I’ve debated putting a disclaimer at the end of each of my blog posts. Every book or blog that I’ve read includes some sort of warning that this is not an undertaking to enter into lightly. If I have somehow neglected to clearly communicate the difficulty of this route please understand this is not a trip for beginners – but one for which anyone who ventures into will be handsomely rewarded.
Case in point, this moment as we headed up to Cirque Pass. I have to admit, when it was my turn to push my weight off of my left tiptoes and up from the deepest single leg squat (weighted by a 27 pound pack) I’d ever done, there was a brief moment when I thought my legs, that were already tired from over 2,000 feet of ascending, were going to fail me and my pack weight was going to pull me over backwards. Don’t tell my mom.
But within an hour the work was rewarded with one of my favorite moments of the trip. Sitting on top of Cirque Pass was glorious, and the sight of one of my favorite pictures from the trip. Our campsite was now in site, and it was all downhill.
But even down climbs are tricky on the High Route. To get to camp we had to make this little maneuver. My favorite part of this one was the three foot jump onto the snow that you made at the end, carefully avoiding the crevasse right up against the rock. Don’t tell my mom.
Our reward was making camp at what we like to call Banning’s Lake.
Any High Router will tell you, though, that one of the most difficult parts of the route is Snow Tongue Pass. If I hadn’t known that people had down climbed the north side of this pass before, I would have sworn it was impossible. The ranger we saw later that night said he’d wanted do the pass himself but his friends had told him it was too hard. My friends, Tom (who has a knack for joining trips for the most difficult part) Rich, Karen, Val and I adhere to no such rhetoric.
Our reward at the bottom was lunch in a grassy patch next two one of the Wahoo Lakes watching the greatest cloud I’ve ever seen.
One of my favorite quotes of the trip comes from a moment climbing out of Blue Lake basin to Blue Lake Pass. Roper assured us it was an easy ascent and offered little advice on which route to take. But we found ourselves at the base of a slab. From the lake below it hadn’t looked very steep. From two feet below it looked plenty steep. Sure, we could have back tracked and taken one of the other chutes past this section, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, we decided to send our most experienced climber first. God bless Rich. He made it up and then ever so patiently coached Karen and I. He reminded us to stay on the right and that if we did fall we should try to fall to the right, away from the 500 foot drop. Don’t tell my mom.
The first couple of steps were pretty easy, because there wasn’t far to fall yet. The next few steps were unnerving because my right foot slipped a bit. The following few steps featured little bumps and crevasses to push hands and feet against. And in another few steps there was a nook in the rock that I could jam my right shoulder up against and almost lean back into. I just had to take a few unnerving steps to get there. So I girded my loins and did it. Awkwardly jammed into the rock nook, taking a breath before I finished the last few feet of the climb I shouted out to anyone who was interested, “I’m outside of my comfort zone.”
The joy of the High Route is that you will be pushed to your physical limit, and right past the edge of your comfort zone. But once you get to the top of that slab you can sit down, turn around and look at this view. Make no mistake, you will be handsomely rewarded.
DISCLAIMER: If I have somehow neglected to clearly communicate the difficulty of this route please understand this is not a trip for beginners. Physical stamina, and experience with living in the backcountry while preserving it, experience with cross-country navigation, and experience traveling over rough terrain are imperative. But make no mistake, you will be handsomely rewarded.