  After a few weeks two more had committed: Greg, one of Curtis’s college buddies, and Tim, one of Greg’s friends.  Over the next couple of months we recruited two more: Nick, another runner and friend of Curtis’s, and Adam, another of his college friends.  That made six.  We figured this was perfect since groups of three are ideal for roped glacier travel.

On Friday, Jan. 26 we left Rochester to drive down to Philadelphia, where our flight would leave at 7 am the next day.  We stayed at a friend of Greg’s, made it to the airport on time, and were in Mexico City by 2 PM.  Beforehand we had decided to try and make it to Tlachichuca (the closest town to the mountain where we would spend time acclimatizing) that day.  By 10 PM we had arrived at the climber’s hostel after a long day of bus-riding and mountain viewing. 

Side note: Touching down in Mexico City is really cool.  You can see two enormous glaciated volcanoes in the distance (Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl) as well as numerous smaller mountains within the city.  The city is a massive sprawl; getting from the airport to the outskirts took well over an hour by bus.

After the insanity of Mexico City it was nice to settle down in the small mountain town of Tlachichuca (say it: tlah-chee-CHOO-cah) for awhile.  It is a poor village with very few restaurants or tourist attractions of any sort.  There are three hostels that cater to climbers, and we chose what surely is the best, run by the gracious Joaquin Canchola Limón and his wonderful daughter Maribel.   When arriving she asked us if we were hungry.  We were of course famished and she cooked up a multi-course meal right then and there, serving it up by 10:30 PM!  It was fantastic.  We enjoyed authentic, delicious homemade Mexican meals three times a day until we left for the mountain on Monday.

On Sunday we had our first taste of exertion at altitude.  Mexico City lies at about 7,300 feet (2200 m) while Tlachichuca is closer to 8,500 (2600 m), and while we didn’t feel any effects the first night, Sunday was different.  The group split into two and I, and in my typical gung-ho hiking100_1705
spirit, decided to go climb the ridge right next to the city.  Adam and Curtis joined me while the others went for a run.  It was a sweltering 80 degree day and it took about an hour and a half to reach the middle summit in the photo at right.  I would guess we were at about 10,000 feet at that point, and it was a little slower going up than normal but not too bad.  The others, however, were hurting during their run.  (Nick, Greg and Tim all run marathons for fun [yeah they’re nuts] so they know their limits very well)

It was a pretty fun hike besides the nasty cacti that kept assaulting my shins and feet.  We got some breathtaking views of the mountain and topped out by mid-afternoon.  There’s nothing like getting sunburned in January.

We also wandered around the market (typical street market stuff, kinda like in Europe but dirtier) and picked up a soccer ball, with which Greg and I displayed our American skillz on the street outside the hostel.  At one point Maribel’s son (of about 5-6 years) joined in; he had quite a kick on him. 

By noon on Monday we were in Joaquin’s 4×4 heading up a dirt road to the mountain hut at 14,000 feet.  The road was BADASS.  I wish I would’ve taken a few pictures of it, there were several points where there were hundred foot drops two feet past the edge of the road and the hugest potholes I have ever seen.  Taking anything less than a monster truck on it would be disastrous (and highly entertaining for any passersby).  We took some awesome shots of the mountain on the way up, and after two hours were at Piedra Grande, the rustic mountain hut at the top of a large field.  The air was distinctly cooler but the views were amazing.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at 14,000 feet, and after three or four hours we all had come down with pretty bad headaches.  First signs of altitude sickness.  I popped a couple Ibuprofen and was good to go, but the others didn’t have such luck.  Before Joaquin left to go back down the mountain we had to tell him what day to pick us up.  After a lengthy discussion we decided to have him come back on Wednesday, thus we would have one full day to acclimatize and an extra day at the beach later on in the week.  That night it was incredibly windy, the hut had a metal roof and it would go BANG BANG BANG BANG every time a gust came overhead.  It was like sleeping under railroad tracks, except trains usually don’t go by EVERY FIVE MINUTES.

At dawn we were up ("up" being a poor term, we were up most of the night) and ready to, well, not do much of anything.  Tuesday was supposed to be an acclimitization day, meaning we would hike around for a bit and let our bodies build up a tolerance to the lack of oxygen.  I got bored at one 100_1779point and went for a walk by myself, purposefully going REALLY slow so as not to exert myself too much.  When I got back four of the other guys were all geared up to go up the mountain for a few hours.  Curtis was feeling pretty awful and I didn’t feel like going again so soon so I hung back with him.   We went for another walk up behind the hut to a ridge so we could get a good view of Tlachichuca, which we couldn’t see from the hut.  It was ferociously windy and we had to lean into the wind so it wouldn’t blow us off the mountain, but a good time nonetheless.  Curtis got an awesome panorama from the ridge.

Sometime in the late afternoon the other guys returned.  They had gone all the way up to the labyrinth (a glacier-carved boulder field above 15,500 feet) before entering the clouds where they couldn’t see a thing.  Greg got a bit of a scare on the way up when he got nailed in the face with a fist-sized rock that got launched off a rock wall to the right of the path.  He was OK but a little shaken.  At that point we were debating whether we wanted to make a summit bid the next day or wait for the weather to clear, and when the clouds cleared off the summit and wind died down that night we made up our minds: Go for it tomorrow and get picked up in the afternoon by Joaquin.  So we made dinner early and passed out by dusk to get some sleep before we were to get up at 1 am the next morning.  We wanted to allow enough time to get up and down the mountain by 4 PM, and an alpine start sounds badass anyway.

During the first night Nick and I stayed up to do some killin’.  Mice killin’, that is.  The hut was infested with several families of mice, and not just any mice; mice that have LOST ALL FEAR of human beings and possess a KILLER INSTINCT.  Well, a killer instinct for pissing people off, anyway.  I narrowly missed goring one with my ice ax the first night, and Nick nailed one with his boot during the day.  They must’ve been pretty riled up because that night one crawled into Greg’s sleeping bag.  Greg literally flipped out (of his bag) and we tried to ignore them the rest of the night.  Stupid mice.

1 AM came pretty quickly.  I felt great and was really pumped for the climb.  But it’s late and I have to get to bed.  Coming up next: Summit Day and walking on the beach in Veracruz.

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