After my 2010 attempt people asked me if I was going to give it another go. I always said, “Nope. Too hard. I don’t see how I can do it better.” So, why one year later, was I sitting alone on top of Gemini Peak in a total friggin’ whiteout at midnight?
Navigating this terrain at night is really hard – it’s all above timberline, and of course, there is no trail of any kind. But navigating in 20’ visibility by looking at a tiny arrow on your GPS which supposedly is pointing to the next summit SUCKS. Fortunately, before I reached Dyer Mountain the fog had largely lifted and I was back on track.
I’m not sure why I went back. Probably because I’m a problem-solver: the Mosquito Tenmile Traverse was a huge problem – no else had even attempted it because the effort and difficulties were off the chart – to complete it meant I would solve a new equation.
One piece of the equation was to bring trekking poles, which was the one thing I could think of to maybe be more successful than last time. And, the poles seemed to be working, sparing my legs on the wobbly rocks and providing a little extra power on the relentless climbs. As I scrambled forward under peaceful skies and a full moon, made brighter by being me staying entirely above 13,000′, I contemplated writing a book called “The Delicate Art of Hiking on Shitty Rocks”.
I met my resupply crew on the summit of Mt Democrat, 14,148′, at dawn, exactly as planned. I had been hiking for 12 straight hours, straight thru the night, all above timberline. Glad to refill my water bottles (being on a ridge, there’s no water!) and load up on food. As an added precaution, there being much more snow in this year than in 2010, I grabbed a pair of Microspikes, and grabbed Buzz, who I had enlisted to accompany me through the technical crux of the route, from Democrat to Peak 10. I had started this traverse the previous evening at 6:45PM so I’d hit this difficult middle section in the daylight.
It all seemed very “Sound Of Music” for a while, on the easy terrain around Traver, McNamee and Clinton. Things went more stout on us after Wheeler, but we scrambled through to Fletcher without incident. I was eager to show Buzz my clever sneak around the gendarmes on the Fletcher – Atlantic ridge. But, wait, where did all this snow come from? My easy east-side sneak was covered with firm, steep snow. Easy with axes and crampons, but not good with our microspikes and trekking poles.
“Hey Buzz, I think I remember reading somewhere that somebody found a sneak on the west side.” Buzz was very dubious, but hey, this was my project.
The west side turned out to be heinous. Tedious and dangerous. We traversed one rock rib and gully after another, negotiating miserably tricky downclimbs on steep rock so unstable, a simple handhold could bury you under tons of rubble. It took us a full 3 hours and a lot of energy to get to Atlantic. Bad call. Doing big projects in the mountains is one thing; getting yourself and your friends into dangerous situations is another thing entirely, and not something I make a habit of.
After the scrum on Atlantic, I decided to end at Peak 10, which is the full length of the continuous ridge above 13K, but not the whole way to Frisco. I certainly retained the ability to continue, but that would have meant finishing at 2AM which I felt was asking too much of my excellent support crew (as it was, Buzz signed up for 7 hours and got 14), and would be pushing the envelope for myself since I would be doing the tricky traverse between Peaks 4 and 3 in the dark of my second night out.
This is an amazing route. There is nothing like it, anywhere. I’d like to see other people have a go.
All my friends ask if I’m going to try it again in 2012.
No f***ing way!
(NOTE: It was trips like this that made me really want to help design an upcoming Adventure Vest for Ultimate Direction. I’ve already finished the prototype: it has ample 10L storage capacity, room for your ice ax, crampons and trekking poles, and a shoulder-top attachment for a SPOT satellite locator beacon. The snug, no-bounce vest is ideal for super long runs and all manner of Big Adventures in the mountains far from civilization. Stay tuned for availability – I’m working on it!)