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After snapping a few pictures, swapping out some gear and a short break we were headed up the northwestern slopes above Bluebird Lake to gain the upper shelf of this basin. Here is where the East Ridge really got our attention. Alan said "why don't we go up that way?" He was pointing up the steep and icy East Ridge. I didn't think is was within our level of comfort, but after a little persuading, I was more than willing to give it a shot.
We picked our way carefully over rock slabs and soft, deep drifts toward the steep east ridge. As the angle increased we began to have trouble with footing on the icy snow and rock, so opted to strap on the crampons before the terrain became too steep. We could see the crux of the route nearing. This is "V" in the rock about 2/3rds of the way up the snow line we were climbing up. We didn't know if we would be able to make it up this obstacle or not, but we were hoping for the best.
After some more time working our way up the ridge, we were standing below the crux and contemplating on how to get above it. There was a small rib on either side of the "V," and each was just large enough to get my outside points of each crampon on these quarter inch ribs. There was also a crack on the left that I could jam my left hand into that would offer some more leverage. As I lifted myself up into the "V" I was then able to chop into some ice and snow with my axe and make it the rest of the way through the obstacle. I then watched Alan negotiate this little move and then we were once again in steep snow with only a couple of tricky 3rd class sections to get to the top of the steep wall of the lower ridge.
We were both pretty excited about what we had just climbed. For both of us, it was the most difficult and technical climbing we had ever done. It had pushed our comfort level just enough to be a real challenge, but we both did it with ease and had a lot of fun doing it.
From this point, we had some mild 3rd class scrambling and 2nd class hiking over snowy boulders before we reached the summit. The main struggle at this point was the wind. The wind really picked up to the point where it was hard to stand. We saw that some bad weather was moving in and so we picked up the pace quite a bit, or tried to, as the wind was thinking otherwise. But soon enough, we were standing, or trying to stand, on the summit of Ouzel Peak. We spent about 3 minutes on the summit, snapped a few pictures and wanted nothing more than to get out of the blistering winds, so we hastily began out descent.
The first 1,000 feet of descent wes excruciating. The wind was insane and the terrain was nothing but icy rocks and snow. I can't tell you how many times we fell over. Either being blown over or tripping over a hidden rock. The weather really began to deteriorate and the temperature dropped drastically. Once we got to the snowfields above Pipit Lake, we swapped our crampons for snowshoes and made the goal of getting to Bluebird Lake as quickly as possible our foremost priority.
We were soon on its icy shores and making the six mile trek back to the trail head. It ended up being a very long day, and our head lamps were needed for the first 2.5 miles in to Wild Basin and the last 2.5 miles out of Wild Basin. All in all a fantastic day and surly one of my most memorable days in the park!
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