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Hurdygurdy Mountain Attempt

Hurdygurdy Mountain Attempt-2/28/2004

This story concerns our attempt to climb Hurdygurdy from hanging Valley via the ridge from Larghetto Peak (I think that's its designation; in any case,it was the peak overlooking south end of Hanging Valley). Three days prior to this, we had an excellent time climbing O'Malley Peak, and were eager to take advantage of the good weather conditions we'd been experiencing.

We started early at the South Fork trailhead and found that the trail had been frequented enough that we did not need our snowshoes until we reached the bridge. After crossing the creek, the trail suddenly became hip-deep powder. I'd like to personally thank the man who invented snowshoes. My dad was out snowshoing the South Fork trail that day as well hoping to run into us, although he got a later start than we did and turned around in Hanging Valley. He describes following our tracks across the bridge as "ten steps, a buttprint, and then a snowshoe trail" and says it cracked him up when he saw it.

We plodded along atop the deep snow until we came to the gulley that seperates Harp Mountain from Eagle River Overlook, then turned north and headed uphill. Careful not to start any slides we crossed the gulley and headed over onto the Overlook. The view was utterly breathtaking, and while the name "Eagle River Overlook" is about as lifeless a name as can be given to any geographical feature, its title is very apt. It provides a magnificent view of all the peaks on the northern side of Eagle River Valley, particularly Korohusk, Kiliak, and Yukla.

We stopped for a few pictures and then began up the rocky ridge to Larghetto. The rock was very awkward under the thin snow, and we soon decided to rope up and belay one another past the sketchy spots. After a bit of hairy bouldering, we reached a spot of relative flatness along the ridge. We knew there were cornices on the Hanging Valley side of the ridge, so we stayed on the visible windblown part of the ridge on the Eagle River side.

Dick was on the lead end of the rope and I was following about thirty feet behind. We were both walking on visibly windblown earth, and there was more visibly wondblown portions of ridgeline ahead of him, but between the rocky knoll that Dick was walking along and the one about tenty or thirty feet ahead of him was a large patch of blank snow. I only noticed it when he walked out onto the unadulterated whiteness of the snow. I yelled "Hey Dick, I think you might be standing on a..." when all of a sudden we heard a horrible sound. Its a sound that anyone who has ever heard it will never forget. "Crack! THUD!! WHOOOOOOSHHH!!!!" all in one go. A chunk of wind-hardened snow the size of a school bus let loose under Dick's right foot, leaving him perched only on his left foot, which thankfully was on solid ground. The enourmous block of snow cascaded down almost 2000 feet into Hanging Valley below.

After a none-too-convincing attempt to laught off the gravity of the situation we had narrowly averted, we made our way back down the Overlook and into Hanging Valley just as the sun set. With nightfall came intense cold. I realized then that I had not eaten but a couple of bites that morning and began to notice the effect it was having in my performance. However, being that I was a bit damp from the day's hike and in a hurry to reach the warmth and safety of indoors, I resolved not to stop. I wolfed down a couple of candies I found in my coat pocket, washed them down with the last of my water, and headed back towards South Fork Valley.

As I was descending into South Fork Valley, I began to have snowshoe problems. One of them kept coming loose and falling off, making the going pretty slow and tough. It became such an aggravation having to put my shoe back on every couple of minutes that eventually I decided it might save to remove both of my snowshoes. I did so and floundered around in the dense, hip-deep powder for awhile before I decided I hadn't the energy to keep up that kind of effort. I put my shoes back on and gingerly crept along until I finally reached the bridge.

Dick had long since left my slow ass in the dust, so I tried to make up some time, but I was becoming fairly hypoglycemic due to my lack of food that day, and I hobbled like some sort of drunken wraith down the trail at a pace of a couple miles an hour at the most. By the time I passed the Rendezvous Peak ridge trail, the back of my throat felt like it had been stung by a bee, and I couldn't swallow because of the pain.

I got back to the car and half-slpet, half-jabbered on about the day's events to a very sympathetic Dick. He drove me to my parent's house in Eagle River where I found my fiancee and my family, who were hoping I would have been back in time to join them for dinner. I think it was about 9:45 when I practically fell through the front door. Alex and my Mom doted over me for awhile, rubbing my head and saying things like "Oh, poor boy." I tried to eat some soup but the pain in my throat was to intense. Finally, I choked down some milk and break. That helped perk me up a bit. All I can figure is that I may have frostnipped the back of my throat while I was panting in exertion. It was pretty freakin' cold out after all.

So our Hurdygurdy attempt was hampered by peril and made miserable by certain annoyances and poor decisions, but I look back on the event fondly. That is what makes a hike successful after all.

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