Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Route with No Name

I'm on a boat! And I'm not impressed.
Many climbers have comfort items they take into the mountains. Some carry a can of sardines or a flask of whiskey. Others require an extra sleeping pad or a pair of down booties. These creature comforts bring peace of mind and are almost always worth their weight. But between us, Spencer and I had managed to pack 270 pounds of food and gear for nine days in the mountains. On a pound-per-day basis, this was a personal record. Were we too comfortable?

“Eh, screw it,” we thought. Two unlucky mules would be carrying it all for the first 12 miles. Then we’d load it into a raft to cross a reservoir. After that, it was only a few thousand vertical feet to our planned base camp. We had enough time to make it work. Our goal was to climb a new route on Cloud Peak, the highest point in the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming, a range still cloaked in mystery. We weren’t sure what we’d need, so we brought it all.

After accompanying our mules to the reservoir, it was time to say goodbye. We piled all of our gear, plus three adult males, into a tiny inflatable. While the motor was being gassed up by our guide, I noticed the fine print on the side of the raft: “Weight limit 600 lbs.” The engine sputtered to life and we shoved off. I felt the desperately cold water as we motored along and quickly realized it would prove impossible to salvage our gear if we sank. We hadn’t yet seen our objective and already I felt committed. None of it seemed to bother Spencer. He spent the whole ride making small talk with our guide who, in a dusty Stetson and painted-on Wranglers, didn’t strike me as the nautical type.