by Kelly Cordes
Welcome to the first day of Fall, and a fresh installment in our occasional series of posts for the more visually oriented. For a lot of folks, autumn is the time of the last great hurrah. No bugs, perfect weather, decent daylight. Whether it's a alpine route or long days on the water, this time of year offers a tantalizing invitation to push it – sometimes 'til you can't push no more. – Ed
[Scott DeCapio at the base of Mt. Hunter after a failed attempt at the French Route on the North Buttress. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
We cleared the ‘schrund, pulled our ropes and collapsed in a heap at the base. Spent. Done. Scott DeCapio and I had found success in 2000 and 2001 racing up ~ 3,500-foot Alaskan routes in lightweight style – and by racing, I mean motoring, fast as we could, full-on sprint. Tons of simulclimbing, and with moderate snowfields on which to relax between the harder climbing. Great. And a fine style for some routes. Others are too big, too sustained, too physical. At least for us.
In 2002, we learned a lesson about pacing. We started sprinting up the then-unrepeated French Route on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter – 4,000 feet to the top of the buttress, then another 2,000 to the summit for a proper ascent. We’d simulclimbed 3,000 feet of rock-hard ice to the third ice band in a mere 12 hours, thinking How ya like us now! And then, ka-boom! How ya like hitting the wall? Hitting it hard, getting sloppy, making mistakes. Scotty fell asleep at one belay. We chopped butt-seat ledges, brewed, ate, tried to sleep and recover. Too little, too late. We couldn’t even think straight. Exhausted. So we bailed, slowly, chopping a rope on the way and trying to keep ourselves from unraveling.
Thirty-some hours from our start, we collapsed at the base, having learned a hard lesson about the importance of a steady, marathon pace in the mountains. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to master.