Writings by Tim Girvin
Ellinor

This is a relatively easy climb for spectacular results. For your reference, please see the maps and routes in the 5th floor kitchen for information about how to ascend both Ellinor and Washington, which are in view of each other.

The route up was enshrouded in mist and snow fog, and in some instances, the visibility was extremely limited. Hiking through the snowbound, old growth and second growth timber was solitary and silent, the only sounds coming from a huffing and lonely grouse-like bird that we discovered on the way up. This bird, whose name I have yet to uncover, is of medium size, dark feathered with display plumage on the chest and fantail. When we found it, puffed up, it made a kind of thumping sound, like some distant drummer. Rather than fleeing, it walked away quietly, prancing proudly, its feathers upended in display.

Climbing past the treeline into the avalanche chutes, the air was luminous with moisture and an upward drift of air, coursing silently up the slopes, was the only element stirring. We ascended straight up the chute, still with only occasional revelations of the field above, or below. The air was illumined with the sunlight trying to beat through the density of the atmosphere. Finally, at the top of the crest, a blue brilliance shown through and the upper ridge, with its hogback of spires, sparkled out. High diaphanous, misted gestures and cloud strokes careened above, and to the west, stormier clouds roiled, in waiting. Sitting on crags that crept to precipitous drops of 1000 ft. or more, we lunched in the ever-changing milieu. The eastern and southern views were obscured in white; only the northern and eastern showed their vistas. Shadows drifted over the snowfields, and the sun appeared, and disappeared in the vapor drawings. Finally, the entire scene was reduced to blankness and silence as the clouds rolled in and encumbered the landscape with a gauzy sheath. Ellinor dusted away, we packed up and headed out for the way home.

One of the benefits of this avalanche ascent is the glissade down (after glissando, the long sweeping stroke across the keys of the piano). This was about 1000ft. down the deep snow channel, carved like a steep, meandering log flume in the snow. Vertical, swift and awash in the buffeting snow, which accumulates and churns the descent with you in the trough, my glissade had one remembered acknowledgement of a gash in the path, next to a cliff face. I knew that the bergschrund was coming, but I couldn't see where it was, especially with the massive explosion of snow from the descent, boot and snowshoe poling to slow down. Finally there it was, but at this speed it was pretty clear that I was now going to catapult myself into the chasm; I tried to brake, flipped and tumbled and "wham" got hit in the head with something hard, like a baseball bat. It was the ice axe strapped to the back of my pack. Just this once, I thought I would use the hiking pole instead of the more common glissade-balancing tool. Next time, I think that I will stick with the axe and save the experimenting for other tools.

With a cranial walnut, I salute you.

Girvin

(Originally sent: Thursday, June 17, 1999)

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