The rest of the group made their way down to camp around 1030, their attempt to summit a failure after hitting a snow-choked pass at 12,000 feet with a 1,000 feet to go. We all began packing up, but then were derailed by yet another of 20 minutes or so. As soon as it ended, we hurriedly paced up our wet tents and loaded up.
Today we were headed up The Wall.
The Wall had loomed over us ever since we neared Martha Lake, a 12,000 foot rise that dominated one side of the valley facing Mt. Goddard. The estimate from The Commissioner was that it should take us no more than one hour to scale it.
At the base we found ourselves clambering over granite avalanche scree, which transitioned into an upward climb as we created our own traversing lanes (there was no path), pulling ourselves up with poles or even sometimes grasping with our hands. In some places we started hitting and walking across small snow fields.
We were about a third of the way up when the wind and rain returned.
Re-gearing up with backpack covers and rain jackets, we continued on. The rain did not make the hike impossible, but it did require greater care as we continued to climb up, at some point literally climbing up as if we were rock climbing.
It was the moment that we hear the thunder boom and lightning overhead that things got exciting.
The picture is etched in my brain: the nine of us strung out climbing up, rain whipping around us as we clambered up and everyone freezing for a moment when the thunder boomed - followed, of course, by a series of laughter, groans, and the inevitable "How could this possibly get worse?"
Somewhat surprisingly it did not: Within a few minutes of the thunder the rain and wind disappeared, leaving us to continue to traverse in relatively silence. At a few points, we put on micro-spikes - basically rubber slip-ons over the shoes with metal spikes, a sort of "shoe chain" - for covering the snow, which removed all slipping and sliding and unsteadiness.
For all of my concern - both for the general climb as well as my ability to make it - neither fear manifested itself; it was hardly the worst ascent I had made and I manifested no issues from any sort of altitude sickness.
The top of The Wall put us at Confusion Pass, 12,000 feet above sea level. On top of Confusion Pass is the cleverly named Confusion Lake, so called because it is the divide between the Kings River and San Joaquin River Watersheds and streams flow to both sides from the lake.
Once again we were treated to amazing views: behind us lay Mt. Goddard, ahead of us lay The Black Cap Wilderness.
The great part? I can now start stories with "There I was, climbing on the side of a mountain in the wind and rain, when the lightning and thunder started..."