Oddly enough, most of my exhaustion wore off once I started climbing up the mountain. New energy seeped through my skin and worked its way into my muscles, and I felt pretty good. My legs were cooperating, my breathing was still ragged, but I was able to continue. Every so often I’d stop. I did notice I was drinking a lot of water, though. My thirst was just unquenchable, it didn’t matter how much I drank it just wasn’t enough. No matter, I’ll be up and off this thing in no time!
As I climbed up, I laughed at my preconception of what this would be like. Switchbacks all the way to the top. A nice dirt path I could dance up with no problem. Then reality was like “Nah”, and threw me onto a pile of rocks. You really are actually climbing over boulders to make it to the top, and I was having a bit of fun with it.
As I climbed, I started to worry about the clouds. They were starting to look somewhat ominous, like a dog standing still right before an attack. It hits this weird nerve in you that tells you something might be wrong, but you’re not entirely sure. I pushed it aside, because I also thought I could see the top (protip, you can’t).
“Well, it’s not that far, I’ll get to it soon”. Wrong!
I became more and more weary of the sky as I pressed on, but I pressed on nonetheless.
I’d stop every so often to look at the sky, but more notably I’d look back down on all the ground I had covered that day, and how high I was going.
“Holy shit, I was in that basin not too long ago”
“Holy shit I was on that flat ground not too long ago”
At some point I turned around and saw a downdraft, and hail started to hit me in the face.
This was extremely unsettling. But as soon as the hail started, it calmed down and eventually wore off. The downdraft blew down the pass, and the sun came back out. That wasn’t so bad!
I continued my slow crawl up the mountain, hopeful that the weather would stay calm long enough to reach the top. I certainly didn’t want to be up here in a thunderstorm, no thank you.
I hit a relatively flat area and looked above me. Is that the summit? I think that’s the summit! It was still a ways off, but I felt I was almost there. I sat down and desperately tried to re-hydrate. The water in my water bladder has long since been depleted, and I was rationing the last liter I had in a SmartWater bottle. As I sat there in my buzzing dehydration, a couple came up and plopped down near me. We didn’t say much to each other, we were all just trying to keep our breath regular.
“I don’t know if I can keep going up” One of them said.
“Yeah, and the weather looks like it might turn bad.. let’s go back down” Replied the other.
I sat there on my stone throne and watched them descend as I swallowed my meager mouthful of water bit by bit. Should I turn back? I mean, they have a point about the weather..
Then another hiker shot up out of nowhere and loudly greeted me. He was having the time of his life, he was practically sprinting up the mountain. He sat next to me and ate a granola bar.
“Man this is making me hungry!” He said.
“Yeah I know the feeling.. I kinda didn’t bring any food” I uttered, embarassed.
“Dude, if you need a granola bar I’d be happy to share” he offered. This was super awesome, but I couldn’t get over my embarassment at the situation.
“I think I’ll be alright for now, but I really appreciate it” I said, immediately regretting my response.
“Suit yourself, if you want it later on don’t hesitate to ask”.
Mr. Awesome took off as soon as he appeared. I sat up, put my water bottle away, and continued on pushing for what I assumed to be the top.
It wasn’t the top at all. Not even close. I still had a ways to go. I would have just sat down here again out of defeat, but I had to get to the top at some point in the day before the sun fell. I opted to drink a little more water and push on. My bottle was nearly empty.
The clouds continued to dance overhead, not really sure if they should start a storm, or find a better spot to rain on. I continued my climb, unsure if I should head back down or get to the top. After a while, I was able to see the summit. The actual summit. The literal summit. There was small flat field of rock, and in front of me I could see the peak. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, it crudely shot up out of the earth making sure everyone knew that “Yeah, I’m here. What are you gonna do about it?”.
As I walked across the last flat stretch, Mr. Awesome Granola Bar Dude passed by me.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Awesome. There’s a bit of a scramble to the top, but it’s not so bad”
“I think I might turn around, the weather looks like it’s starting to turn”
“Dude, you’re almost there. Five more minutes and you’ll be up top. Might as well go for it”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right”
We were both right. I was almost there, but the clouds were starting to look a little more ominous.
“Fuck it”, I said. I was gonna go for it. I inched up to “Come At Me Bro” peak, and shuffled around the back of it to start my scramble. It was a little unnerving wearing my quasi-heavy backpack, but I made it up fine. I was finally at the top. Oh my god I’m finally at the top.
I was going to celebrate with another drink of water, but there was none left. It was all gone. I had three liters for the day, which is a hell of a lot more than what I saw other people carrying, but still wasn’t enough. Was it the elevation? Dry climate? I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter. I put it in my pack and took my pictures.
The clouds finally came to an agreement: “Yeah, we’ll start a storm right here. This should do nicely”. As I started to put my pack on my back, I could hear them high five. Thunder.. yeah, great.
I stood there frozen in time. This isn’t happening, right? I mean, yeah the clouds were here all day but.. I’m going to get hit by lightning today, aren’t I? I should have gone back down earlier, why did I keep climbing?! Well, there’s not much I can do now. I jumped off the teetering rock I stopped on and started to scramble off the peak. As I was climbing down, a couple who had been shadowing me all day got to the top and whipped out their selfie stick. A great accessory to have during a lightning storm. They took their pictures and started to dash down as well.
I opted to lose a little elevation and climbed down the face a bit before descending. They stayed near the ridge. It made me feel better, but really it wasn’t the best way to go. Sure I wasn’t at the top anymore, but I don’t think the lightning really would have cared. Now I didn’t have a path down the mountain, I was just rolling over talus.
More thunder clapped through the valley, and I panicked a bit. I stepped on a large rock and didn’t check my footing. The rock teetered out away from the mountain and threatened to throw me off. I threw my weight into the hillside and avoided a fun tumble down the face. The couple above me gasped a bit and I overheard them agreeing to take it easy. Sound advice.
“This isn’t working, I need to chill out” I thought. I took my steps more carefully, but every so often a rock would slide out from under me, or try yet again to throw me off the mountain. I do this dance for probably two hours, constantly having to stop and navigate my way across the face to the lower ridge. Sometimes the rocks were too unstable to walk across, so I’d have to either gain or lose elevation until I could find something more stable. I was beyond exhausted at this point. But I eventually found a nice route back to the ridge, once I hit that I flew down the mountain.
By that time the storm calmed down a bit, but I was still nervous about having to walk through completely exposed areas for the next hour or so. Once my feet were off the mountain and on the top of Anderson Pass, I stopped, looked up at the mountain, and laughed. For a few seconds I laughed my ass off, I couldn’t believe that just happened. I can’t believe I didn’t fall, I can’t believe I didn’t get hit by lightning (yet). The laughter was cut short by my coughing. My throat was really dry, I decided to dash down the basin to both avoid lightning and to make it to the nearest water source. It was a couple hours away.