Sunday morning, 11,650 feet up in Yosemite. In the distance is the East Ridge of Mount Conness (pictured up close in the last Instagram post from when I climbed down it). Here I’m standing on top of what Steve Roper (the designer of the Sierra High Route) has named “Sky Pilot Col,” after a pretty and fragrant flower which I did not see. Roper said I would see gray-crowned rosy finches eating bugs off the snow and I did. And he said about the last third of the ascent, “Next, a stretch of ever-steepening talus leads up the left side of this bowl to the final indignity, a short but steep scree slope that most hikers will find offensive.” NO SHIT. This wasn’t offensive, this was OFFENSIVE. It took me almost an hour to get up the last 800 feet because there was nothing to hold on to except for fist-sized scree and no air to breathe. At the top I vaguely sussed out my predicament and formulated a plan using all three molecules of oxygen, but mostly just threw rocks over the edge and wondered where the guy who the people at Cascade Lake (pictured down there) said “had a damn time getting up that talus,” where had he gone? Because on the other side of this “Sky Pilot Col,” all there was were vast 45° pitches of blank snow fields, and not a trace of mister mystery man.

And then, in my bewilderment, I took a wrong turn and headed straight down…