The Sheep Mountain Traverse
“You know you could lose your life up there”, I glanced up towards Sheep Mountain.
“I know, I am prepared, have everything in my back pack” … “I am ready to spend the night if I have to”, Ted replied back.
I tried every warning I could think of because I felt that Ted did not totally grasp what we were about to undertake. It is not that I did not think he could do it. In fact I didn’t even know anything about his abilities. All I knew is that he signed up for this leg and was determined to do it.
I needed to prepare for battle so I turned my gaze forward and rode my pace; trying to do math. To decide at what point I needed to put my lightening system on. Soon I was at the turn to start the climb. I waited a bit but Ted was no where in sight. I started hoping that he was going to be OK.
Things changed so fast for me that I felt I had been lured into a bad situation. Worst case scenario I would walk the entire climb and come down the other side of Sheep around 4 hours later … worst case. Right?
Now 3 full hours later I was still 2,000 feet below the summit. The snow had become deep. I could not push the bike because it was heavy enough to fall through the crust. And the crust-snow combination had become to hard for me to lean into.
I picked up my front wheel and lurched forward gaining about two feet at a time. But this only lasted another hour. I was now about 200 feet below the summit. I was now exposed and the winds were gusting pretty heavy. My sweat drenched body froze and I felt the clothes become stiff. This added to the effort needed to keep going. I should have turned around. All I needed was a burst to get over the top.
A half hour later, a full 4.5 hours from the turn, I was about to stumble over the top of Sheep Mountain. I looked back one last time to the dark valley below. I could see a tiny red light and fell to my knees. I shouted in hopes that some of the words would become a reality.
“Please … please turn back, if that is you, Ted … turn back”
I made no attempts at finding Marcy’s bones that I had hidden three years earlier. It was all I could do to dig out and find a stump near the top of the mountain. With numb fingers I posted a card and stumbled back down to my bike.
The bike was so hard to pull out of its newly formed drift. Like the mountain wanted to keep it. I could leave it and scamper to safety. I wonder how long it would take to hike back to town. I would warm up too … maybe another 4 to 5 hours? Maybe?
I only took the bike because I had hopes of riding it from Wishard Ridge down to the waiting arms of the Missoula Valley. It would be way faster than hiking. It wasn’t though … because the snow did not stop at Wishard Ridge.
After two extra hours hiking to a place where I could mount my bike I was drenched in sweat. Also I and had dipped into 5 hours of anaerobic energy. I was fat adapted and relying on a slower fat burning pace and now I was probably devouring muscle, and tissue for fuel.
Now just below Blue Point I straddled my bike ready for the decent. Within 5 minutes I was laying back on the frozen earth. My body as solid as a statue from frozen sweaty clothes. A frozen sweaty clothes coffin I imagined. Lucky for me my fall off the bike had broken stuff loose and a trickle of blood on my arm signified that my blood was indeed still flowing.
I had fallen because I could not ride my bike. So now what? I had to hike out. I used my bike to lean against and started down the trail. I was too cold to continue. Somewhere under a tree I bivvied out. I don’t remember falling asleep or even wondering if I was in danger. I just don’t remember anything except pulling that bivvy out of my seat bag.