When hiking, as in life, it's just one foot in front of the other, as small steps upward and onward turn into one big, positive adventure.
Over 15,000 brave souls attempt the summit each year, with only one-third of those being successful.
The Attempted Domination of This Speed Bump
Our preparation for this trip involved copious amounts of not even climbing hills during all the hikes we didn’t do before, and a few morning surfing forays the week before the climb. We figured our well-oiled machines didn’t need the wear and tear of actual exercise, and the life insurance policies were doubled ahead of time anyway.
The only electronics that joined us on the trip were point and shoot cameras. The rest was solitude in nature and a shear beat down physically and mentally. Best captured through photos, our Readymag, found at the end of this tale, tells the story in only the way pictures can.
We woke up the first morning of the climb with a lot of unwarranted confidence. Everyone was feeling good, joking around, and had no idea the difficulty that was to come. Not knowing you’re about to be punched in the face is often the best way to handle it.
The Long Road Ahead
The weight of our packs was surprisingly...heavy; and this was just while we started at the base of the mountain by Bunny Flat, one of the busiest trailheads. A few choice words may have been uttered during our ascent of Avalanche Gulch, the second least technical route on the mount and most popular with our fellow “expert mountaineers” (read: we had never climbed before that day). Little did our one buddy know, we put a “small” rock in his pack when he wasn’t looking - don’t judge. It advanced his conditioning a lot faster. We did him a favor.
Just about all that’s required during this part of the climb is a masochistic need for suffering, and some of your best friends in the world to encourage you. The key is pacing yourself as to not get altitude sickness, and drinking plenty of water, which of course you have to carry lots of in your lead-filled backpack. This requires the use of an ice axe, crampons, helmet, and head lamp.
We made it up to Helen Lake, our basecamp for the night, with little fanfare. As you can see in the pictures, it’s snow covered with lots of ice and quite cold.
Around 2:00 in the morning, we awoke, along with about thirty other insane early risers. We took the classic route through the right-side chute of Red Banks. We were told it was the easiest, but that person boldface lied to us, and will pay dearly for this eventually. You know who you are.
Once above the Red Banks, we start up one hill, the “short hill” *mumbles profanities*, to the base of another more aptly named Misery Hill. They call it that for good reason, you see. It starts at just over 13,000 feet, and it’s the type of ascent that makes you question why you woke up that morning at all. It gets better, too, because once you’re at the top, you mistakenly think you’ve just summited the mountain. You may cheer and high-five each other until the reality sets in that you can’t even see the true summit yet!
With energy reserves running low, mental reserves even lower, and altitude sickness taking a real hold at this point, reaching the top becomes a dirty mantra in your head. Just when we’re all quietly thinking about calling it quits, the proverbial second wind takes hold, and we made our push to the summit.
More cheers and high-fives ensue, many pictures are taken, and then a calm, quiet envelopes all of us. With the mission accomplished, our group is exhausted and humbled, and a “wonderful” thought emerges. All that’s left to do is…GET BACK DOWN!
Which reminds me - stay tuned for our next scary adventure blog: A Lazy Day at the Beach with No Sunscreen
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