Through The AlpenglowIt’s 4 am
Busterson woke me up to say he wanted to pee – I lay in bed listening to the regular breathing of my pregnant wife, who is(are) soundly sleeping, unlike the night before – I’m sore as hell, but Buster’s persistence gets me grudgingly to my feet – out front he sniffs around and growls at the aspen leaves shaking in the morning wind – he looks over to let me know he had things in control - I don’t get it -I’m still half asleep and dreaming for a momentI’m buffeted by the same cold Sierra wind of a day earlier
I’m driving west up Tioga Pass with Claude – We start hiking with headlamps on – early morning light just beginning to filter into the Sierra sky – it’s so early I’m just kind of along for the ride during our approach – Claude’s sense of direction is fitting for an icon
The surrounding mountain walls yawn in the morning’s yellow-golden light- although, as we quickly gain elevation, the initially mild breeze turns icy and chills the sweat under my jacket -snowmelt moves beneath a thin layer of ice - I am mindful to avoid stepping on the small plants and flowers struggling to survive in this alpine environmentWe gain a ridge across from our objectiveI’d been to this mountain once before, but hadn’t seen this side -Yosemite’s North Eastern Guard
We stash our packs and rack up – descend into a gully on the westerly face of the ridge line – and then across to the South West Face of Mt. Conness – I take the first pitches – off the deck is wet and heads-up – the second pitch throws some cruxy crack transitions at me – and difficult insecure moves up higher – the pitches are long, so I run it out in places to avoid rope drag – it’s a give and take though, as the forearm pump is quicker to arrive at >11k feet. Above, “5.8″ stem moves feel much harder than their grade -
The mental climax of the trip awaits at pitch 4 – a consistent and wide handcrack briefly reminds me of Indian Creek – it opens into an offwidth – “protected” down low by the star bolts Warren “Fucking” Harding placed in the 50s.
Claude runs out the 30 or so feet above those bolts to the top – Nate lent us a Big Bro for this pitch – it totally flunked and Claude declared at the top he was never going to talk to Nate again – I find no legs in the wide – but the edge of the crack is square – on TR I decide it’s better to lie it back for about 50 or so feet to the anchors instead of groveling up partly inside the opening – Claude was audibly psyched – the Tuolumne slab routes recently climbed with he and Nate pay dividends -(What Would Jeff Do)
My feet are confident on the smears despite the pack steadily pulling against my opposition positions – I arrive at the belay satisfied – thinking we’re basically done – the view west through Tuolumne into the Valley is stunning – but Conness isn’t done demanding my attention. Another hundred and fifty feet I’m again steadily inhaling the thin mountain air – working hard to get into a squeeze chimney I look down at my last piece – I wonder how to get up this damn, holdless passage – the skin about my ankle protests as I cam my leg against the two walls – I’m allowed through after a small payment in blood.After some wincing jams through the final pitches, I arrive at the casual summit ramps – our cheers reverberate across the mountain walls – I sign the register, but don’t take time to read through the pages as we’ve been shivering for some hours now and still have a few more ahead of us – we take our time on the hike out sharing the scenery, and some laughs – Claude tells me he climbed this route once before – back in like ’42 or something – He’s been around for a while – seriously though he climbed it at latest when I was still in diapers – we talk about kids -As the sunlight leaves the sky the clouds begin to grey- silence reverberates across the landscape – darkness closes in and restricts our world to the few feet in front of us and the ache of satisfied, hard work…until the clouds suddenly catch fire – engulfing us in an atmosphere of warm glowing light- “click” – in my mind -the soreness in my muscles and tenderness of my bloodied skin drift away -
I am out-of-body – floating all the way back -Awoken by Busterson – it’s 4 am
The soreness returned and I am stiff – when we get back inside Buster joins the rest of the family in bed while I spend some time on the floor trying to loosen up – he moves onto my spot as I stretch, puts his head on my pillow and casually observes me – letting me know he watched over things while I was out.