My Life at the Limit

Excerpt by Eric Wehrly

     North Hozomeen, west face, Zorro Face. Both the north and south summits of Hozomeen Mountain bear a great mystique, and an ascent from any direction has long daunted mountaineers (see the “Battle for Hozomeen” in Fred Beckey’s Challenge of the North Cascades). In the early 2000’s, John Scurlock’s aerial photography of the foreboding west face of North Hozomen, the “Zorro Face,” stirred – perhaps haunted – the imagination of many Cascades alpinists. Its zigzagging ledge systems and few apparent weaknesses only added to its evil reputation. Rumored attempts surfaced: seasoned hard men were spurned before even attaining the base of this great, unclimbed wall.

     Rolf Larson and I were just another two moths attracted to the ill light of this wall. The opening passage of Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels speaks volumes about the dark attraction of the mountain: “Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most mournful mountain I ever seen… vertical furrows and bumps and Boo! crevasses, boom, sheer magnificent Prudential mountain, nobody’s even heard of it, and it’s only 8,000 feet high, but what a horror when I first saw that void..."

     Rolf won the first lead. On the second, I found the only evidence of human visitation on the wall: a quarter-inch bolt and a bail biner. The next pitches led up friable, vegetated, wet, and mostly welded-shut rock. The well-featured rock and sparse pro engendered a methodical rhythm of movement. The hook was set. On the third pitch Rolf’s expletives drifted down to my belay. On the fourth I traced one of Hozomeen’s tiger-stripe ledges left to avoid overhanging headwall, revealing an avenue toward left-facing corners above. The fifth lead fired down rock missiles, more curses, and words – I wanna go home – in the wind. But we were drawn to the dark, the promise of corners above.

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