Sunday, December 01, 2013

Mount Audubon Trip Report

Climb that right shoulder to 13,223 feet
I started early cuz that's when I woke up. I had been trying to decide on a trail and had seven marked. It was not without difficulty that I settled on going to the Brainard Lake Rec Area outside of Nederland. Since I was going solo, I had resigned myself to doing just a couple of the lakes; stay low, play it safe. However, there was more than a touch of drool on the page describing the route to 13er, Mt. Audubon. 

But, only a crazy person solos big mountains in the winter. I took no axe and just enough water/food for a moderate trip. Content. Safe. Low. Safe. Content. Blah.

I made it to the TH at 9AM and realized that I had given no one the specifics of my itinerary and that I had no cell signal. Whoops. Parked next to me were three late 20s guys from Boulder. They got out and had ice axes. Cue drool! I quickly ascertained that they were doing Mt. Audubon. With a backward glance at those axes, I trudged down my flat, well-trammeled trail to the lakes. 

Turns out... the Mt. Audubon route starts that same way. The boys caught me at about 2 miles in, and reading my expression accurately, told me I could hang with them and they'd spot me on the mountain. One even offered me his axe. It was a Black Diamond. Should I have said, "Yes"??

Turns out... I don't have a lot in common with 20-something guys from Boulder. I can only laugh so many times at Audubon pronounced "Autobahn" in an exaggerated Arnold accent. When the boys stopped to stash their beer, I forged ahead, thinking they would catch me. They never did. But the idea was planted and the mountain was there. Itching for my snowshoes to scratch its icy spine.

Well, that mountain just kept going up and up. There was a snowshoe trench all the way to treeline so route-finding was a gimme. Once at treeline, the wind picked up and kept increasing. It scoured the rocks and snow, covering tracks of people who'd gone before. No longer a gimme. I assessed the weather; it was gorgeous with just one itsy-bitsy cloud in the sky. My water and food were holding out. I had only daylight and my energy level as limits.

About halfway between treeline and the summit, I spotted a hiker ahead with his pants down. I decided it was a good time for a snack and to check for cell reception. (Nil.) After an appropriate interval, I approached this 70-ish year old man with tobacco stains in his beard and mustache. I asked him if everything was all right and he responded, "Oh, I just had to take a dump. I sent my partner on ahead. You can follow his tracks."

Alrighty then.

I continued climbing, finally able to lose the snowshoes and be lighter on my feet. I avoided snowfields and wound a circuitous route up the mountain. The wind was steadily increasing as I climbed and I started getting a little rattled. I stopped at a relatively still spot and did a risk-analysis. I still had no cell signal. It was 1:00 in the afternoon so I'd been on the route for 4 hours. The summit was still a good hour away. I would descend faster than I'd climbed but who knew when the sun would set with the peaks all around this area? Did I want to be searching my way back to that trough, potentially in the dark, alone, at 12000 feet? No. 

I decided to turn back. Upon deciding, I felt relieved. I passed Tobaccy-Man, asked him again about his plan, and continued on my way. I made it back to the TH at 4:20. Turns out that hour to the summit would have been iffy. 

Autobahn, I'll be back.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Gift

As a kid watching
of all things
the Ms America pageant
I knew it was about something deeper

As a kid reading
of Wilbur and Charlotte
sobbing experiencing
E.B. White's gift
I knew it was about something deeper

As a kid sitting
in the high school auditorium
listening to Lisa Borman's soprano
echo through that dingy space
I knew it was about something deeper

As a woman
hiking Longs
the breeze riffling my skin
sagey scents tickling my nose
scenery saturated with mountains and sun
endorphins coursing through my veins
strong legs wanting more, more, higher
I know it is about something deeper

It is about beauty
Seeing it
It is everywhere
Appreciating it
Creating it
Oh, the ache to create it
to give to other human hearts
that throb of something beyond self

