Skiing Muir's East Buttress — Page 6

Mount Muir - East Buttress - Rock Garden

The Rock Garden

May 7, 2011. Sugary, unconsolidated snow covers ice-bound rocks above mind-numbing exposure. Dave Braun and I are a quarter of the way up Muir's east buttress, elevation approximately 13,000 feet.

While my scouting-photo attention had focused on the snow-step discontinuities high above, Dave and I are discovering that the true crux of the route might well be right here instead, on this awful traverse halfway up the Exit Couloir.

Mount Muir - Exit Couloir Approaching the Rock Garden Andy Crossing the Garden Dave Climbing

We have successfully climbed past the point where we turned back the week before.

We can see where we need to be—the Exit Couloir continues invitingly above us—but the way is blocked by a short but ugly and utterly exposed traverse that I'm calling the Rock Garden.

I am halfway across that traverse, pondering the suddenly-apparent realities of my decision to revisit Muir's east buttress.

It doesn't really pay to look down right now.

There is nothing in that direction that will be the least bit helpful in extracting ourselves from our present predicament.

It is best, really, to go someplace else right now, switch off all but the most essential brain functions.

Once upon a time, in summer, I tried to climb a route I had skied in the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks. What had been an exciting ski descent proved to be a harrowing free climb: loose rock that crumbled every time I put my hands on it.

You get up those routes—after you've first suitably reproached yourself for your own stupidity, of course—by narrowing your vision until you exist only in a tiny bubble.

The entire universe contracts until it fits within a radius of perhaps three or four feet—only what is immediately within reach. Nothing else exists. Here within our tiny space, mind and muscles work out the various combinations of moves required to advance to the next puzzle, and the next, and the next, and so on. The fear we put into a little box and seal it far, far away, where it can do no harm.

As I say: I am no climber. I know enough to know I shouldn't be here, but that knowledge, too, is useless right now, so I seal it away, far, far away, working only on finding better snow for the axe, a better edge to grasp with a sopping-wet hand, a better step on which to place the grinding, scraping points of my aluminum crampons...

Difficulty at this severity so early in the route (don't think that!) leads the mind to veer toward hopelessness. Stay clear of those thoughts. Stay clear of thought altogether. For whatever reason, I have climbed myself into this situation, and now I must climb myself out. That is the mantra. There is no one and nothing else that can help me right now.

next: The Southeast Face

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.

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