Chapter 4 – Dream Time
Mountains teach us that achieving dreams doesn’t bring peace and happiness but the journey does. In this journey, we find that dreams is not a end state but a trajectory towards it. With these thoughts revolving around and chill winds blowing the snow dust from the tress, I was busy making filter paper from the newspaper I wrapped the fruits yesterday. Human body is more water than we see it which needs constant replenishment for the human machinery to work efficiently. With a huge project to climb mountain tomorrow, I knew I had to refill my water supply. At this height and weather, the only viable option was to melt the snow. I used the filter paper in hopes of removing impurities that might have been contained in the snow. The filtration process was really slow. This process reminded me that most of the processes in nature are slow. The formation of rocks takes millions of years. Even the water droplets as a rain remained in lakes and oceans for million of years. With these reflection, I had a full bottle of water for tomorrow. Repeated the same process of melting snow and filled another bottle. In total, I had two liters of water which should be enough for tomorrow’s ascent and descent of Mount Timpanogos.
Back home there is an anecdote ” (बाच्चाको जाढो त बोकाले खान्छ।) The children’s and young doesn’t feel cold as the goat eats the cold.” ं I think it was similar about how was I feeling. I was not feeling hungry despite the colossal hike today to the baldy peak. Nor I was feeling cold with the freezing winds threatening to destroy my temporary habitat. Somehow the urge for food was satisfied with the fumes coming from the burning wood or maybe I was consuming the soul of the tree branches. The bliss of being in the mountains helped me forgot that it always cold and brutal here.
The mystic burned smell of potato didn’t have any effect on my hunger but today the smell just reminded me that I had two potato in the fire and I need to rescue them before they befriend with the ashes. I carefully rescued those potato from the wrath of fire. I wrapped them into a paper thinking how awesome breakfast they would be tomorrow. The clocked ticked 9:13 pm when I rescued potatoes and cleared the fire. I remembered a story about California wildfire which devastated life of so many people and wildlife. Based on the internet source, that fire was initiated by a string of events pointing to a gender revel party. So it was uttermost important that I extinguish the fire properly. I poured on tons of snow above the fire and its surroundings. The soul of the fire escaped with hiss sound and streams of vapor threatening me that I ended its life.
The lamp inside the tent was glowing brighter than the distant stars. It was a calling for me take a rest before the adventure tomorrow. I didn’t realize but the clothes I wore were filled with thin layer of ice. I had to take them off before I thought of going into sleeping bag. The place where I laid my tent was not level ground. There were two stones under the tent that divided it into uneven half. So I had to be careful on placing my sleeping mat so as to avoid those rocks. My sleeping mat was air mat. So had to fill air into the sleeping mat with my breathing. I also had another super light sleeping mat which I kept above the other sleeping mat. It took just ten breaths to fill this mat. This was orange color super light mat used my many mountaineers. Pulled sleeping bag from its cover and laid in on top of the sleeping mat. Now my tent was almost similar to my room. Hanged the light on the anchor inside the tent. Used the bags, clothes and boots to surround the inner section of the tent. Decided to read a book and go to sleep.
I knew I had to start early tomorrow. Its always good to climb mountain early morning as the weather becomes unpredictable after noon. Rock star mountaineers, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer along with many people died on The Everest as they broke their own rule of descending from mountain no latter than 1 pm. I knew other countless tragedy of people who failed to descend before noon and had to encounter treacherous weather. With this kind of stories floating in my mind, I decided that I need to woke up at 3 am. My logical reasoning to wake up around 3 am was based on following assumptions: it would take around an hour to get ready with summit clothes and crampons, and at least 5 hours to get to the top. So I would have 4 hours of safe time before noon to get back to tent. Also I have to consider the possibility of avalanches, weather patterns, and wildlife.
