Everest Ridge III – A story

Part 1: https://aadeshnpnblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/everest-ridge-a-story/

Part 2: https://aadeshnpnblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/everest-ridge-a-story-2/

The lows and highs of ocean waves are mesmerizing. So is watching the flight of birds. Simple things like the sound of river streams, the crackles in the jungle, the humming noise of the birds capture our heart. We can comprehend these simple activities in nature. Still, there are other myriad natural activities that are simply out of reach for our minds. The essence of these events is in the rhythm they follow. Rhythm is what makes songs trigger our deep, buried emotions and feeling. Our sense of rhythm is what separates us from the primates. Though birds can produce soothing sounds, orangutans, birds, and elephants can enjoy music, we are the only ones that can remember a rhythm. Even our heartbeat follows a rhythm that distinguishes us from the dead.

Don’t we have such days when we hum a particular song the whole day? Such bliss moments are those when we remember the songs we like and sing all day long. People, of course, do it all the time: an audience claps in time to a favorite song, football supporters chant, soldiers march, dancers waltz. In fact, it can be hard not to fall into a rhythm. If we are to believe some scientists, they report that it is not our tool-making abilities or language comprehension that set up apart from the animal kingdom. It is our unique ability to take up a rhythm or beat from someone or something else and hold it.

Chapter 7 – Rhythm

But what does a rhythm has to do in this story. Everything. Ask a cyclist, a runner, or any endurance athlete how they perform well every day, and they will say they follow a rhythm. Building a rhythm is the key to accomplishing any task effectively. I passed the introductory section of the steep rock-band following a simple rhythm of crampon and ice-ax placement. Since my headlamp setting was in medium luminescence, it only illuminated relative small area compared to the area that would be visible in broad daylight. I wouldn’t have made this far if I climbed this route in the daytime as I could see the dangerous steep section remaining to be climbed. The darkness hides my insecurities and dangers from me. The illumination I received from the headlamp couldn’t light the abyss of the human’s worries and negative thoughts.

Visualizing the gigantic mountain would make anyone anxious, so I think my decision to get to the top before sunrise was wise. Following my usual rhythm of calculated movements, I saw a large piece of rock slab rising above the snow. Some thoughts said that finally, I will have a place to rest and plan my path ahead. Its been like two hours after I left my tent back in the Big baldy peak.

I tried adjusting my crampons. No matter what way I tweaked the crampons, it didn’t feel right nor comfortable. I couldn’t see the peak from the resting place but could see the sleeping city in front of me. The sparkling lights coming from the town whispered to me that I should complete the climb and join them to enjoy the warmth of the sun in the day. Thinking about the heat, it energized me. This is the irony of being human. We long for the things we don’t have, and when we have it, we desire another. If it was the warmth that I wanted, then why did I started the hike at 1 am. I had the choice to stay warm and cozy at my apartment but didn’t. Because that’s who I am.

After resting for a few minutes, it was time to hydrate me. I knew there was something wrong with the water I boiled yesterday but tried to drink it anyway. The water was almost slushy with black pigments. It looked like Dalmatian dog: big black unique, liver-spotted coats. The ash taste was too strong to be consumed. So I picked up some fresh, uncontaminated snow nearby and eat it. I tried my luck with an apple. My tonsils gland refused to cooperate to let the apple bite go inside. But I was not going to give up that easy. I forced the apple inside with massive resistance from tonsils glad obviously with pain.

