Scorched on the Southern Arete

Madaleine and I hadn’t seen each other in 25 days, the length of time we’d spent living in the boulders at the base of Proboscis. So, we met after dark on Sunday night on the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We woke the next morning at five a.m., force-fed ourselves, and took a last minute look at the map by the ranger station.

We descended the SOB gully by headlamp and headed for the Southern Arete on the Painted Wall. The first few pitches were in glorious shade, and Madaleine got us off the ground quickly. She rambled through loose rock, bushes and other choss.

But the Southern Arete faces, well, south. We had a liter of water each. We spent a couple hours in the mid-day sun trying to figure out which way to go, and got totally burned and parched. By the time we got back on route and into the shade, we were out of water and still had 1000’ of meaty climbing left.

I’ve never been so thirsty.

Madaleine flew up an awesome 200’ 5.10+ pitch just before dark, leading us to the top of the hardest terrain. Then three more pitches of 5th class headlamp wandering led us to the rim. I sat atop the final glory pitch of pegmatite crap, belaying Mad up to me. Someone had placed a mule deer antler shed there, and in my dehydrated state, it seemed both thoughtful and mystical. Acres of pinon pine forest, scrub oak and juniper spread out behind me, and moonlight lit the opposite side of the canyon.

We shook off the sweat and dirt, high fived, then wracked our thirsty minds: We’d seen on the map that morning that we’d have to navigate around two major drainages before hitting a trail. Without the moonlight, I think we would have laid down and slept right there. Instead, we followed a vague trail of cairns for 30 minutes and then our intuition for another hour and a half.

We bushwhacked through scrub oak. Snot dripped down the back of my throat, coating it, and easing the dry pain. A couple times we popped out on the edge of the canyon and gawked with renewed awe into the dark chasm.

We missed Lorna on this adventure, but we know she is kicking ass out there in Oregon.


About Emily Stifler

I grew up in Vermont and live in Bozeman, Montana. I love topography: mountains, rocks, weather and people.
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2 Responses to Scorched on the Southern Arete

  1. Mom 2 says:

    Way to go, gals! I’m glad you made it back safely!!

    Madeleine, Can’t wait to see you at xmas! Love, love, love, M2

  2. Lorna says:

    sounds like an excellent day. talk soon and i will send some pics when i take some…

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