West McMillan Spire
January 14-16, 1983

January 14. My 39th Birthday. Russ, Silas, and I hustled along the Goodell Creek road once again, the frozen alder leaves crunching beneath our feet. The leaves fallen, the salmonberry in hibernation, the trip up the road went no slower than usual despite the extra 20 winter pounds around my middle and the extra 8 or so on our backs from snowshoes and winter gear.

The day was great and I have some nice winter shots of Trappers, Triumph, Despair, and The Stump and the The Terror Creek Spires. Russ was in the same shape, winter and summer, and accustomed to this snowshoe travel and we let him take the lead just beyond the 3200-foot hummock. We had no choice. The snow was hard enough that leader steps didn't help that much. The miserable doghair patch that gives so much trouble in the summer was totally white and somewhat of a pleasure, if it hadn't been uphill with weight on your back.

We were without water and sucking on snow from Over and Up Creek to high on Lunch Creek where we hit it just past Camp Barbara where Silas and wife #1 (as opposed to #1 Wife) had holed up at 5600 feet during a winter storm in February 1977 when they made the second winter ascent of West McMillan.

We arrived at Glee's Knee a foot flat that has since become a favorite stopping place of ours, and stomped out a couple of tent flats, relegating Russ to the "Snoring Section," 50 feet away from our tent. At 39, I was feeling O.K.

January 15. It was plenty cold when we gathered full daypacks at 7 AM . The snow was still powdery enough to require snowshoes and Silas was stoked enough about this trip to be out there punching the lead steps across a steepish section. We were soon standing at Terror Col talking about what the possibilities were. The sky was plenty encouraging, but it was getting that milky winter white, almost yellow, look that often means trouble's a brewin'.

We took off our snowshoes to descend from Terror Col and floundered a bit in the accumulation of snow on the lee side, but then found that the upper part of Terror Basin had been wind packed hard making travel even better than summer. We headed up for the obligatory look into Azure Lake , since the high route here makes the most sense. There is a peculiar sinkhole at 5600-5800 feet, kind of a nesting basin within the greater Terror Basin that is the alternative approach.

Silas and Russ drooled over East Mac, encouraged by the fact that there was a continuous snow route to the West Mac-East Mac col, then probably a zigzag snow route from there to the summit. I nervously eyed the football field sized slab avalanche slough that stood at the upper edge on the mini-basin and the tell-tale jagged line across the middle of the slanting couloir leading to the col, which indicated that a slab had broken away from this spot as well. I wished them both luck and told them that I did not choose to die this day riding a great white surfboard to the After World. Instead, I told them, I would cross the basin and climb West Mac and capture them triumphantly standing atop East Mac.

I figured I wanted to be back in camp at 5 since I was not sure I could survive a winter bivouac here without my tent and sleeping bag. To allow enough time I made my turn around time 1 PM . I walked above the football field slough, wondering if the football field above it that I was standing on was going to stick, or join its neighbor at the bottom of the slope.

We left our snowshoes behind at the first hard snow, but as the day grew slightly warmer I started breaking through the crust on enough steps that I at least wanted them back on my back, just in case. I made it to the rock rib coming down low off of W Mac and waited for about 20 minutes hoping to get a telephoto shot of Russ and Silas doing the couloir. I never saw them and proceeded slowly up to the col pondering how important it was for me to get the third winter ascent on a peak that I'd already climbed. My pace was slow enough by design that I didn't sweat so I wouldn't have to give up any heat to evaporation. I reached the 7300-foot col about 12:30 and started firing shots at the Southern Pickets on edge to my west and the Northern Pickets decked in white across the valley. I continued up slowly, frequently now breaking through the icy crust, already having given up on the summit. 1 PM came and I was still 3-400 feet from the top and decided it was prudent to stick with my turn-around rule. I worried that something bad might have happened to Russ and Silas, simply because I was not there to provide moral support.

Turning the W McMillan corner below, I looked up and could see the summit pitches on East McMillan, largely plastered with snow and unbelievably with two tiny spiders clinging to the uppermost snow. I put down my pack and let out some whoops and was whooped in return. My telephoto bayonetted into place, I fired several shots of their summit bid. I was impressed with their guts. But they still had to get down.

I continued circling back towards Terror Col , then sat down on my pack with a cool wind blowing at about an hour out of camp. I could stay here until 4 PM and still make it safely back to warmth. But what if they never came into view? Should I go up that couloir unbelayed looking for them? Could they survive the night if one of them was injured on the descent? Could I survive the night if I tried to help? Would we be better off with me helping on the scene, or racing out for a helicopter? These were not entertaining questions at 20o or whatever it was.

15 or 20 minutes after I figured they should have come into view, they did and I made sure they were safely out of the couloir before I started back for the tent where I had boiling water waiting for them. It was dark by the time we rolled in to bed. Just before retiring, Silas filled his poly bottle with water for the trip out and tightened the lid, bringing the bottle inside the tent so it wouldn't freeze overnight. In about an hour I felt a little moisture on the floor of the tent and figured it was condensation from our hot bodies. About an hour after that Silas sat up in his back and mumbled, "What the hell? Have you got a leak in this tent?" The bottom of the tent had a significant pool of water that was soaking the edges of our sleeping bags and all the gear we had at the head of the tent. The cap of Silas' poly bottle had had snow in the threads when he'd put it on. As the snow melted in the "warmth" of the tent a full-blown leak occurred, essentially draining the bottle. We sponged up the pool with the wet clothes and hoped our bags wouldn't freeze.

January 16. Bad weather came with the morning, and by the time we should have been back to the hummocks we could hardly see across the valley and the landmarks were not familiar. At this point my intuition said go left, but Silas and Russ felt we'd gone too far and somehow had crossed Over and Up Creek and should head back to the right. Reason could not sway them and they outvoted me. To make some good of a bad situation, I bet Silas a Kidd Valley hamburger that I was right. He took the bet, but as soon as we rounded the first ridgelet he felt he'd lost the bet, but by that time Russ was far enough ahead of us that we proceeded on his course, and darned if they weren't right, and I was out one burger.