It was time to get going. I tried to plan my path ahead. I knew I had to follow the ridgeline on my right. The feeling of walking on a ridgeline was profound. There was no brotherhood of rope associated with me in this journey. Still, I am sure that the mountaineers who initiated this route as Everest Ridge during the 1980s were by my side. There were assuring me that I had the courage, determination, and skill to witness the golden sun from the top of Mount Timpanogos. The rhythm of the legs, body positioning, and ice-ax was like dancing a ballet. The mountain was the perfect partner, but there were no spectators to watch this highly contemporary dance. The moves were inch classic. It had to be. Without the ideal rhythmic movements on this ridgeline, there would be no dance. Just a crackling sound for a brief period, and he will never dance in this mortal life. It was just fascinating to notice that even breathing is also contributing to the rhythm. Maybe it was not the dance I was performing with the mountains. Perhaps we were composing a hymn for nature. The crampons biting into the snow were the drums, the ice-ax piercing into the ice was the guitar, the rhythmic breathing was a melodious flute, and the heartbeat orchestrating the whole show.

Chapter 8 – Traverse

I didn’t keep track of time. I was only concerned about moving my feet forward. No, not forward. Upward. Just making little progress and gaining more altitude than the previous step was the sole goal. The mixed terrain with ice, rocks, and snow was challenging. Maybe I was in the zone. It felt to me that I had done this my whole life. I was cruising through the challenging route in the dark, all alone, dehydrate, and still a smile on my face and songs in my lips. The crowed light of the city was getting blur. The magnificent views of the stars were not able to reach my eyes. This indicated that dawn would be soon upon us. With daybreak, the sun would shine with its brilliance, which is mixed news for a loner up in the steep ridges of a mountain. I was almost to the section which was compared to the “Hillary step” of the Everest. There is a large rock section of more than 40 feet, which is very technical to climb. Since I was without ropes, harness, piston, and quick-draw climbing the rock face was an impossible challenge. I had read blogs about people doing traverse on the right and then climbing up. I hate to admit, but till then, I had never done a traverse on a steep slope without snow and ice. The traverse I had to do at the moment in a mixed terrain with ice, snow, and rocks was an obstacle to my goal. A misstep, and I will go tumbling down into the abyss.

I felt so stupid at that time. Reading about traverse on a blog is not enough to perform it on a challenging route. I had three options at that moment: climb down to the warmth of the tent, climb the big bad boulder, or traverse right. My amateur mind decided that traverse was the best option among those three. If I had to make that decision today, I would have definitely chosen the first option of climbing down. But the decision was made. I decide to do the right traverse from the bottom of the boulder. I held ax-ax with my both hands. I plunged the ax right into the steep face such that the angle between my hands and the ax pick on the snow was perpendicular. I dug a small hole with the tip of my boots, which took more than three strong hits to dig a two-inch hole into the snow. I followed a sequence for the traverse. First, plunge the ice-ax, drill holes for the tip of the boots to hold into. Dig a hole nearby the right leg. Move the right leg to the new hold, simultaneously plunging the ice-ax slightly right. Then move the left leg to the old hole where the right leg was. I was not sure if that was the correct traverse technique, but it did felt that it worked at that time of need. It took like half a minute to move about a few feet to the right.

I was fascinated by the blue light reflecting back from the holes where I plunged the ax. The gradient of the light was mesmerizing with dark sky blue color at depth and lighter shades of blue along the surface of the snow. I was hypnotized to see the color of the sky in a tiny hole in the snow. Maybe it was just an excuse for me to move slowly and cautiously. As I was walking along to the right, I found a small horizontal crack up a few feet from my ax. The beam from my headlamp was also coming out from the cracks with a different shade of blue. I moved my head around to search for the beginning and end of the crack. As far as I could focus my headlamp, I couldn’t neither find a beginning nor an end to the crack. Suddenly, it gave me chills. Can you believe it? My first traverse on a steep section of a mountain on a slab which was about to break off. My mind was just fixated on the crack. I was almost done with the traverse, but the question that worried me was what about when I come back. With the warmth of the sun, will the slab be able to hold on my weight?

