It started the same way and ended the same way. Driving in, the road was still rough. Walking out the beers were still in the river. The day was still splitter and I still walked the entire distance in untied approach shoes. Despite numerous similarities such as outstanding weather, excellent company, and quality stone, the middle of the excursion offered enough differences that I feel prompted to compare and contrast the two events: The Feather Buttress and Wolf Head’s East Ridge.
Temperatures and difficulty: Warm versus cold, easy versus hard. The company too, stood in stark contrast, at least in terms of familiarity. Peick and I had shared a rope personally and professionally quite frequently in the five years since we first met in Potrero Chico. This was only the second or third time that Kelly and I had roped up. Getting to know each other versus knowing each other.
It is warmer this morning than it had been for the Feather Buttress, but this one is a bit windier. With a longer way to walk out and not wanting the two AM return, Kelly and I settle on a respectable 0530 wake up time. Needless to say, it is still dark. Thinking ahead, I had, the night before, positioned the stove and bear canister near the side of my sleeping bag. When at 0529, I ask Kelly what time it is, I can’t help but chuckle at it being a minute before the alarm is going to go off. I feel around for my headlamp, which usually just stays on my head, my hand patting and feeling in the predawn dark. With it back firmly on my head, I set to lighting the stove. The task complete, I lay back down and curl up to unsuccessfully protect myself from the wind.
The third class approach climbs more like fifth, with occasional hand jams and difficult moves. We follow the path of least resistance (and sometimes least meant a fair amount) up the granite ledges to just below the crest. We rope up, climb a short pitch and gain the infamous Sidewalk. Two hundred feet later Kelly and I are simul-climbing ten feet in order to reach a good anchor building spot.
The pitches and exposure fall away underneath us as we inch upward, first on the crest, then the north side, now the south side. In the sun then out of the sun. The ridge is ours and ours alone, save the ravens and finches that would watch or stop by to say hi. Squeezes and traverses, balance, finesse and simul-climbing are all necessary as we make our way up this classic.
The summit comes soon enough to bring to an end the fourth class terrain, too quickly though for the experience, company and the journey to be starting its slide into memory. The flawless, late summer day and sun warmed stone beg us to stay, to soak it in, to press the pause button on the moment, for the moment, the now is all we have. Kelly is off to California soon and I am off to NZ. The range will remain, but there will never be another time like this, unique in its existence. So we pause, take in the range’s western flank, pointing out features from our previous week’s horse packing journey. The walk out looms large though so we cave to reality and start the first of a handful of rappels down the west side. We scramble a long and occasionally exposed traverse that takes us to the final rappel. I toss the rope, we rap down and slide into comfy shoes for the scree and boulders that will take us back to camp.
Back in camp we pack up, eat some food, drink some water and then point our toes toward Big Sandy. It is a quiet walk out. On the walk out I marvel at the height of Warbonnet and the hooting and hollering from a group up on the summit ridge. I think about other lines and new routes on the Plume. I think about an adventure five years past on Black Elk. I think about Patagonia and climbing and alpine and I can feel the urge creep back in.
I look at undocumented cliffs and peaks with wonder and desire. I long for more time to explore: today, tomorrow, and forever.
Somewhere out there I found peace and acceptance of being in the mountains. I felt the restoration of desire, of hope, of my existence. Maybe it was the grade and the lack of difficulties, maybe not. Whatever it was, some correct combination of factors contributed to a calmer, more positive mental experience than a few weeks prior. It was good to be in the mountains. It was good to experience something new, no matter the difficulty or lack there of. It was good to be with someone new, building relationships. It was good to feel the urge return. It was good to feel competence return. It was just good.