There is always just something a bit nervy about an alpine start for a summit attempt. Trying to get gear, both physical and emotional organized and set for the midnight wake up is not a comfortable feeling. The fact that the weather had turned into a heavy fog with blowing light rime did not make the matters anymore settling. All that aside that is part of the deal when an attempt on a mountain this size is made.
After a few hours of trying to get some degree of rest, sleep was out of the question, I exited the tent to find the tent frozen with rime ice and only about 50 feet of visibility. The wind was consistent at over 25 mph with some gusts challenging my balance. As I walked over to the tent where Adam and Ryan were set up, the sinking feeling in my stomach set in, that feeling that one gets when months of preparation and training may just go to waste. The time was 12:15 am and there was no way we were heading out in these conditions not knowing if this was a localized weather system or this was part of a bigger front that was expected although not until later in the day. We made the decision to wait it out for a couple hours and see where the conditions would be at 2am. As I climbed back in the tent, I just couldn't help but hear the wind speed increase.
At 1:45 I slipped my boot shells back on to check out the weather and as I emerged from the tent I saw my first sign of life from any of the other climbing camps. There were 3 wobbly lights coming up the glacier from Muir and the scene was a bit spooky with the headlamps swaying back and forth in the fog as a threesome moved closer to our camp. Conditions had not changed at all but the sight of another independent team heading up the mountain created a conflict of feelings. What did they know about the weather or did they know what they were doing. After a brief exchange our position had not changed, we were no going up. By 2 am if our group was not moving it would be a long way up and then down in what could be very marginal weather and questionable conditions. I was not a happy camper as I climbed back into the tent.
Then a strange thing happened. As I lay back in my sleeping bag, seething about our meteorological misfortune, the wind died down and a calm seemed to settle in. I must have dozed off for a bit but I awoke at 3am and with a peak out of the tent my heart started to race. The sky was clear, stars visible across all the heavens and it is on! We scrambled to get everyone up, the stove going to make some oatmeal and het some hot water in our bottles, we knew we were late but we could still do this if we got going right now. Time flew by as we got geared up and we departed camp at 4 am, about 2 hours later than ideal.
The route from Ingrahm flats take a short flat approach below a series of large seracs right to the foot of Disappointment Cleaver from where we make an extreme transition to the vertical world. A zigzag of narrow ice ledges exposed switchbacks take us up 1000 vertical feet to the glacier ridge we will ascend to the summit crater. The advantage of our late start was that this area which we would with a proper start time we would have ascended in darkness, we got to climb in the twilight of the morning.
As we maneuvered through a few crevasses, the team got a good feel of what is means to be on a "big" mountain.
Only half Way there.