“The Fellowship is breaking. It has already begun.”
I sat on moist mossy earth at the edge of a stream emptying into Red Pine Lake. My feet, swollen and free from shoes too small, ached in the cold, clear mountain water. Digging through my pack I helped myself to cookies, tuna and crackers, and cheese. It was a beautiful warm day. Every few minutes couples of hikers strolled past. My thoughts were still directed to events happening behind and 1500 feet above me. I had not seen Jenilynn since morning. Neither she nor Aaron had ever been on terrain West of Pfeifferhorn. I assumed they had the will to continue but without a guide from South Thunder Mountain to Lone Peak the chances of finding a clean line in the dark were diminished. I took my time at the lake and dressed my blisters. The hike down to the canyon road would be painful, and long. I walked around barefoot for a few minutes then an awful idea entered my mind. What if I went back up? What if I went back up and finished the route? Except my feet, every other part of me felt strong. I sat down and put on my shoes, then walked around a bit. My feet seemed to be ok. Still sore but much better than earlier. I scooped up my pack and filled up with water from the rushing stream. I decided to go back up. At that moment I looked up trail and saw Chelsea hiking down toward me. She did not recognize me at first but when I inquired of the others she told me that Aaron was coming down and that Jenilynn was making calls from the mountain to convince someone to come up and go with her from Pfeifferhorn. I still had no communincations with her by phone or text from the lake. If she had already begun hiking from Pfeifferhorn I was feeling well enough that I knew I could catch her.
The hike up was nice; my feet felt much better. I met Aaron as he descended from the Alpine Ridge I made one last effort to convince him to turn around but he was set. I got a text through to Jennilyn telling her I was on my way up. “Are you serious?” I texted back, “Hell yes.” I should have texted back with instructions for her to save some Gatorade for me. Blast. I got to the peak just in time to see her draining the last drop. Matt Williams was with her and had brought food and drink up. It was late afternoon. She had sat on the mountain for 3 hours waiting for an option to proceed. Quoting Gandalf the White I announced “I’ve been sent back, at the turn of the tide, until my task is done.” For in the planning I had told her I would go with her to the end. I meant to keep my word.
We said goodbye to Matt, and hiked down the West side of the Pfeifferhorn. The sky was full of pretty, fluffy clouds against blue sky. Late afternoon sun threw supernatural light upon the ridges and peaks surrounding us. The ridge connecting the Pfeifferhorn West to Chipman Peak is a jumble of jagged, flatish, angular and odd-shaped boulders. Hiking into our second day without sleep was slow and tedious. I knew we were in for a long night. We didn’t speak much to each other all though the afternoon. I entered my meditative “beyond suffering” mode. I felt I could go on for hours, days. It doesn’t matter at that point, how I felt. I had already exausted normal status of comfort half a day previous. I knew discomfort would be a companion to me for the next several hours. I accepted it, even found comfort in it, if that makes any sense.
At the tri-ridge junction above Lake Hardy. Box Elder and Timpanogos set the background.
The ridge above Hogum Fork juts upward, becoming vertical. We scrambled the traverse, hands on rock, pulling ourselves upward. The entire route I never had second thoughts about Jennilyn. She is more than capable and comfortable on rock and exposed places. I enjoyed the scrambling; it gave me a break from supporting all my weight with two legs. I had considered making a short out-and-back up to Chipman peak but at the junction with Lightning Ridge we made the easy decision to leave it for another time. We entered the wide open, West facing bowl under Lightning Ridge, and saw it still held much snow. We traversed low, crossing snowfields. A short way before South Thunder came into sight we split up briefly as I stopped for a break. When I resumed I spotted Jennilyn uphill from me, shouting and pointing at a solitary mountain goat standing on a boulder high on the ridge. Spirit animal? It was clearly there for her, not me. It was gone before I could take a photo. The sight of it seemed to cheer her. It was perhaps a sign, or some confirmation to her that she was where she needed to be.
South Thunder came into view. We needed to climb up several hundred feet of granite boulders to the summit. It was tiring. Jennilyn called it a son-of-a-bitch. I just laughed. Sun was setting. We looked West to mark our route off Lone Peak, a downclimb to a notch in the North Ridge, and a steep slide down a couloir to the canyon floor. The couloir was full of snow. Could we? Yes, but in the dark? Yes, but risky? Yes. An uncontrolled slide down that chute would be disaster. We had hours yet to make the decision to take the route through the snow-filled chute, or to take an alternate exit from Lone Peak. We called Jared. Jennilyn explained where we were and got the approval from him that an alternate route off the mountain would still count as a WURL. Jared tried to steer us into exiting through Bells Canyon but from the saddle between Upper Bells Peak and Lone Peak. I had never climbed down or up that way and was concerned about attempting it in the dark.
“This mountain is a bitch.” South Thunder Mountain.
Upper Bells peak. A friend of mine, after making the traverse from Upper Bells Peak to Lone peak years ago described it as “bewildering”. And that was in daylight. I knew that the key to descending toward Lone Peak is to STAY TO THE RIGHT. In the dark the hardest part was knowing when to commit to the right side. After some poking around we found the passage. We were both so tired but smiling. She shared her hallucinations with me: “There’s a canoe up there, standing vertically on the ridge. Do you see those pictographs on that rock wall?” To her credit the weathered face of a granite wall really did look like pictographs.
Crawling through Upper Bells Peak
Seeing canoes and Indian pictographs
We saw a single light from a headlamp descending from Lone Peak, down toward us. DJ was up there to meet us and accompany us off the mountain. We met him on the hike up from Upper Bells Peak. His presence and laughter was a shot of energy to get us up the last climb of the WURL. She laughed at their shared jokes all the way up. We tagged the South summit, then traversed over to the main summit, and stood on the boulder at the top. It was after midnight. The route was effectively finished, but we had to get down. We decided to exit via the cirque and the Jacob’s Ladder trail. In our state, having been hiking, scrambling, and running for over 30 hours, the notch descent was just too risky. For me, fatigue set in and weighed me down the entire morning. We stumbled through the dark down Lone Peak and through the cirque. A pair of eyes in the darkness reflected our light. Was it a cat? Yes! She was certain it was a cat. Maybe not. I had no conclusive proof of sight that it was my first puma sighting, but it was an exciting five minutes.
Atop the last peak of the WURL: Lone Peak. DJ and Jlyn
At dawn we were a few miles from the trailhead. I remember it being a very warm Sunday morning. And then, we stopped walking. She and I were the 9th and 10th to complete the WURL.