Route: Everest Ridge
Elevation Gained: 6,500’
RT Distance: 9.22 mi
RT Time: 10 hrs, 14 min
Trailhead: Dry Canyon
TH Elevation: 5,349’
Summit Elev.: 11,749’
Rating: III, Class 4, Steep Snow
Climbers: Mark Thomas, Joe Bullough, Glenn Merrill
Once again I was about 15 minutes late in picking up Joe – it’s always 15 minutes. Just like two weeks prior I was late because of a movie, and just like two weeks prior, Joe had gotten some sleep while I hadn’t. Luckily I had had a good dinner the night before and bad weather was forecast for Saturday (compared to the good weather forecast last time), so at least our second attempt at climbing Everest Ridge on Mt Timpanogos wouldn’t start out exactly the same as last time. Also, Glenn Merrill, a new member on Summitpost, would be meeting us at the trailhead. He had mentioned that he hadn’t been hiking much lately, but we figured it would still be nice to have some more company.
We had agreed to meet Glenn at the Dry Canyon trailhead at 1:30, but he was late and didn’t arrive until 1:45, so in futile retribution I drank his share of the coffee that I had brought along. Joe and I weren’t sure if he was Mormon, so we weren’t sure if he would care, but it was a nice extra boost anyway. The weather forecast called for cloudy skies and a 20-30% chance for snow – with me taking the role of the optimist and Joe assuming that of the pessimist, our expectations balanced out nicely. Also, recent avalanche activity was mimicking that of a spring cycle, with wet slides being the main foe, with the higher dangers now on the southern and southwestern aspects. Since our last attempt, the Wasatch had seen another light snowstorm so there was a chance that we wouldn’t have the perfect snowpack like we did last time. The inversion over the Wasatch Front had broken, so this time we could see the city lights below, which stood in wonderfully for lighting the snow slopes on Mt Timpanogos since our full moon was now long gone.
Joe and I took off strong from the trailhead, making sure to start out on the trail this time and not repeat our prior mistake of rushing up the creek instead. Glenn kept up with us for the first few minutes, but eventually he fell further behind. We waited for him to catch up and then tried hiking at a slower pace, but he fell behind again. The next time he caught up I suggested that he hike in the middle to keep us reasonably together, but soon that fell apart. Joe and I quickly crossed the meadow, me shaking my head disapprovingly at the burning campfire that some campers had left burning in the clearing.
“Maybe I should pee it out, and punish them with the smell,” I suggested. Joe wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea, so I kept on hiking.
Once we had hiked through enough of the shaded parts of the trail to see that there would likely be no soft snow below the Big Baldy saddle, we agreed to cache our snowshoes and poles in the trees and pick them up on our way down. Glenn caught up and did the same, and I marked the turnoff from the trail with an evil smiley-face carved in the snow while Joe took the GPS coordinates.
This time I was more insistent on Glenn hiking in front to set the pace, but he declined - he said that he didn’t want to mess up our summit attempt by making us go at a slower pace. Although this was very noble of him, I still wanted us to be reasonably close and meet up at the Big Baldy saddle. I didn’t think Glenn’s pace would be that detrimental to our efforts since Joe and I had been hiking a little faster than last time, and Glenn wasn’t taking too long to catch up. Ultimately Joe and I took the lead but decided to wait for Glenn at the Big Baldy saddle. That was the last time we saw Glenn.
We reached the Big Baldy saddle a little earlier than last time, but it had taken us longer than last time. No worries – we both felt refreshed and alert, and the sky was completely clear of clouds. Besides running a little slow everything was going well. We had cut across the final clearing again and headed up the south ridge spur. As we neared the saddle I noticed a bright light towards where we were headed. Someone was camping at the saddle! It looked like we would have some company (and competition?) on the route today. These well-rested fellows donned their ice axes and crampons and headed out of camp about 15 minutes before we reached their point – if this were to be a competition then Joe and I started out with a handicap.
Our foes took the north spur, and since Joe and I were familiar with the southern spur, we followed pursuit. Joe and I had waited at several points in the clearing to wait for Glenn, but there was no sign of him. He had been hiking his headlamp turned off earlier, so we expected it to be difficult to spot him from far off. Joe expected me to be able to catch up to him, so I waited another 10 minutes while Joe shot up the ridge. Reluctantly I gave up hope of having Glenn join us on the upper slopes of Timp and headed towards the first set of cliffs.
This headwall was definitely steeper than that of the southern spur. I didn’t check with my inclinometer, but since the south spur rose up to 50o, I figured this slope reached 55o-60o. I passed between the cliffs on a narrow tongue of snow and raced up the ridge. Joe was far ahead and I slowly gained ground. Eventually my legs began to tire, probably as a result of me giving them a good workout earlier in the week, and I had to stop. I had to stop and catch my breath or hack out some phlegm a few times, so my efforts to catch up failed. Our foes traversed around the first major cliff band while Joe and I easily found our route up the rock that we took last time.
