It’s one of the worst nights of sleep we suffer through in recent memory. The night brings a cold and chill we’re both unprepared for, having nothing but warm weeks previously soon we’re adding extra layers and beginning the tortuous toss and turn of a bad night’s outdoor sleep. Quickly my sleeping bag freezes over, the moisture slowly seeping into and wetting the down, removing any last hope of insulation. Twisting the knife a little deep, around 2am the moon crawls over the ride, illuminating the whole scene and ensuring there’s no sleep to be had.
(FYI, this blog contains amazing images stolen from Colin Delehanty, check out his work here: http://cdelehanty.com/)
We twist round like suffering caterpillars in our bags until the sun rises and begins to infuse us with it’s warmth, and as quickly as we can we forget the experience and setoff for the parking lot to start the brew up process.
Colin and I are on a Sierra strike mission, 24 hours in the high country in an attempt to link two ridges: the NW Ridge of North Peak and the N Ridge of Mt Conness. There's a beauty in the escapism of long days in the Sierras, anxiety is reduced though not dismissed, the gigantic existential dread of life is replaced with a very clear and more manageable fear of death (or perhaps lightning, either way it's easier).
The approach is beautiful, I've been i this area a few times before but never as far back as we're intending to go today. In the beginning of my dirtbag years Mt Conness was one of my first big Sierra objectives, an exciting solo on impeccable granite. Crisp high altitude air greets us and keeps our pace brisk as we past small lakes and families fishing in the early morning light. Most of the approach is straightforward and we soon transition off trail and into uphill boulder hopping.
Somewhere along the way I forgot how to walk, and promptly slip off a rock and into the bushes. At the last second I was able to cradle my camera in front of me, sacrificing my body to the bushy madness to protect it’s vital electronics. Bruised, and bloodied, I emerged from the bushes without any major injuries and we laughed it off as we continued the uphill trudge.
As we gain the ridge the view of North Peak are spectacular. I keep a particular eye on it's north facing gullies, which are both excellent ski descents in winter and potential ice climbs this time of year. Unfortunately the main one has separated at the base leaving a massive and impenetrable bergschrund (from the German for 'mountain cleft') making access difficult.
We're soon on the ridge itself and begin the climb. Maybe climb is a bit of a stretch here, a lot of it is really walking. I've changed out of my approach shoes and into climbing shoes and I soon regret this unnecessary decision. Nonetheless the views and position are spectacular, as is the rock quality. Easy walking soon turns to 2nd, and then 3rd class. The route steepens and we even end up pulling a few moves, all still very comfortable unroped still.
In short time we make the summit and hunker down for some wind protection and snacks (of course!). While I was over in Norway Sean introduced me to alpinesandwiches.com (which is exactly what it sounds like: photos of sandwiches in alpine terrain), so of course we had to make our own contributions (I was later informed that ours did not meet the stringent entry criteria given they were "store bought boring-ass generic sandwiches", either way they were good at the time).
Halfway done with the day we scope the building clouds and decide we're not in any imminent danger, time to carry on. As we always say in the mountains, "Safety third!".
A nice aspect of this linkup is that finishing North Peak drops you off basically right at the start of the next ridge on Mt Conness. Just down from the summit you cross a small sandy plain and soon again you're ridge walking across the sky. Colin and I gear up, refreshed from our carb and sugar loaded snacks, and begin the prime objective of the day. Out first few hundred feet are characterized by blocky scrambling, but soon the route begins to steepen.
Quickly the entirety of the ridge comes into view and we are awed by it's beauty. A sweeping vista of granite plunges out of the earth and crumbles over like a wave, cresting but frozen, ready to crash at some point unknown.
We pick our way through this maze, up down left right, navigating the complex terrain and seeking easy ground wherever we can. The climbing is great, though provoking and often with solid exposure on great rock.
After a quick rappel at the second (third?) tower we encounter the best climbing on the route. Steep, exposed, and just hard enough to be interesting we begin ascending the final wave to the summit.
Towers rise like a Patagonian landscape, their cracks and faces yearning to be climbed.
There's even a moment or two of "don't fall!" territory, just the right amount to keep your blood flowing and remind you why you're here. Get close enough to the rocks to hear the siren's song but make sure you don't crash.
And just as soon as it's all started, we're on the summit, all cheesy smiles and high fives. We lollygag here, soaking in all the glory that mother nature has laid before us, and of course scarfing down the last of our sugary candy treats and water. A few other souls have joined us via the normal hiking route and we chat a bit, everyone elated by the surroundings. It's hard to be in a bad mood in the mountains.
Now for the descent. This is the part of hiking that’s the worst. The monotony of trudging along the trail, knowing how far you still have to go and unable to speed the passage of time, it continues uncaringly past you. You whine and gripe and sing songs and tell stupid stories and time continues as it always does, never faster or slower when you need it to.
After what seems like forever we emerge into the parking lot and catch up with the hiker who’s relaxing with a well deserved beer at his rig. He offers us a ride the few final miles back up the road but we’re in this for the long haul and decline, a decision we instantly regret. Another half hour of steep uphill asphalt and we’re finally back at the car, scarfing down well earned water and candy and calories and smokes, preparing our bodies for the five hours of driving that lays ahead.