Story and images by Alex Roberts, Leavenworth, WA. Originally published at http://www.alexrobertsmedia.com/ on December 12, 2014. Thank you Alex for allowing Icicle TV to share your story.
“…every backcountry venture can be traced as a series of choices, each option bearing both intended and unintended consequences. Being a jury of one to deliberate each possible decision, I heavily weighed my considerations.”
I cram my fingers into the cold crack and scan for the next hold. The rock wears an icy veneer, with snow choking the inner recesses of the corner system. The wind whips around me, and for a moment it feels like a hand on my shoulder, beckoning me into the void below. I keep looking for that magic, “oh-thank-god” hold that unlocks the sequence and delivers me to the summit. But all I see are exposed friction moves on slippery rock, too dicey for hiking boots and no rope.
I take several deep breaths, feeling the all encompassing solitude, and know that as I have gotten myself into this position, I alone will have to get myself out. I delicately down climb on slick holds, my foot reaching blindly for the ledge below, until my toes finally touch down. I step across an exposed slab and end around back to the climbing route. I had hoped to gain the summit, but now I must find an alternate route… or retreat.
It’s mid-October and I am on one last backpacking venture into the Cascades. Unable to find anyone with the same days off, I go it alone to a zone I have never explored. The Chelan-Sawtooth Mountains rarely blip on backpackers’ radars. Overshadowed by the somewhat more dramatic and well known neighboring peaks of Washington Pass and the Enchantments, these trails are better known by hunters and dirt bikers. Having heard rumors of superlative backcountry skiing, and the fact that this was the only corner of the Cascades not forecasted to get absolutely poured on these few days, I decided to check it out.
Serrated granite ridgelines hemmed in the alpine basin, which was dominated by 8,440’ Mt. Bigelow. Originally planning to carry my overnight pack to Eagle Lake in the neighboring basin, I felt deterred by the heinous looking talus gully I would need to scramble up. While surveying the route from camp with a grim expression, my attention kept turning toward the aesthetic thorn of the unnamed peak at the head of the lake. Boasting a beautiful looking north ridge, I elected to change all of my plans.
The ability to pursue moments of adventurous caprice may be the most liberating aspect of going solo. When adventuring around with a partner or a group, it’s much more difficult, if not impossible to change the trip’s agenda. By scrambling alone, I get to lead the trip that I want.
However, every backcountry venture can be traced as a series of choices, each option bearing both intended and unintended consequences. Being a jury of one to deliberate each possible decision, I heavily weighed my considerations.
Should I change my objective? What does it look like the weather is doing? At what point do I turn back in defeat? Should I need help, is someone likely to find the note I left at camp in an obscure wilderness, mid-week, in mid-October?
Back at the base of the summit pinnacle, I look back at the blocky, narrow, ridgeline I climbed to get here. It rises from a saddle, emerging from a dense grove of autumn tamaracks, their needles thickly carpeting the rocky ground. I cross a steep gully on the eastern flank and round the corner to a ledge with steep blocks and walls rising to the summit. I spy a few possible routes, but they all look hairy. A cliff bars me from contouring around to the south shoulder, where I hope to descend.
I climb a slab with a good finger crack on the right, which dead ends at a blank headwall. I need to make a reachy, exposed move left. My boots grapple for a hold and find none. My hand slaps around for something substantial and finds only blank slopes. I breathe deep. “Make good choices,” I remind myself a few times…and I back off.
I am considering defeat and retreat when a third options catches my eye. I previously disregarded it due to its vertical nature, but now I felt enticed by the multitude of features. Without further deliberation I begin climbing, surpassing the height of my previously thwarted attempts and continuing on good holds. I duck under a granite fin protruding obliquely from the pinnacle and climb a short bouldering problem to reach the top of the south shoulder, and the final approach to the summit.
Gaining the peak I see my camp on the far side of the lake and trace my route all the way to my current position. I watch the surrounding mountains get slowly swallowed by the gathering murk and know I need to get down. This anonymous craggy peak that I possessed zero info on, in an oft forgotten wilderness, became my most technical solo scramble. I take only a short moment to pat myself on the back for making the correct decisions and possessing the quixotic curiosity to get me here.