Climbing Heyburn

After a Decade’s Wait

By Michael Stubbs

We hiked for five-and-a-half hours today. I’m tired and hot. My skin is crusted with the salt of my sweat. My arms stick to my shirtless sides. Nevertheless, I hesitate to dive into the cold waters of the fourth Bench Lake. Do I lack courage? I think not. Tomorrow, Dave, Adam, Ben, and I will attempt to summit Mount Heyburn: 10,299 feet above sea level. This will require a vertical ascent of Stur’s Chimney—a two-pitch, three-walled crack above a wide, sweeping view of the valley below. The exposure is dizzying. I’ll need courage.

Still, I do not dive. I stand thigh-deep in the icy waters. I situate my bare feet on the slimy, sharp-edged rocks below and trace my fingers along the surface tension as I swing my arms in hyperbolic arcs. I beat my chest, massage my goosebumps. I look around at the glacier-carved bowl that cradles this lake. A gray wall of rock and scree looms opposite me. A few pine trees hardy enough to grow this high decorate its steep side. Farther left is a gentler slope of sand, gravel, and boulders that leads to the mountain’s saddle. A light path leads up through the sand. Left of that is Heyburn’s jagged summit, composed of many pinnacles of yellow and gray granite. The reason for the Sawtooth Mountains’ name is obvious in their profile. On the tree-covered bank behind me, Dave and Adam rest in their hammocks. They laugh lazily as they make minor adjustments to gear.

While I wait, Ben jumps in. No hesitation. He swims, rubs at the dirt on his face, and is out again quickly, getting dressed, and then swaying in his hammock.

I hesitate a while longer. Nobody gives me grief. We’ve all been here before, on the edge of an icy lake waiting, when only moments before we were boldly boasting of the desire to jump screaming from the lake’s edge. Maybe the elevation holds me back, 8,500 feet above sea level, and there’s still a snow bank under the shadow of Heyburn’s summit on the far side. Maybe the cold, maybe the rocks. Maybe this is too many maybes. I quit thinking and dive in headfirst.

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