Enchanted Evening – Tom
“If you don’t need pants, I don’t need pants.”
Fortunately, we brought pants. And many other things, each accruing into the overweight beasts we tied to our backs. So much for traveling light, for alpine starts, for August weather.
You could be in Baghdad. Or Syria. Or Ferguson. Or Chili, New York. Or Sebastopol.
You could be back in Sandy Bay on Moosehead Lake. Treading water, cold water that is warmer than the air temperature, but not by much. Treading water, eyes and face still, watching the clouds swallow Burnt Jacket Mountain. The rain’s arrival quickening. Clouds following the contours of the ridge and darting toward the surface of the lake.
I remember sitting at my laptop in the ICU, Dad slowly recovering, hatching the plans for this trip. There ought to be a rule against planning a trip seven months in advance. But the data is there: this should be a good weather weekend, especially for here. As predictable as the weather gets: that’s why you request a permit for this weekend at the beginning of February.
It also seemed reasonable. Perhaps a little too much armchair alpinism? I don’t know, it seemed conservative enough at the time. Up and over Aasgard: always a long, tiring journey. Climb Dragontail the easy way, then take a look at Prusik? Always dreamed of Prusik. Be careful of what you dream. Knees and lack of conditioning and family and work and a shortage of mountain time. They can all work against you. And even if you meet those challenges, there is always the weather.
And the goats.
We were ready for them this time, in that we made sure to pee a good distance from camp and keep their salt craving brown eyed selves from getting too chummy with us. I know it sounds silly to be bothered by goats, but perhaps you have never prepared a meal with a group of them staring at you.
No, the goats are not the problem. And while Joe’s bad stomach certainly has made him uncomfortable I think he will manage. No, the precipitation and the wind are the problem. No climbing today and the need to get back to the world first thing in the morning. And, while we brought pants, though there was debate about that in the ninety degree weather at the trailhead, we did not think a four season tent was necessary.
The tent we brought is really a two season tent: the walls are a mesh screen. The fly keeps the bulk of the sleet out, but with each big gust a cloud of dust and moist snow billows in under the fly and coats me and Joe and everything in here with a moist grit.
So, here I am, bathed in a moist grit.
I’m not snorkeling in Maui, swimming with turtles and humu humu nuku – whatever the rest is. You know, the Hawaiian state fish.
I could be skiing in Chile. Ok, not really. The dream of southern hemisphere skiing is not actually in my time or economic wheelhouse, but it is fun to dream about. Although the snow in Patagonia can be quite unreliable from what I’ve heard.
I could be savoring a pint in Galway while listening to the impromptu house band. Sure you could.
I am not home changing diapers. I am not joining a two hour conference call.
I am using my precious time away from the family, long planned and arranged – sitting here in what has been a beautiful summer, inside a moistening sleeping bag in an August snowstorm. I’m shivering too, almost jealous of Joe who had to wander off in search of the pit toilet to answer his troubled intestines. He’s freezing too, but at the moment he has a room with a view.
Staring at the tent ceiling. I could go outside but I was cold the last time I went out. The siesta is a good way to kill some time on a weather washed climbing trip. A nap, such a precious thing. But I slept a very long time last night – no reason to get up early, the sleet bounced off the tent all night and until well after sunrise. Now I am wide awake.
I could be surfing down in Huntington Beach, or climbing at Smith Rock.
You might say I’m whining and that would be fair, I’m afraid. There are some lines I do not want to cross, and one of them is thinking of my more mundane troubles at home – work, bills, kids, life. Rejuvenation is the word. Apparently I am catching up on sleep. Sick of my attitude, time to get up and look at the gray clouds, chase goats, and drink some coffee until I start to freeze again. Then dinner and sleep.
I return to the snow, which is tapering, and realize the clouds are breaking a bit. The breeze is still cutting and everything is coated with a thin layer of ice. Hopefully it will be gone in the morning. The descent to Colchuck will be all the more tedious if the steep trail is covered in ice. No goats and I try not to notice Joe’s flask. Perhaps he left it out for me?
The clouds are breaking into wisps. I putter around camp, making coffee, sorting gear, beginning to think in more detail about tomorrow morning’s retreat. Turning my gaze from the ground, I see that the way not taken on Dragontail is beginning to appear from the clouds, and then Little Annapurna, and off to the east the snowy trail towards Prusik Pass is coming into view.
Joe returns. We both agree that his flask should help him feel better. It provides some warmth and wisdom for me too. We make dinner and enjoy some bland freeze dried warmth in the chilly air. We lament our lost opportunity to climb. We share the flask and peer down toward Colchuck Lake and across the valley to Cashmere.
Clouds to the west make sunset a dim and early affair. We turn to the east, back towards our tent to see a gigantic moon rising. No clouds that way and this huge, frozen, luridly named landscape unfold before us. No vegetation in sight: we could be on another planet.
“Look at that buttery cue ball moon.”
“Look at the Enchantments,” Joe echoes, “I’m just so happy to be here.”
“No place I’d rather be.”