I flicked on my headlights to counter the flashing lights of the tow truck, marking my place off the side of Snow Creek Road. I was only 30 feet from the pavement, and with a sound winch and patiently guiding my steering, he pulled the TOF from the "turnout" and back onto solid ground. Turns out, the "turnout" was a wash. Hmmm... not exactly how I wanted to start the weekend...
And now back to your regularly scheduled adventure...
Shadowed silhouettes scrambled through silvery boulders, brightened by the half-moon's light on the desert floor. Questionable footing occasionally resulted in a crash through the brush, but otherwise the only sound was the howling wind setting the power lines into vibration frenzy. All too soon, it seemed, we could hear the sounds of morning stir around us. Boots swishing through meadows of gentle grass and wildflowers, not yet scorched by the sun; bird calls as light warmed the slopes above. Even this far up the canyon, we spoke in low voices, laughing about our early morning crawl to cross the river. We were out of the wind now, the only roar being Falls Creek tumbling through the trees.
Down to short sleeves in the early morning, my arms paid the price of running the tunnel, manzanita and catsclaw snagging everything from pack to skin. We seven picked our way up the dirt hill, nothing holding firm, my mind flashing back to The Hermit's death chute of loose soil. Popping out on top, I smiled and yelled over to Miguel, "Where's the SNOW?" His reply was a point and a grin, "Right there!" Hacking my way through the brush, I emerged to look up and see the base of the snow tongue, brown with debris, terminating in the boulders of the canyon. With one more break, we headed up.
The snow was perfect for crampons, firm but accepting of the points at all angles. No slipping, no crust, no postholing; just solid placements and continuous progress. I used my axe and a whippet for balance and safety, although I doubt a decent self-arrest would be possible on the consolidated snow. And the progress just kept going on, and on, and on. A never-ending expanse of up and steep and up some more. We took a few breaks, the group moving well and strong, smiles all around as we all simply put our heads down and trudged directly towards the summit.
Besides a few breezes down the chute, the sun was warm and comfortable. I looked up to see the 4 ahead of me, and then 2 below, realizing that I was in sort of a middle no-man's land. After hours of exposure, I was starting to get slightly nervous, my breathing coming a little faster and I worried about my foot placements in the steps the men had left. At a rest on the turn of a switcher, I called up to Rick Graham, just to let him know where I was, and that I was a little sketched out. "Just take your time," he yelled down. "You're doing great!" I realized then that I was tired, and I knew that's when mistakes happen. I breathed deeply, knowing all I had left was a few hundred feet, the end of a long ascent and matching my gain of the previous weekend. With Miguel, Steve, Fern, and Rick cheering from above, I stomped and groaned my way over the summit boulders, popping up over the cornice and seeing the summit marker.
With a smile, I pulled out my hat, tying it on in the gale as the antlers flipped in all directions. As I posed for a few summit shots, I suddenly realized that I had completed two major goals of my own in the past two weeks. I have been training and working and planning, and it all came together. I knelt down with my axe and a few tears and sobs snuck out as I looked out to Palm Springs so far below. A big hug from Rick, and then, I reached deep in my bag to pull out the champagne. Sanny J was my first training peak for Whitney (via the Marion Mountain trail), and now, this route, at over 10K of vertical was my crowning climb of it. It deserved to be christened in the same manner as my 14ers. And so, we passed the bottle around, the Magnificent Seven gathering around the sign for a victorious pose before tromping our way back down to the tram.
"Hey, Rick," I said quietly, smiling, as we strode out along the trail, and he turned.
To the Magnificent Seven, congratulations on a classic!
It was an honor, once again, to hike with one of my heroes. Much better than just going to dinner! R, I'm really glad you could be there for such a special day.
M, a special thanks for the look you gave me last year when I told you that it had been suggested I couldn't complete this route. I know timing didn't work out then, but obviously, this past Saturday was meant to be. Thanks so much for believing in me.
The slide show video is here.
(Allow a while to load, but hopefully someone will get the music references!)
The rest of the pics are here.
From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.