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Ice! December 12, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
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In the mid-70s a rock climbing friend introduced me to the world of ice climbing, and I’ve been a supplicant ever since.  Something about the surreality of being suspended on a slippery surface above a world of whirling white is so transporting that my fondest memories of my most significant climbs are but dreams, with trepedacious beginnings  and triumphant endings bracketing a phantasm of terror and bliss which isn’t easily explained to a non-climber.

I’ve been worshiping at the impermanent altar of ice for the last thirty-five years, and it’s never failed to tie my stomach in knots, cause my knees to buckle and draw from me the kind of impossible effort which lifts life from a mundane plane to sublime heights.

This winter I’m counting on a kind of rebirth, after the death of my rotator cuffs, of the dream of flying over a frozen landscape.  I’ve been hitting the gym in search of my formerly physical self, and while I’ll never again be young and whole, I’m determined to be all that I can presently be (short of joining the Army.)  I’ve gone from the clinically proclaimed impossibility of doing pull-ups to my present situation of doing four sets of twelve, a tribute I suppose to the power of feeble mind over decrepit matter.

This Saturday was the season’s first intersection of ability, opportunity and conditions, and I assembled the necessary gear to give it a go.

The nearby Zoar roadcuts were in really nice condition for a December technique tune-up, and I took advantage of it, hefting the tools, finding my balance, and relaxing into the rhythm, kick-kick, stand, swing, center, kick-kick:

The thirty-foot sub-vertical pillars ceded me the freedom of going ropeless, concentrating on the flow of climbing in liew of the technicalities of engineering a protection system, and I exulted in the freedom of movement in the improbable realm of frozen verticality.

After several seasons of loss and longing, it felt great to be flowing again.

It also offered me a chance to try my camera’s new wireless remote release, clicking away as I worked up the ice, and bringing you this shot.

Now that I know how it works, I’ll be boring you to tears with my new toy.

May the Force be with you!

On Ice. February 10, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
Tags: , , , , ,

Last weekend was the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, a great excuse for ice climbers from throughout the Northeast to get together and socialize, attend slide shows by well traveled professionals (this year, Steve House who is, besides being very entertaining, a climber of extraordinary ability and admirable humility,) and perhaps even climb a bit.

This year also marked my return to some measure of climbing after a couple of years away from it, due to an absolutely total lack of rotator cuffs and a failed surgical attempt to remedy that situation.

My shoulders are, in fact, junk.  They say I’m lucky to be able to comb my non-existent hair, but you know, the dysfunctional combination of my passion for climbing and the fact that I’m a wicked slow learner found me strapping on crampons and ice axes along side the guides and students at Cathedral Ledge this past Saturday afternoon.

Our friend Chris lead up what should have been easy terrain for experienced climbers:

That’s close to thirty feet of what passes for vertical ice up at the top, and it was exciting watching Chris take it on, especially because he didn’t bother to place any ice screws ’till about where he is in this photo, and a fall at that point would have been disastrous.

But Chris is a strong young man and kept his cool, finishing the climb without incident:

Both Lizz and I worked our tails off in our attempts to follow.  I’ll admit to employing 35 years of experience to get up the thing in relatively good style, no thanks to my non-compliant shoulders.

This is a far cry from the “good ol’ days,” say ten years ago, when I climbed Repentance,  an area test-piece which is exceptionally thick in this photo taken Saturday:

That’s nearly 400′ of thin, vertical ice choking a crack system, with a couple of red-clad climbers visible about 300′ up.  In case you can’t see them in this little photo, here’s a telephoto shot, courtesy of my little Canon point-and-shoot:

This is considered to be exceptionally “thick” conditions, and therefore “easy,” compared to the shape it was in when I did it.

This weekend convinced me that I’m not done, not gone by, not ready for a rocking chair.  I’ve procured a gym membership and am working my way back.  I’m going to climb Repentance again, or perhaps Remission,  its more difficult twin a little to its right, which had been on my wish list for decades.

Yes, Remission will do.   It’s back on my list.

With or without my damned shoulders.