Joe waited for me at the base of the ‘step’, the crux of the route and our highpoint from two weeks earlier. He had passed the slower of our two foes and had had a chat. The leader had climbed the route a few times before, but never directly up the buttress of the ‘step’, and they were taking the southern traverse. I arrived just after they started the traverse, and Joe was eager to get moving. His hands were really cold and he didn’t want to wait around. I resisted, sat down, and ate my first bit of food since dinner the night before. Since the snow was softer than last time, with the more recent snow forming a lighter 2-6” deep wind slab on top of the old sun crust, I suggested that he keep warm by breaking trail up to the base of the final cliff that had defeated me. This time I brought a harness and 30 ft of webbing and some extra ice axes so that we could protect the final wall of the buttress, so I figured that Joe could keep warm and have the anchor set up by the time I caught up.
I pushed on a few minutes later and was pummeled by the loose snow chunks that Joe was knocking down the slope. I waited beneath some rock on the side until the barrage moved farther north and then headed up the thin tongue of snow. I was familiar with the moves on the snow and rock and made it up to the final wall easily, but Joe wasn’t there! The sun still hadn't risen and I was climbing by headlamp, so I shined my light around to see if he had turned his off. Then I heard him -he was on top! Apparently his cold hands gave him motivation to just get the climbing over with rather than wasting time on an anchor. He offered to belay me from above, but I declined. Surely if he made it the final move must be fine. Besides, since it was still dark, the only light being that of the city below, it would be easier to ignore the exposure and concentrate on the rock.
The final move was doable, but it certainly wasn’t easy. I could tell that the added dexterity from taking off my snow gloves wouldn’t help since there were no holds that I could cling to – there were only small, blocky, snow-covered ledges. My head was soon above the rock, but there was nothing to pull on to get onto the snow-covered scree. I placed the back of my palms on the ‘handholds’, with my fingers facing out, and lifted myself and my crampons off the rock. This was the only way I could keep balanced with the steep cliff and lean over the lip in order to grab anything higher up. Balancing on both arms, I shifted my crampons to some slightly higher toe holds to my right, stood up a little, and then repeated the same mantle move a little further over. Then I spread my right leg out onto a corner and used it to give myself the final push above the lip of the cliff while burrowing into the thin snow with my ice axe and forearms.
(by Joe Bullough)
It was an easy walk the rest of the way to the massif ridgeline, and soon we could see all that remained of the route. The sun was just barely rising too, so we whipped out our cameras. The cold 5 mph wind that had chilled us lower down was now howling at around 30 mph, and my numb face couldn't take it any more. I strapped on my face mask and plodded along through the snow. The 'hard' snow was just a soft wind slab, surprisingly soft for being on a wind-scoured west facing slope. Luckily our foes had broken trail to the summit.
It had taken us a surprisingly long time to cover the last 0.37 miles to the summit – some 40 minutes! Still, we had summitted earlier than expected. Then my hopes were dashed and I nearly gave into despair – the summit shelter was filled with snow! I knew that inside lay the address for a bike shop in Orem that gave out pins for climbing Mt Timpanogos, as well as the code needed to convince them that you really made it! Joe and I had really looked forward to being the first ones that year to claim the prize, but alas it didn’t look possible. I took some photos of the shelter in hopes that this would convince the bike shop (we could never find it without the address though). By then the wind had cooled my hands to the point of searing pain, so Joe and I gladly fled the summit. A half hour later we were back at the top of the Everest Ridge route.
Neither of us was entertaining pleasant thoughts of down climbing the buttress of the ‘step’, so we followed the tracks of our foes to bypass it. The slope was steep, reaching nearly 50o, and it provided some fun down climbing. The snow was varied, with mostly kick stepping and some occasional front-pointing. The inch-thick sun crust proved to be troublesome by bursting out beneath one’s foot when weighting footsteps in the snow, immediately followed by the collapse of the step. This didn’t seem to happen with the deeper steps kicked directly into the hill, so I made new steps, down climbing backwards, in order to avoid the troublesome crust problems.
Soon Joe and I were below the step and down the ridge. The prevalence of sun cups prevented us from glissading much, and during most of the descent it sounded like I was walking on potato chips. We passed our foes again as they were breaking camp, and as we stripped down to lighter clothing layers, they passed us. Neither one of them responded to us much and they were spaced very far apart, just like when we had passed them on the massif ridgeline. Perhaps they weren’t getting along?
We easily found my evil smiley-face marker on the way down and picked up our cache – Glenn’s gear was still there! Apparently he couldn’t find it in the dark and left us a note at the car. We brought it with us and were down at the trailhead in no time. Joe and I were surprised – it was only 12:15! We had gone further than last time, yet we hadn’t been out as long. We had beaten our earlier time by a full half hour!
The forecasted snowstorm failed to materialize, leaving us a beautiful clear day. We dropped Glenn’s gear off at his house, looked in vain for the Orem bike shop, and headed home. To top off the successful outing I went on to stuff myself at an all-you-can-eat buffet in downtown Salt Lake City and went to sleep by 4:00 pm – God it's nice having Salt Lake City so close to these big mountains.