Bold Peak, 9/18-19/2004, Submitted By "Kelsey"
This is my account of what happened to Brian and me as we decided that Bold Peak was something that we needed to do.
As Brian picked up the phone I knew we were roped in. This was going to be the biggest mountain I had done yet and we both knew we needed to get an early start. The main idea was to leave the trailhead at 8am. I already knew this was not going to happen but figured we would have plenty of time anyway if we hurried. I looked at the weather reports hoping to see something nice and instead noticing that there will be a high wind advisory for the Turnagain Arm area and higher elevations. The high cloud areas that were already blanketing the area would not be going away and would instead most likely rain. Good to know, I thought.
At 10am we pulled into the Eklutna Lake Campground, my excitement was as high as Brianís current alcohol blood levels. I wasnít too surprised there had been a band a Chilkoot Charlieís the day before called Hieroglyphics and asking Brian not to drink at it was like asking a bull not to chase the red flag. But I knew if I just kept the forward momentum going Brianís own mind wouldnít let him bail out and he did a great job of sticking with it. The first 12 miles of the trail is a bike ride over a very well used trail making it generally pleasant and we didnít waste much energy over the distance. Thanks to my uncles directions the trailhead was generally easy to find and it being only Noon we were making generally good time. The next part of the trail is a 2 mile hike over some nice easy terrain. After those couple of miles there is nice stream of tasty looking rocks which has no water in it. This was our signal to start heading up to Stivers Gully. The gully was actually really intimidating. There were walls on both sides of us several hundred feet in height and you could constantly hear rocks falling. The gully was slow going and took us around 2 hours to finally get to the top of it. We were hoping this would be the difficult part, how wrong we were. To get out of the gully there is a rope leading up a little cliff, I had heard this was not a rope you would want to use to assist your climb up because of how long it had been there but I knew while climbing that it was something I was defiantly going to use up and 100 percent sure when I go down.
Over the top there is a nice vegetation slope which looks really pleasant but ends up being steep enough to wish you were off it. This is around the time we started to see our first snow flakes fall. We could see ahead now and see that some of the upper portions of the valley we had come into were pretty hefty with new snow. Instead of discouraging us as it should have it drove us further. There was a large boulder field which was our first break on the mountain since we had started and it was around 3pm when we reached the end of it. We decided somewhere around this time that the designated turnaround time was going to be 6pm. Somewhere deep into my mind I knew that this was not going to be enough time to get to the top of this peak and turnaround head all the way down, back to the bikes, and all the way back to the parking area before it was dark. There was no way this was going to happen and had to lie to myself that I didnít mind riding in the dark.
Checking the map I found that the sporadic stream we were following would lead around to the right and then back to the left to head up the mountain. We were not too far but I could see on the topographic map that we were going to be gaining some altitude in a real short area. The snow had crept up on us and it was now covering every rock and falling at a steady rate. I knew the wind was soon to follow and we decided to head strait up the peak with as little stopping as possible. A mostly covered glacier led us to the backside of the peak. There were crevasses on the glacier but since it was mainly covered in rock they were really easy to spot and readily easy to avoid. As we rounded out the glacier to the backside the wind hit us hard. It began to pound us at what was guessed to be a minimum of 40mph and normally around 60mph. The snow was now turning to sleet and the wind was blowing it sideways making it incredibly hard to see. It would die down at times and we would start to make a faster push until it hit again. I was beginning to get ahead of Brian by a pretty good amount and should have waited for him. When I was nearing the top I knew he was not going to make it within the 6pm time limit we had given ourselves. So even though the conditions had now worked there way up into total whiteout at most times I pushed alone to the top. This was my biggest mistake. There would be times when I would falter and I could feel the cold air and altitude making it harder to breathe. I would suddenly become angry and start cursing the mountain feeling like it was personally trying to make me not make it to the top. Than I would get discouraged and think, were never going to make it, we just done have time. The push and drive would normally be a good thing but here it was leading me closer and closer to danger.
I finally reached the top and knew looking around that it would be futile to search for a register; snow had covered the whole area by now. The wind was blowing hard enough that you would often be moved by it and stretching for something to keep you standing. It was 5:56 pm and 4 minutes to spare until ultimate turnaround time. I decided the best idea would be to hurry down the way I came and tell Brian I had made it to the top and we should head back so we can make it before it gets dark. As I turn to go down I can now feel my fingers and toes swelling. I took off my glove to shake it off and my fingers were starting to turn colors. I knew this was bad and since I had started shaking since the wind hit I was a little scared about it. Heading down I could hardly tell where I was and took the trail that looked best. When I got below I could actually see alright and although the wind was still howling the visibility was there. I couldnít see Brian anywhere and thought he must have turned back. At this point I called him the smart one. The run back was pretty easy. My feet were not working like they should have as I only had tennis shoes on and they were not holding up as well as I had hoped, by now my feet were soaked. I would fall constantly and slide down the mountain thankful that I had brought my mountain axe. There were several times I would slide more than 15 feet over the rocks which had a thin and not so soft layer of snow on them. Getting down into the valley and out of most of the wind I could see a pretty good distance ahead of me. No Brian in site I would yell out his name and see if he possibly could hear me, although I doubted it. I would stop every 5 or 10 minutes and yell out that I was headed down still most sure that he was in front of me.
