Mount Julius Caesar (#64)
Day 56, Mount Julius Caesar
The trip started out well: a lovely walk through the pine grove deep in Pine Creek canyon.
I had three days of food and an ambitious plan: a long loop, containing 7 SPS peaks – Julius Caesar, Gabb, Hilgard, Seven Gables, Gemini, Royce, and Merriam. Most of the peaks were over 13,000 feet, and I would carry overnight gear over four high passes. The linkup was bold and aesthetic, and I was stoked. The forecast called for moderate winds and a dusting of snow on the third day, but nothing terribly concerning.
As I made my way up the winding trail, however, I saw dark clouds gathering above the jagged peaks. Quickly, the morning sun was obscured.
Undeterred, I continued on, climbing through a barren valley to Italy Pass.
As I crested the pass, I was met with the full force of a powerful west wind. Moments later, it started snowing, flurries quickly turning to heavy showers.
I stashed my gear and picked my way up a steep boulder field towards Julius Caesar. As I climbed, the rock quickly became coated with snow and ice.
I tagged the summit in a total whiteout, blindly returning to the pass. I hunkered down on the leeward side of a boulder and took stock of my situation. I had planned to climb Gabb that evening, but, barring a drastic improvement in the weather, that was out of the question. Descending the west side of the pass, deeper into the backcountry towards Lake Italy, promised a chilly, exposed night in an ever-growing storm.
Retreating back down the east side could provide sheltered camping and a much easier bail out. I debated, gazing blindly off into the whiteout one way, then the other. I ultimately decided that I hadn’t lugged 3 days of food up that pass for nothing.
I steeled my resolve, faced the driving storm head on, and descended to the west. My glasses were quickly iced over, so I took them off, squinting hard, ice stinging my face. I skied down the slope with virtually no visibility. At times I thought I had coasted to a stop, then I would slide into a bump, careening off balance.
Slowly, I picked my way down to Lake Italy, found a small boulder, and frantically pitched my tent on its leeward side. I dove into the fragile shelter, wet and cold, eager for reprieve from the storm. I slowly unpacked my things, made dinner, then dozed off for a fitful night of sleep, often awoken by the nylon walls flapping in the wind.
Continue reading in the Mount Gabb and Mount Hilgard trip report.
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