The West Ridge of
With Lisa and Pavel
There was no denying it, we were having a great trip. Already we had bagged Bugaboo, Snowpatch, and Crescent Spires and next up was purportedly the best 5.4 on Earth. It was hard to believe that we had come close to changing our plans at the last minute and going to the Wind Rivers based on bad weather forecasts. The weather had been brilliant since our second day and we speculated often that we were being rewarded for climbing through the questionable weather on day one.
A familiar trip up the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col and a casual stroll across the Upper Vowell Glacier took us to the base of the West Ridge. By this point in the trip, we all felt confident and we scrambled along together unroped, enjoying the movement and the vistas and the company. As I climbed I marveled at the thick lichen that covered the rock just a few feet to either side of me. It would be nearly impossible to get off route for most of this climb. We passed a guided party who was using ropes and soon were on top of the first mini-summit.
I must admit that I was surprised at how difficult the climbing looked on the other side of the giant notch. It made me think of Guy Edwards who soloed this route naked, up and down in 19 minutes. Standing there I realized just how stunning of a feat that was. We had been climbing for 10 minutes already and we were only a third of the way up.
Long before the summit I already knew that this was indeed the best 5.4 on the planet. I can't capture the evocativeness of those views in words. We could have been in one of the greater ranges from our perspective. With glaciers spilling around the immense spires and a wonderfully low stress climb to the top of our fourth route, we were maxing out on happy.
We passed one more party who was descending and enjoyed the summit all to ourselves. For a moment there, we were the A-Team. I started planning my move to Chamonix to be a guide.
We spent time lounging on the summit, talking and taking pictures. I looked around trying to locate the site of the previous summit which fell off in the winter of 1991 but couldn't decide where it had been. Too soon, we were off.
We didn't know at the time but this would be the last climb of our trip. The weather finally caught up with us the next day and we didn't get our chance on the Beckey-Chouinard. It was ok though, we had done plenty and we needed a reason to come back.
Over the next 24 hours we were treated to a more typical Bugaboo experience as thunder and lightning and hail rained down on us enthusiastically. Lisa, who had pitched her tent on top of a rock mound nearly abandoned it in the middle of the night for fear that the wind was going to blow her over a 30 foot cliff! The following afternoon we said our goodbyes to friends we had made in the Applebee campground and hiked out a day early with punishing loads of wet gear. It was a brutal end to a glorious trip.
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