The book that I was reading was least interesting than the thoughts crumbling in my mind about the routes and conditions during my ascent tomorrow. So I decided to shut the book down and go to sleep. The tent setup was perfect in the sense that it wasn’t too cold inside and with the insulation provided by two mats, there was no question about getting cold from bottom. My sleeping bag was rated -20o C which is more than enough for this type of weather. I was asleep quite fast than I had anticipated. Maybe I saw a bad dream or the winds were blowing too fast, I woke up around 12:30 am. With my eyes wide open, I could see the darkness. I hate to admit it, but I was scared, really scared at that moment. I tried to sleep. Turned left. Turned right. Tried to breath as calmly as possible. Tried meditation with/without meditation music. Tried reading book. No matter what I did, I couldn’t sleep. Maybe I was trying too hard to sleep. I finally gave up on me getting proper sleep and started taming my mind towards today’s goal.
If I my having trouble sleeping why bother to sleep. Why not prepare for today’s climb. So I started organizing the stuffs inside the tent based on the vital items I would require for the climb. After the stuffs were organize I started putting clothes on for the day. I started with my thin black under armor thermal inner for upper and lower body. Then one layer of a full sleeve breathable t-shirt. I was still inside my sleeping bag while wearing one layer of clothing at a time. Then it was time for a half sleeve down jacket for chest protection from cold. Wore a north face socks. I remember from my previous expeditions that my feet gets cold very fast and somehow the socks got wet. So I decided to wear a plastic as an insulator between the socks. Now I have two north face socks with a plastic insulator in between them so the wetness won’t penetrate the feet which might delay frostbite if it comes to that.
Wore a thin windproof jacket on top of my half sleeve jacket. Then wore my ski jacket. After few minutes, I started to sweat inside the tent. Suddenly the tent went from bivouac to an oven. Kept essential items on my bag: Extra pairs of socks and gloves, water bottle, first-aid kit, energy bars and apples. My feet looked like I had elephantiasis: too big with two pair of socks. It took me whole five minutes to squeeze my feet inside the mountain boots. I didn’t have a plastic shell outside my boot for insulation as I thought it won’t be required. I also didn’t had Gaiters. Gaiters are used outside the boot to keep out debris and snow. I had old convertible north face pants and used the detachable lower part of it as gaiters : poor man’s gaiters.
Chapter 5 – Crampon Struggle
Finally I was fitted with every piece of clothing I had. Now it was time to grab the ice-axe and crampons. When I slightly opened the zippers of the tent, the cold suddenly rushed inside the tent. There were lots of stars in the sky. If it was possible I would spend my whole life exactly at this spot counting those stars. The Provo city was sleeping along with nearby Orem city and Springvill. What was with me that I am all awake thinking about stars and universe and the world I live in is sleeping. I had three layers of gloves on my hand which made it harder to tie the boots. Since my 12 point crampons were lots due to fire on my car, I had rented this crampons from BYU outdoors.
This crampon was a strap-on crampon. It took me a lot of time to securely tie the crampon onto my boot. There are basically three types of crampons: step-in, hybrid and strap-on. Step-in has special construction so that only particular mountain boots can only use it. Strap-on has straps attached to it so than it can be used with any boots and hybrid have features from both step-in and strap-on. With the crampons firmly tide onto my boot I rose up like a morning sun. I wanted to see how the crampons will bite the snow beneath me to give firm support. It seemed like the crampons were tied in properly. I gave 360 degree look around me. I could see cities, mountains, clouds, stars, moon and my cute little green tent.
I could feel the cold rushing from the junction where the crampon steel point touches the snow towards the head. The cold hit my head hard and focused my attention towards the inadequacies of the light of the stars to fill the void in the sky. I could see the city was in deep sleep state. The same stars were magnificent and elegant yesterday but inadequate now. This is how we human observe things wearing our biased eyes. These biased eyes could see everything except its inner-self. I was somewhere lost in the train of thoughts. I checked essentials for one last time. I adjusted my head lamp with proper luminescence setting. High was too much light and would only give me two hours of battery life. Medium was good enough for the night and would be able to sustain twelve hours.
I started the walk towards the foot of the mountain. After few minutes, the straps holding the boot and crampon loosened, I lost my balance and fell to the ground. Nothing broke. Not even the head, leg, hand or ice. Since the section was not steep, I could do without crampon. I removed both crampon from the boot and started waking into the pine forest. I was at the base of the Everest Ridge Trail. I knew every tree, every bush and every corner of the forest well enough from my previous outings. I just went straight through the forest to get to the ridge where the real climb would start. From there the climb would be steep and this section for around 800 feet up would be one of the steep section on the route based on my research. Plus this section has lots of avalanche danger.
