Mount Morgan, South (#29)
Day 24, Mount Morgan South
I woke up late, feeling drowsy and sluggish. The tops of the peaks above were obscured by thick, dark clouds. I was in no rush to head up Mount Morgan (south), a peak fairly moderate given it’s height of nearly 14,000 feet. Interestingly enough, it shares its name with another summit just a few miles north, which I planned to climb the next day.
I took my time making breakfast and driving towards the trailhead in Rock Creek canyon, hoping that the weather would defy the forecast and dissipate. No such luck.
I headed up the snowy road into a light, icy rain. The moisture and humidity was quickly turning the snow to mush, as I slogged my way along, eager to reach the firmer snow of the high alpine.
A few hours later, I finally did, but the efficient movement on the firm snow was soon brought to an abrupt halt by a massive, snow-free boulder field: the terminal moraine of an extinct glacier.
I picked my way up and over the granite obstacles one by one, searching desperately for patches of snow to facilitate easier progress. I did find a few, scattered sporadically, but mostly it was just tricky, tedious scrambling.
Eventually I reached the bottom of the steep chute that would provide passage to and from the summit plateau. The snow in the gully was incredibly wind-sculpted. Imagine the surface of the snow as a jigsaw puzzle, with half the pieces removed randomly. The missing pieces were a few feet in diameter, and often a foot or more deep. It made for tricky booting, and even trickier skiing on the return trip.
Fortunately, progress on the summit plateau was easy, a mix of alpine tundra and firm snow.
As I neared the summit, the minimal visibility I had at lower elevations disappeared, and I was left in a white room of cloud and snow. I found myself actually enjoying the wintery weather quite a bit, my world reduced to the simplicity of the rock and snow immediately around me. I didn’t linger long on the summit, as the wind was cold and biting.
I picked my way down to the steep gully, then awkwardly slid my way down it, hopping from one intact puzzle piece to the next. After negotiating the moraine, I skied down into snow far mushier than it had been on my ascent. I was amazed at how wet and unconsolidated it was -- imagine a slushee that’s been in the summer heat for a little too long. It was unlike any snow I’d ever encountered before -- and I thought I’d skied it all! It wasn’t sticky wet, or mushy like overcooked spring snow. It was deep, completely unsupportable, faceted snow, fully saturated by rain and melt. Skiing it was really tough -- it felt like waterskiing, specifically like the moment when you try to stand up too fast and are off balance with nothing to push against. I swam my way down through it back to the van, arriving wet and exhausted.
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