The sun set on us while we were about halfway down the chute, and our progress slowed considerably. The dust made it very hard to see, and there were some tricky sections that required care down climbing in the dark. Eventually we reached the bottom and began our long slog back to camp. Despite our attempts to ration water throughout the day, we had run out by this time, which would add to the difficulty of getting back to camp since we were very dehydrated.
I was exhausted at this point – it had been a long and physically demanding day. Also, school had left me sleep-deprived before the trip yet again, and I was longing for a bed. My body slowed down and I stumbled along in a trance-like state. Every now and then I talked Dirk into taking a break, upon which I’d immediately shed my pack, lie down, and nearly fall asleep from exhaustion and dehydration. I was out of water and sorely thirsty.
After what seemed like eternity, Dirk’s prodding me along got us up and over Thunderbolt Pass. Some lakes shimmered faintly below us, but apart from that, it was so dark that we couldn’t get any bearings apart from what Dirk could decipher from his altimeter.
At one point we were thrilled when we heard the gurgle of running water beneath the talus. After some desperate searching we realized that the rocks blocked nearly all access to the water. I could barely splash some trickles into my water bottle, and then I gave in and tried to slurp some of the water out from a dirty hole. That only increased my thirst and we quickly moved on.
In the dark the large talus made travel very slow going, and on one of our breaks, Dirk accidentally dropped his new headlamp between some car-sized boulders. We couldn’t fish it out of the hole, so once again we were traveling with only one headlamp.
As the night wore on I became more exhausted and at each break I had a harder time getting back up. Finally we could tell that we were nearing our camp. We determined this by matching up the faint lakes with what was on the topo to tell at what angle we were viewing them, and therefore, where we were along Dusy Basin’s upper slopes. Finally we reached a rushing stream beneath the talus and gratefully restocked our water rations.
I was certain that this stream was the one that we had camped by, and soon I was following it up the slope. Dirk was skeptical – he didn’t remember the slopes around our campsite being so steep. Although his altimeter indicated that we were within 200 vertical feet of our camp’s elevation, it was nowhere to be seen. Since Dirk wasn’t convinced that this was the right place, I led the way, first up the stream to a lake that fed it (obviously too far) and then back down until we could tell that we were too close to the lakes.
No sign of the campsite!
Dirk thought that it might be just over the next rise or so, so we continued on. At this point he was tired and lingered behind. I had a second burst of energy with the thought of being near camp and led the way up onto the ridge. We headed toward Bishop Pass, up and down the slopes, but to no avail. The search was exhausting and seemed to take forever. After a full day of climbing, and then traveling 2 miles over rugged talus to get back to camp, we just didn’t have the energy to keep going. Every bit of searching uphill was arduous, and our resulting frustration from ‘realizing’ camp just wasn’t where we thought it should be weakened our morale.
After another hour of fruitless searching (ca. 4am) we gave up – the Bacardi would have to wait for another night.
With each passing trip that I have had with Dirk I brought more clothing with me, and by this trip I had my fleece jacket and hooded ski jacket. After finding a rock slab somewhat protected by the wind, I set up my pack as a wind break and laid down for bed. With all of these layers, I was reasonably comfortable for a night at 12,000 ft out in the wind. The tables had finally turned as this time Dirk was the colder of the two of us.