Mount Caubvick - Trip Report - Part 7Click here to go to the Peak Page for Mount Caubvick
Friday, August 13, 2004
Climbing Mount Barnes-Pauzé
The rain continued all night, and this was depressing. The five us at our camp had been tentbound all day yesterday, and we were still anxious to climb nearby Peak 4824, but we had to be back at the Koroc Ilaku gravel area on Saturday night for our flight out. So there was not much time--this morning would be our last chance to make the ascent, and even then we'd still have to move our camp down the valley today so that we'd be in position to make it to the airstrip tomorrow evening.
There was a lull at first light, and at 4:30 AM I checked outside and found it was still socked in despite the lack of rain, with thick clouds covering the summits. At 5 AM Jack woke up, and we had some of his cold cereal for breakfast (Sugar Smacks). The clouds actually started looking like they were clearing, with blue "sucker holes" overhead, so after talking to Mitch, Sue, and Billie the five of us decided to go for the peak.
We all got little daypacks together as Mitch and Sue wolfed down their oatmeal, and Billie set off first, heading west across the countless stream braids before taking off up a short bouldery slope. By 6 AM all of us were enroute, and we were all soon together, making our way up the slope. It led to a very pretty grassy east-west valley, a continuation, of sorts, of the one we had hiked down on Wednesday. As we crossed the stream braids and bogs of the valley, the sun actually came out, making it a bit hot, and I had to tie my jackets around my waist to avoid overheating. I even talked about caching my jackets so I didn't have to carry them.
We could see the lower south slopes of Peak 4824 rising above the valley, and it appeared to offer easy grassy benches that zigzagged up to the higher part of the peak, still hidden in cloud. We climbed up easily, but it was not long before the clouds closed back in, we found ourselves in a white-out, and wind-whipped rain started to pelt us. The main problem this caused was wet rocks that made footing more slippery.
We made good time uphill, though, and I took out my GPS (the only one the five of us had) and dropped waypoints as we climbed uphill in the clouds. Pretty soon we were all wet, with our left cheeks raw from wind and rain, and we plugged uphill carefully. At about 3800 feet I set a "goto" on my GPS, aiming for the summit point that I had pre-loaded, and I steered Sue, out in front, whenever she deviated from the course. The top part of the mountain was pretty flat and featureless, and in a white-out very disorienting.
We finally reached the summit area at about 8:30 AM, and my pre-loaded waypoint was, not surprisingly, nowhere near the actual summit point. We were excited at having climbed this peak, thinking we had made a first ascent, but it was difficult to determine which rock was highest on the flat crest, especially when a white-out limited visibility to about 30 feet. We found a likely rock, probed further, found another, and then decided to go along until we could really tell that the land was dropping off. My GPS altitudes were all over the place, confirming it's uselessness as an accurate altimeter and summit finder.
A little further to the north, we saw a disappointing sight ahead in the fog--a cairn. Jack commented that "those darn caribou had built this cairn to fool us", but it was clear that we were not the first to climb this peak. We all dropped down to the west a little bit to get out of the wind and rest, but the weather was still miserable and wet. We decided to leave a register and a provisional name for the peak behind anyway, so Jack got out the plastic Tang container he had brought, and I got the pages I had earlier torn out from the waterproof notebook that Roland had given us all. However, I had trouble getting either my ball-point pen or permanent marker to work well on the quickly-soaked page. I was finally able to write a note:
Mount Barnes-Pauzé -- in memory of climbers who perished on Mount Caubvick 8/11/2003. Sue Richman, Mitch Sheldon, Greg Slayden, Billie Buttefield, Jack Bennett 8/13/2004.
We put the papers, including a blank sheet, in the plastic Tang bottle, and Jack and I inserted it into the cairn. Back at our sheltered spot we all agreed there was not much point in staying any longer, so we moved on out. On our descent I was very glad to have my GPS, since we could backtrack on the breadcrumb trail and waypoints I had set. The featureless rocky plateau seemed pretty easy to get lost on in a white-out, but Sue and Mitch seemed to have a pretty good sense of direction as they led, and they rarely needed my GPS-based course corrections.
The wet rocks were nasty, and we all had some minor slips, but the going was pretty easy for backcountry mountain terrain, and at around 3000 feet we broke through out of the clouds and could see the valley below. Billie and Sue made a beeline straight down to the grassy valley instead of zigzagging on the benches, and we three men followed, sometimes taking our own route. The rain eased once we were out of the clouds, turning into a windy mist, and we easily traversed the valley, clambered down a rocky slope, and then hopped across the many braided streams to reach our camp by 11 AM.
Down the Valley
Jack and I happily went into our tent and took a short nap, ate some cold food, and around noon started packing up our camp. We had a long way to the airstrip area, and needed to make up some of that distance today, so we were resigned to more hiking despite our peak ascent earlier. It had stopped raining, making our task easier, and by 1 PM, when the five of us headed down the valley, the weather was actually kind of improving. The summits remained cloaked in thick clouds, but the valleys were pleasant and even occasionally sunny.
The going down the valley was easy--flat areas of rocks and meadows, with one swampy bog to cross. Jack stopped to make a quick satphone call to Roland, making sure that our flight out had not yet been changed, and all of us played tag with a caribou on and off. We were glad that the terrain was easy, since we again had our full packs.
By 3 PM we had arrived at a scenic area by a lake, where the main brook cascaded through a dike across the valley, and we took a pleasant rest here. From this point a short ascent took us to easy terrain were we could contour around out of the valley we had descended and turn left, so that we were now paralleling the mighty Koroc River below to our rights. Another caribou was visible, scenically silhouetted on the skyline as we hiked. Now that we were at lower elevatons a low bushy plant was frequently underfoot, making the footing occasionally more difficult.
At 5:20 PM we arrived at a nice little hollow, just before our route would have crossed a major waterfall and brook. This seemed like a good campsite, even though it was a bit of a scramble down to the brook for water, so we pitched out tents once again. It was extremely windy, so Jack and I set up my stove and his shovel stove platform in the lee of a rock to cook. Sue and Mitch were nearby, and they joined Jack, Billie and I later. Today was the exact fifth anniversary of a grizzly bear attack on Sue and Mitch in Glacier National Park, Montana, and they recounted that terrifying story to us.
At 7:30 we went into our tents, in extreme wind. Jack called up Andrew and Roland on the satphone to try to get the coordinates of Dan and Susan's canoe cache. The searchers last year had found their canoe, but had left it behind as too heavy, and we thought that Roland and company would be visiting that site. But they had decided not to, so we wanted to check it out. We also thought we could use the canoe to help us ford the Koroc River, saving us a cold waist-high wade. So we got the GPS coordinates, supposedly provided by the survey helicopter.
I wrote a little in my journal and was soon trying to sleep. The extreme wind made the tent flap disconcertingly all night long, at one point lashing rain could be heard on our nylon tent fly.
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