Friday, August 02, 2013

Yosemite Day 1: Great White Book

Route goes up the huge flake on the right.
I wrote a story on the Great White Book. It was a story of anxiety, confidence, and relief. After arriving in Yosemite National Park and doing some warm-ups on Sunday night, my climbing partner and I decided to tackle this beauty on Monday. We donned climbing shoes, and I tied a rope backpack so we could scramble up some rather gut-wrenching class 4 to the start of the climb. The four warm-up climbs did not bolster my confidence; all of them were much harder for the grade than the climbing I've done in Colorado. I was still nervous and getting to know Yosemite granite. You have to trust your feet, your fingers, yourself, but it is hard when your gut wrenches. Your gut sees that each step you take is higher, farther away from the ground, and closer to the point at which a misstep, a slip on your shoe lace, could send you sliding down Stately Pleasure Dome's granite face. I warred with my gut, conquered it, and kept going.

At the top of the class 4 approach, my partner built an anchor, placing climbing gear into cracks in the rock -- three to protect an upward force, one to accommodate a downward pull. We then attached to these and yippee; we were protected! We also tied to each other. For the next four pitches, we stayed tethered together, a maximum of 60 meters of rope between us. We did our checks and Victor started up the first pitch. He managed to place protection and reached the next belay station without issue. My turn to climb! My gut clenched, my tummy flipped, and I realized that even though I'd peed no more than 60 minutes ago, I needed to go again. I yelled up to Victor, "I'm gonna pee!"

Laughter erupted from some climbers I couldn't see, but now placed to our left. I was pretty comfie on that ledge because peeing at this point involved taking off my harness, the point of my attachment to Victor, to my anchors -- to any and all things keeping me on this 60-foot high ledge. Except my deft feet in my most excellent Mythos climbing shoes. I shimmied out of the harness, sidled away from the rope, and relieved my bladder, losing some of my anxiety in the process. I am also pretty comfie peeing in front of strangers. As I squatted, I noticed a fisherman and a male tourist in the parking lot looking up the dome. I ignored them, not caring if they turned away to allow me privacy or got out the binoculars. Necessity and mothers and all that.

Looking over my toes at what we've climbed so far.
Tension broken, bladder emptied, I started up the rock. The climbing was pretty easy - especially on a top rope (thank you, Victor!) and I reached the blocks that would comprise the next belay station one step up that slabby slope at a time. I peed before I left that belay station too, but only after Victor and I worked out a clever communication system so that I wasn't responsible for some other climber's belly laugh pulling them off the rock. "Code Yellow!" was my cry and Victor would know not to pull on our umbilical cord until I signaled I was ready. Climbing pitch two was much the same as pitch one; we got higher, but I felt reasonably secure.

Then came pitch three. I realized that everything I thought was gut-wrenching up to that point became null and void. I watched Victor pull farther and farther away from me up a super-wide chimney, in which he could place no gear. In which he could place NO gear. Gah. A climber wants a calm head. My head was Manhattan at rush hour, a steam locomotive crashing into a Boeing 747, the lawn guys at my condo doing the grass with leaf-blowers (heinous things, those). I had every kind of worry there was, a chorus of what-ifs and Jeez, is there really no protection??? I had visions of that chimney purging my partner, sending him plummeting past me. The horror of thinking about watching him fall nauseated me. I tried to bring myself back to the here and now, to keep my mind on the belay and envision myself hauling in rope like a madwoman if he slipped. My mind rocketed wildly from rational movement-anticipation to gut-clenching anxiety.

(Later, when Victor topped out and I began to climb, I acquainted myself with a new body odor -- the stink of my fear sweat. It is different than exertion sweat or the sweat of a hot day at the beach. It is tangier and sourer; it smells like panic.)

Victor stopped to rest at about thirty feet up. I dared to ask how he was doing. "OK," he said. "No place for pro but the climbing's easy." After breathing for bare moments, he moved up again. I was relieved when he finally left the chimney and even more relieved when he turned a corner and was out of sight onto a block with presumably more options. There were. He yelled, "I've got a piece! And it'll hold a freight train!" Shortly thereafter, he built an anchor and it was my turn to climb.

