Party: Dave Ryan, Neil Fried, Joey (Neils cousin) and I
Weather: The forecast was for light rain on Saturday with clearing skies and a mixed cloudy and sunny day on Sunday. So, we expected to get wet on the way in and bet all our chips on a clear, dry summit day.
Despite the steepness of the trail, we made excellent time. The cool weather allowed us to plow ahead without concern for overheating or dehydration. What am I talking about, it's late September right! Anyway, we made it up to the high camp (6400ft) in about 3 hours. We set up camp: Dave and I shared Dave's megamid, I used my bivi-bag while Dave wanted to test out his new North-Face Foxfire with its dry-loft shell.
With no visibility and nothing better to do, we all crashed for an hour nap or so. Sure, the megamid kept the rain off, but it didn't prevent the stream from flowing through beneath us. My nap was cut short as the need to do some trenching became imminent. Don't worry, trenching is not a normal practice of mine, however, in this case we were camped on a fine gravel bed which was easily returned to its original state upon our departure.
Aside from us, there was one other team of two climbers at our camp. To pass time, We stood around in the rain for a while, talking and bouldering on the large boulder in camp. Still drizzling, with low visibility, and no sights to appeal to our senses, our hopes of a successful/satisfying trip were dwindling. All we had to rely on was the weather forcast for Sunday being clear and dry. The alpine start time would depend heavily on the morning's weather.
The early morning came with the sound of rain. It continued to rain until about 6am. I knew that our shot at the summit was gone, with a little luck, we would get some clearing and at least go for a hike...
At 7am, I rolled out of the megamid to check on the weather, and sure enough there was clear blue sky "approaching" from the west. I rallied the troups to get up, insisting that there was climbing of some sort to be done. The clouds continued to clear, opening our first views of Mts. Johannesburg, Sahale and Buckner.
Forbidden remained hidden in a thin shroud of cloud, but in time we expected it to clear off.
After a liesurely breakfast we decided to head up to the east ridge anyway and get a couple pitches in for fun. My primary interest was to get a view of the supposedly impressive Boston Glacier. Exactly that, we did.
The climb up to the east ridge was quite enjoyable: scrambling up over the glacier polished slabs, crossing a short snowfield, jumping the deeply under-cut moat, scrambling up a loose, fairly technical gulley, and finally a gradual traversing ascent across the fresh snows of the night before to the start of the east ridge climb.
The views over the Boston Glacier were in fact impressive.
The glacier was heavily broken. I couldn't immagine anyone making their way across it at any point (at least without significant technical difficulty and a few hours to kill).
The bad news, at our arrival to the ridge, was that the rain that we were experiencing below was snow and ice on the upper slopes. The climbing route was observing continuous ice-fall as the sun warmed the rock. Given the time we had, and our interest in climbing something, we decided to climb the first couple pitches and then retreat. We roped up, Dave and I on a rope, Neil and Joey on the other. Dave took a surprisingly long time to lead the first pitch, an exposed traverse around a spire over-looking the Boston Glacier. It soon became clear why.... I have to say the first pitch, was my worst climbing experience I can recall to date. Nothing disastrous, just completely gripping and nauseating. The rock was cold and wet, complete with snow and ice. Within the first twenty feet of the traverse, I knew deep within that climbing bare-handed was a very bad idea. My hands were numb. I think the degree of cold had a shocking effect on me, much like jumping into cold water. I felt that I could barely hold onto the cold, slippery rock. Did I mention that I was wearing my mountaineering boots? I guess they were useful for kicking and scraping the ice and snow off each foot placement. At each piece of protection, as I unclipped the pro, I was visuallizing nasty pendulum falls to the next pro. With my disfunctional hands, shocked body, distressed mind, clumbsy boots, in dismal conditions... I was not enjoying this pitch.
Despite my poor impression, Dave got a great picture....
At the first belay, I indicated to Dave that I didn't care what Neil, Joey or he thought, I had had enough! I'm pretty sure no-one was too disappointed in my dictatorial decision. I gloved my hands, and sat stradled on the ridge line... one leg over the western void, the other leg on the eastern void. I rewarmed, and collected myself a little while waiting for Neil and Joey to finish the pitch.
The long wait, straddling the ridge started to cause nasty muscular cramps in my hips... hate it when that happens!
We set up a double rope rappel off the west side. It was a significant struggle to pull the ropes.
The climb back to camp was interesting. Not following the exact path across the slabs required some fun downclimbing. I also spent some time practicing steep frictioning techniques and demonstrated to Neil and Joey that boot-rock friction is independent of surface area! We packed up camp and headed down the trail. The trail wasn't as bad as expected. The drier day had relieved the saturated mud slopes that we experienced on the way up. In a clearing along the trail, we finally caught a glimpse of a clear Forbidden peak.
Notes and Summary:
The trip turned out to be a relatively fine success, even though the summit was not reached. The Boston Basin area is spectacular. We finaly got good views of everything.
I learned a couple lessons too: alpine rock climbing in snow and ice requires wearing gloves, and a rappel ring would be helpful in pulling ropes. Another mental note I made is that, at least this year, climbs of Sahale via the Quien Sabe glacier are close to out of the question.... that glacier was significantly broken as well, with a continuous, steep Shrund. On the way down the trail, I talked to someone who had climbed it, but it required technical ice climbing skills to cross the shrund. And oh yes, the ice avalanches we saw and heard crumbing down the Mt. Johannesburg faces are a good reason to avoid that mountiain (in the wrong time of the day and/or year).
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