Chris makes his way down to the meadows
Brent begins the trail skirting Irene's Arete,
linking the meadows to the switchbacks on the lower mountain.
West and Wewaxation at Wast!
Relaxing at the farm in Hamer, Idaho
A real mountaineering family--Carol's & Brent's dad appeared in Sports
Illustrated for climbng the Matterhorn in 5 hours back in 1954.
The following day,
Shaun, Chris and Brent climbed Tepee Pillar, the sharp granite tooth along the southeast
ridge of the Grand, while Chad and Carol enjoyed some R&R at base camp. We scrambled
up a steep scree slope, past a guide camp, to the base of the Pillar next to the Otter
Brent's old guidebook offered sketchy route
descriptions of three routes up this side of the pillar and said we'd be in serious
trouble if we ever got off route on this, the more challenging east face. Throughout the
course of the day, we managed to wander back and forth between all three routes,
experiencing a fair share of the foretold trouble, which added several exciting moments
The first such traverse came on the third pitch
(which we named Zig) and began with an enormous, 20' off-width flake that overhung nearly
10'. It was Shaun's turn to lead. "Anyone else want this?" he asked hopefully.
Neither responded. "Okay, then." He surveyed the flake, then wedged one
arm and leg behind it and started up. It was much too wide to accept any pro, but too
narrow to climb securely into. Half way out, he looked back at Brent and Chris. A fall
here would swing him hard into the cliff below. Such a large fall with so little rope out
would also provide a stiff jerk when the slack ran out. With nowhere to go but up and out,
he inched along until reaching the end of the flake, which terminated mercifully in a
sharp point. He pulled a sling from around his neck and one arm and slung it, clipping a
biner to it and breathing more easily. An easy, loose traverse put them back on route up a
beautiful, steep chimney.
Brent led the chimney, then he and Shaun took their
places stemmed in a pair of chimneys at the top as Chris lead out, deciding to traverse
back ("Zag") to a more auspicious crack. This took him across some dicey
friction, perhaps the toughest spot on the route. Brent followed, cutting back over the
chimney where Shaun had been stemmed, waiting his turn. When Brent got directly
above him, he touched a 50 pound boulder and it started to slide "like it had ball
bearings under it." Brent caught it with his toe and held on and began cursing.
"What's up?!" Shaun shouted over the wind.
A fist-sized stone dropped over the edge in response. Luckily, Shaun had moved to a
less wind-exposed chimney two minutes before, after Brent had started up, and the rock
sailed through empty space instead of giving him a good whack on the head. Once he
convinced Brent that he was well out of the way, Brent let go of the rock and let it
slide, cautiously lifting the rope clear.
The boulder dropped over the edge shot straight down
the chimney, striking a ledge at the base of the last pitch, over a hundred feet below.
The explosion echoed against the cliff and brought people staggering out of the guide huts
far below to peer upward and wonder what the heck had just come down. The wind filled with
granite- smelling rock dust and blew back up to fill our nostrils. "At least you were
wearing a helmet," Chris commented later. "Yeah," Shaun agreed, "I
could have had an open-casket funeral."
Brent never recovered from the anxiety the
"close call" induced. Half a pitch from the summit, more loose rock brought out
the same nervousness in what would otherwise have been two or three easy moves. At that
point, the day was growing late and we found a well-used anchor on the west face and
lowered from station to station without walking the last 100' of 3rd class to the
We reached base camp again just after dark and hiked
out the following morning. We gratefully loaded our packs into the van in Lupine Meadows
and drove over the pass back to Brent's home across the Idaho/Wyoming state line. As
beautiful scenery passed by the windows, I took a long drink of water and was surprised to
find how long I could go without a breath. The air suddenly felt so thick.
We dropped Brent off at home, then continued on to
his & Carol's parents home in Hamer, Idaho; north of Idaho Falls. Hamer is a tiny town
with widely spaced homes and farms. We dug our own potatoes for dinner, and feasted on the
best food I've eaten in my entire life (enhanced by the
quality--can I use that word?--of Brent's cooking on the mountain. Just the thought still
makes me laugh, but hey! it built character). The genuine, warm hospitality of
that home struck a surprising contrast with my expectations of the expedition - I thought
the moment of greatest glory and meaning would occur on the summit of one of North
America's most beautiful and exciting mountains. Instead, a warm home and family suddenly
seemed more rewarding and like a worthier life goal. Call it delusions of Grandeur.