Procrastination isn’t usually my thing, but it’s been a rough first half of the year on a couple different fronts and I haven’t been too stoked to finish the story. Here it is though – the final chapter, and the conclusion of one of the defining adventures of my life. I’ll move it to the “Stories” tab in a few weeks, but you can find the earlier chapters there now if you haven’t read them already.
0740 on August 26, 2008
A faint shout reached my ears, but the words were torn away by the gusting wind. I looked down, my eyes following the gentle arc of the rope to where my partner was climbing almost sixty meters below me. We had been simul-climbing the moderately technical rock face to save time and stay warm, but now I could faintly make out the word “belay” as he continued moving towards me. I shrugged. The terrain ahead didn’t seem difficult enough to merit the safety of belayed climbing, but Loren was more experienced and maybe he knew something I didn’t.
I placed two solid cams in a hand-sized crack to my right and used a pair of clove hitches on our twin climbing ropes to anchor myself safely to the wall. Loren seemed to be almost running up the pitch, and it was all I could do to keep up with him as I pulled the slack rope through my belay device. He reached me just a couple minutes later, breathing hard.
“Give me the gear,” he said in a flat voice between breaths.
I started to unclip the remaining pieces of protection from my gear loops, handing them over to him one at a time as he arranged the nuts and cams on his harness.
“Are we belaying from here?” I asked. “It doesn’t look that hard for the next bit.”
Loren didn’t look up. “You’re moving too fucking slow, Bambi,” he said as he continued clipping gear around his waist. “I want to get up and off this thing before a storm rolls in. Slings?”
I ducked my head and pulled the tangle of slings off my shoulder without saying a word. I was embarrassed, furious, and surprised. I thought that I had been moving quickly and confidently, running it out between pieces as much as I dared and placing just enough gear to keep us from going to the ground in the event of a fall. I kept my mouth shut and focused on rearranging the anchor to account for an upward pull if Loren peeled off the rock above me.
“You’re on belay,” I said through clenched teeth as he looked at me. I huddled into the rock as he moved swiftly up the blocky terrain above us. The sun’s rays had not yet kissed the wind-blown north wall, and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore.
“Ok, climb!” came the shout from the ridge forty meters above me. I couldn’t see Loren, but I was eager to get off this shadowy face and into the warmth of the sunlight. I disassembled the anchor with numb fingers and made a few tentative moves upwards. After a moment’s pause, the two ropes snapped tight against my harness, and I knew my partner was paying attention. I jammed bloodied fists into the wide crack above me and worked my feet upwards, hating the weight of my pack and craving a hot drink.
We stood together on the tiny summit block, arms thrown around each other’s shoulders. The sun had disappeared behind clouds that had materialized seemingly out of nowhere, but at least the wind had died. I was filled with a contentment unlike any I had ever experienced, and I felt closer to Loren at that moment than I had ever felt with anyone else in my life. Thoughts of the descent lingered at the edge of my mind, but I was determined to be fully present in the moment at hand. I looked over at my partner.
“We did pretty good, huh?”
Loren grinned. “Yeah, Bambi, that wasn’t too bad. Still gotta get down, but I’ve done the east ridge descent before and it’s not hard.”
I nodded, feeling physically drained but emotionally charged. I gazed out at the view of mountains and glaciers for a minute before glancing over at him once more.
“Again sometime? And soon?”
He looked back at me for a moment before a slow smile spread across his face.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think we could do that.”