Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Next Chapter

It’s been a while friends. Hello, salude, cheers! For those of you who missed out(?) on the “loving life” and “totally engrossed” emails from my March icecapades in the Canadian Rockies, well, don’t be discouraged because here they come again!

Alaska is the wild chapter currently unfolding before my eyes and passionately being played. It has been a big winter for myself with many educational exploits preparing and bettering my mind and body for this foray into North America’s grandest range. However, so far, Alaskan climbing remains in a ball park of its own. Hell, it’s an entirely separate sport! Thirty minutes after landing in Anchorage this mysteriously beautiful trance began. Moose and bald eagles within the city limits hallucinated the appearance and aura of this industrialized boom town. Was the wildlife out of place or the buildings?
I tripped on, backcountry skiing one day and shopping at Fred Meyer the next. Seemingly as out of place as moose near skyscrapers I curiously pondered the living intentions of Alaskan residents, so much diversity in such a wild place. Then it was explained, people move to Alaska for one of three reasons: 1) They’re running from something 2) They’re here to make money and leave 3) or they just like living off the radar here in AK. Suits me, people are friendly, talkative, and welcoming.
Taking off from foggy Talkeetna in our chartered Cessna, the glistening summit of “The High One” or Denali rose through the clouds with colossal purity and Himalayan magnitude. Flying into the Great Ruth Gorge, Andy Chapman and I gawked at its massive size and impressive cleanliness blanketed by a coat of fresh snow. We landed, high five’d, took a pull of Glenfitich, settled into our home on ice, and slept away deeper into nature’s delicate thundering landscape.

Newbie’s to these mountains Andy and myself had two weeks with many objectives and a hope that at least one would work out. For the non-climbing readers, the nature of Alaskan climbing can be described as Alpine. Hopefully you’ll encounter ice, often times you’ll find some rock, usually snow, and always hazards. Crevasse, avalanches, storms, cornices, and seracs all contribute to the delicate perfection of conditions necessary for a safe and successful experience.

Each day and night the spectacular scenery surrounding camp drove me deeper into captivation and further from chaos as I closed my eyes. Maybe I’m fucked up but often in these remote and rugged natural places, so commonly labeled harsh, I find a deep sense of comfort and I sleep sound.

That is until the alarm beeps at 1:30a.m. Our first objective was Shaken Not Stirred on the Moose’s Tooth. We found the route in poor conditions (meaning more snow than ice) but still good fun climbing. My personal high-light was at hour 16ish, and our last pitch of the day, watching Andy surmount a difficult chock stone section succeeding with a woohoo and an ice axe above the head! Real, Pure, Personal, Stoke! So cool! We came within a few pitches of the top of this amazing 2000ft. corner system. Extremely content with our first Alaskan climbing effort we returned to camp at hour 25 or so. Goodnight!
For the last few days, sitting here in snowy Talkeetna, I’ve debated the appropriateness of sharing with you the events of our second week of climbing. I realize that sharing my passion with friends and family often creates conflict, confusion, and distress. Please know that that is not my intension and forgive me for any harm that my actions and my re-telling of these experiences instill in the people I love.
Our second objective was the Southwest ridge on Peak 11,300. Nearing the end of our several mile, pre-dawn approach ski, the sky to the west blossomed, hypnotizing us with shades of violet, sapphire, and magenta. The colors warmed my body and churned my mind. Staring mesmerized and belittled at nature’s immense perfection I became loose and disconnected, life took over, and living deeply in the moment became the only preoccupation. Ahhhhhhhh. The sun was hot mid way up the 4000 foot ridgeline. We climbed easy rock and snow skirting back and forth from the east and west sides, always following the skyward direction of the beautiful route. At about 8p.m. we repelled a very short distance into a small col (snow in between two rock outcroppings) at about 10,100 feet. This was to be our home for the night. I repelled down first, set up an anchor with a number one camelot, clipped into it and motioned Andy to come down and do the same. We took our packs off and placed them on the snow. It had been a long day of climbing and as we put on our extra cloths the sun disappeared behind the westward mountain face. Andy reached in his bag for the stove to begin melting water and I took a few steps down the east side of the col to begin shoveling a flat spot for the tent.
After nineteen hours of being on the move we felt surprisingly well, slightly tired, slightly dehydrated, but awake and loving it. And it was a good thing as our day was only beginning, as I dug deeper into the col, suddenly and unexpectedly, the ground in front of me, a 40ft by 25ft section of firm snow that supported our gear and my friend, erupted and broke loose down the 3500ft west face. From deep within my gut the acidic barfing feeling arose as I watched my friend and our gear disappear over the edge. My greatest fear was subdued as the rope stretched tight and I heard Andy’s calm voice from 30ft below.
After a warm embrace, we assessed the situation. Our possessions were minimal: 3 ice axes, 1 snow picket, 1 shovel, 2 pins, 1 camelot, ropes, some slings, and a few thousand feet above the ground. Stove, tent, sleeping bags, thermarests, water, food, headlamps, and camera, all of it was gone. To summarize a little; we descended the east face in the dark using lighters at repels, we then walked around the base of the climb and to the base of the west face were we found very little of our gear, and then we made it back to camp some thirty hours after leaving. Alive and safe.
Digestion. While down climbing the east face that night my eyes swelled and tears streamed down my face. The events of the day felt too closely similar to the spring of 2005 under the Arctic sun, when my cousin made a mistake that cost him his life. “I cannot loose another friend in the mountains, I can’t deal” I shouted! Greed always follows so closely on the tails of passion. I realize my greedy activities cause pain and have the potential of devastating the relationships I have with others, and I am conscious of this disturbance. So how do I fix it? It is not something that will go away with time, climbing is my ecstasy, my creative joy, my happiness. Devastation was avoided that day by taking precautions for the unknown. Securities were placed in a timeless state, during the present. It is this protection of future possibility and watching proof of its functionality that breeds mountain wizardry. Andy and I are fine. Nature taught us an indispensable lesson that day and we are both better because of it.
For those of you who don’t know me as well as others, sorry for the deep psychological ranting. If you made it this far, congratulations, hopefully you too are now more mountain aware. I want to let you all know that I am psyched and feel deeply perceptive of where I am in life. The present is the time of our lives! Do not fear life, do not fear the struggle of new experiences, think contrary to established patterns and let the spirit of adventure burn intensely!
Andy is sitting here next to me drinking a beer and excited about returning to Utah for some desert sunshine. I am headed to Denali tomorrow for a month with my sister and cousin. We will be receptive and aware of every moment and return safely. Talk soon my friends!

Immersed and loving
Kyle D