This insecurity pumped my heartbeat. Suddenly, my hands and feet started to coordinate faster. It took me around 30 minutes to traverse to a location where immediately I could climb up using my ice-ax. I only had one ice-ax with me. The slope was fully vertical. The leash of the ax was secured. With a tight grip of my right hand on the shaft of the ax, I swung the pick into the snow and pushed the snow with my left hand. I move my legs upward, just like on a ladder. I followed this sequence for about fifteen minutes. It felt like going up was more natural than the traverse. The boulder was on my left side, standing tall and proud. I badly wanted to climb that boulder and gift me a feeling that I climbed the Hillary Step of the Everest ridge, but I was not prepared. Mountaineers often say the journey doesn’t end after getting to the top, but coming back home, safe and sound, is the real adventure. So it was an unnecessary risk to try to climb the boulder.

Summit

Finally, I made it to the main ridge of Mount Timpanogos. Based on the research, it would take me one hour to get to the top. I just glanced at the route I climbed. Now it looked dangerous, and couldn’t believe that was the path I took a few minutes earlier. From there, I could see the Emerald lake immersed in a pile of snow. I could see the distant sun behind the hills of the Heber city. It was a miracle that I made it this far. My feet and hands were cold. Now the walk towards the summit was tricky. The ridgeline had a lot of wind slab with beautiful curves. Wind slabs are formed when the wind blows the snow and deposits it in another nearby location. So they are often not above any support from the underlying earth. Wind slabs are one of the reasons for avalanches. I tried to avoid the wind slab by staying slightly on my left while moving on the ridgeline. It was quite slow to walk with crampons on in mixed terrain. I was enjoying the view as I was running along the ridge.

Curved wind slab

Within an hour, I reached the summit. The sky was only the limit now. I could see all around me. I could see Springville, Spanish Fork, Provo on the south. Orem, Pleasant Grove, Lehi on the west. Heber City and park city to the east. Robert’s horn peak just in front of me. A golden circle just above the Heber city reflected a darn beautiful scene into the deer creek reservoir. I am pretty sure that this view will enchant everyone, but not everyone has the will to come up all this way. I deserved a good rest after a long climb via Everest ridge. There was a basic tent-like structure at the top of the mountain. In the summertime, this is where people update their name in the logbook. When I got there, the structure was almost submerged under the snow. Only its top portion made of steel was visible. I had a hammock with me so that I could tie it on the opposite side of the steel structure. Since it was submerged, I dug a snow hole and rested there. It felt terrific when the sun warmth reached my inner soul, getting rid of the fatigue I had in my muscles and mind. That made me aware that I need to plan a route to descent the mountain.

I have taken the route from the glacier down to the Emerald lake before, or I could take the usual course via the pass or the way I just came. At this time of the year, the best route would be the one I came earlier. I packed my bags and was ready to leave the sanctuary of the summit. I followed my own footsteps back to the boulder. The sun was high above me. I was in the spotlight of the sun, which made me feel like the protagonist of a drama. The path that I climbed up in the morning looked way too dangerous than before. I felt dizzy when I looked down the slope. The only way to get down without getting scared was to face my body towards the cliff and then place my feet precisely on the same spot that I made in the morning. Like climbing down a ladder. Except its nowhere safe to a ladder. I quickly completed the portion down the boulder. Now I had to traverse left towards the ridgeline.

I was scared about the condition of the ice slab. Since its warmer than it was early morning, the plate might be unstable, which might trigger an avalanche. But there was no other safe way to traverse. I tried precisely to copy the moves I performed in the morning. Repeated the steps like I was dancing. Exactly same foot holds the same ice-ax plunges. I tried not to scrap an inch of snow from the surface. The traverse was like meditation. Nothing mattered except replicating the feat I performed earlier. It was relatively more straightforward in the morning as I was quite unaware of the surrounding with the limited visibility of the headlamp. Now with the sunlight, everything was bright and full of life. The cracks on the slab were not that wide as I had assumed in the morning. But it was definitely spread out in an arch, and I couldn’t figure out the starting and ending of the arc. Since I didn’t have to make any holes with my feet, it was relatively faster to traverse than in the morning. Luckily I managed to reach the ridgeline quickly without any notable difficulties.

