It wasn’t a gentle nudge waking me up just after midnight. More of an instantaneous understanding that if I wasn’t outside of my tent in the shortest time possible there would be some smelly consequences… Since my early teens I’ve carried an intestinal hitch-hiker, a viral reminder of my human frailty. In the fraction of a second it took to move from dreams to action I remembered the heartbreaking, intermittent times this weakness had changed my hopes and dreams – the last time being camp one on Cho Oyu, Tibet in 2004. This was serious and I had just become the undeniable weak link.
Between my interval training to get out of the tent and worrying about how to salvage my conditions I got no sleep for the rest of the night. I doubt James had much either. We got up after dawn and as the sun lit the valley’s below I sparsely told James that I was dehydrated and weak from significant loss of blood. I suggested they shoot up Mt Tabaguache (our second peak – 14,155’) and meet me back at camp. They agreed and were up and back in the time I could catch a short nap.
Spirits were improving among the group and I was holding out for a miracle at lower elevations. Maybe with a short rest I could get my feet under me and continue. Water was still going through me flash flood-style and hydration was challenging but there was really only one way out and it seemed plausible even a bit under my best. From our 13K’ camp we traversed into the previous night’s drainage of contention and put on our skis. James was ready first and said he would ski to the top of the knoll, above the wind-loaded section – just above the segment that we could not see. Instead of following the most rudimentary, basic protocol of avalanche safety – marking him visually as he descended – I followed him down. I had just tossed my avalanche safety merit badge down the drain.
The skiing was similar in consistency to the ice and ‘packed powder’ of my early days in Michigan with only occasional marks left from our turns. As we turned left into the unseen dog-leg the snow became considerably more chopped wind pack but harmless and very ski-able. My concerns about unknown terrain danger the night before proved unfounded and I sensed my credibility was plummeting. Again the sun was brilliant and temperature at noon was in the 60s. As we skied out of the drainage my body started to register the cost of my night’s adventures. I was light-headed, cranky and was having trouble keeping up with Fritz and James. It was also painfully clear I was in no condition to keep up with this crew in this situation.
We took the afternoon off for my benefit and I tried to sleep myself back to health in our 11k’ camp. My guts were still in revolt but with less enthusiasm. Through a series of stilted conversations we devised a plan for tomorrow that would get Zach and Fritz up the next peak, Antero 14, 269’, while James and I skied out Brown Creek Trail. We would rendezvous at the bottom. I fell asleep early.