The Grandeur of Winter Rainier

                                                           [Click for slideshow]

“All life and action upon the snow have an added emphasis and significance. Every expression is underscored.”  -John Burroughs

Orion rising to the belt over the Nisqually Glacier, half-moon light behind.  Quiet ridge walk, crampon squeak-crunch and the stars over Adams, Hood, and St. Helens.  Nearing 10,000 feet I feel the curious eyes again, as on the frozen asphalt at Longmire when we arrived in Rainier National Park.  The fox stopped as I turned, amazed to meet the eyes of this seemingly identical grey-black furred creature up here amongst the rock and snow between two glaciers.  He fled the ridge after a moment, trotting lightly, perhaps going to visit Jamie in his tent below, who had reached his limit.   Icefall avalanche crack and thunder from the upper Nisqually Glacier is heard, then I see it’s plume of white.  The second witnessed from afar on the Kautz route.  I snuggle up to a rock outcrop for a solo bivy just below Turtle Snowfield.  Alternating bursts of glacial backed wind buffet, and Cassiopeia is glimpsed above before brief sleep.

The deafening wind began in earnest around midnight [sustained speeds over 80mph, gusts over 100], threatening to levitate and dislodge the entire bivy.   I cling to my anchored pack during hard gusts, eventually wrapping my toes around the handle of the buried shovel at my feet to keep from being blasted off my pad.  The inside of God’s vacuum is as loud as a freight train.

During six hours of hunkering, thoughts swirl and push like the wind.   Gratitude for the enveloping beauty of the cold clear mountain, for its power to diminish and enlighten.  For the world of man, for the same reasons.   For the series of experience that we enclose as a life.  Exhaustion, joy, exhaustion.

First light–movement.  The world expands from a mind in a dark tube of wind to towering snow and rock cliffs, diminishing stars, and glowing distance.  Up the snowfield until impenetrable fluted ice crust stops any wise further advance.  New sunlight sets crevasse fields and falls shimmering a shade of rose-orange.  Rivers of flowing snowdust dance downward.  The impression implants its glory.

Down to see how James fared in the tent–not well.  Its broken poles jut, half buried under hard windpack he was unable to keep at bay in the night.  Shaken and worried for me in my bivy, he had preliminarily contacted the rangers in case I didn’t show up for the agreed decent.  We had a job of digging out buried gear in the warming sunshine and melting snow for parched lips.

A glissade romp down and out.  The mountain remains in its undiminished grandeur for a future summit attempt.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on December 4, 2011.

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