Now I had to get the crampons firmly attached to the boot tightly. For the moment I thought I did a good job with attaching the crampons. I crafted my move 100 steps on right and then again 100 steps on left up the slope. I was just creating my own path with lots of loop backs to be stable. This was such a joyful moment to walk peacefully. For me it was like meditating. I was so much focused on each step I took, the alignment of my body against the slope, the positioning of the ice-axe and my center of gravity. The left foot just missed the slope with an angle but luckily my ice axe was positioned right on the slope which balanced my fall. This happened because the crampon’s straps was loose on the left foot. If the crampon is not firmly attached especially walking on a steep slope, there are high chances of ankle twist or getting off balance. With gain in altitude and the seriousness of the trail and face, a slight off balance due to crampon will result in life threatening incidents.
I got scared with this little off balance and started to think about the consequence it might had if my ice-axe was not in proper position. With every step the straps loosened the grip on the boot and each step felt shaky. With the steep slope, there is no way I could have tightened the straps. The snow might not support the weight in the posture to tightened the straps. So the only way to fix the crampons locked onto right position was to kick the right crampon on the side with left boot and kick the left crampon on the side with right boot. The kicking action was slow and swift as not to change my center of gravity which might off-balance me. I had to align the crampons every 200 steps for this ridge. I was confident that I would tighten it after this ridge was over and then I won’t run into this problem. To my disappointment, I had to align crampons every 150-200 step for the whole journey. The lesson that I learned today was to get a proper step-in crampon instead of strap-on crampon when you do actual mountaineering. I think this mis-alignment of crampons was primary reason for me to get exhausted quickly. For anyone who knows that walking with crampons on hard ice is extremely exhausting task on normal circumstance. For me today, the crampons I had were real pain in the leg.
Chapter 6 – Questions
With frequent loop backs, alignment of crampons and calculated ice-axe hold, I passed the section where I had turned back last time. I think I was more than half way above this rock face of height 800 feet. My eyes could only see the reflected light from the headlamp. Wherever I turned my head, there was only white. Some of the white was reflected from the snow, some parts from the faint illumination from the moon. With moon high up in the sky, I understood the sun was in a deep sleep and it would take some time for the sun to greet good morning.
The rock band separated on this section into two separate walls. I had to make sure to stick to either right or left wall to avoid rock fall or avalanche. So I had to decided either to take right or left now though the rock band section was like fifty plus steps ahead. Based on my research, I had to take right and find the ridge line and follow it upwards. It was already an hour and half I started my journey from the tent. The exhausting task of planting my feet on the snow made me to wish for water. I reached my awesome grey water-bottle on the right side of my Deuter rucksack. The bottle has a lock to prevent water leakage. I pressed the lock and then drank it straight. With just a drop on my mouth, I instantly found the water that I spent hours yesterday melting snow was contaminated. The use of filter paper was waste of time. I realized that the water contained big chunks of black pieces and ashes and the water had a strong grey color. With drinking mouth full of water, I no longer could drink it. Within minutes of drinking that water, my stomach started complaining.
I had read book about people getting lost in the sea and their only way to drink water was to wait for rainfall. So I said to myself that I could endure a day without drinking water. I marched on upwards positioning me a slight left on the ridge. With another half an hour enduring cold wind, I completed the rock face and was above it. I definitely deserved a good rest. I found a rock to lay down without exposing too much on the ridge. I could finally tightened the straps and make the ascent a bit comfortable and less risky. It took me five whole minutes to tighten the straps. Since I had three layers of gloves, it was really hard to grap the straps around the boot. I struggled for few minutes and decided that I need to remove the gloves in order to fix the crampon. But there was a risk of contacting frost bite if my fingers were exposed too long in the cold and wind. So I decided, I would take two layers of gloves off. It was trade off between risk of frost bite and securely fasten crampon. As a mountaineer, this trade off was not rational.
