Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Land of the Living and of the Dead

After a somewhat intense night at work and the news of a couple recent climbing deaths the reality of morbidity and mortality, for me, is glaringly present.

I deal with death more than most people.  Through working full time in a busy urban emergency room and then engaging in a recreational activity that is not devoid of risk I have first-hand experience with more debilitating injuries and mortalities than I want to think about.

I forget who to attribute this to, but the quote goes that climbing isn’t worth dying for, but it is worth risking dying for.  I won’t argue with that. 

I’ve never been more engaged in the moment than when I’m climbing, but it is not without risks.  Even miniscule mistakes in climbing can have life-altering, or ending, results.  Most climbers don’t acknowledge the actual consequences of their actions.  There aren’t many climbers that who have confronted climbing’s consequences and still climb with a carefree mindset.  I’m not one of those lucky few.  The lessons learned in the past years have taught me how precious and delicate life is.  I now know how lucky I am to have the ability to pursue my passion, and that in the end, my recreational pursuits are meaningless. 

Life is fragile and transient.  Climbing accomplishments are such a small fragment of a persons’ life that they’re practically inconsequential.  Do what you have passion for, but keep it in perspective.  Climbing is amazing but relationships are important.  It’s hard to remember who had what ascent on which peak and during which season but it is a persons’ relationships that endure.

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. –Thornton Wilder

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Climbing: Fun, and not just in retrospect

This year winter starts in mid-January.  

Despite an early fall storm and an early start to the ski and ice seasons, January found us with conditions more reminiscent of fall than winter.  Snow was minimal in the alpine leaving many faces dry when typically they would be icy.  In normal years I wouldn't even consider heading for a rock face if I had stable snow and weather in January, but this year is different.  

Taking advantage of the rare conditions, Blake suggested we complete the first winter ascent of Colchuck Balanced Rock West Face.  Aided by a well packed trail due to a Denali training trip (thank you sloglodytes!) and firm neve we had an easy approach on the first day and camped beneath the face.  On the second day we slept in a little to avoid the brutal temperatures completed the climb and started the descent.  We summited just as the sun set and made a hasty descent reaching the car from the summit in just three hours. 

Winter climbing is another game entirely.  The "easy" pitches that collect snow and ice provided the crux and the "hard" steep pitches were mostly straightforward aid, french-free and free climbing.  Blake ripped out a cam while french-freeing on the first pitch setting the tone of the climb and essentially set the tone of the climb.  I found a snow and ice chocked corner that made me dig barehanded in the snow for placements and left me with a rp rat nest anchor.  Blake had an especially exciting snow and turf mantel on the third pitch which would have been made easier by the tools accidentally left at the belay.  The remaining "hard" pitches to the summit were straightforward and devoid of snow.

Blake and I actually had fun while climbing that route.  Winter climbing is rarely enjoyable in the moment and usually in retrospect the miseries are as memorable as the joys.  That we actually enjoyed ourselves should be a statement to the quality of the climbing, the weather and the experience.    

Walking across a frozen Colchuck Lake with CBR W Face in the sun upper left.

Exciting climbing on the "easy" pithces

Jugging the corner
Following the crux pitch

Summiting in the twillight