After 2 full days of constant wind in the 50-80km/h range we were ready for a calmer day on Saturday, May 12th. Luckily when we woke up around 0600 the wind had indeed calmed down somewhat, probably in the 30km/h range.
Due to the constant wind threatening to tear apart our tent all night and my cramped sleeping bag I was more than ready to get out and stretch my legs when the sun started peeking into our front door on Saturday morning. I resolved to try not sleeping with so much gear the next night. Sleeping with wet gear works wonderfully to dry it out but I'm 6 feet tall in a 6 foot mummy (not barrell) bag so there's not a lot of extra room in there! I ended up having one boot liner near my feet, one liner tucked in my stomach (yes, I'm spooning with my boot liners now! :)), one heavy winter mitt behind me and one in front of my chest. Add a few finger mitts and my down booties along with the fact that I'm sleeping in most of my clothing (i.e. 2-3 layers) with my avy beacon and camera battery in my chest pockets to keep the batteries warm and some granola bars (so that they're thawed enough in the morning for breakfast) and you may understand why I was getting restless sleep and slightly claustrophobic at night!
Another trick I have yet to master is the "pee bottle". The pee bottle is a technique whereby you don't have to get up (or even out of your sleeping bag if you're any good at it) to pee at night. Because high altitude is a diuretic, pretty much no matter what you do, you're going to have to pee several times at night. This gives you the wonderful opportunity to get out of your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night in a raging wind storm, trying not to lose any of that c_ap you're sleeping with, put on the down jacket, stumble to the biffy and do your business. Then you have to re-assemble your sleeping bag with all the afore-mentioned stuff in it and try to fall asleep. Hopefully your partner has ear plugs or is a good sleeper or you just woke them up too. So the pee bottle is a nice technique to master. JW was cheezed because he took a Gatorade bottle of fuel for his pee bottle, hoping that we'd empty it the first day and he'd get to use it after that. Instead, we were consuming so little fuel that he had to wait until the 3rd night to get his precious pee bottle! :-)
[Nice and warm in my sleeping bag! TJ Nault photograph.]
Ferenc didn't seem to be doing well at all on Saturday morning. As we ski'd out of camp Ferenc prompted a hilarious moment (that I'm sure he didn't think was very funny at the time) when he insisted that we "go around the 50 meter high bump" in front of us rather than over it. The funny part was that we could easily see over that "50 meter bump" - meaning it was around 6 feet high at most! Obviously we were in for a rather long day...
Raf's team was just ahead of us on the slope. TJ insisted, to my slight dismay, on breaking his own trail up the south ridge. I do have to admit that TJ's track certainly switchbacked far less than Raff's! (Sorry Raff! :-)) In order to keep Ferenc going, TJ set a very slow pace up the south ridge. We went so darn slow that neither TJ, JW or I even broke sweat and I also dont remember my breathing rate increasing the whole way up North Twin!
[Raff's team skis beside us in the early morning light. Mount Columbia is unreachable across the Trench]
[Looking back at Ferenc and JW as we gain the lower south ridge of North Twin. Our camp is back there somewhere.]
[TJ points out his next objectives as we take a break on the way up the south ridge.]
[Coming up North Twin - photo by TJ Nault]
[Panorama from the ascent of North Twin showing the long approach to Mount Columbia from the trench (around 6km) and the summit of South Twin on the upper right. Click for full size.]
[Getting higher on the south ridge. Ferenc is trying to grab a breath while I stop to take pictures.]
Ferenc simply couldn't maintain any sort of pace and by the time we reached the summit shoulder he was hyperventillating.
TJ emphatically stated that Ferenc was too spent to continue to Twins Tower and almost too spent to even make the summit of North Twin. (Don't forget - we didn't suspect HAPE or anything at this point. We thought that Ferenc had mostly done this to himself by refusing to eat enough at camp. To say we were slightly annoyed would be an understatement. I was disappointed 'cause I expected Ferenc to have plenty of energy on this trip.)
