plam gallery

adventures with plam

The night before, we had arrived at our high camp, the Moraine, at 9PM, and it had taken us about 2 hours to set up our tent (we didn't know that the tent would be there for the next 4 days!) and eat more Mountain House food. So we got to bed a lot later than we had wanted. The weather was especially de-motivating in the morning: while it had been gorgeous yesterday (a perfect summit day), we woke up to mostly cloudy skies. We thus got to a nice, early 8AM start the next day. (I was sleeping soundly enough that the other parties setting off sure didn't bother me.) I suggested that we leave the tent open, since I'd read on the Internet that marmots occasionally inspected tent contents, making their own doors if necessary. Our planned route took us from the Moraine, through the Lower Saddle high camp, up the climber's trail to the Black Dike, through the Eye of the Needle, to the Owen-Spalding route to the summit (5.4, 3 pitches). We put on harnesses before leaving high camp, and stashed the rack in Dave's summit pack; I carried the rope. I didn't quite remember the best way to carry a rope at first, but figured it out soon enough. Our crampons and ice axes came with us for the snow traverse to the Lower Saddle. The snow traverse looked a lot scarier from below than on route, and I walked across the snow traverse with just the ice axe. I was glad to have the axe, although a number of soloists did the traverse axe-free, and they seemed to do just fine. Dave put on his crampons. I found only one part scary: at one point, the snow was thin and broke through to the rock underneath. We stashed our pointy items just above the snow traverse and continued to the Lower Saddle. We were making decent time so far. We continued upwards on the climbers' trail; the presence of two or three other parties helped with navigation. We climbed at roughly the same pace as a guide and client on a one-day climb of the Grand. We also sort of managed to cross-reference our location with the features I'd remembered from the guidebook, but I never was completely sure about those. The Black Dike is hard to miss. We never did find the fixed line that allegedly existed. After a short bit of downclimbing and a lot of ascending, the first notable features are Briggs' Slab and the Eye of the Needle. We arrived there around 10AM. Briggs' Slab is a low-fifth-class unprotectable slab. Alternatives are the Eye of the Needle and some others that I didn't quite grok, apparently either the "sack of potatoes" or the "crack of doom". The Eye of the Needle itself is fine. After that, you continue on some ledges to an arete. There is an obvious start to an upper route past the arete, which you can see, and a non-obvious lower route with some invisible footholds. Since I'm not so good at seeing invisible footholds, I tried to take the upper route. Super awkward and exposed! It involved more leg swinging than I would have liked, with lots of fall potential. Dave also got sketched out, so I arranged an anchor and attached him directly to the anchor with slings. After all that work to get past the arete, we notice that the guide was setting up to go back down Briggs' Slab. He strongly recommended that we turn around too: he'd seen lightning strikes from the scary black clouds that were headed directly towards us. The other parties all coming down the mountain helped us decide to turn around, especially since we were still a couple of hours from the summit. I found the weather to be puzzling, since thunderstorms usually came in the afternoon, but there didn't seem to be anything we could do about it. I discovered that reversing the arete was a lot easier on the low route. It therefore went a lot better the next 3 times we did it. We proceeded as quickly as possible back to the Moraine; we got a bit wet from the rain, but it was never a torrential downpour (on us). Unfortunately, there was enough rain that Dave's sleeping bag got wet, mostly due to water accumulation in the bottom of the tent. I tried to get as much water out of the tent as possible by using my liner gloves as sponges, which worked pretty well. Fortunately, my down sleeping bag was still dry, since it was on top of some foamies. So here we were, back at high camp. We napped for a while, noticing lots of helicopter traffic. ("How odd! Those helicopters just keep on going. Must be a rescue."). The rain was off and on, at times quite heavy. News story on rescue, Jackson Hole News and Guide (Made US National news. It was only the largest rescue ever from the Grand. Helicopters picked off 16 climbers from the summit block, who'd gotten hit by lightning to various extents. One climber didn't make it. We'd talked to that party the night before, too. I understand that he was on rappel but got blown off the mountain by a lightning strike.) But eventually we needed to figure out what we should do next. Our overnight permits were expiring that day, and we didn't have cellphone service at high camp; we needed to either go lower or higher to get service. We had more than enough food and Dave had a wet sleeping bag. We thought about overstaying the permit; the rangers were certainly busy enough that we weren't at the top of their worries. But we figured it would be better to hike 7 miles back to the car, eat hot food, sleep in town, renew the permit, and let people know we were OK. Having done some 20-mile days while hiking the New Hampshire 4000 footers, Dave and I do have a pretty good handle on the "walking 7 miles" bit. I also figured that we could take advantage of this opportunity to de-provision, thereby lightening our loads next time we walked out. I brought extra food (e.g. full jars of peanut butter and jelly) as well as extra sport draws (didn't go through the gear before leaving, since we were in a rush) back to the car. Hiking does go quickly with super-light packs when navigation isn't an issue. Even through the fog. Three hours later we got back to the car. The remaining crux was finding lodging, which is pretty hard without Internet access in the middle of summer in a tourist town after the tourist centre closes at 7PM! Most places were full, but we managed to find a room for $200. We made the first of several visits to El Abuelito for supper. (Motel desk worker: "It's great!")