Aug 18th, 2011. One year ago to the day, I stood back from Cirque of the Towers with a similar view and an impressionable gaze… inspired to start climbing, promising myself I’d return with a rope on my back.
It was now day 6 on my second trip to The Winds. With two major routes under our belt, we packed up camp at Lonesome Lake and headed for our final destination… Shadow Lake.
One more look… then up n outta there.
Texas pass behind us…
Then a series of chain lakes brought us to our first look at our last objective… I’d seen the peak on a computer screen and on the cover of the guide book but the initial view struck a great sense of fear and respect within me. I had heard from other climbers that the north/northwest face is a cold, steep wall with tricky route finding, high exposure, big runouts and a nerve racking descent.
“Each time I heard those warnings, I felt even more drawn to the wall. I will face this mountain head on, I decided, and engage myself in everything it has to offer.” – Katsutaka Yokoyama
After meeting the locals…
And organizing the gear…
We settled in for an evening of contemplation… catching rainbows with every cast and filling up our bellies in anticipation for a long day in the vertical realm.
The Shark’s Nose, 12,229′
“We decided to go for the highest, ripest piece of fruit we could see. In hindsight, the critical decision was that we would climb up into the tree in the first place” – Steve House
An early start with a cold breakfast… warming up with a bit of free soloing.
Climbing in the shadow of this great mountain was a constant reminder of your insignificance. The intimidating north aspect kept an ominous feel with a stout wind and dropping temperatures.
It is just as much mental as physical on these climbs. Looking up, there was a long path of uncertainty ahead. Could we do this? Would we fail or would we persevere and come up with a hand full of roses?
“I acknowledge risk as a necessary fuel that burns knowable fear, moving me beyond the banality of black and white.” – Steve House
This moment will be burned into my mind forever… The crux crack and the route finding error that took us from 5.fun to 5.scary. It looked easy enough and the logical way forward from below but as Mike began the steep moves, it was obvious we were no longer on route. He placed a small TCU and #2 Camalot above the belay and started up into the strenuous off width that had good jams deep within the crack but dangling and smearing feet for the hard moves.
I’ve climbed with Mike a lot this summer and I know when he’s about to fall… There was this moment where my hands were clenched tight on the ropes, puffy/shell fully zipped, hood up with the wind blowing loose grit and lichen into my eyes from Mike’s unstable footholds. My stare didn’t budge, ready for a catch when Mike’s hands blew out of the crack and he went sailing past me with 1,500 feet of air below our feet. For a few seconds there we were both dangling in space on either side of a single golden cam. All the dangers of alpine climbing were suddenly feeling very real… every placement of the body and gear is made with intense focus. Nobody knew we were up here… we were on our own and a broken ankle changes the game to survival… a failure in the system is unacceptable.
“And in that instant, I felt it. The strange excitement emanating from the totality of this mountain that required all of my spirit, all of my physical and mental strength. This was the kind of climbing of which I’d always dreamed.” – Katsutaka Yokoyama
^^Looking down the crux crack^^
Farther up, we lost the route yet again. We faced another wide crack on the north face that looked 5.10 at best… our previous high point looking small from this height. After our unexpected 5.hard crux, we decided to down climb, move the belay and see what lied around the corner on the northwestern aspect.
“The routine is as familiar as it is inexact. An exploratory look around the corner, a pause to reflect, then another look. Questions assembling themselves in bundles. Am I on route? Is there gear? What happens if I fall? Assessments made in the full knowledge that even in the asking they are moot. The answer is, after all, the reason you came. Not to die. Not to fall. But to find out. To take that one deep resolving breath, shuffle your feet, arrange your hands, and then roll the dice for more than you can possibly afford to lose.” – Geof Childs
I walked out on this perfect ledge… the exposure invigorating. What lied ahead was the most brilliant climbing of the route. A perfect dihedral and splitter crack that rose 3 long pitches to the stunning apex of the Shark’s Nose.
“Climbing, when spoken about, is already dead. It lives only in the moment of action. It is alive in our observations, our judgments, our decisions, our movements, our successes and, more often, our failures.” – Steve House
With the wind blowing harder than ever, we thought about how lucky were were to avoid those rain clouds in the distance. Coming down from the peak, I noticed a tiny bumble bee hanging on for dear life as the incredible gusts continued. I wondered how far he would fly once he let go.
Now for the next challenge… An endless series of meandering rappels on pitons old enough to be my dad.
It was something else to commit your body weight to a pieces of steel that were probably made in Fred Beckey’s van during the 60′s… plenty of air between you and the snow and rocks below.
And just like any other great adventure, we got our ropes stuck on the descent. This time, it was the tail end of the yellow so I had to lead up on a single line, placing gear every half body length so that the rope could be whipped out from the crack squeeze and I could down climb/clean. I got up there in a good stance above a #3, just roaring out of frustration into the wind that was threatening to peel me off the face. My grip tightened… I knew better.
More of these and we were out of the danger zone. The hike back to camp was wired with positive energy. Hands raw, armed pumped and legs exhausted… satisfaction.
A full day of recovery was in order… sleeping in followed by copious amounts of fishing… casting out, I couldn’t stop staring at what we had done.
Then a looong strange trip through fields of wildflowers and blue lakes of the high country. 15 miles back to the nearest road.
“When you come back, what you remember will already be different from what happened. Perhaps a part of the experience will have become a part of you, for a lifetime or longer. But you will not be able to share your I with me any more than I can share my me with you. That mountain is a part of me now, just as indescribably and just as certainly as it is part of the other men who have climbed its north face.” – Steve House