By the time we reached the bench below Ben Lomond, it was half past decision time for me. I badly wanted to stand on that summit and look down on the Seymour Valley below! Problem was, I could not bring my knee any higher than my waist, and was having major trouble kicking steps. Ben Lomond required both, and I realized, sadly, that I’d need to leave it for another day. Chris, too, was uncertain, and we both resolved to wait things out as Simon, Alan, and Denis took on the climb.
Dejected, I threw off my pack, and chipped off a big chunk of ice and snow to wedge into my shorts alongside my angry hip joint, and reluctantly took a seat. I thought maybe a rest would help, and maybe I could still take a run at Red Mountain, if not Ben Lomond. Chris was no happier than I was, and he had no idea what he was going to do either. What could we do? We decided to make the best of the situation, relax, and take some more photos!
While we looked on intently, Simon led the climb up the steep slope. The first section was going to be the key, as once they attained the ridge it would just be a question of digging in until they reached the summit. I’m not sure what Chris thought at the time, but I was quite unnerved to be a spectator. You see, this was actually the first time I’d ever been with a group of people and been forced to watch as they climbed. Maybe it was because I was concerned that I might have a difficult time helping them should an accident have happened, or perhaps it was just knowing that was beyond my control. It could also have had a lot to do with having idle time on my hands, to which I was unaccustomed.
We watched the ridge intently, searching for signs of the guys on their way down. The time seemed to drag on interminably, as it always does when you’re waiting. We also began to take cover however we could, as the sun was now ablaze and temperatures reached the high twenties in degrees Celsius!
Afterwards, I discussed the climb with Simon in much detail, nearly enough to imagine I’d been there myself! I’ll share his perspective here, as well as some images he captured. As he expected, the ascent went relatively smoothly, and was much less stressful once they emerged onto the ridge.
They did not linger on the summit, just taking enough time to enjoy the views and get a few snapshots. There was much care taken on the descent, as that is a good time to be mindful of the dangers. A steady rhythm was the goal, taking care to ram the ice axe in securely before executing each step down!
I needn’t have worried, of course. A distant speck soon appeared, moving easily just below the summit block, then another, and another. Simon, Denis, and Alan retraced their path carefully down the ridge, eventually facing inward again on that last steep section. Each step was deliberate and well kicked in, as they drove their ice axes in firmly while descending. Soon, we were once again exchanging jokes and chatting about what to do next!
After a few minutes, we came to something of a decision. I was still in a lot of pain, but because the route to Red Mountain was not quite as steep, albeit longer, I was determined to give it a shot. After all, I could always turn around if it wasn’t in the cards. Chris was still not sure what he was going to do, and not feeling too much better. While the rest of us geared up, he just shrugged and said “I’m alright. Just leave me here, and I’ll figure it out.” I had an inkling of what he had in mind as we left, but nothing I’d have bet the house on!
In order to attain the best line to climb Red Mountain, we knew first we had to descend into a deep basin, and then climb out of it again. We’d need to repeat that task on the way back. That basin was open and exposed, and with the sun hitting it just perfectly, it held the heat like an oven. Chris later dubbed it “The Microwave”, as he could see how uncomfortable it was for us to slog out of it. I have vivid memories of the four of us crossing this bowl, and it was as though we were all crossing the Sahara at noon. My own pace was not too much faster than the surrounding glaciers. You could have timed me with a sundial! I was fortunate Alan was able to lend me one of his trekking poles or I might’ve been in there a lot longer!
The first climb out of The Microwave was slow and steady, but in about half an hour we found ourselves on a connecting ridge heading toward Red Mountain. The approach was lengthy, and we also had an unobstructed view back to where we had left Chris, below Ben Lomond.
What happened next got us all really stoked. Chris picked himself up off the snow, and as we strolled our ridge, we could see him making steady progress up Ben Lomond! He was moving pretty quickly and efficiently, too. When I asked him later where he’d found the extra gear, he joked about “fear being a great motivator”. We were all pretty inspired to see him make the climb!
There was really just one relatively steep section for the rest of us to tackle before the summit, and I was able to manage the pain adequately . We just kept on hiking, and shortly, we reached the summit cairn of Red Mountain!
It had been quite the adventurous day, on the whole. Three summits for Simon, Alan, and Denis, and two each for Chris and me. I was well aware there was still plenty of work to be done, but definitely took the time to savour the moment. Red Mountain was a beautiful and remote peak, and boasted some stunning views!
Soon we were on our way back to where we’d parted with Chris. I left a little earlier because I knew I needed the head start. While it looked close from where we stood, it still was not going to be easy, as we still had to contend with The Microwave once again.
I had to wait a little over a year to finally see the top of Ben Lomond myself. In July of 2007, I returned to climb it with Denis via the trail to Wind Lake. It was everything I had hoped it would be! I’ll cover those details in another upcoming story here on this site.
It was, however, the start of a decade long battle I waged with a torn hip flexor. Hips heal slowly, and are prone to reinjuring as they do, though I probably did not help the situation by continuing to hike and climb so often. Today I’m relatively pain free after a lot of rehabilitation and taking up yoga for the last five years. Just a reminder to all, take the time to recover, don’t do what I did!