I didn’t sleep all night. Just couldn’t do it. I tried but I wouldn’t fall asleep. Not sure if Shelley did, but I doubt it.
Sleeping inside the stone-walled public shelter kept the noise of the wind out so we couldn’t tell what the weather was doing outside.
Around midnight the first independent group of climbers left the shelter. Three of them. About 15 minutes later, a second group of three climbers left. That didn’t really mean much to us as far as getting a chance. I had talked with one member of their group the night before and they said they were going regardless. When they left the weather outside wasn’t too good. We could hear the howling winds when they opened the door to leave, but could not tell how much precip was coming down.
So we laid there and waited.
Around 1:15 am Shelley had enough and got up to look outside. When she came back she told me it was snowing lightly, the winds had died down and she could see the moon. Great news. That would be nearly perfect weather for us. We laid there and waited.
When 2:00 am came and went with no guides coming to get us, disappointment began to set in.
I got up at 2:15 am to look outside and the weather had changed for the worse since Shelley looked. Visibility was maybe a few hundred feet, the winds were around 20 mph and it was preciping again. Clearly, Shelley got up during a window like what we had experienced that afternoon while doing snow school. Now the weather turned on us again. We weren’t going to get a chance at the summit. I could see the RMI group in the distance making their way up the ridge to the Ingraham Glacier. Their headlamps were all I could see through the fog and precip.
I came back in and broke the news to Shelley and finally went to sleep.
Don woke us up at 7:00 am and we packed up our gear and made our way over to the cook tent for breakfast. We walked outside and were greeted by partly cloudy skies, no wind or precip and the sun. We hadn’t seen the sun since the second hour on Monday. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe we weren’t on the summit.
Breakfast sucked. The food was just as good as it had been since we arrived, but I had no appetite. I hardly ate. Neither did Shelley. We listened to the guides’ explanations and understood their decision. I wasn’t angry at them for making the decision they made, after all, they made it with our safety in mind. I was just angry we didn’t try to head out when the weather cleared around 1:00 am. They said they were standing outside the cook tent talking about it, but ultimately decided it was a window and not a trend to better weather. Unfortunately for us, the weather trend was just a few hours too late.
After breakfast we collected our gear and met up to climb back down around 10:00 am.
At one point during the climb down we took a break and the sun broke out brightly and I looked up at the mountain and could see the summit. Oh man. I hadn’t seen it the entire time we were on the mountain and now as I’m going down the weather breaks. I got Shelley’s attention and pointed up at it. She wasn’t happy and we didn’t say a word to each other.
Don saw the exchange too.
After the break, again, I was walking at the rear of the formation and Don came up to me and asked if I was upset with them, the decision, etc. Ben was behind him and was part of the conversation as well, but didn’t speak much. He just listened.
I told him I wasn’t mad at him or the other guides personally. I understood the decision and I couldn’t base my frustration on hindsight. They went with their best knowledge and experience based on the information they had at the time they made it. I understood that. I tried to explain that what I was frustrated with was not getting the chance to try. When the weather cleared around 1:00 am, when RMI left, why we didn’t try. We could always turn around an hour or two later if things got worse, but not even trying went against everything in my person. Not seeing what was happening on the other side of the ridge, on the Ingraham Glacier, was frustrating. When we left Camp Muir at 10:00 am, it was 10 hours since the independent climbers left the shelter and 9 hours since RMI left. We could only assume they made it since if they had turned around, they would have been back by then.
I explained that both Shelley and I were prepared mentally for any challenge on this mountain. We had trained since November (for Shelley) and March (for me) so that we would not be turned around for physically being incapable of making the summit. We didn’t care how cold it got, how difficult it became, how sore we were or how miserable the conditions. We were going to summit unless we became physically incapable of continuing (which meant a broken leg or hit by a rock) or the guides stopped us. So, not to try because the weather “may not be trending right” really frustrated both of us.
Shelley wasn’t around during this conversation as I stopped for a few minutes when Don first came up to me and the group kept going. So Shelley didn’t over hear our conversation. When we caught back up with the group Shelley was at the rear of the formation and heard what we were talking about and turned to Don and said, “We just wanted to try,” and turned back and kept walking. Now, she said it nicely. Not in a mean tone or anything. But it was perfect timing.
It was a good conversation. We understood each other and where we were coming from when it was over. I know he understood my personality better when we were finished.
On the way down, there was a couple spots where we got to slide down the glacier instead of walk. I think there were four spots where we were able to slide down instead of walk. The longest was maybe a 100 feet long. Some were pretty short. This video has one of the longer ones. That’s Shelley in the blue jacket and red pack at the beginning. Sorry, this camera doesn’t refocus when I zoom.
We learned a lot about mountaineering on the trip. I took notes on what other climbers had if they had something cool that was a better idea then we did and listened to the experiences of the guides. I came down with a long list of equipment to get before the next climb. Simple little things. Like a collapsible, 1-liter pee bottle. When you’re in a tent on a glacier and the weather is terrible you probably don’t want to get all suited up to go outside to pee. A collapsible bottle is better since you can flatten it and it won’t take up volume in your pack. I tell you, volume in your pack is very important. Using compression sacks for your clothing, again, to reduce their volume is a huge space saver.
So, now the big question. Are we going to try again.
Yes. No question about it. The only question is when. We can’t answer that. Maybe this September, but we may have to wait till next spring.
But we are going again.