Hourglass Couloir on Fairchild Mountain

Oreo cookies – yes. Stove – yes. Rope – no. Helmets – no. Crampons – yes. A late night packing Thursday led to a leisure Friday morning. We were in no real hurry to begin our hike, which consisted of 4.5 miles on-trail followed by 1.5 miles of bushwacking. The weather was supposed to be beautiful and we set out from the Lawn Lake Trailhead parking lot around 10:30am. We hiked along Roaring River and, as we got higher up along the trail, we found more and more snow. We strapped on snowshoes and continued. We easily found Chipmunk Lake and began our off-trail bushwack towards Fay Lakes. And bushwack it was! Upon attempting to gain elevation as we hiked around the base of Ypsilon, we bombed straight up a snowy, slushy, mush-of-a-hill. I slipped in the slush and fell for the first time this weekend, only to be ensnared in a convenient pine tree. I recoved and we clomped around and found Lower and Middle Fay Lakes. We had reached our camp and could see our objective.

We pitched our tent and cooked gnocchi (it was a new recipe – one which I would like to call “pesto gnocchi soup”). Phil had a headache but other than minor dehydration, all was happy in Fay Lakes Land.

Our initial goal was to ascend the hourglass coulior with our packs on, which would enable us to descend the opposite side of Fairchild Mtn, camp at Crystal Lake, and hike out on a different trail from the one we came in on. Despite our initial lofy goal, we decided to travel light – snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, water, and food. After hiking in with our packs, we decided to abandon our burdened summit of the peak and, instead, to just climb from camp and descend back to camp. We went to sleep early.

That night I slept about 2 hours.

I was already awake when the alarm went off. In my very brief sleep, I dreamt that I was interviewing some girl who was accused of murder. I was supposed to find out if she was actually innocent or guilty. I sat across a table from her and noticed her intent interest in my engagement ring. All of a sudden, she picked up her butter knife and tried to stab me in the hand. Over and over she tried to stab me. “Guilty” says me. Phil and I agree that we should unmate our bags and sleep separately tomorrow night.

Now I have a headache. I can barely breathe. I was getting sick and there was no way I felt like climbing a mountain.

Phil really wants to climb.

We strap on our gear.

As we approach the base of the climb, we see some bear or bear-like tracks and Phil goes back to the tent to hoist our food. We had not heard of much bear activity at this time of year but BSTS. At the base of the climb, we strap on our crampons and I am still hesitant… still not feeling well and still not feeling confident. A few steps up the steep snow slope, I am horrified. I want a rope. I want pickets.

Phil and I go over to a safe area – a mini snow slope with a bunch of bushes at the bottom to pad any crash landings – and we play snow school. We do all kinds of practice slides… head-first on belly, feet-first on back, etc…. and we both practice using our axes to right ourselves and safely scrape to a stop. With my new-found confidence, I am ready to try climbing again.

We zig and zag across the coulior, stopping frequently to eat and drink. At each rest, we discuss possible escapes, as my confidence waxes and wanes with the slope angle. At some point, I become ok. I decide we’re going to the top together. We decide on a route that continues on the snow for a bit longer, then onto the rocks and some scrambling to the summit. Scrambling the last 400 vertical feet to the summit was one of the mentally hardest things I’ve ever done. Climbing over the rocks, post-holing in the intermittent snow patches, and switchbacking over the few tundra patches, I wonder if it’s worth it.

Summit!

It’s worth it. I can see forever! I can see “mountains and mountains and more mountains!” I’ve never been somewhere so beautiful. Lots of photos of my first mountain summit.

We descend back through the rocks and hop back onto the now low-angle snow whenever we get a chance. We slide happily on our butts as far as we can. Phil filmed my glissade. We continue to descend using our “escape route,” which looks a lot different from above then it did from below. Because of the convexity of the hill we’re on, it’s hard to tell if we’re going to get cliffed-out just over the horizon. After more zigging and a lot more zagging, downclimbing, postholing, and scrambling, we make it back to camp.

We cook a wonderful meal of felafals for dinner and slept soundly in our independent sleeping bags.

I dreamt that an abandoned mountain lion kitten took a liking to me and followed me home from the woods. I kept looking at the kitten, telling it “I can’t keep you, you are going to get huge. You are going to have huge teeth and a huge stomach to feed.” I don’t remember what I ended up doing with the wild cat.

We wake up sore and stiff, make breakfast, and pack up camp. We do not especially want to descend the slope that I fell on during the approach, so we try a different route. Through the trees… many many trees. Many many postholes. Exhausting. Frustrating. Oh, and I fall again. Again, a tree catches me. I think it was a different type of tree.

I’m tired of this hiking thing. I’m ready to be home. A few hours later, my wish comes true.

I’m home. The soles of my feet are sore to the slightest touch and are swollen in places. Phil’s step-kicking muscles are sore, being that he kicked all the steps up Fairchild for me. Other things are sore and tired but not like my feet.

Next weekend is Longs. I look forward to the rope.

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