Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 @ 11:09 am
Sebastian navigates up the forest service road, taking the correct combination of lefts and rights that bring us to the base of the mountain. We unfold ourselves from the vehicle, pull on our boots, and load up our bags.
We walk up the remainder of the gravel road, through mist and light drizzle. The road narrows into a trail bordered with blueberry bushes. I grab handfuls of berries and revel in the bright sweet flesh that fills my mouth. We travel through forest and damp meadows. Dew clings to wildflowers: paintbrush, lupine, sitka valerian, and saxifrage. I stop to take a photo of the red mountain heather that quivers beside a fast-flowing creeklet. I rise and turn to look behind me, and Russell is taking a video of me taking a photo.
As we ascend, the meadows give way to boulders and scree. We kick steps into a snow field to climb higher, and the clouds swirl and ebb down into the hollow of the valley, exposing the rocky summit that is our destination. I cry out in excitement.
When we reach the ridge, I look over the edge and see a glacier extending down into the valley on the other side. A vast expanse of snow and ice, glowing blue from within. Huge transverse crevasses maw where the glacier rolls over the side of the mountain slope.
I set my pack down on the snow and pull out my gear. I pull on my harness and put on my helmet. I strap twelve-point crampons onto my leather mountaineering boots. Onto my belt I clip my belay device, my prusik cord, a sling, and several locking carabiners. Sebastian hands me the rope, and I lock my harness onto the rope and ready my ice axe.
We walk slowly across the glacier, spaced out along the rope. We cross a snow bridge across the crevasse. I see the gaping cavern to the left of me and to the right. The three of us cross the crevasse safely and continue to the bergshrund on the far side.
Sebastian looks down over the edge: a wide gap between the edge of the glacier and the rocky mountain face.
“We are going to need to rappel over to solid ground,” he says.
He carves the ice and snow with his ice axe and constructs an anchor.
“You’re going to go first,” he says to me.
I attach myself to the anchor and approach the edge. I set myself up on the rope to rappel, double checking everything. I attach my prusik, test the setup, then release myself from the anchor. I ease myself over the edge of the ice, my crampons sending a cascade of ice down into the bottomless bergshrund. I descend into the cool cavern. When level with a ledge of rock, I push off of the ice and clatter onto the rock, walking gingerly on my steel crampons. I sit down and take myself off of the rope, calling up to communicate with Russell and Sebastian above. I cling to the cold ledge and take off my crampons while Russell and then Sebastian rappel off of the ice down to join me.
I sit there on that frozen rocky ledge beside the wall of ice, looking out through a crack at the far mountains wondering if I will be alive tomorrow. Life feels tenuous here, in this hostile landscape. I look up at the face of rock - the only way out is to climb vertically up a technical and challenging pitch. Trust yourself.
Sebastian leads the route, and then I go second. I climb up out of the bergshrund, hand over hand, my pack heavy on my shoulders and challenging my balance. I feel the power in my arms, my hands, my shoulders. I feel the rock and move up at a steady pace, a slow dance with the rock.
We do a second pitch, and then we are up onto a shoulder where the climbing shifts into scrambling. A half hour later, we reach the north ridge. The cirque of mountains below us, snow fields, and the clouds are burning off to reveal lush meadows, extensive boulder fields, and peaks upon peaks to the horizon: the Coast Mountains.
We clip ourselves into a running belay, and we travel together up the exposed ridge. I glance down at times, and then I look away. A gut-turning drop that would be instant death. The rope attached to my harness near my navel, an umbilical cord, my breath and blood.
At a particularly exposed notch in the ridge, we gather together and discuss how to proceed. I am shaking and my breath is shallow. I look at the narrow wedge of rock that I will be crossing. I look down at the drop. I look at the shockingly vertical face of wall in front of us that we must climb to ascend the peak. I turn to Russell and look him directly into his glacier-blue eyes.
“I’m a bit out of my comfort zone,” I admit. “More than a bit.”
“You are safe. We are placing protection. I’ll ask Sebastian to place extra. We will stay close together. You are doing amazing. I wouldn’t have asked you to join us if I didn’t think that you were capable of this.”
I cross over the exposed wedge and climb up the far face. Sebastian holds the rope tightly and pulls it in as I ascend the peak. I grab the final hand hold and push myself up on top of the mountain. I stand up and look around.
I just climbed my first mountain.
The sun is already low in the late afternoon sky. Beautiful golden light across the landscape. I smile over at Russell. The summit cairn in front of me, I take a panoramic photo.
There is little time to spare. We scramble down from the peak along the east ridge. We rappel down a vertical wall of rock to a boulder field. We boulder-hop across a valley, cross another ridge, then descend back to the lake.
The sun dips below the mountains. The moon hangs in the sky, a waxing half-moon. The distant mountains are glowing pink in the setting sun. The lake is perfectly still like a looking glass.
“I’m glad that you are with me today,” Russell says as we continue across the never-ending expanse of boulders, “Otherwise I’d be rushing to get home to see you.”
My heart swells.
The mountains. Climbing, my waltz with the rock. The cascade of sparkling ice from the crampons in the bergshrund. The magenta monkey flowers and hummocks of verdant moss. The sharp bleat of the pika.
We stand overlooking the lake in the twilight. Jupiter hangs bright and yellow beside the moon. He leans over and kisses me. I close my eyes and taste him and feel his mouth searching mine. He places his hand on the side of my neck, and my insides melt in ecstasy.
How did I find you? You. You who feeds my desire for adventure. You who listens to me, who comforts me, who leaves me glowing and filled up with love.
I am a mountaineer. I am a lover.
I am yours.