A hundred feet below, the northeast face dove away steeply, disappearing eerily against the backdrop of the Boston Glacier. The glacier seemed to be waiting for us, ready to deliver the final blow once we tumbled off the face. We could hear the creaking and groaning of the giant crevasses. The sounds drew our attention, even though we knew our lives depended on our footwork. With each lapse of focus, the black rubber of our rock shoes went sliding. They greased off the grass like the hull of a ship skating into the sea on the rails of its dry dock. We saved ourselves by quickly falling down on all fours, using our knees and hands to gain a quick purchase.
We were too occupied with our own preservation to talk to each other. The traverse demanded all of our attention and it made no sense to share our thoughts since we were all thinking the same thing: "Easy, step easy here. *&%#!that's loose. God, I could easily die up here."
After two hours we were exhausted. But Russ soon found the gully that took us back up the northeast face to the base of the first tower, which had been our starting point. The northeast face had worn us down, but we had to get moving. It was 7 p.m.
The last flames of the sun blinked, and then went out for good against the rock and snow of the high peaks to the west. We were almost running down the glacier by then, but we knew it was futile. We hadn't even reached Boston Basin, and complete darkness would arrive well before we could orient ourselves on lower ground. Without any landmarks to guide us, we knew it would be almost impossible to find our camp. We had chosen it for its abject remoteness. It was hidden among trees that were now bleeding like ink into the deeper forest beyond. It was going to cost us a night out and we had no bivy gear or any extra clothes.
We wandered for more than an hour, before we gave up and wearily stumbled into a group of trees. We scrunched ourselves under some stubby alpine firs and divided the ropes and packs so everyone had some insulation from the ground. Then we fit our bodies into creases in the earth and against the bends of the of the small tree trunks.
We found some matches in one of the rucksacks and built a small fire between three large rocks. The fire gave off some heat, but hardly enough to fend off the cold air that settled into our muscles, easily making its way between the thin layers of our clothing. We were miserable: cold, hungry and tired.
Russ found a Snickers bar in his jacket and divided it into thirds. We ate our shares in silence, knowing we were in for a very long night.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication