Juan Henriquez high on the ridge, on a hot, low snow year. When I had visited the upper ridge years earlier, the gargoyles were rather larger.
The Emperor Ridge was calling one summer. With more desire and spare time than climbing partners, I decided to climb it alone. It was an intimidating prospect but the idea was fuelled by my history which gave me an understanding of the mountain. The magical display of the thin red line of sunrise I saw while soloing the easier Kain Face had begun my infatuation years earlier. I came as close to dying as one would like on one of three attempts to solo the North Face when the entire face avalanched above me. Bold though the idea seemed, the Emperor Ridge as a ridge was safe from rockfall and avalanche danger which threatened the face routes. And what a route the ridge was. It was arguably the longest feature on the highest peak in the Rockies. The Berg Lake approach trail I would follow is justifiably renowned: the scenery is Alaskan in scope with huge glaciers pouring into the lake gained after 22 kilometers and two spectacular waterfalls. For directness the line could not be rivalled as it rises straight from the western foot of the mountain as a knife-edge to the summit. And it was said to be a perfect training ground for the greater ranges for which I pined. The route was technically easy enough to solo predominantly unroped. Of course there were the famous gargoyles of the upper ridge which sounded dangerous. I had to go and see for myself.
|One of the bigger routes in the Rockies. As Juan, a former Aconcagua guide, noted, it's like climbing a technical route on Aconcagua in a day.|
|Almost a decade after my solo I did the route again, with Juan Henriquez and Raphael Slawinski. Not as scary as soloing it, and more laughs.|
|At various points you actually have to climb.|
|The upper ridge with very little snow.|
|Older, wiser, and glad to be on the summit with friends and a sleeping bag.|
|Spot the climber. Undoubtedly the most dangerous part of the outing , on the Shwartz ledges. As Raph said, "At times you just have to shut your mind off". At least when you have partners you only have to turn it off briefly.|