It’s been fifteen months since my decision to reinvent myself as a climber, and I am starting to gain enough strength and confidence to contemplate re-entry into the realm of serious alpine climbing. Planning attempts on icy north faces in remote places always brings to mind the nostalgic memories of my first real alpine route, so I thought I’d write a mini-series telling the tale. To this day, it remains one of my most powerful and influential experiences in the mountains; a three-day adventure that truly changed the course of my existence.
0620 on August 25, 2008
I awoke to the sound of waves lapping up onto the rocky shore just twenty meters from where Loren and I lay cocooned in goose down. We had driven to the Beartooth Mountains after work the day before, pulling into the West Rosebud trailhead parking lot just after 2230. The hike to Mystic Lake had taken two hours by headlamp, and we had arrived at the peaceful shoreline too tired to do anything but throw down foam pads and slip into our sleeping bags. I stayed still for a moment, reluctant to leave the warmth of my bed, but pressure on my bladder and the desire for a steaming cup of hot cocoa convinced me to squirm out into the chilly morning air and begin the morning routine.
Loren was still sleeping, I noticed as I walked back to our little camp after relieving myself. I yawned and stretched as I watched the first rays of sunlight dance their way down the rock walls across the lake. I rummaged quietly through my pack to find the cooking kit, and then burrowed my way back into my sleeping bag to stay warm while I made the first brew. It was cold.
Loren’s eyes blinked sleepily open as I stirred the chocolate powder into the boiling water.
“It didn’t rain…that’s positive,” he said as he yawned and dug through his pack for a hat. “It’s not too warm though.”
“This’ll help,” I said, passing him the aluminum pot of cocoa. “So what’s the plan?”
He yawned again. “Eat breakfast, pack up our shit, and start walking up the switchbacks from hell.”
I grinned. “Come on, man, they can’t be that bad.”
“Ha!” he snorted as he slurped down a sip of the brew. “Look behind you, Bambi-Bags. Twenty-six…or is it twenty-seven, or two hundred and seventy, something like that. There are a lot of switchbacks, and they go straight up that slope to the plateau.”
I surveyed the hillside he had indicated. It did look a bit grim. At least we had light packs…
2 days earlier in Bozeman, MT
Loren and I sat in his tiny studio apartment surrounded by a piles of climbing gear. Crampons, ropes, ice tools, technical garb, cams, slings, and carabiners were strewn over every surface. Buddhist prayer flags hung from ceiling near the window, an open copy of Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism occupied the space on the floor between us, and the video On Ice was playing on his tiny television.
“Look,” Loren insisted, “light is right, right? What would Twight bring for a rack?”
“Balls,” I replied with a laugh, “big fucking balls. And then he would solo the damn thing.”
Loren grinned. “True story. But I think we can get by with a pretty minimal rack. It’s a big route, but the climbing on the Chadwick-Bowman is only 5.8 and we can simul a lot of it.”
I nodded. “No tents, let’s just do bivy sacks both nights. One stove, and we’ll take one trekking pole each. What are you thinking for food?”
“Whiskey. We gotta have Black Velvet whiskey. And a bunch of Snickers and Ramen would be good. Oh, and GU for when we are climbing,” Loren added. “That ought to do it.”
I was as broke as Loren was, so Snickers bars and Ramen sounded perfect – I could pilfer both of those from my sister’s pantry, and I had plenty of GU packets from an aborted alpine adventure a month ago. I reached down to the pile of kit we were taking and started stuffing gear into my climbing pack. We were going alpine climbing – my first venture into that realm and Loren’s first attempt to climb the mighty north face of Granite Peak. Nervousness gripped me as I thought about the next few days. I didn’t know exactly what they would hold, but a strange thought struck me as I packed: “I’ve been anticipating and preparing for this adventure for my whole life.”