Resting point from where I started to slide down.

I rested after completing the traverse. This is one of the most daring and beautiful climbs I had ever done. It was technical, requiring a lot of patience and ease with the placement of ax and crampons. I will never forget this dance I performed in the traverse. I realized that I was utterly exhausted as I climbed more than 8 hours without water or food. I noticed tips of fingers and toes started to feel chilly as I ran out of energy in my body. The outside temperature was not very extreme to have frostbite on my fingers. Still, they started not responding to my sensory commands. I read somewhere that the mind allocates more resources to the crucial organs like the brain, heart, and lungs when it notices a significant drop of glucose in the blood. It was the brain’s way of saying, “Our system is almost out of energy. The finger and toes are not that important. So less oxygen and glucose to the extremities and more to heart.”

It wasn’t straightforward coming down. My legs were saying they don’t want to work anymore. They were complaining that they immediately need water and food. I was being a lousy boss and asking them to work overtime without any benefits. I was almost to the last section of the ridge when my legs finally gave up. I was not it shape to walk. But I do need to get to the tent if I was going to tell this crazy story to other people. I remember a time when I glided down the glacier from the summit to the Emerald lake. Though I can’t walk, I can definitely slide on the butt. I forgot how steep the slope was when I came in the morning. After a second I started sliding, I was going way to fast. I tried to control my speed using the ax, but it didn’t work. I applied more force on the shaft, which caused me to tumble on the opposite side. Oh no! Now I was gliding down on my chest. I quickly pressed the pick on the slope with the left hand and pressed hard on the shaft. It showed down the speed and finally stopped.

Not just me, but everything inside me was scared. This self-arrest showed that sliding was not a good option. Not only my mind but my legs came to senses. They started cooperating and started to take small calculated steps following my own footsteps. I passed the steep section, and now I was again ready to take a risk. I descended down on my butt. Now it was so much fun. I didn’t have to worry about the speed. I reached a relatively flat area with deserted trees on the side. My tent was not that far. The crampons were no longer needed. I quickly removed them and started running towards my tent. I threw the clothes I was wearing and collapsed inside the tent.

Reflection

When I got back to my apartment that day, I reflected on the climb that I completed today. At that time, I thought it was complete madness to climb the Everest ridge solo without any traverse experience. Did climbing this route justifies the risk I undertook today? People joke that they climb mountains simply because it’s there. For me climbing a mountain is about learning from nature, understanding the natural balance, and enjoying the peace that comes with just being there up in the mountains. Mountains are not the beast who devour people but are gentle and kind as the trees. If we treat every mountain with respect, love, and passion and be prepared to endure, then a mountain is as good as the beach or the forest or the waterfall or the rivers.

Traveling in the mountains always reminds me of this story, “The Story of the Elephant in the Circus.” Summary: A father and a daughter went to watch a circus show. While moving around the circus town, the girl sees a big elephant tide down with a tiny rope. She asks her father how the giant elephant was tamed with one small cable. Father answers, when the elephant was little, the tiny string was enough to restrain it. He tried everything in his childhood to escape from the rope, but he couldn’t. After some time, he stopped working. Now he is a giant elephant and could quickly get rid of the cable, but he feels he is going to fail, so he never tries.

That invisible rope is continuously present in our life that forbids us to try things that we once failed. It might be a math test, a relationship, a boulder, a concert, or a dance competition. We quickly assume that the things we failed in the past were not within our reach that time and are still out of our reach. We tend to hide into our thick shells when we fail or get hurt. We don’t realize that we have grown significantly from our previous outing. The thick crust we have developed to protect our-self is that tiny rope. We are superior from the past encounter, so don’t be afraid to do things that once in the past, you were too scared to do. Perform the actions without expectation and see how your life transforms. We can go as far as our minds can dream.

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