Robert and I made a climb of Sperry Peak in what I call “off season”. For some reason, I’ve lost some interest in mountaineering in the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring. Maybe that’s because I enjoy high summer so much more. There are more difficulties in the winter – wet, cold, less daylight, and so on. Basically, I catch up on my other activities in the winter and enjoy the outdoors when nature really intended it for us climbers to enjoy.
Due to very slick snow, we had to park about two miles below the usual trailhead. We brought snowshoes along for the basin below Headless Pass. Our intention was to climb the south ridge. We were hoping it would be dry from all the warm, clear weather that the mountains had been exposed to for the previous five days.
There were a few tricky stream crossings before breaking out of the trees. We picked a turn around time of two o’clock so we wouldn’t have to deal with the crossings in the pitch black. Basically the entire theme of the trip was “step on the snow and fall in the hole!” We must have punched through the snow a hundred times between the two of us. Robert, I have to confess, did a much better job of preserving his dignity than I did. Somewhere in the basin, I punched through to my chest. It took me five minutes to dig my left foot out. Landmarks slowly passed by. I recall looking back on a small waterfall that I swore we’d passed about an hour before, yet it still looked within two minutes of me. The frustration continued as we persevered up the slope to Headlee Pass.
I wanted to turn around numerous times, but I did manage to stay focused and trudge my way up. The holes continued to suck me in and often I had to escape by simply rolling out and sliding off the slick lip of the cavity. A small bergeshrund had formed near the top of the pass. About 5 feet above the ‘shrund, the slick snow caused me to skid again and I slowly and pathetically slid back down to the ‘shrund, erasing my past few minutes progress. As I began the ascent again, a hole claimed one of my trekking poles – the bottom third of the retractable pole pulled out leaving the locking mechanism behind. It was now useless. So, leaving both poles behind for the return trip, I pulled out my ice axe for a relative increase in stability.
At the top of the pass, the sun greeted us. After a short drop to the other side, we were drenched in sunlight and the snow became even wetter. By this time, our feet were sloshing inside our boots. A few more tedious slopes saw us at the base of the second half of the route. We’d skipped the lower part of the climb by not climbing directly from Headlee Pass.
We decided to drop everything and blast up to the top. I was surprised at how big the rack was the Robert brought. He headed up in one long simul pitch to the summit. The beginning featured a short near vertical step, probably the crux of the route. Higher on the ridge was some playful exposure over the east slopes, but for the most part, the route was 3rd class. A little after 2pm, our turn around time, we were on the top.
I was actually surprised that we made it, given how many times I’d wanted to turn around and how painfully slow we were in approaching the peak. I credit Robert with the tenacity to keep going. We had about two hours to get down before the sun went down. We decided to descend straight down the east face and traverse back across to the lower part of the south ridge where we’d rappel down to our packs. We plunged stepped down steep snow, grabbing on to trees for leverage. Sometimes we sped the descent by grabbing trees and swinging down, sometimes we slowed ourselves by catching the trees before tumbling down. We descended quickly to a bench of snow where we’d begin traversing. Right before we got there, I fell into another hole up to my shoulders this time. The traverse, however, was relatively easy. I almost could see us eating up time by wading through deep snow, but thankfully, we only had to deal with knee deep slow for the most part. Our snowshoes were with our packs back at the spot where we roped up too. Throwing the rope around a stunted pine, we rappelled back to the packs and began the frustrating slog out.
If I was frustrated on the way up, I was agitated and irrational on the way down. I descended into hollering and cursing the snow and the holes, vowing not to come out again until May or June (OK, at least until the snow is well consolidated). We ended up crossing the stream crossings in near dark, but the crossings were easy. Robert lost a pole that he threw across the creek. We arrived back at the car around 6:30PM in total darkness. As I write this and reflect back on the day, I’m shocked to find myself thinking it was pretty fun. Thanks for the suggestion, Robert.