Monday, January 25, 2016

The Beginning

My cousin sort of proffered an invitation while climbing tonight. It began with... "Have you ever thought of doing the Grand?"

I wracked my brains, ideas flitting across my face: Grand Canyon, Grand Prix, Isn't there a Gran something in France?... and landed on, "The Grand what?"

"The Grand Traverse in the Tetons," he answered. "It's thirteen miles to traverse the range."

13 miles is nothing!

"It's 12-14,000 feet of gain," he added. Real casual-like.

The catch.

The trek gets you ten summits, and there are a couple of optional towers. The hardest grade is 5.8. People generally do it in a few days. The record is around six hours. The Beast that is my cousin yearns to go "light and fast" and be in and out in a day. His usual climbing partner isn't crazy about alpine or JB's "light and fast" mentality. It translates to hunger and pain.

I can't stop tumbling the idea around in my brain. He is a solid climber, a solid partner, a solid person. It would be a blast.

It would be one of the hardest things I've ever done. I would be entirely reliant on him; I do not lead trad. And he's fast. The last time I hiked with him, I grew nauseous trying to keep his pace.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I trained really hard and focused on alpine fitness, I could shine at this and see some amazingly beautiful scenery. I could play my edge.

He needs a partner. I am not as strong as him, but I am good at mountains. I keep my wits in tricky situations. I endure. I low class 5 and scrambles.

I want to explore this. Okay, who'm I kidding... What I really want is to write up a training plan with lots of Colorado ascents. I want to read books and trip reports. I want to drool over pictures and imagine myself in them. Late July to early September... I want to be here...

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Going Under

I've started swimming again and it is amazing. I love going under, feeling the liquid meet my face and flow over my skin. I love moving through the water, stretching my body, feeling I am a fiddlehead fern. I unfurl my leafy head, stretching along my lats, elongating all the muscles from my tummy to the reach of my fingertip fronds. I grow even beyond my reach as my hips turn, eking out millimeters to scoop more water, to be longer, smoother, more efficient and relaxed. It requires patience to let every last fiddle frond unfurl. To allow the last snippet of length to be had before turning my head for that sweet breath of O2 and resurgence into sunlight.

I have loved going under.

I think of the metaphorical meaning of "going under," and how people aspire to resurface, to breathe again. I am currently "under" and I do not love it. I am worried about a former student who is fighting for his life, another student whose family is fighting poverty, and about my relationship. I feel under it all and I really, really want clear answers and a path out for all of them - and me. It sends me into a tailspin, a place in my mind where I regurgitate old information, gobble it up, and try to digest it anew. It's as disgusting as it sounds.

I have to take a lesson from swimming. Instead of thrashing, I have to allow the fronds to unfurl. I have to remain calm and trust the process of patient, steady eking. I have done what I can do for the families and will continue to do so. I have thought through and talked through my relationship. But there is more... I have to wait and allow for events to unfold, for all the fronds to unfurl. I have to allow that water in my face - the flow of life and events and relationships. I have to allow the discomfort and the worry. And when I can - when all the fonds have unfurled - I can turn my head for my portion of sunlight and O2.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kingston Peak 12,147 Feet

It was wicked in the high country today. Here's what we could see of our intended summit, 13er, James Peak. ---->

It was one of the best views we got.

To that end, Sweet Sister and I decided to do Kingston Peak, since we could actually see it. Even so, the wind and cold proved challenging. Neither of us drank any water as mine was frozen and Sweet Sis was too cold to dig hers out of her pack. My thumbs and fingers and facial skin begged me to turn back.

And I would have, except Sweet Sis had been robbed of James Peak on two successive days last week and was not going to turn back for anything. Today she needed a peak, any peak. She wasn't going to stop and see her younger, weaker sister flagging her, waving both trekking poles in the air and pointing down, down, down. Younger, weaker sis who was decidedly sick of braving frost bite for a peak that wasn't on any list she'd ever made. Decidedly not in the mood for winds that found the millimeter of bare skin between the Turtle Fur, goggles, and Mountain Hardware Windstopper cap. For winds that weren't stopped by the cap designed just for them. Criminy! These were the definition of vicious.