The rest of the trip down to the bottom of the gully was rather uneventful. Every now and then I would see a few footsteps and convince myself that they were his. At this point going back up the mountain was pretty much suicide. I kept a pretty quick pace getting down the mountain at around 9pm. This left only the final 2 miles back to the bikes and then 12 miles home. The darkness had started to set in now and a 2 mile hike through the thick woods and brush did not sound like a fun idea. I took my bear spray in hand and took the safety off and started running. My mind was racing with thoughts of what had happened. My cautious control over myself had been lost to the mountain and I was paying for it now. The run turned into as fast as I could go for most of the 2 miles and by the time I came out of the woods I was cramping on both legs and my back. The short jog to the bikes brought all my thoughts to a halt when I could see that Brian had not made it back down.
A lot of things were going through my mind at this point and several times I was pushed towards panic. Did Brian make it? Had he fallen off of a cliff? Was he waiting for me somewhere? He had only 4 hours of sleep and was more exhausted than I was, had he made it out of the snow? The cold was now beginning to set back into me as my run had worn off. I was now sweating and wet from the hike and the wind was blowing hard in the valley. I knew there was a fire warning and that it was highly illegal to start one but without a tent and/or sleeping bag I knew I was in trouble. The rain had started down in the valley and I was confident that it was wet enough not to start on fire. Getting the fire started was tough at first. It was now dark and I couldnít see where any of the wood was and first made a large fire pit so that it would not get immediately blown out. After 15 minutes of trying I spotted an RV which was sitting in the same place since we had started our hike and decided he did not need 10 ounces of gas which I was about to take. I gulped a good deal of the gas as I tried to siphon it out of his tank but it helped my fire and I had a good fire going for the next few hours. The fire would have been great except for the fact that the wind was blowing so hard that unless I was sitting in the direct path of the flame I couldnít get warm by it. After blinding myself with smoke and making it hard to breath I decided to give up on the idea of getting warm by the fire. I was now sitting next to a cold fire which was beginning to taunt me as well as the now invisible mountain.
I lay in a ball for a few good hours waiting for the fire to die out and shaking uncontrollably at random moments. I still had hope that at any time a tired Brian would come through the woods. The wind was blowing at my back and I was in a really exposed area so I moved a rock from near the fire and made a little blockade for me to lie behind. When I leaned against them I found the rocks to be warm and this helped ever so slightly at staving off hypothermia. For awhile I would heat rocks in the fire and then hold them close to me as I lay in a ball. This took its toll on my clothing as I soon had burnt socks, pants, and melted shoes. After giving my skin a good burn I decided to abandon the idea. It was around 4am when I finally decided to give up hope of Brian coming down the trail that night and went to lay behind a big boulder near our bikes. I knew that this would help me stay more out of the wind. So far I had at most 10 minutes of sleep and those were the moments when I would slip in and out of consciousness only to come back minutes later shaking. Sometimes the shakes would really get bad to where I was not sure if I could slow them, than they would subside. I had a lot to think about and decide what I was going to do the following morning. I laid for 3 more hours behind that boulder getting another 20 minutes total of sleep.
The plan had formulated while I was laying there. I was going to leave some kind of message for someone and then head up the mountain to look for Brian. For the first few hours I had worried about a bear attack but soon didnít care. I laid most of the time with my head and arm in my backpack and bear spray in hand.
When it got light enough to get up everything seemed surreal nothing of what had happened the day before had set in and now I was more worried about seeing if Brian was still alive than anything else. I also felt I had myself to blame for our separation. I had let the mountain get to me and pushed harder than I should have and separated us. I put my boots on and packed my bag as though I had just woke up from camp on any other day. I was ready to go all the way back to the top if I had to. I could see some blue sky peering through and it was already shaping up to be a better day. The first two miles seemed relatively easy and went quickly. I now had a better frame of mind with all night to think about everything. I would search up through Stivers Gully and then head through the boulder field. And then to the snow field near the top, where I really did not want to look, it was bad news from there.
After around a mile up into Stivers Gully I saw a flicker of a person climbing slowly down through the scree and I suddenly released all the pent up emotions of being worried for 8 shivering hours. All I could do was let out a huge sigh and sit staring at the valley. We talked briefly and Brian told me about his sleepless night at around 5000 feet on the mountain where I had apparently gone right passed him and we both didnít know. He also told me about losing his cell phone and building a wall of rocks to keep himself warm under the cliff be was laying. We both agreed quickly it was time to get off of that mountain and home. Home was all I could think of, I normally donít mind sleeping outside. But this time I couldnít wait for home. The bike ride home was a painful on where our legs would hardly work and blisters plagued our feet. But the truck had never looked so good. Looking at my amounts of food I had left I noticed I had hardly eaten anything. The mood I had at most of the time would not allow me to take more than a bite of anything. That is for the most part our trip. There are a few things which in memory I canít put on paper. And for things I wish I had hereís the list: Tent, Sleeping bag, Helicopter
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