I was up with a group of folks camping and climbing around Lake Agnes in Colorado over Labor Day weekend. We got a good early start and made it up to the main lake, pressed on to the upper lake, and then decided to proceed on up to a saddle that looked doable. As we were climbing the scree one of the folks in the group challenged a few of us to climb up and over into the saddle through a couple of the north facing avalanche chute crags on the south side of the saddle.
Well a couple of other people end up taking one path and I end up solo on a chute and climb/scramble up about 60 feet to get a good look over the edge of this little ridge, which would tell me if this was even going to be possible. So I get up to the edge and look on the other side and it's quite obvious that there's no way I'd be making any progress on that side. What to do? I was wearing a pair of trail runners, jeans, and a pretty light sweater and was not really prepared for facing rugged elements. I had scrambled through some snow to get to where I was and as I took the first few steps to make my way back down the snow/rock mix started to slough out underneath me and I began to pick up speed, snagging a rock and stopping before things got out of control.
Now, I should have just toughed it out and sloughed my way down. I have no idea why I made my next decision... maybe hanging out at 12,000 feet was getting to my brain... but I was completely freaked out about falling down the next 60 feet and decided the best thing to do would be to go UP.
So I get to it and I'm scrambling up this narrow avalanche chute and the farther up I get the deeper the snow, covering any solid rock holds available, adn the steeper the chute gets. Well after a little bit of it's becoming more and more apparent that I've really only made my situation worse... after army crawling through certain snow sections and having that snow broken away behind me there's absolutely no doubt I can't go back down now... the only thing I can do is go up. I don't know if there's even a passable route at the top. There's a serious cliff face at the top of the chute, and I know the chances of a tidy little free climb were slim.
At several points during the climb I would begin to panic and had to talk myself down. "You're gonna get through this." "Just keep going forward you're going to make it out of here." Looking back down was a no no... 100 ft... 200 ft... had to get to the top... had to see if this final ridge was even a possibility. The closer I got to it the more futile the entire effort seemed. Dark clouds began coming over the edge of the ridge, threatening rand and snow. As I approached the top I was relying only on snow to support my weight, sliding back down with every forearm crawl up. After one particularly scary slough I laid there in the snow for a minute, thinking about how I was going to die on this fucking mountain. I started thinking about missing my little sisters graduation. How my dad always told me how much easier it is to go UP than it is to climb DOWN. How pissed my mom was going to be that I went and got myself killed this way. How grateful I'd be if I could just make it up this fuckign cliff.
So I finally get to the base of the ridge that caps the chute. There are 3 significant crags, I would have to choose one. I looked at the biggest most promising crag and think... "Eh, I give myself about a 30% chance of being able to make it up that." It had two pretty solid steps... at 4 and 7 ft that led to a pretty wide, 5 ft'ish, pinch that kind of wedged out and sloped back upwards.
I looked at the middle crack which had a lot more frozen ice but less snow, and some solid looking handholds... "I give myself about a 9% chance of making it up that," I thought. Then I looked to the crag to the right which went up to an odd spot above the ridge and also had a quite a bit of ice on it... gave myself about a 12% chance on that one.
The original crag it was. I got up to the base of it and wiped the 6" of snow off the first step, probably 5" or so wide. I put my hands on it and gave it some serious thought. If I got on this step there was no turning back... the next step and up into the wedge was the only option. If I didn't take the plunge and just sat here I could wait for the group to panic went I didn't find them, have them go back down and find someone, and wait for search and rescue to come and pick me off the side of the mountain resulting in tremendous embarrassment and a ten thousand dollar bill.
So after a little deliberation I decide fuck it, I'm getting myself off this fucking mountain. I push myself up onto the first step.. getting a knee on and then being able to reach the next step and pullmyself up to a standing position. I wipe the next step clear of snow as well and think about my position for a second... I'm now prone against the cliff, if i were to jump back down into the snowy slope i'd probably tumble 300 feet all the way to the bottom of the chute. I do pretty much the same maneuver to get up onto the second step and lean into the cliff and spread my arms out for the very wide pinch... which i make. Pushing into the wedge I drove my body up over the cliff edge and scrambled up the face of the rock...
As I crested the ridge the sun hit me full in the face, the dark clouds having cruised on through, and I looked out over the backside of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was absolutely exultant. I started yelling at the top of my lungs, so thrilled to be alive.
Of course there was no guarantee that I'd even be able to get back down tot he saddle from the point where I had crested the ridge... but lo and behold there was a small rock walkway that led aroudn the sheer cliff face to my left... working my way down the ridge was easy from that point. Where I had crested the ridge was as far as was accessible though... if I had gone up either of those other crags I probably would hyave been stranded at the top.
I gave the biggest hugs to the group after making my way back down to the saddle. I tried to explain what I had just gone through but I think I did a pretty poor job of it, they just laughed at how exuberant I was being.