Ferenc must have been a little bit delirious at this point. He began unclipping from the rope to "walk the rest of the way", but we were only 100 meters (horizontal) from the natual ski drop point and definately standing on more than one crevasse. Finally he seemed to grasp that he could ski 20 seconds more to the ski drop and walk from there. As TJ, JW and I prepared for the final 150 meters (again this is mostly horizontal meters) and an ascent of Twins Tower, Ferenc lay over his skis, completely blown out.
[Raff, Adam and Jay make their way, on foot, to the summit of North Twin]
As we began to the summit I noticed that Ferenc didn't have crampons on. I asked him about it and he said we could take a break after the summit to put them on. I responded that he wasn't going on (to Twins Tower) after the summit and that his day was over. He seemed a bit surprised by this. "All I need is 10 or 15 minutes to breathe through it and then I can continue", he insisted. We looked at each other and TJ once again asserted in very clear language that this wasn't happening.
"This always happens at high altitude to me", was Ferenc's response.
Say wha' now?!?!
"When I climbed the (Colorado) 14ers I would lay there gasping for air and then continue on. Climbing high mountains was always quite the tough experience for me because of this".
This was surprising news. I think this is the first time I wondered privately if Ferenc had altitude sickness or something like it. 3 full days above 11000 feet including the exertions our approach day, of climbing a 12000+ foot peak and two 11000+ foot peaks the day before was obviously a lot more work than any of the 14er's. I thought that Ferenc should have said something about his body's displeasure with high altitude before trying a big trip like this one.
[But nobody's perfect and I know it must be hard to be so passionate about big peaks only to have the body reject the idea through nothing more than genetics. Plus hindsight is always 20/20 so I am quite a bit less grumpy about the situation now than I was up on the peak of North Twin.]
After this I think we knew that one way or another we were probably looking at cutting our trip short of having some change of plans at the very least. Ferenc mumbled something about "going home tomorrow" to me. Notwithstanding a bit of gloom, the views from the highest peak completely in Alberta (Columbia is on the border with British Columbia) were simply outstanding!! We had clear conditions, not too much wind and an endless sea of snow clad summits in every direction, the vast majority of them underneath us. One of the most amazing summit views I've ever had.
[TJ on the final summit ridge of North Twin - note the nice drop to our right and Twins Tower visible at the center. About 20 seconds after this photo TJ stepped into a crevasse right under the summit bump. We were ready for it so it wasn't a huge deal - but be warned that there are a lot of holes in this area of the ice fields.]
[TJ on the summit ridge of North Twin, looking down at Twins Tower - our next objective! Notice how every visible peak is lower than us?]
[Ferenc on the summit of North Twin with Columbia, South Twin, West Twin and King Edward visible. Click to view full size.]
[Summit panorama from North Twin showing a myriad of peaks including Columbia, South Twin, West Twin (tiny bump!), King Edward and many, many others. Click for full size.]
[Summit panorama looking off the east side of the summit ridge on North Twin includes from left to right, Twins Tower, Alberta, Little Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Thorington Tower, Stutfields, Cromwell and Kitchener - and of course hundreds more in the far distance. We're higher than all of them! Click to view full size.]
[West Twin looks tiny from North Twin's summit ridge and even King Edward looks short!]
[The Adamant Group on the left with Clemenceau on the right (fourth highest in the Rockies).]
[Looking down at our descent route of the north ridge to the Twins Tower col from the ridge along with a fantastic view of Mount Alberta. GULP. That's a LONGGGGG way down boyz!]
[Mounts Warren and Brazeau in the far distance]
[Looking south towards Castleguard (tiny!!), Forbes, Lyells and Alexandra]
Ferenc untied from the rope at the summit and turned back to wait for us at the ski drop while the rest of us started down the very steep north east slope of North Twin to the Twins Tower col.