THERE WERE PERHAPS 100 climbers camped at 14,200 in late May—a multinational village of Czechs, Swedes, Slavs, Canadians, Welsh, Americans, French, Brits, Aussies, and Japanese, from 8,000-meter summiters to hikers who had never worn crampons—and the mountain brought us all to our knees. It was viciously cold. The cold stripped us all, easily and quickly, of our pretensions and destroyed any hierarchy, real or ego-induced. Every last one of us was just hoping to summit via the easiest path possible and get down.
Once again it was the mountain that called the shots. The intense cold made the Cassin, a finesse route that could require technical rock climbing in thin polypro gloves, out of the question. Twight and I briefly considered the West Rib or the Messner Couloir, but both had two feet of avalanche-prone windslab over blue ice. We made three fast—sub-three-hour—acclimatization climbs up to 17,300, unroped and barely together. Twight borrowed a spare tent from a fellow climber so we no longer had to share our little icebox. I awoke early and cooked breakfast; Twight cooked dinner wearing earphones. I spent our rest days wandering around camp talking with other climbers. Twight hung out at the Park Service rescue station or stayed in his tent.
One night around the campstove I asked him what he was thinking about and he said, "About when this trip will be over."