So I trucked along, seeing - if not the face - the back of determination. Don't think I didn't still try. Every time I could lift my head and spy her - and she was stopped - I tried to reason with her, or at least my trekking poles did.

She has always ignored me. And I couldn't let her continue on alone in those conditions. So I tagged along. Saying lots of expletives in my head and even one or two aloud. Until mercifully, we reached the top and shouted something to each other. We did not commemorate the moment with a photo as our camera batteries had decided it was too cold and were dead. I gestured that we descend the east face of the thing, thinking we could find the lee of the wind somewhere.

We did. It was manna from the heavens compared to the blasting we'd taken on the ascent. I could hear her, and she could hear me. I gave her an edited version of my thoughts on the ascent, and we agreed to stick closer together in the future. Then it was sisters on the mountain again, pointing out peaks in the distance and adding them to mental checklists, reveling in the ruggedness of two that we'd already done, and making a game of picking the spots where our boots wouldn't posthole through. We talked about the sand-like texture of the snow, a product of the -4 degree temperature, no doubt, and enjoyed sending it skittering with a whiff of our boots. We talked of family and friends and feelings and anything else that happened to come to mind.

Three hours and nineteen minutes later, we were back to the car. Seven hours and forty-two minutes later, my thumbs still tingle, but my face bears a big grin. In spite of conditions and against my better judgement, there is something to be said for sticking with your sister. Pretty much always.

Embracing the Other

It is the rub against those who are different that allows you to reflect, reject, and re-find yourself. I am different from my family. After going there for Xmas and seeing the baby-centrism, I am championing childless folks who mountaineer. I see this stance for what it is -  a reaction, a rejection of the belief as real as the one put unquestioningly on the top of the Christmas tree for all to adore.

I can't look at it with adoration. I am not appended to a child. And when one doesn't have a baby hanging from the teat, one is considered not quite whole at my parents' house. The conversations are coos and comparisons and proud parents, rivaling siblings, fingers tucked into suckling mouths.

Please. I like the babies. I love my family. But I do not want what they embrace. And I object to being a shadow floating around the edges of conversation in a home that should live up to the "There's no place like home for the holidays" adage. I am probably not the only embittered, fatter, sugared-up American who is realizing that the thousands of miles of travel and consternation over the right gifts were misplaced.

What is the answer? To continue to rail against them? (Never aloud. Good daughters dasn't.) To scorn their close-mindedness and lack of reflection and perception? To resent them and swear to never do x, y, and z again!? Or, to feel I don't measure up and try to stitch a spot in the family fabric for single aunties - and feel worse when the thread pops out? Probably healthy doses of both have already been done. Maybe even unhealthy doses.

Should I review my life choices and assure myself that lives like mine count and don't float on the periphery of everyone's awareness? I could argue that lives like mine are better, but I don't believe that's the point. I believe the point is that I've brushed up again against the other, people whose fundamental beliefs do not match mine. They are sandpaper against my skin - Mom and Little Sister the coarse grit, Dad and Big Sister the fine. Chafing and grinding.

They remove the detritus and I surface. I am an unmarried, childless-by-choice woman who mountaineers. I will not have children, I will not devote myself to the examination of their every (bowel) movement and mouthing. I am not an appendage to someone else, nor are they to me. I quite like my own arms and legs and my thoughts and ideas. I could add to my family - their lives and conversations in so many ways - if the rapture in burbling and bawling babies would stop for just a moment. Oh, for the moment!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Clear and Cold

It was clear and cold when I started the snowshoe up to Mount Bierstadt. Nine degrees. The brittle snow squeaked like Wisconsin cheese curds under my snowshoes. It talked back to my poles, the sound of a squeaky hinge - the oldest variety - or the sound the Scream face might make if it made a sound. The cold snuck up on me in weird places, stealing the warmth from my right arm here, siphoning it from my knee caps and quads there.

