Our camp was an idyllic oasis by a softly running creek under quaking aspens and sleep continued to tempt me with its warm comfort, but it was time to go and I freed myself from its grasp. I set off into the dark toward the mass of mountain, only just perceptible under the starlight. Day light was still hours away and my head lamp shone on the ground in front of me. I lifted my head looked forward, greeted by two wide eyes reflecting in a greenish glow. For a moment neither of us moved, but then the other took initiative and leapt away towards higher ground, and I heard the sound of the mule deer’s hooves connecting with earth.
I carried on through the dark navigating past boulders and shrubs. I looked back and could see a pinpoint of glowing light at camp, already now hundreds of feet below. Close by now, the faint glow of snow was slowly revealing itself with the coming dawn and I followed it upward as dawn lit up the sky. I had been here before, on these slopes watching alpenglow illuminate these same faces. But it all felt new to me, fresh and inspired. At the top of these first slopes the full grandeur of the East Couloir rose above me. Feeling strong and relaxed, I ascended while appreciating each step and admiring now settled avalanche debris.
At the saddle above the couloir, with the summit still looming above, I began traversing and scrambling towards the west and north, descending slightly over loose rocks and ledges, awkward in my heavy boots. The distinctive fin of Mount Humphreys dominated my view, rising dramatically above snow slopes textured like a soft white and grey quilt. I worked my way around a narrow arête that deposited me on another long and steep section of snow that topped out just before the final rocks to the summit.
I plunged my ice axe in and worked my way carefully up the south facing slope out of a broad gully below. The higher I went, the steeper the terrain felt. With great care, I made sure each axe placement was a solid belay and that my crampons were biting firmly. The slope relented and finally Norman Clyde’s North Slope and the south slope I had just came from, dropped away on either side of me while the last rocky section to the summit rose above and a fun scramble lead me there. The world dropped away all around me and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada filled my view and my heart. Making good time, I had the room to breathe and experience this place, its beauty and complexity. Another lonely summit. Another feeling of richness, peace and wholeness. An expanse of possibility and adventure. I need this vantage, I need to be here.
I began my descent down the North Slopes full of love for my surroundings. Even in the warm sun, the snow held firm and made for comfortable travel. I could see Horton Lake below, still partially frozen. I passed the mining ruins—nothing compared to the mountain swallowing them, swallowing the old roads in time—and I realized fully we must nurture this wilderness.
Back to world of others. I was an odd disheveled figure descending from the mountain and someone hanging around the mines ventured a ‘hello’ but I wasn’t ready to respond. I was still exploring the mountains of my mind. I continued to down the Horton Lake trail, passing more and more hikers on their way to lake or the ruins. I admired the couloir leading to Basin’s North Ridge and the many chutes of snow going up Mount Tom. Possibility and adventure.
I arrived at out little camp, hot and dehydrated. I sat down by the cold stream, and under the dancing canopy a cool breeze nurtured me.