As Louis L'Amour sings in my ears, "The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for." I pole tap in quick step to keep pace as Lowell takes deceptively long strides. It seems ages since my brother and I have partnered on a mountain adventure together. At one time we were so in tune that each others next move was anticipated, and the mental vibrations were felt on the other end of the rope.
We're a little anxious to make tracks, so we linger little and heft our ultra light packs for the next leg of our cross country traverse. We’re heading for Indecision and Muelfire Peaks and if time allows possibly nearby Natal Peak. The choice was based on Lowell's desire for a view and my interest in places I have never been before. That's a difficult formula for us to solve these days as we have canvassed the Cascades enthusiastically over some thirty years of rambling. Making quick work of the descent into Fischer Creek we soon find ourselves in one of the most interesting valleys in these mountains. It's unusual to find brushless, open terrain like this at lesser elevations, and with the additions of lingering late season snowfields travel is a breeze. Always thinking light, Lowell switches to his super-light mountain boots and stashes his now un-needed trail gear. I take to reflection in the moment of transition as I've decided go the other way and do everything in just my GoreTex Talacs.
After satisfying our fever for images, we turn to cross the Silent Lakes Couloir and then traverse the SE slopes of Mt. Arriva. Through fluted and undulating terrain the contour is dotted with snow patches and the colorful blooms of heather slopes. This is where our trekking poles really earn their weight. I can't imagine how we managed to stay upright for so many years without them. Sidewinding along, the passage is a delight as these views are new for me. With water plentiful we wait until the last moment to fill our water bags for the night at Windy Pass (our endearing nametag). With the jet stream seemingly choosing this grassy swallow for its way through to the east, we drop our packs. Now we are within striking distance, and get our first looks at what we have come so far to see. Honestly, I could call this good. I'm totally content here. The visual impact is simply stunning! As I poke around for a view of our objective all sorts of routes capture my eye, and then I see the NE Ridge of Natal. Carving a left trending arc at its beginning, the upper section is straight as an arrow and the rock appears more solid than typical alpine Cascadian. I call out, "Hey, Lowell, look at that line". With Indecision Peak as his goal he seemingly gives Natal little consideration, and dismisses it because we have only packed a light alpine rack of some 9 assorted nuts, slings and a single 100' 8mm rope. I have to agree that we probably don't have the gear to test the route, but it sure has secured itself in the forefront of my mountain mind. We settle in, I bundled in my bivy sack and Lowell under his silicone fly; we both sleep comfortably in our grapefruit packed size down kilo bags. As the horizon changes hue and the shadows lengthen, it's a good night for pictures and contemplation. I'll remember this place.
We're off at 6am, gingerly descending 1,000 feet of mixed ground with an intimidating gouged-out hard-pan gully that scarcely gives way to a boot edge. We make our own independent choices on how to negotiate for it is clear that no rope will help, and with one slip you would be gone. It's the most dangerous kind of climbing (not hard - potential fatal) that requires full attention. Once through the way is clear and we romp up the north snow fields to the S. Col of Indecision. Ascending the S. Ridge I renew an appreciation of my confidence in Lowell's abilities. I simply take care of myself as our 'like mountain thinking' ties us together, which makes for fluid and highly rewarding solo climbing. At the summit the compactness and relief of the area strikes us. It's a very unique position smack dab on the Cascade Crest with telling views east and west. Our mountain images are filled once more in the overwhelming discovery.
Back counting our return travel time we start our descent wondering about whether we have the energy to do Natal or not. Upon reaching the Col we finally decide that it is worth a late return and the probable suffer fest; we're here and it's unlikely we'll ever be back. Lowell takes the lead, cutting steps toward the narrow SE Couloir snow finger of Natal. As we make haste I can't take my eyes off the upper section of the NE Ridge. There is a direct ramp to gain access and I finally call out, "Hey, Lowell, I'm willing to give up the summit if need be in order to try the NE route". As we approach without words he makes a sudden turn for the ramp. At that moment I knew that the route had been circulating in Lowell's thoughts all along, and it just took the pivotal moment to commit. Reaching the ridge notch our hands finally touch what has been silently beckoning to us all day long. The route is unusually solid, straight as an arrow, with climbing right on the crest. The ridge is not hard by today's standards (5, II), but it is ours to explore, and we revel in every moment as we rope simul-climb. Reaching the summit we're giddy from the quality of the unplanned first ascent and a place we never really expected to be. The vista captures our souls and refreshes the passion of our mountain dreams. The power of the process has lifted our hearts…secured in our memories by the end of the trail.