We had spent the last few hours scrambling along a narrow ridge. The rock was rotten, every boulder seemingly just waiting for one of us to free it, such that it could roll down the mountain side. Every now and then we came across a snowy section, where we took out our ice axes, which we hoped would allow us to arrest a fall. I was tense and nervous. Images of my friends who had been hurt or died in the mountains in the last few years were haunting me. I noticed my stress levels rising, and took a few deep breaths. Why was I here, in this place where a slip would mean grave injury or death? But we must move on, keep going, since turning back and reversing our route up the wet slippery rock would be even worse than continuing. On we went, along the ramshackle pile of rocks that calls itself the south ridge of Welch Peak.
I had joined a BCMC weekend scrambling trip to Williamson Lake, hoping to scramble both Welch and Foley Peaks. After the usual meet and greet, I found myself bouncing up a steep and rough logging road, in a white pick-up truck with an avid hunter. Up the trail we went, which at first consisted of hiking up through a stream, but later improved. We reached the lake just an hour or two later, and had lunch there. Not to waste a moment, we geared up and headed towards the south ridge of Welch Peak. Getting up to it involved easy hiking on snow, as well as some wet and loose scrambling that I wasn’t too excited about. Once we reached the ridge, we started seeing some excellent views and the rock became a little bit better.
Now it doesn’t seem so bad, in hindsight, but as we were scrambling along the loose and pointy South Ridge, my whole body was tense. I was deliberately moving slowly on the steeper parts, double checking every move. When we reached the false summit, one of the members of the team chose to stay behind, while I debated going on. This reminded me of a friend of ours who was in the same situation, eventually decided to join his friends, but fell when a microwave-sized boulder fell on him, he tumbled down 7 meters, broke his pelvis and got banged up nicely. In the end I challenged myself, went along, and all was well. We stood on the summit, or perhaps we lay down, enjoying the panoramic views of the Chehalis and Chilliwack’s peaks.
Once we reached the snow, I said out loud how relieved I was to be on the snow, where I felt more confident than on the loose rock. Just a few minutes after I said that, one of the team members, the only one without an ice axe, slipped and started sliding down the steepest part of the snow slope we were traversing. He didn’t manage to stop himself, and slid to the end of the snow slope onto the rocks below it, heading towards an ominous cliff. At that point he somehow managed to grab a large boulder and stop himself. He was shaken up, as were we. A friend of mine had fallen in a similar way a few years ago, but wasn’t as lucky and ended up shattering his knee cap and had a very long recovery.
We continued down, this time helping the man who had fallen much more closely, by kicking big steps for him and by encouraging him often. Eventually we made it back to camp, not long before dark, and I could already feel my many sore muscles from the tension and exertion. Dinner was much appreciated by all, and a few of us slept out, without a tent, enjoying the beautiful night sky and the absence of bugs.
The next morning, the guy who had fallen, which was also the hunter I had ridden up with, decided he’d like to head back early instead of scrambling Foley Peak that day, and I and another guy joined him. On the way down I could feel every muscle in my body hurt, in a way that I have not felt for a long time, and I was very happy I hadn’t stayed for another day – I was fully satisfied with the previous day’s excitement. I was still confused about my feelings while scrambling the ridge. Did it have something to do with my newly acquired parenthood? Perhaps through lack of use, I had lost my headspace, and could regain it over a few trips? How will I feel the next time I do a similar scramble? There’s only one way to find out…