Icy Clearly Now The Rain Is Gone
(Bolam Ridge)

31 May 1999 - by Brian Wachter (view roster page)

The location:

Mt. Shasta's Bolam Ridge, Bolam Glacier, Hotlum-Bolam Ridge, and Hotlum Glacier

The cast:

George Van Gordon, Alex Keith, Bill Kirkpatrick, Arun Mahajan, Mike Rielly, David Shaw and Brian Wachter

The story:

It's Saturday morning, May 29. Shasta's bulk is shrouded in gray. Its namesake village begins to fill with alpine aspirants, including all of our cast but for Alex and Arun. A light rain is falling.

George: "I don't like this weather. Let's do the West Face."

David: "Well, if we're only going to Horse Camp today, we certainly have plenty of time to wait it out."

The cast is milling about the premises of the local mountain retailer when Alex and Arun enter.

Alex: "If the weather doesn't get any better we won't be climbing any route, so we might as well go for the glacier."

The rest of the cast nods.

Cut to a flat, small pebble beach at the foot of the still-shrouded upper mass of Shasta. Low-lying hills, fields and pocket lakes are visible downhill.

Brian: "This place is awesome!"

The cast sets up tents, pausing every so often to look up quizzically at the cloud seemingly permanently planted upon Shasta.

Bill: "I struggled too much today getting up here. I'm gonna stay in camp tomorrow."

Cut to first light.

George: "Let's climb it!"

The cast slowly emerges from its tents, some at first testing the dawn by popping just a head out through a fly.

The full moon looms like a lantern over the glowing western cone of the now majestically naked volcano.

Slowly, the six remaining cast members straggle out of camp and up the snow ramp that feeds the neat row of morainal steppes beneath the mountain's Hotlum glacier. The distinguishing feature of the great north aspect of Shasta in this late spring incarnation is its lack of distinguishing features; its glaciers are smooth and snowy, its ridges low and round and its face uniformly higher in angle as it rises.

Thus, as our now-roped cast traverses beneath the Hotlum-Bolam ridge and above the lower bergschrund of the Bolam Glacier onto the glacier itself, the most promising line of ascent is elusive. Additionally, we can see by the way their boots remain on the surface of the snow with each step that the unsettled weather, while gone, has left a firm legacy.

Alex: "I'm not feeling very strong. I'm going down."

Now a single rope team of five, they keep traversing to the far side of the glacier and onto its western ridge. As it steepens, its icy surface forces their feet increasingly downward, which causes them to have to step sideways as they go up. Small rocks begin to pock the icy skin of the ridge.

Brian: "I don't like it up there...let's traverse over to the other ridge."

The cast begins, more slowly now at 13,000 feet, to move back across the face, with George and Mike out in front, climbing steadily. They thread upward between the rocks of the Hotlum-Bolam ridgeline, stopping to rest and regroup at the base of the mighty rock buttress guarding the summit ramparts at 13,600 feet. George disappears around its corner to reconnoiter the final few hundred feet of the route, reappearing minutes later:

George: "It doesn't look good. There's another party up there belaying a guy up right now. It's icy."

The cast discusses the climactic scene. A final, fearless push? Or a gracious retreat? Unprepared for the final technical challenge of what has become an ice climb, they gingerly descend the hardened surface of the North side, moving first onto Hotlum's face, then back to the west. Cheap motels and in-room pizza--longed-for luxuries--await.

Tony Cruz adds:

In the past I very rarely roped up even on crevassed glaciers but I will do so more often in the future after a scary experience I had a few summers ago.

I was just above the glacier proper in the Palisades on my way to the long chute to the U-Notch. Several people including myself had crossed the bergstrund without incident, but in the afternoon on the way down, one of my legs popped thru the bridge. When I extracted it I could see about 25 feet of air below me. It wouldn't have been too much trouble to rope up before I took that risk. I'll never go that way again unroped.

Brian Wachter responded to Steve Eckert's comments:

> If it was risky enough to rope on the way up, 
> it was even riskier on the way down.

Point taken.

> Six on a rope is probably too many.

Where did I say there was six on a rope? "Now a single rope team of five" implies we WERE two teams of three. And we were. One who wasn't there should probably be more circumspect in his analysis.


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