8a 20 Aug 13

The Climb

My campsite at Highland Lake lay at the bottom of a glacial basin - a giant bowl hollowed out by ice thousands of years ago. To get there, I crested the ridge from the west and dropped down to the lake below. It was easy as falling.

I then spent a day staring back at the ridge. How the hell was I going to get back? Bands of slick, polished granite alternated with alpine vegetation - flowers, shrubs, an occasional clump of stunted conifers and tons upon tons of rocks and boulders. Some were large enough provide shade for full sized SUVs. Plus, the slope of the environment went anywhere from twenty to forty degrees.

My brain had a plan. To be precise, he had worked out a number of plans. He had designated routes based off different fall lines. He planned traverses based off watercourses. He eyed direct routes and indirect routes. He scouted landmarks.

I wake with first light. Eager to get moving, I clean camp to the orange glow of the sky. By the time my bags are packed, the first rays of the sun lance down on me. They bathe the ridge with a harsh, hot glare. So much for getting up early. So much for a cool climb.

My feet start moving. “This isn’t one of my planned routes,” mumbles my brain. “Try heading sideways through the grass.” “Aim for that clump of trees.” “Try looking for handholds there.”

It soon becomes apparent to all parties involved that my brain will not be helping.

I hike and hike. The sun beats down on my back, but my hat takes the bulk of the assault. I love that hat. My hands occasionally reach down to steady my way. About halfway up my thousand foot climb, they make more and more use of themselves. They haul my pack and body up over thick slabs of granite. They find handholds in tiny cracks. They lift me horizontally over rocks and slide me vertically through cracks in boulders. I keep climbing.

The ridgeline looks like a slacked rope. My destination lies at the lowest point. From there, I can hop the edge and continue my trek westward.

Two-thirds of the way up, I make my first mistake. At the top of a large chunk of rock, I find nothing to work with - no handholds, no shrubs, just slick-rock granite. I slide my way back down. “You’re losing time,” observes my brain. “It’s getting warmer.”

A hundred yards from the top, I’m on all fours and doing nothing but climbing. Both arms and legs move in total synchronicity. Pushing off one to move the other, they lift me and carry me over boulders and through some dry, dusty shrubs. There isn’t much in the way of greenery this high up.

“Now you’re in trouble,” observes my ever helpful companion. I hang there, stuck with nothing in front of me but house-sized boulders. No getting over that.

But my eyes see things that my brain doesn’t. They spy a path of smaller rocks around the back side of the boulders. None is bigger than my arm, but I can climb those. My hands and feet move in tandem. “Be careful. Step on the wrong rock and you’ve a long way to fall.” My eyes work faster than my brain. They see which rocks are loose. They tell my hands and feet how to place my weight, how to work with the terrain instead of against it.

My climb starts nearing a vertical ascent and my wonderful hat starts blocking my vision. I toss it back to hang off my neck, but it flops across my chest. It dangles in front of the hands I rely on so heavily. New plan. I toss the hat forward, place my hands, place my feet, haul my body and pick up my hat. Toss, hands, feet, hat. Toss, hands, feet, hat.

Twenty yards from the top, my climbing stones become sand. My feet lose all traction in the loose gravel. My hands have nothing sure to grab onto. As I stick to the boulders, I make my second mistake. I strand myself on another sheet of granite. I can’t climb up it. I can’t climb off it. Nowhere to go but back down.

Gingerly, delicately, I place my heavy boots into the sand. For good measure and extra traction, I dig them in an inch or two. I can do this. “You’re so close,” chimes my brain. “Don’t die now!”

He’s been taking notes, recording this all for later. Glory hog.

Thirty feet, twenty, ten. One last heave and I’ve crested the ridge. In all the scurrying and scrambling, I am less than ten yards from my goal. I toss my bag into a rocky nook and collapse next to it. I dig out my breakfast: a mashed together bar of oats and nuts and vitamins and chocolate.

I savour every bite.