Mount Emerson (#42)
Day 35, Mount Emerson
I hiked up the steep trail, doing my best to keep up with Travis and Jason as they bounced along ahead of me. It was wonderful to be enjoying their company, chatting about the SPS project so far, plans for the future, and life in general. We were headed towards the Waterfall Route on Emerson, and were stoked for a long climb on allegedly great rock. The approach was short, despite the extra mile thanks to a winter road closure, and in no time we were dropping packs and charging up talus towards the base of the climb.
The start of the route is in a gully which, thanks to some remaining snow, lived up to its name of The Waterfall. We carefully climbed on dripping and icy rock, tossing little icicles out of the way and cracking jokes.
Thankfully, before long we were able to navigate up out of the bottom of the gully and onto drier terrain. With plenty of time to kill, we launched into an epic, wandering, convoluted ascent of the route, eschewing the efficient, direct line in favor of whatever buttress, arete, or boulder problem stuck our fancy.
The rock was indeed excellent, and creative variations abounded. It was incredibly fun to be cruising up warm, dry rock with two of my best friends. Time and vert slipped by easily and quickly.
High on the peak, the gully tapered to its end, funneling us onto the summit ridge. The climb was already fantastic, but the finish made it truly epic!
The ridge wound up and over multiple impossibly thin, airy towers, providing fun climbing and great photo-ops.
The knife edge was long, but far too short.
One by one, we picked our way up and down a few final cruxy sections, then hopped up the final pile of boulders to the summit.
We were greeted by lofty views of snowy peaks in every direction, and basked in the warm afternoon sun, soaking in the joy of a great climb.
I peered down the steep, narrow North Couloir, a ski descent which turned me around with its poor stability last winter, and never fully filled in this year.
I was surprised to see tracks, descending from a few hundred feet below the top, but navigating the final stretch of steep, snowy (but not snowy enough) rock looked harrowing indeed. Turning attention back to our descent, we decided to investigate the south gullies. These provided a speedy scree descent back to the valley below.
The downside of taking this easy way down was that it left us with a long traverse back around to our packs. This started out well enough as we boulder-hopped our way across the south-facing slope, dodging snow patches. However, when we were within sight of our destination, the slope ahead of us dropped away into steep, snowy oblivion. We began picking our way down a lower angle option, but it quickly devolved into a postholing nightmare.
Desperately, we slid and crawled from one dry rock island to the next, being forced to retreat and reroute more than once, until finally we were back on solid ground and dry trail. It wouldn’t be mountaineering with at least a touch of type 2!!
Back at the packs, I stripped off wet socks to dry my feet before returning them to ski boots. I was headed further up the valley to camp and climb more peaks, while the boys were headed out, certainly to more comfortable and less interesting pastimes.
We chatted for a bit longer, reveling once again in the fantastic climbing and fun day, then bid farewell. The shadows stretched as the sun sank low, and, alone again, I wandered up the alpine valley in search of a suitable campsite. After passing a couple lakes, frozen but shining a brilliant turquoise, I found a lovely, snow-free alcove on the leeward side of a tree, dry and protected from wind. Perfect. I set up camp, the routine familiar but a bit rusty, cooked dinner, then crawled into my sleeping bag for a wonderfully early bedtime.
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