Birch Mountain Marathon — Page 7

California's Spectacular Palisades From Birch Mountain's Summit

Palisade Views

Snow at last gives way to a scant few steps of loose talus, and then I'm standing atop Birch Mountain's summit, gazing westward. In one sweeping view, I see all the mighty peaks of the Palisades.

The view alone justifies the day's effort. Someday, I hope to climb those summits, ski those glaciers and cirques and couloirs. This part of the Sierra is unknown territory to me—wild and intimidating.

Andy Lewicky atop Birch Mountain Route Overview Hristo Arrives The Thumb

I peel off my shirt to let it dry, lie down on a flat rock near the summit register.

My body, all in all, has held up well today.

When I peek over the southeast face to check on Hristo, he's bent over his poles, resting, at least a half hour below.

That gives me time to bask on my rock and contemplate the ever-present mysteries of life.

Contemplation done, I fish out my food bag and start wolfing down a PB&J sandwich.

I'm starving. Thirsty. Exhausted.

Looking east, I can see the finger of snow we followed from McMurry Meadows.

I can even see the meadows, though my car is of course invisible.

Man—that's a long way down.

How the heck did I ever get up here?

And more importantly, how are we going to get down?

Thank God we have skis.

Time passes.

I'm roused from a semi-nap by the sound of poles clacking. Hristo is nearing the summit. I rise to offer my congratulations. That accomplished, Hristo informs me that Alvin, our leader, is still ascending. This is surprising news.

I peer down the southeast face, and sure enough, there he is, a tiny dot just starting up the summit snowfield. Hmm. I'm thinking Hristo and I should begin skiing in the near future. The Sierra granite around us is taking on a decidedly orange cast.

We spend perhaps another fifteen minutes atop Birch Mountain, taking photos, preparing for the descent. It's funny, in the mountains, how things can sneak up on you in plain view. The clues have been evident all day, and yet, I remain blissfully unaware of what is lurking around the corner. Did I mention unpleasant surprises? We're about to get a big one.

next: Descending into Shadow

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.