Alone in my car on the way to Horseshoe Meadows the next morning, I play an Egyptian techno/disco cd at top volume. It seems oddly fitting for our early morning caravan across the rain-washed desert. With cries of "Inshalla" ringing in our ears, we ascend to the trail head at 10,000 ft.
The trail to Cirque Peak meanders for five or six miles along lush, green meadows where deer gaze at us calmly, unafraid.
A first glimpse of barren, rocky Cirque Peak - rising with startling abruptness from the surrounding alpine meadows.
My heart thumping with anxiety, I follow D up the first steep, talus strewn slope. There is no trail; we go straight up the side of the mountain to the first ridge.
The summit is finally in view when, with remarkable speed, thunderclouds gather overhead. The clouds seem to be darkest over Mt. Langley, to the Northeast of us, so we push onward. At 12,500 the altitude saps our energy, every step an effort.
The final approach to the summit (13,000 ft) is a class 2/3 scramble over enormous boulders. As we are pulling ourselves up, fingers and toes, it begins to rain. Thunder is rumbling loudly over Mt. Langley, lightning flickers along surrounding peaks.
But we are so close - I plead to continue to the summit, despite the danger. It is hailing now, D is ahead of me. I hear the tension in his voice as he calls out that he's reached the peak and found the register. He brings it down, I sign hastily for both of us with cold, trembling fingers as he tells me we must go down NOW, but I have the insane thought that this peak will not 'count' unless I actually reach the top. Still clutching the metal canister I am just twenty feet below the summit when there is a blinding flash of lighting so close, so intense that I am momentarily stunned, the image burned into my retinas.
With a shriek I fling the register toward the summit - a clap of thunder so unbelievably loud that I drop to my knees, arms protectively over my head, and then I am scrambling, sliding, down, down as fast as I can over the rain slick rocks. Pea sized hail hammers down, stinging face and hands. I see D and Shasta - he calls out to me, gesturing, but there is no way to understand what he is saying.
I finally catch up to them on the ridge line 1,000 feet below. The weather subsides, adrenaline drains away and exultant, relieved laughter wells up.