The ledges were only class 2, but they were covered in sand and scree, with few handholds, and no opportunities for pro as we climbed deeper into the steep NE face of Mt. Agassiz. Eventually I caught up to Vlad, and by then I really wanted the rope, at least for simul-climbing. By now it was apparent that we were not on route, and so we started climbing up in hopes of still intersecting the route. And thus began my most dangerous experience with rockfall on a climb.
I couldn’t avoid climbing in Vlad’s fall line, and there was so much loose rock on the ledges that Vlad couldn’t avoid sending down a regular barrage of rocks. I quickly learned that whenever Vlad started moving, I should scramble up the next slab as fast as possible to the next little headwall, and dig in there to brace myself for the next barrage of rocks. First I’d grab the rock low and close together so that I could protect my hands with my torso. Then I’d lay my helmet against the rock, face down, to protect my face. Then I’d arch my back to make my pack close up the gap between my helmet and pack like an armadillo to protect my neck. If I did this fast enough, I could be set and braced before the next barrage of rocks came down. Still, gravel would fill into my clothes and climbing shoes, and an occasional rock would ricochet off the walls and smack my side.
Gradually the terrain eased, but the sun was low in the sky. By the time we reached the technical cruxes of the route it was completely dark. The first one was a 5.8 offwidth. The second one was as well, but as I was transitioning to a mantel to my left, I felt the pressure ease up on my fist jam - the rock was falling! At first the thought occurred to me to push the rock back into place, but then I realized that the rock probably weighed more than I did, so I quickly climbed up and left onto the mantel as the detached flake, which in the dark we could not see as such, broke off and tumbled down the mountain.
Soon we reached an impasse with overhanging rock, so we followed a rock ledge to our right, through a notch, and downclimbed to another ledge that lead to a 5.2 arête with fun, solid rock. We summitted around midnight.The descent should have been a straightforward class 3 downclimb, but the nights were cold enough that the snow that had been soft sludge during the day had frozen into a hard, slick surface at night. In order to climb around the snow, we had to stay closer to the ridge crest, which made most of the climbing class 4-5, which in the dark was slow and tedious.