The theme I'd planned for this week is put aside, in favor of mountain-climbing terms from an article in today's Wall Street Journal.
Mount Stuart is only 9,415 feet tall, but it rises singularly and steeply for 5,000 feet amid the Wenatchee Mountains, a subrange of the Cascades [in Washington state]. Stuart's massive, complex architecture of ridges, buttresses and glaciers dominates the landscape like a gothic cathedral towering above a medieval village.
The two climbers get an early start.
The alarm went off at 2 a.m. Seth and I were sleeping next to his car at the trailhead in the central Cascade Mountains.
They start at 2:00 AM because they are trying to complete a 2-3 day trek in a single day.
alpine start – a very early start for a climb, before sunrise. Made to get better snow conditions (before the sun's heat), or to complete the descent before nightfall, without gear for camping overnight on the slope.
Climbers call this an alpine start. The idea is to get up the mountain early in the day, both to avoid afternoon storms and to get down while it's still daylight.
Alpine starts are horrible. Most times, I barely get any sleep, then I have to … start hiking by headlamp. … The only thing worse than an alpine start is an alpine bivy—being caught out on a mountain when night falls and having to find a place to hunker down until sunrise. The best bivouacs are cold, uncomfortable and draining. The worst are classics of mountaineering literature.
belay – to secure something (e.g., a climber) at the end of a length of rope (also, nautically: to secure a rope by winding it on a cleat or pin)
The ridge itself was a thing of beauty: a dark gray granite fin snaking toward the summit, dropping off precipitously on either side. … We moved fast until we reached the Great Gendarme, a formidable headwall that stands athwart the ridge. Here we belayed two pitches of 5.9 climbing, our heavy packs making gravity feel worse than usual.
Having reached the summit, they face a difficult descent.
We picked our way down scree slopes until we found the top of the Cascadian Couloir[,] … a funnel of loose rock and sand that splits the side of the mountain … . Each step was misery. Small rocks rolled under foot like ball bearings, bigger rocks pulled free and threatened to smash my toes, clouds of dust billowed up into my eyes and mouth. Lower down, twigs poked out of the scree, yet something else to trip up my sore ankles. The couloir seemed endless, tricky and tedious at the same time. Hours seemed to drag on …
couloir – a deep mountainside gorge or gully scree – a mass of small loose stones forming or covering a slope on a mountain. [probably from Old Norse, ‘landslip’]
The entire slope is on the angle of repose – the angle at which mountain debris will start to slide if touched by something like, say, a climber's boot.
angle of repose – the maximum slope at which of a pile of loose material such as sand can be made into a mound before it begins to slide
Here's a practical use — if you're a doodlebug.
Doodlebugs are the larvae of antlions – voracious eaters of ants. The larvae, which resemble small beetles with large pincers, dig holes in light, sandy soil, breaking it down to fine grains. The doodlebug then removes much of the soil, leaving a conical pit – the slope of which is just below the angle of repose. The hunting doodlebug then conceals itself under the material in the bottom of the pit – with only its pincers and eyes sticking out – and waits until an insect lands on the slope, which causes it to collapse. The doodlebug then swiftly emerges from its hiding spot and captures its prey. – Instant Genius: Fast Food For Thought, by Bathroom Readers' Institute (ellipses omitted)