Held by the fire and my guitar, I stayed awake too long. We talked with some campers whose friends, scared of the local bear turned in early wanting to leave in the morning. I crawled in the camper shell of my truck for a paltry two hours of sleep. The ersatz rooster crow alarm went off at 1:30 AM and I crawled out to knock on the window of Mike’s car where he was still sleeping. We moved our vehicles to the main road, since our campsite wasn’t really ours and set off up the Meysen Lakes Trail on our way to the North Ridge of Lone Pine Peak.
The going was easy up the switchbacks in the cool air and under the stars. The roar of the waterfall echoed through the valley. As the sky began to glow announcing the arrival of dawn and the silhouette of the North Ridge grew increasingly prominent. We left the trail around 10,000 feet and found a good place to cross the creek. In the ambient morning glow, we scrambled up to the approach notch of the ridge, the first direct rays of sun bathing us in a golden light as the full ridge came into view.
We scrambled up and left over easy ground towards where the climbing would begin. Clean class 4 granite brought us onto the ridge. We skirted to the Southeast facing side of the ridge and traversed towards a dramatic and towering section of rock. We went directly for climbing un-roped with difficulties and sketchiness increasing with the height, to the point where we decided to rope up on a small ledge. I started leading a wide and challenging diagonal crack—notably harder than I anticipated for the 5.5 grade of the route. Towards the top the crack gave way to seemingly featureless granite.
“Uhhh, Mike, it doesn’t go, we gotta downclimb.”
Mike kept me on belay as I descended the crack back to ledge. From there we appraised the downclimbing situation. “This is sketchy,” Mike concluded and I agreed. We downclimbed and traversed back towards the north and the traverse led us to the top of an easy gully that led to a notch on the ridge. Once again un-roped, we relaxed and climbed over much more comfortable and easy class 5 terrain along the top of the ridge.
The dramatic granite blades came into view. “Do you mind if I lead this?” Mike asked. He started up a good crack system and beyond, between the blades. The going was easy, but this section of the ridge was stunning and we could only appreciate geology’s aesthetic sensibility. Beyond the blades I led us on a traversing pitch on the south facing side of the ridge across beautifully featured flakes. We continued traversing to another gully that led us up the next notch in the—allegedly where the first crux is. From there we looked for the “easy class 5 ramp 50 feet to the right of the notch” that was supposed to mark the start of the crux pitch. We searched but nothing quite matched the description. We decided on a section that looked reasonable and after a short rest I started on lead again.
A short vertical section, awkward but featured, led to an easy trough. I built a belay and looked up. It looked hard. Mike came up and got on lead. He placed a cam and made a committing move. “Watch me!” He searched for a way, but the going directly above us was not going to work. Very carefully he reversed the moves, a palpable tension hanging in the air. He decided to traverse to climber’s right to see if around the corner offered anything better. Almost as soon as he was out of view he shouted back, “It goes!” I traversed after and looked at the proposed pitch and it looked burly.
“Do you mind leading this pitch Mike? I’d feel better if you brought us out of here ‘cause I’ve already lead us to a bad spot a couple times!” Mike led up and the pitch offered the challenges it seemed it would. Now we were on the crest of the ridge, dramatic exposure on all sides and the summit headwall looming above. After easy and fun climbing across the narrow ridge we traversed slightly downward, downclimbed an awkward and crumbly chimney and the quickly ascended class 4 rock ascending towards the final notch before the headwall. One more quick descent into a gully and up lead to the notch which required squeezing past a section of snow, still hanging on despite the longer days.
I started on lead at the zigzagging crack marking the beginning of the beginning of the head wall pitches. I was exhausted though and my position above the gully snow tenuous. My fatigued forearms didn’t want to support my hanging on. I placed a good cam and jammed in the crack, but I was toast. I grabbed the cam and yarded myself up to where the crack eased off and finished the pitch over easy class 5 ground. Three more pitches brought us to the summit around 7:00 PM and the sun hung low in the sky. We organized gear and started the descent.
A year before, Mike had descended a gully to early and ended up on class 5 terrain. Determined to avoid the error, we over shot. We started descended the loose scree. I could still see in the dimming evening that it cliffed out. I admitted to myself that if it got dark before we found our way down we would be in for an uncomfortable bivy on the summit plateau. My instincts kicked in, and I followed them, back tracking along the slope until we found the way. Dusk was upon us as we slogged, slipped, skied and stumbled down the loose scree and boulders. It felt like forever. If I was exhausted at the summit, at 9:00 PM at the base of the descent I was thrashed, bruised, scraped and dehydrated. ‘Jocelyn is gonna be so worried, arrrgh and I gotta go to work tomorrow—I gotta get out of here’
After a short rest we started down towards the creek and the lakes. Patches of snow and boulder hopping brought us to hydration. We filled our water bottles and crossed. We came to a lake. I searched for a way across to the west. In a grassy meadow I found what was either a game trail or evidence of humans passing through at some point in time. With no better option we followed it into a wooded area. We found a cairn but no obvious trail. We continued along and it seemed we might be reasonably close to connecting with the trail. Mike was done though and decided he wanted to bivy. I was trying to keep momentum. We agreed to part ways and check in in the morning.
Then my altitude addled and sleep deprived brain kicked in. Maybe I missed the trail. Maybe if I descend a little I’ll connect it. I tested this hypothesis and to my dismay found that I was descending onto a system of steep cliffs. I climbed back up and back tracked to see if I could find the faint use trail. But I back tracked too far. I crossed a small water fall and soaked my feet. I scrambled back over boulder and managed to find snow again. I decided to find where we started the climb and then retrace my steps from there back to the trail. I started descending along the stream and through a forested section, but after a while I checked my altimeter and realized I had descended far too low and would need to re-ascend. I looked up on the other side of the valley and saw Mike’s head lamp switch-backing down the trail. I started back up, feeling dehydrated again while the water-fall raged next to me, unapproachable. Eventually I found a small stream and rehydrated. I checked the altimeter and was getting close to the 9800 ft where I could find a good crossing and retrace my way back to the trail.
But I looked at my watch. It was 1:30 AM and I had now been awake for 24 hours. I put my pack down between some boulders, rested my head on it and spent an hour in a half sleep daze. At 2:30 I started shivering. I curled into a fetal position, rubbed my legs, tucked my head into my light jack, wiggled my soaked toes but nothing worked to keep me warm. I would open my eyes and wonder what the strange deep dark blue object was—oh the sky. At 3:30, still shivering I felt nauseated and started throwing up bile and jellybeans. I decided to get and start moving again to warm myself up. As dawn arrived I found the crossing and headed directly toward where, now oriented I knew I would find the trail. I stumbled across a cairn and then another and finally the trail. I relaxed in the warm gentle light of dawn and hiked quickly down the trail. I arrived at my truck around 29.5 hours after departing from it.