The few hundreds feet up the slope was around 45 degree. With this slope the illumination just in front of the ridge was highly visible but it was hard to get a global picture of where I was on the Everest ridge. The ridge was directed slight left. I had to remember the maps I saw yesterday and try to guess my position on the ridge. Then I had to plan my path so that I would not get lost in the white desert. There was so many things to be scared of. What if I get lost? What if I misplace the foot and twist my ankle? What if I fall off the face? Will I be able to perform self-arrest to control my fall? What if my body gives up? What if there is an avalanche? But there was so many things to be grateful for. I had all the gears needed to safely climb the mountain. I had decent rest yesterday. I had the mental and physical strength to pull this off. I had done proper research regarding the routes, and weather. I had surplus food and clothes if there come a need for bivouac. People had climbed Mount Everest and the great mountain of Alps with less sophisticated gears in late 1800s and 1900s. In that comparison, I had high-tech gears and extremely lucky to climb a route pioneered by great mountaineers.
“Speak of the devil and he doth appear”. My fears was translated into clumsiness in my moments. It just happened in a flash of second. My left foot slipped and the knee bagged the ice. Right leg followed. Within milli-seconds my whole body was kissing the ice and gliding down. It took me few seconds to realized what had just happened. My insecurities and fears had give the devil to show itself. Our world has both good and evil. The devil acted first doesn’t mean there is not time for avatar to appear. Avatar for me at that moment was the knowledge and experiences I had about mountains, life, struggle, disappointment, heartbreak, sorrow, grief, love, belief, passion, dedication, courage, energy, and hope.
I quickly changed the hold on my ice-axe. Folded both legs from the knee backward towards the sky. Adjusted the body so I could plant the head of the axe onto the ice just above the shoulder. Grabbed the lower part of the axe by right hand and forced the body pressure onto it. The speed that I was gliding down didn’t slow down much but the body angle with respect to the slope was almost steady. This was self-arrest with my ice-axe. It should work right? It should slow me down and prevent fall from the face? Why wasn’t it working?
I realized the angle of the axe with respect to my body was slightly off so the body pressure was not acting perpendicular to the slope. I fixed the mistake instantly and the speed declined logarithmically. If I hadn’t stopped like 3 sec earlier I would hit the rock pile where I rested half an hour earlier and then just off the ridge. Luckily I was physically pristine though I glided down hundred feet in the mixed exposed terrain. I gather myself up physically and mentally after stopping. I sat myself in a relatively safe spot.
I started mental conversation with projected self. Was my dream of climbing Mount Timpanogous via Everest Ridge worth this risk? Was I in excellent shape to continue the journey? My projected self answered those deep philosophical question is few sentences. Is it worth living this life fearing what might happen instead of facing the fear and acknowledging the consequence of the action you take. “If you stay home fearing you might hurt yourself than you will miss all the things that won’t hurt you.” This answers might not be enough for other people to continue but it was more than enough for me. I cleared the ice that was accumulated on my rucksack, jacket and gloves. Checked to see if there were any damages on the snow pants and rucksack. Tightened the crampons and then placed feet carefully dragging myself upwards the slope.
After the fall, I grew in confidence. I was enjoying the route finding process as a whole. It was a feeling of discovering a new route in mountains. The foot placement on the ice steep surface was not automatic process but a conscious one. No matter the angle of the slope, I was going slowly without those previous fears. I was just satisfied with the few feet of vision illuminated by the headlamp. I didn’t care what lied beyond my field of vision. All my concentration was dedicated to the rhythm of the moment. First move right feet slightly rotated towards left and make contact with the upper teeth of crampons on the ice. Then move left feet rotated slight right and contact the ice with lower teeth of crampons. Move the ice-axe half a feet almost aligned to frame of the body, press it perpendicular to the surface and shove it like 10 inches deep.
I was following this rhythm like a computer running a algorithm in while loop. This rhythm was slightly adjusted when I encountered rock faces covered with pristine ice layer. For other surfaces, this rhythm worked like a charm. I won’t lie, I didn’t feel anything except the cold that was striking my toes and thumbs while moving forward along the ridge. Was there anything meaningful in this cold that was taking over my body? Does the situation and life around us have meaning every time? Aren’t we the ones who judge every situation and give it a meaning that makes sense to us? What if life doesn’t have a meaning? What if its us who give meaning to life? I pushed forward with these question which doesn’t have an answer.
Stay tuned. This story has 7 chapters. Few more chapters to go