0400 on August 26, 2008
We traversed the sweeping snowfield below the east ridge, moving together and unroped across the thirty degree slope. The ice crunched beneath our crampons like broken glass and glittered in the twin pools of light produced from our headlamps. We didn’t talk much; the occasional attempts at speech were thwarted by the gusting wind.
Loren stopped a few meters ahead, the light from his helmet searching up the steepening slope above us. I plodded the last steps to his side and swung my head up to add my light to his.
“I think…” Loren’s voice trailed off as he pivoted his gaze further right and then back up to join mine. “I think this is where we should start blasting up, try to hug this rock rib to avoid crevasses.”
“Crevasses? There are crevasses on this thing? Like, besides the bergschrund?”
Loren nodded. “Not many, and they aren’t huge, but it doesn’t take much of a fall to ruin your day.”
“Hot damn!” I shouted with a grin. A small part of my brain was telling me that I should be concerned, but I was just excited to be on a real alpine climb with real objective hazards. “Do we need to rope up?”
“Nah,” said Loren as he unholstered his second ice tool. “But it starts to get steep here, so you might want to grab your other axe off your pack. Here, let me grab it.”
I turned around to let Loren unbuckle my second Viper from my pack, and then pivoted back to face my partner. “You cool with me taking the lead?”
“No problem, Bambi,” he replied as he shrugged his pack to a more comfortable position on his shoulder blades. “Just try not to fall and put your crampons in my face.”
“Not going to happen,” I called over my shoulder as I turned into the slope and started front-pointing up the fifty degree ice. A huge smile spread across my wind-chapped lips – we were really doing this.
My calves were on fire. I hadn’t been in crampons for five months, and three hundred meters of low angle front-pointing had taken their toll on my legs. One hundred meters of beautiful, rock-hard ice remained before the rock climbing began, but I had to take a break before my legs could continue. Loren had stopped to wait for me in a small bowl just a few meters above me. I climbed into the depression and collapsed, grateful for a chance to rest.
I was ashamed of my weakness. “I’ll be good in a second,” I said as I struggled to my feet. “Just need a quick drink and I’ll be ready.”
Loren smiled. “Let’s hang out here for a few minutes. That calf-killer ice sucks. Eat a couple of GU packets and stretch out your legs.”
I swung my pack off my back and sat back down against the rock. The energy gel from my chest pocket, warmed from my exertion, squirted easily into my mouth. I washed it down with a swig of frigid water, swishing it around in my mouth for a second before letting it trickle down my throat.
“You know,” I said as I picked up the mostly-empty GU packet, “there’s always a little left in these things, but you get more if you use your teeth.”
“That’s what she said.”
The words fell out of Loren’s mouth seemingly without conscious thought, and we just stared at each other for a second before descending into a gale of laughter.
“That sounds painful,” I managed to say before another wave of laughter overtook me.
Loren wiped the tears from his eyes with a gloved hand. “Here, let me get a picture of you demonstrating the proper teeth-scraping technique.”
He snapped the shot and handed my camera back to me. “Alright, Bambi,” he said, “it’s business time.” He yanked his ice tools out of the glacier and started moving smoothly and rapidly up the slope toward the gaping maw of the bergschrund.
I took the time to take one more picture of Loren climbing above me before stowing the camera carefully in the thigh pocket of my climbing pants.
“Alright,” I muttered to myself as I shouldered my pack. “Time to send the pain below.”