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From Ride the Breath by Gerry Roach

Chapter Four – Breathe Deeply – Seven Perfect Days

Mount Fury, North Cascades, 1970

We savored our first unobstructed view of the Southern Pickets before turning our attention to a more serious matter. From Luna’s unique vantage, we also had a great view of our proposed route up Fury’s north face, which we studied carefully. It was steep but feasible. If the weather would only hold, we would leave early to avoid falling ice and mushy afternoon snow. Finally Gary broke our reverie with a hearty, “I’m starving! Let’s eat!” In less than an hour, we were back at Luna Lake chowing down. Our exertions were catching up with us, and our biggest adventure was only a few hours in front of us. As the shadows deepened, we turned in.

At first light I heard Gary outside the tent and asked, “How’s the weather?”

He replied in a pious whisper, “Perfect!”

This time Barb beat me to it with a soprano, “Four!” I added a yodel.

In soft dawn light, we silently climbed the left edge of Fury’s northeast glacier into a lovely hanging basin where the sun finally found us. As we devoured granola bars, our eyes studied the upper route—a steep couloir penetrating Fury’s upper cliffs. It looked good! Surging with power, Gary asked for this lead as well. We protected ourselves with our ice axes and several snow anchors using my moving anchor technique that we had practiced on Baker. We moved continuously and smoothly up the sixty-degree couloir in our dawn dance.

The cirque slowly receded below our rhythmic boots as snow from our steps, like coins dropping into a sacred bowl, tinkled down in an offering to the Gods. The snow, weather, companions, and position were all perfect. The Gods had done their part, now I knew that we needed to give something back. For now, our offering was small. Later, we would have to give more.

On the ridge, we stared goggle-eyed one more time at the Southern Pickets, then crunched up a final steep snowslope to finish our Transcendent Climb to the summit of Fury’s east peak.

Too soon, it was over. We were on a Transcendent Summit after doing a Transcendent Climb, and this was only the second time that I had experienced this combination. Our perfect climb was brief, but etched our minds and bodies forever. We had gained over 10,000 feet to climb this 8,288-foot mountain and felt that we understood it better for our effort. To our surprise, we found in the summit register that we were only the eleventh party to climb Fury’s east peak. We were the forty-second party on Challenger. We savored our unique position and talked of other great climbs. Then, languid in our success, we bathed in the full spectrum light for three hours and let the North Cascades embrace us. We were no longer en route. We were present on Fury’s summit.

The north face of Mount of the Holy Cross The north face of Mount of the Holy Cross

The fabled peak’s north face rose above us in a surprising sweep, the face still held heavy snow for July, and a stubborn cornice guarded its shadow below the north ridge. Magnificent as this sight was, we knew that there was more, since Holy Cross is not famous for its north face.
The Grand Teton soaring above Lake Moran The Grand Teton soaring above Lake Moran

The first strides on a new climbing trip are always delicious, since there is an extra spring in the legs and an air of expectancy. All things seem possible. Barb and I carried our fresh breath all the way up to our camp in Garnet Canyon, then with hours to spare, we meditated on the meadow.
Mount Baker's north face with the north ridge rising in the center Mount Baker’s north face with the north ridge rising in the center

Photo by Austin Post—U.S. Geological Survey

Skipping a verbal explanation, I just said, ‘Look at this.’ Then I flipped to Austin’s photo and held it in front of Gary. As keen as the day we summited Lucania, Gary quickly scanned the magnificence and knew that I was going to propose that we climb it.
Barb and Challenger from near Whatcom Pass Barb and Challenger from near Whatcom Pass

The clear skies and stunning view of Challenger were sufficient motivation. Gary grabbed the rope without comment, and we headed toward our obvious objective. We skirted below Whatcom Peak for a tough two miles to reach Perfect Pass. Pausing only long enough to put on our harnesses and rope up, we stepped onto the pristine snows of the Challenger Glacier. I led off, and we quickly crossed easy glacial slopes as a well-rehearsed rope of three.
Fury's north face seen from Challenger Arm Fury’s north face seen from Challenger Arm

Our route was up the narrow glacier in the center of the face

As long as we remained on the Arm, we were only observers. Raising our packs under our perfect morning sun one more time, we started the tedious descent into the cirque, which did more than embrace us. Walls 4,000 feet high nearly encircled us. As we crossed, the cirque was alive with sounds of falling ice, and we felt like participants in an ice-age play. Fury towered over us.
Gary Lukis in Perfect Pass with less than perfect boots Gary Lukis in Perfect Pass with less than perfect boots

‘Ah! So your great walkout-in-the-socks starts in the Luna Creek Cirque? Well, you’ll make a name for yourself!’ I teased.

‘Nah, these boots have a good twenty miles left in them,’ Gary retorted.

Feigning fear I replied, ‘But Gary, it’s twenty-five miles back to the car!’
Barb in the Cirque of the Towers Barb in the Cirque of the Towers

Still with our friends, we packed into the Cirque of the Towers in the nearby Wind River Range to spend another near-perfect week alternating between striking climbs and lazing in flower-strewn meadows. In a peak-bagging bonanza, we climbed six peaks. Our time in the Winds was deeply calming and our climbing became part of a larger tangible flow. We were extant and alive.
Cloud Peak Cloud Peak

Amazingly, we duplicated the experience the next week when we packed in and climbed Cloud Peak’s east face. With yet more camps and climbs that were beautiful, our sense of flow deepened to another level. Other people, non-climbers usually, often criticized me for moving too fast to be present. They said that I was always en route. However, in the summer of 1970 when I moved and lived in the mountains, I felt present. What was moving and who was rock solid? The lines began to blur. The clean water, rock, summits, and sky crept under our soul skin.
Devils Tower Devils Tower

Mania to some is life essence to others. Unstated, we continued east, climbed Devil’s Tower, then eked out a last day of climbing in the Black Hills of South Dakota before returning to Colorado.
Popo watching Barb, Dean Davidson, and Bob Michael on Izta Popo watching Barb, Dean Davidson, and Bob Michael on Izta

Joking all the way, even when threatened by headaches, we made short work of 17,343-foot Iztaccíhuatl—the legendary Sleeping Woman with her distinctive profile. Bob made a point of summiting Izta in his trademark, er, sweat-marked tee shirt.
Orizaba Orizaba

The six of us lolled on the summit for a long time. We simply did not want to leave. Finally five of us started the descent, but Bob remained on top a few more minutes. As I strolled along the crater rim, I looked back and saw Bob on the summit hands thrust in pockets, surveying all before him. When he caught up a few minutes later, I asked, ‘What were you thinking up there, Bob?’

Unusually pensive, he replied, ‘I was enjoying being the highest person in North America!’

Except for the Mount Baker Photo, these photos are from the Gerry Roach Collection



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