November 25, 2008
The beginning and the end.
Waiting. Dreaming. Making plans. Buying new picks or re-sharpening the old. The first snow. The excitement that makes you feel like a child again. Early morning alarms. Warm beds you have to leave. Skidding a car that’s not yours to skid. Cold so deep there’s no smell. Feeling unfit on long dark approaches. Cursing the snow you’ve waited so long for. Feeling the sun and appreciating a warmth so subtle perhaps it isn’t even there. Ill-fitting boots. Toes nails you meant to cut. Stepping through the ice into unseen streams below that steam as you curse your misfortune. Partners laughter. Joining in.
Scary snow slopes that you know you shouldn’t cross - but do. Head pounding, lung ripping, leg screaming fear. Avalanches that turn out to be jumbo jets on the way to the Caribbean.
Fancy new crampons and ripped gaiters. More curses and more laughter. Racking up - feeling your heartbeat with apprehension within your layers. The snap of the crampon binding. The tightening bind of the wrist loop. The first lead of the year.
Feeling the vibration run up your arm as you twang home the first pick. Cursing gummy cams, and crabs that stick to your fingers - wires that burn your tongue. Picks through new ropes. Committing yourself. Getting steep. Fumbled screws that will never be found. Bloodied knuckles and bruised toes. Cursing those knocking down ice from above - beyond caring about those below. Farmyard noises that come unexpectedly to your lips. Ice screws that always seem too far below. Hollow ice. Fragile ice. Trying to rest - only to waste more energy trying. Pushing into the red. Going for broke. Flogging a dead horse. Running on empty. Hands that can’t grip - but have to - and will. Praying for a top rope. Believing that it can’t get any worse. Spindrift in your face. Losing it big style. Whimpering. Beyond reason.
The best pitch of your life.
Reaching the top. Screaming out loud. Wanting to cry – but holding it back. Wanting to laugh – and laughing like crazy. Sitting all alone and happy to be that way -listening to the growing silence of a slowly fading heartbeat.
It’s snowing hard and you never even noticed.
Your partner shouting tight – about to come off. One eye on the belay praying they won’t. Your partner screaming as they come off. Straining legs to save the belay.
A panting friend coming into view. Tired smiles and shaking hands – and heads – and bodies.
A storm that hits without you even noticing. Lips so cold they can’t form words. Broken goggles that were rubbish anyway. Getting lost. The long arguing descent. A death march out. Hunger. Cold. Dark. Longer than you thought.
Tired mind playing tricks. Napoleon’s soldiers staggering with you across the Russian steppe. Car headlights on the highway. George Bailey running down the road shouting ‘Merry Christmas!’ The scrape of boots on gravel. Sitting in the car with the heater full on - just sitting. The end of a day of photos untaken but memories that will never thaw. Home. Skidding again. Big meals. Tall stories. Mulled wine spilt on white carpets. Cold feet and hot bodies in bed.
The beginning of a season of falling in love with ice - often unrequited, and falling out of love - but not for long.
Dreaming of warm stone.
The end and the beginning.