Tuesday, April 26, 2016

North East Couloir of Mt Langley (14,026', class 3, steep snow)

Above 13,000' without any acclimatization my body was simply not receiving enough oxygen for the exertion of climbing. I was nauseous, light headed, and moving at a glacial pace. Every step I stopped closed my eyes, almost falling asleep where I stood. The scene went something like this:

Plunge the ice axe in, kick steps with crampons, breathe, close eyes.... "what the fuck I am doing? what's wrong with me, how am I ever going to make it? "  Then repeat.

I loved every single minute of the struggle. More on that later. 

This weekend I met up with Richard Cobb,  to climb the NE couloir of Mt Langley. The mountain is the southern most of the California 14ners. It sits just above 14,000 feet in elevation, and with more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead is a real beast of a climb. We had originally planned to climb the classic Casaval ridge of Mt. Shasta, but a nasty storm there, sent us to Langley as a back-up plan.

North East Couloir of Mt. Langley.

 We met at Tuttle Creek campground in Lone Pine, around 10 pm, on Friday night. We debated the merits of going up and setting a camp at 10,000', or just going car-to-car in a single big push. 
We decided on a single big push. I have not tried going straight to 14,000' with no acclimatization before, would I be able to do it?

For me that's the fun of climbing mountains, pushing myself, searching for my limits. Its not supposed to be easy.

I set-up in the back of the Subaru, and prepared for a 3 am start the next day.

I'm 35 years old, and sleeping in the back of my car.
We were up at 3:30am, and on the trail by 5 am. The first mile is easy, up an old road that eventually becomes a trail, leading to an Ashram built in the early 1930s. An interesting piece of California history

Tuttle Creek Ashram
There were a few people camped out in the Ashram, we were there around 5:30 am, and I am sure they were not too happy when we trounced through the building! We were to discover later in the day, on our descent, that they were there to party, so I feel less bad about disturbing them now!

In the early morning light we blasted up the approach trail, it was kind of a blur. We were moving really fast. Eventually we were into the a stand of foxtails, which in California means you are almost in the alpine. We also passed a few tents, other climbers who opted to do the climb in 2 days, rather than one. We also sighted some impressive rock walls, loaded with cracks. So many things to climb!



Crack anyone?
Once we were out in the open we could see the route, and other climbers off in the distance heading up to the couloir. The route looked super fun, and we were making such good time, that we got cocky, thinking we would be done this whole deal in less than 8 hours. Boy were we wrong. 

Me with our route in the background. Photo credit: R. Cobb.
Soon enough we were in the couloir. The snow was rock hard, making for super fun snow climbing. It was deceptively steep, I think the angle must have been around 35 degrees.

Start of the couloir. Photo credit R. Cobb
We headed up the long couloir, one of the climbers ahead of us turned around, and we passed a second, and then a third climber on the way up.

Richard, snow climbing master

Looking up the couloir

And then things started to slow down. The couloir was much longer than it looked, more than 2000', that's twice the height of the mountaineers route on Mt. Whitney. Above 13,000' the altitude really started to affect both of us. I was hit first, then Richard a bit later.  Having come straight up with no acclimatization, we simple were not getting enough oxygen for the exertion of the climb.  

Every step required a rest, nausea, light headedness set in. The only thing keeping us going was sheer will power. 

Richard climbing through the altitude sickness like a boss

 For me this is the best part of mountain climbing, struggling through the pain, exhaustion finding the will and energy deep within to continue. There is nothing else like it, rock climbing is fun, put alpinism forces you to find your inner truth. 
I am looking for the edge, how far can I go? How far can I push myself and my body? 

Right before exiting the couloir we ran into the final climber ahead of us. He was on the way down. He had failed to summit, after taking a nasty fall, self-arresting, and dislocating his knee. Luckily he was able to knock it back into place, so did not need any help.
A good reminder, than even easy climbs like this can be dangerous.

We crested onto the ridge, exiting the couloir. There was one final steep snow slope ahead of us.

Final snow slope to the summit

The final slope was steep, 40 degrees, and only maybe 400 feet, but it took us the better part of an hour to reach the summit plateau.

Richard reaching the summit

As always, the views from the summit were fantastic! One of the reasons to suffer up the steep slopes!

Summit views. Typical. 

Once on top, we both collapsed on a flat rock. I pulled out my parka, and entered the fetal position. We both napped for about 30 minutes. Very refreshing!

Nap time

That's weird. Photo credit: R. Cobb

Then time for the descent. It always seems like its going to be easy, but it never is. We down climbed the steep steps, then as we got lower were able to glissade some, speeding up the descent.

On the descent.

We were back to the car by 6 pm. 13 hours car-to-car, 7,000' elevation gain, 11 miles round trip. Awesome trip. I am pumped to go back into the mountains again, looking forward to the next one!

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