It was clear and cold when I came across the Moose Guy. I thought he was a moose at first. I watched "the moose" as it worked its slow way up the path. I became puzzled when I noticed it was following the switchbacks. But that hump? As I drew closer, I could see the man, bent over the trail, his pack humping on his back. He worked the snow across the trail, walking hunched over, his hands busy. Something in the busy-ness of those hands made me recall Tobacco Charlie and our seedy college apartment house. My husband and I had named the maintenance lady Leather Face. She liked my handsome husband. "Those old ladies let you leave the nursing home?" she'd call to him in greeting. Kind and charming, Eric would quip something back. The leather would split to emit a hacking cough of a laugh, one that cut through the smell of Meals on Wheels seeping under the door of our neighbor's apartment and over the sound of his TV to reach my ears in our own apartment.

Tobacco Charlie, another apartment dweller, was so-named because he wore a grizzled (the poster man for the term) beard that served as a bib for the drippings of his tobacco chew. We didn't interact with him, just knew him to spend time arranging tools in the back of his rusted pickup truck. He'd stand alongside the open bed, strapping his rake to his ladder and then strapping that to the box. He shifted tools beyond inventory, arriving after a time at some satisfaction with the arrangement. Upon seeing us, he might say hello or grunt or be silent. He was more likely to acknowledge my husband. I was a little afraid of him.

Until the day I was a lot afraid of him. Home from my waitress shift at Chi Chi's, I was turning on the shower when I heard a fist pounding on our door. I heard Leather Face, "What's going on, Charlie?"

"That bitch took my parking place!" It took some moments for me to register that I was the bitch. I swallowed and pulled a towel around me.

"I know she's in there!" he yelled. I heard indiscriminate words from Leather Face, placating in tone.

Pound, pound, pound.  He wasn't going away.

I couldn't move and didn't dare go open that door. I thought about calling to him that I'd move my car in a minute, but I didn't want him to pound through the door. It seemed like he could. I padded over to the phone and took the handset into the bathroom, closing the door. I dialed Eric. He was minutes from the end of his shift at the nursing home and would come home, he said. Until then, keep quiet and put the table in front of the door.

Even as I hung up the phone, I noticed that the hallway was quiet. I dragged the kitchen table over to the door and sat on our futon to watch it. Eric came home minutes later and took my keys. He moved the car. Tobacco Charlie was nowhere to be seen. When we went out the next day, his truck was in "its" parking spot.

My Moose Man moved his hands like Tobacco Charlie, the constant motion, settling the snow here, then scooping to move it there. Un-inventoried amounts of snow. I came upon him and called, "Hello!" He didn't answer, nor did he seem to hear me. No head cock, certainly no eye contact. I moved past him and, in front of him now, looked at him, hunched and moving the snow. "Hi!" I said.

Nothing. I thought to myself, "Okay, he wants to be alone," and continued. As I drew even with him on the switchback above, I'd had time to become concerned. I stopped and looked right at his hunched back, the side of his face, his bald head. "Are you doing okay?" He'd heard me. He emitted a low sound, almost a sniff of contempt. I left him to it.

On my descent, he was farther up the trail, doing his same snow shifting dance about twenty feet off the snowshoe trough. This time he stopped and straightened. "The trail is over here." My insides froze, keeping my neck from swiveling to look at him. "You tear up the tundra going off trail." I insinuated myself to the far edge of the snowshoe trough and descended.

I had him figured. And I agreed with and admired what he was doing. People love the Colorado mountains to death, sometimes making track across tundra that takes decades to recover. But he also loved that trail and tundra more than human beings. He had a single vision of what is right. A rigid adherence to a parking spot. I imagined that David Brower and even John Muir might growl at another human being that way. I hoped not; I hoped they had balanced their environmentalism with diplomacy and maybe even old-fashioned kindness. I left the Moose Man to his shifting.

But his stance went down the hill with me. I wondered if he could enjoy the mountains. Did he appreciate the clear and cold? Could he see the insane green of the pines that ever-deepened as it contrasted with the whiteness of snow in full-on Colorado sun? Did his eyes smart as they took in the brilliance of it all? Did his breath steal as he caught the scope of distance, Square Top Mountain across the valley seeming so close but miles of hard hiking away? Did he resolve to come here again, to send a picture and an invitation to his cousin who, recently-diagnosed with cancer, needed inspiration to fight and see more of the beauty in the world? Did he see the mountains and beauty and inspiration, or did he see snow?