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[pct-l] Re: ice axe - risk - New Army Pass
How'd I do it? I carried a classic old wood handled ice axe, long enough to
use as a walking stick for me at 6'9"! (talk about the old, heavy strategy!
I had it at the ADZPCTKO last year) and instep crampons. I stood and looked
at the challenge for at least a half hour questioning the wisdom of
attempting this, before setting my plan and gathering my wits. From where I
was, I judged that retreat offered as many dangers as progressing as I had
just climbed the ice and snow filled switchbacks and weather conditions were
worsening. I call this "incremental stupidity got me into this jam".
I cut steps and hand holds across the ice shoot just below the pass, without
my pack on, to get to a few short, ice-filled switchbacks on the other side
that would position me as high as possible to the low spot on the ice wall.
I went back across the shoot to get my pack and edged carefully back across
the ice shoot. I then put my pack down, tied one end of a rope to it and the
other to my belt and started cutting hand and foot holds straight up the
wall. I got to the top, rolled over into soft snow on the north side and
pulled my pack up with the rope. The wind was blowing snow from the north
side to the south, against my progress, at about 30 miles per hour, so that st
anding on the south side I was in an eddy of calm. However, as soon as I
stuck my head above the top edge of the wall the snow plastered my snow
goggles and tried to pry me back to the south.
It was THE high and low spot on the trail for me. It scared the shit out of
me and, I realized as soon as I had done it (and suspected before trying) a
very stupid thing to do alone. The short miles that I did that day (less
than 5!) were some of the most exhausting that I did anywhere due to the huge
usage of adrenaline.
This was about May 20th (I'd have to check my journal, the memory aint what
it used to be) 1977. We entered the Sierra's earlier than most years because
of reports that there was no snow up to about 9,000 feet, patchy snow to
about 12,000 feet and ice and snow above, IN EARLY MAY!
If I were to do this again, I would carry a much lighter ice axe, a better
rope, perhaps a few ice screws and instep crampons and a buddy (like Monte or
Tom) to tell me how stupid I look and am being. I would enter the Sierra's
One of the things that the PCT did to me was humble me. This was as good a
thing as were all of the other changes.
Greg "Strider" Hummel