I felt like a kid at fat camp ascending that chimney. You grind your hip against the edge of the chimney and push your feet against the opposing wall. I braced one hand on each opposing edge. There weren't holds, just friction. The low angle allowed for that force to hold me in place and even to move up. But it was strenuous! As I huffed and puffed my way up, I was glad for that freight train piece of pro.

At the next belay station, I congratulated Victor on his strong head. We exchanged pleasantries, shared water, and inspected the anchor system. We also noted the few drops of rain and increasing cloud cover. Victor got moving, pulling a roof right off the belay and then traversing out of my sight. I started to feel a little nervous when he yelled down to me, "I've protected a traverse for you really well. There's a good piece at the start and at the end!" Hmm... when one traverses, one cleans the gear at the start, so a catch really depends on the second piece at the far end of the traverse, which means.... you get to be a human pendulum. To add interest, the sprinkles of rain were increasing. Victor was practically running now, pulling out slack as fast as I could feed it. Within moments, he had me on belay.

I saw the reason for his haste to get off the dome when I pulled the roof. Ahead of me was about 20 feet of seemingly-blank traverse. And it was not getting any grippier with the rain. Victor coached me to take my time and feel my way across. I whimpered a bit and "guhh'ed" and "I'm scared!ed" but I kept moving. We needed to get off of that slab before the rain started in earnest. I made it to him pretty expeditiously (in spite of the emo output). We quickly decided that rapping the route to 4th class slab made no sense in the rain. According to the guidebook, the other descent option required some route-finding but was safer in the rain. We scrambled up to a headwall and found a way over it and... hit cairns! The whole descent was well-cairned and beautiful. We even felt safe enough to welcome the rain for the sake of drought-stricken California.

I ended the day with unequivocal appreciation for my climbing partner. When I finished pitch 4 and we were safely descending, Victor remarked that he wanted to get that thing done so that I could get moving and get it done quickly too. He was worried about me getting it done before the rain moved in; he knew I'd be sketched out. When you're attached to another human being with an umbilical cord of rope on a 450-foot granite dome, you want that human being to say things like that.

Day 1 ended, I felt uncertain about my relationship with climbing. It was too scary to be fun, but too exhilarating and gratifying to be dismissed. This love-hate question would be kicked around for the rest of the week...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Convenience Foods

Convenience food has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side... Shoot! It's convenient. It can be found anywhere at any time the appetite strikes. It is at your beck and call. It is consistent. A McDonald's burger is a Micky D's burger in Denver, Colorado, the same as it is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It is easy and simple. There is no preparation. There is no messy clean-up. It is mindless. It is the meal of the moment.


Convenience food makes you fat and lazy. It litters the planet, its garish signs painting the skyline, its packaging stuffing landfills. It is not real food. It nourishes, but only for the moment. Its very ease is addictive. Its engineered combination of fats, salts, and sweets are addictive. You think you can get away from it, can handle it healthily. You think, Ah, this time I'll drive up to the window and just order the salad. Yet, moments after the disembodied voice asks, "Can I take your order?," you find yourself juggling in your lap a double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. Convenience food is in the driver's seat. It lulls you into complacency; it allows you to forget your roots, your integrity.

I have been eating convenience foods lately. In man form. I have a convenience man. He is there when I need him. He makes it easy to lean. He is consistent in his offerings. He comes when I call, he leaves when I ask. And I find myself asking. A lot. I'm not even sure I like him. Sometimes I positively don't. He hangs on. He tells me he's trying to hang on. He engineers himself to hook me, to keep me coming back. He is on the corner in Denver, Colorado, and in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, texting the things a girl likes to hear. He feeds me, comforts me, warms my side of the bed before I get in. Yet he is not the one. He doesn't fit. He litters my mind with ideas that aren't me, lives in a way I don't admire. He is fast food, not my soul's mate. I know this and have known it for an embarrassingly-long time. I always think I can handle him, this relationship. I think I can order just the salad but find myself overeating, over-relying, letting him in when what I really need is to cook for myself.

