Tuesday, Sept. 01, 2020 @ 3:42 pm
We set the alarm to wake us before sunrise. Make coffee, haul gear down to the van. I drive us along the highway that hugs the mountainsides as the sun rises. Today, we are going to climb the entire Stawamus Chief.
We park in the shade of the looming granite giant. We rack up. Use the outhouse. I sling the rope over my shoulder. One last slug of coffee.
Here we go.
We hike up a dry riverbed, through ferns that graze my shoulders. Moss-covered boulders. A garter snake moves off the trail as we pass. The gear at my waist clanking with each step.
We reach the foot of the first route of the day. I review the grade of each of the six pitches, to see who gets which, if we alternate the evens and the odds.
“I’m going first,” I declare.
“Good,” he says.
And so we begin.
The south gully is still shaded and a cold wind buffets against me as I belay. The climbing is stiff, at the upper range of my ability but doable. I have to pause to solve problems. Study the rock, feeling around for imperfections that will be enough.
He leads the fifth pitch and disappears over the ledge to the anchor. I follow, and seepage has turned this pitch into a slippery nightmare. A vague smell of low tide. Algae and damp. Chalk is useless.
I make it up to an alcove that is green with slime. I try to climb through it. I fall. I try again, find an excellent hold, but cannot leverage my body with the weight of the backpack that the follow must carry. I consider pouring water out to lighten the load but know that it’s foolish, being barely halfway to the summit. I try again, stemming off the side walls, inching my way up but get barely a few inches further. As I fall, my hand scrapes against a sharp edge and blood beads up on my hand. I hang there and lick my hand and begin to cry. Great heaving sobs of despair and rejection. I am alone, hanging in a dank alcove, unable to pass this crux. I hang there until my breathing regulates. A long time. I pull a cam from my rack and place it in a crack. The only way out of this is to aid climb. I pull myself up on the cam and wait for him to pull in the slack. Set my feet. Move the cam up. Pull myself up. Wait for the rope to cinch up. And so on.
I emerge over the top. I know that he is looking at my face. I know that he can tell that I’ve been crying.
I climb towards him and secure myself to the anchor. He lets go of the rope and pulls me towards his chest and he holds me, tightly, stroking my back.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I chose this route. I was getting so worried. I didn’t know what was happening.”
“It’s OK. I wanted to do this route too. It’s the backpack. I would have been able to do it without weight on my back. I’ll be OK. I just need to sit for a bit and reset.”
And so we carry on to the next route.
After another seven pitches, we emerge on the first peak.
It’s oddly anti-climatic.
I climbed the entire Chief - from the front - and it felt fine. Fine.
Ultimately, it’s just the next step in my progression as a climber. The achievement wasn’t standing on the peak; rather, it was the pitch before the alcove pitch that I led that I felt the most proud about. The runout slab at the start of the buttress. The hug that he gave me when he knew that I was very, very low.
That hug, that’s the achievement and what I value most from this.
We sit on the rounded granite dome of the summit and watch the sun drop behind the mountains. Hike down in the dark and cross through the campground in the dark.
“Hey,” a tall, lean climber calls to me, “what did you jump on?”
“Rock On, followed by the Squamish Buttress.”
“Oh!” he says. “Was Rock On dry??” His face is eager. He’s a bit drunk.
“Hahahahahhahahahahah!!! NOOOOO! It was NOT AT ALL DRY!” I am so tired that I am loose and drunk-feeling and am able to banter with the dirtbags.
The laughter feels good. A release of everything.
We walk off towards the van, holding hands, as the moon rises from behind the Chief. The rope heavy against my back. Our hands dirty, our stomachs begging for food.
You are my person.