Once we packed our gear up, the weather had turned from bad to worse. The wind speeds had picked up from 40mph to gusts of 70mph. Snow was “falling,” which really meant blowing around wildly and sticking to our goggles. Visibility was only 20-30ft., but with the iced over goggles, we were reduced to only looking straight ahead. Our peripheral vision was minimal. We headed down the mountain, barely able to see each other, let alone the route. I was whipped of energy and concentrated my focus on following Nick, who had been on the mountain a month prior, whereas I hadn’t been to the summit since last January. Nick knew the route and lines, and I trusted his strength and memory. After moving down a steep, powdery section, we realized quickly that we were off our mark. The snow was light and fluffy, while usually the trail is hard-packed and ice covered snow. I started to post-hole in knee-deep drifts, wind and snow blinding my vision in the process. I abandoned my foggy, ice-covered goggles in order to better detect the route with my own eyes. I felt the stinging wind against them, cutting through my hat and balaclava, chilling me right to the bone. When the wind died a bit, we were able to catch glimpses of the area below, which looked even steeper and similar to a ravine; perfect ingredients to form an avalanche.
I was out of energy. We had pushed it extremely hard on the way up, burning all my fuel with just enough left to get down, provided we had no problems. RIght now, we had a problem. Nick suggested we turn back and climb back up towards the summit and attempt to find the trail. My spirit was willing, but my body wasn’t. At this point we were almost waist deep in snow, and my 5’10” frame was no match to Nick’s 6’2″. I didn’t have the same lift as he did to struggle through the drifts. I suggested instead that we work our way down, because up wasn’t going to get us any closer to the bottom. We compromised and traversed across towards where we thought the trail was. Each step was a struggle for me. I moved slowly, out of breath and out of strength. After what felt like hours, but amazingly was only minutes, we heard faint voices in the distance. I caught only a brief few shouts, not enough to make out any words or sentences, but it was something. I wondered if I was dreaming or I was just going into a panic and my mind was producing them. There they were again. Definitely real. We made our way cautiously towards them, as sound reflects easily off snow, and it was hard to detect their origin. Again more voices. The wind cut down for a second and Nick pointed down and to the left. A string of climbers were coming up from our lower left. They were guides, headed up the mountain themselves. We had found the route. Nick and I moved down towards them, careful not to cause snow to build up, or to come tumbling down ourselves. We met with the climbers, and they re-aligned us to the route. We made our way down, muscles aching, yet relieved that we had found our path safely.