How does one kick a convenience food habit? How does one overcome the withdrawal symptoms, ignore the availability and the advertising on every corner? Cold turkey? Cold bed sheets. Pfft.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Clear Creek Thaw

It is also unnatural to haul your cookies up 85 feet of vertical rock, clipping into bolts that are spaced 10 feet apart with only a rope threaded through and a belayer at the bottom to (hopefully, most times) catch you before you hit the ground or a ledge or other nasty obstruction to wholeness of life and limb. Yet I did it today.

And loved it.

My lead head is coming back to me. Today was all about being humbled, reassessing, and then pushing through to the shiny light at the end of the tunnel - the anchors at the top of the climb. Last night I bought the Clear Creek Canyon guidebook, pored and drooled over the thing, thinking "we can do this one, and that one, and, and, and..." I had myself pegged as the climbing star of the cliff, shooting up these climbs as comfortably as I've been leading in the gym.

Not so fast there, Texas.

I got on an 8 first and nearly wet myself trying the tricky bouldering move to get to the FIRST CLIP. As in lots and lots of grounding potential. And not only grounding potential, but guaranteed scrapes against jaggedy schist and gneiss. Not nice. I  walked myself out onto a ledge - way far from the first clip and shook there for a few minutes. Meanwhile my climbing partner tried to talk me out of my tree -- or off my cliff, as it were. I bailed. I downclimbed and let her have a go at it. She got the first clip, but then was too scared to go to the second. I got on again and finished that route for us.

Which made me really glad that it was a weekday on a 50 degree, somewhat cloudy day.

Most climbers do not take three attacks to get up a route. Especially an 8! So I was humblized. I topped that one again just to dial into the rock and then went on to lead another 8, a 10a, a three-star 9, rounding out the day with a 7 on a new crag. By the end of the day, I was feeling strong and wrapped around the rock and the movement, NOT my fear and risk analysis. I trust my shoes, I trust my serpentine movement, clinging to the rock, moving upward along it, feeling for the crimp, planting a toe, edging on a ledge.

At one point I needed to switch hands in a hueco. I slowly snaked the left out of the hold, arcing it over to my left while walking the fingers of my right hand from the middle of the hueco to the outside left edge of it thereby enabling me to reach a better hold with my left hand. Tiny, controlled, mindful-breathing movements allow you to translate yourself along the wall.

All this was trust was relearned with Clear Creek gurgling in the background, its cold water flowing over rock and ice. Chilly beauty, thawing, like me, for the summer climbs to come.

Route record:
Pony Up 5.8
Poker Face 5.8 or 5.9
Ace in the Hole 5.10a
5th of July 5.9+
Halloween 5.7

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Body Comes Home

It is unnatural to race into the day. To embrace hecticity with a cup of coffee in hand. To clutch and pinch and brace for the big brainwork and the cheering coaxing that is teaching. It is unnatural. Yet it's what I do most mornings.

Over this spring break, I feel the natural. I indulge and revel in it. Wake up, yes, with a cup of coffee in hand, but then... move from one thing to the next, knowing that no one thing is more urgent than the other. I have T-I-M-E. The children are not going to press, colleagues are not going to need, my content is not screaming to be broken into meaningful, digestible-by-seventh-grader chunks.

It is just me. Moving from one thing to the next, feeling the muscles that last night's yoga found and, by virtue of their non-participation in this morning's squalling, the ones that were slinking on the sidelines.

This is my new balance, this partnership of yoga and climbing. If I weren't in this quiet, bodhisattva, body-satisfied place, I'd be screeching "Eureka!" from the Front Range peaks. Instead I'll whisper on my blog, Climbing + Yoga = contentment, balance, healing, strength. 

My body is coming home.