Alaska Highway, free solo, TR

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 20 of total 30 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Roadie

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 16, 2012 - 03:20pm PT

Catharsis

He sits at the base of the wall lacing up his shoes. The burl-fest of the second pitch looms above blotting out the sun. All summer he’d been climbing fast and light, alone. He had no patience left for partners, their complaints or concerns or scheduling conflicts. He hadn’t touched the rope or rack that littered his van in weeks. Worthless dreck he often thought of throwing into the sea.

Snubbing out a cigarette, he pulls a small bag of ashes from his pocket dumping the contents into his chalk bag. Turning the bag inside out he rubs the residue onto his face like war paint. The last remnants of Ben, his closest friend and the fourth to die in the past year.

“This one could kill you,” a small voice whispers in his mind.
“Not if you stay focused.” another shouts back.

Sweating up the trail, he’d allowed himself the sweet agony of memory. Earl flying his plane into the side of a canyon he had had no business being in, in the wimpy Cessna; a week later Cameron slipping on a patch of ice and falling from Broadway Ledge. He still wondered what Lyzz might have been thinking, soloing the hand crack in Indian Creek then slipping off the face moves at the end. Then, that spring, Ben falling from terrain they’d never dream of roping up for. Each time the news struck him like the invisible fist of god. He thought of the doomed relationship, the promises he’d made with no intention of living up to. And of course the upcoming trial, just over a week away. The charges of which he was certainly guilty yet morally vindicated. He thought of the likelihood of spending the next year in a cage. Would he do it again? Of course. Sometimes to remain silent is to lie, to do nothing is to conspire. They can have my body, he thought, but never, never my obedience.

He leaves behind the luxury of pain with the ground. His body and mind merge into a perfectly synchronized machine. Soon he is immersed, balanced on the razor-sharp edge of the electric now. Time falls away.

The first pitch feels smooth, trivial. He slots his fist at the lip of a roof, cuts his feet lose and pulls. Fists, then fingers, wet but only 5.10.

Now the business, laybacking the double overhanging flake, mantel, rest. He stands at the rest looking at the meat of the route. He knows many good climbers who quail at the thought of this pitch. A week before a friend drunkenly boasted of bleeding and thrutching his way up, throwing up twice on lead, then clipping into the anchor before passing out for ten minutes but onsighting none the less.

He smiles to himself, it seems as if the gods and glaciers who’d carved out this route 10,000 years ago had him in mind, knew he’d be coming. ’Focus’ the voice in his mind urges. ’Don’t think, focus.’ He begins to move, knee baring and stemming up and out the grove.

He is struck by the sheer audacity of what he is doing. The old growth forest swims hundreds of feet below him as he takes in the view. The words of Netzche swim through his mind, ‘When you look too long into the void, the void looks back into you.”

“Focus,” the voice whispers. He sinks a fist he could bivy on. He’s in the zone now. Nothing matters. The Now is its own eternity. He feels himself expanding, becoming larger than himself. The sun tracks across the sky but time can’t touch him here.

Breath. Relax. Focus. Pull.

He doesn’t so much climb the third pitch as watch it pass beneath him: thin hands, steep, into an off-width. Throw in a knee, chalk up. He draws power from the bag. Up the O-W around a corner, stemming and plugging fingers into a bulging crack. He passes the belay without a pause in a blur of white granite peppered with orange lichens. He hears voices on a distant route. He’s been spotted. They call to him yet their words mean no more than the chirping of birds.

He passes another hand crack and moves into a chimney. The rock is darker here, somewhat loose and decomposed. He wedges his body and rests.

He has a choice here: step left onto a face and balance up an aręte; or undercling up a crack, harder but more secure. He starts up the crack. A few moves up his fingers sink into a black slime. The crack is wet. He down climbs to the chimney and wipes the ooze from his fingers, looks left to the aręte. His heart races. ’Fear is the mind killer,’ the words come from the forgotten depths of his past. He studies the face in microscopic detail, breaths, steps left. Once the aręte is gained its over, a move, two. His left hand grasps the edge as his hips start to swing. His right hand flails out, searching desperately for a crimp, anything to check the swing. He gets it but there’s something else. He can never be sure if it was just imagination or the ghost of a hand that cancels the lethal momentum. He scrambles to a spacious ledge. The next bit is thin, a tips layback. He’s sure he can stick the ledge. A few hard pulls, the exposure returns, then its over, a fifty foot jug haul to the top.

He smokes, digs a small hole and empties the remainder of the chalk bag into it. He knows it was his last climb with Ben.

The walk down is weird, dream-like but intensely focused. He gorges himself of wild berries, drinks from a spring. Something is different but he can’t wrap his mind around it. As he nears the road he feels himself slipping back into time again.

That night he goes to the pub. A few people want to shake his hand, to be seen near him. Most give him a wide berth. News travels fast he thinks. Later that night Pete comes up to him, his closest friend and only connection to his world back in the States. “Your lawyer called today, they dropped the charges. You can stay.”

He nods, apparently apathetic.

Pete looks at him, “Why did you do that today? You could have died.”

“I guess,” he begins, surprised at the emotion in his voice. “I guess it was the only way I could think of to clean the gunk out of my soul.” He pauses, “Do you want to go sport climbing tomorrow?”

They smile at each other over the table and finish their beers in silence.

Thank you, Steve Seats

perswig

climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 03:29pm PT
Nicely worked. Fits with the quiet mood and whiskey I'm nursing.

He doesn’t so much climb the third pitch as watch it pass beneath him

We're lucky when we experience this once in a while.
Thanks.

Dale
micronut

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:13pm PT
Beautiful. A perfect mood for a foggy sunday here in Fresno. I'm watchin my Green Bay Packers right now and you made me press pause while I read this. I never pause a Green Bay game.

You've got a great set of writing skills to convey what runs deeply through all of us. Thanks for sharing.

Scott
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:24pm PT
Very nicely written Steve.....please, grace us with more.
snowhazed

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Thank you
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Wow Steve. Awesome writing thanks.

Based on a true story?
micronut

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:51pm PT
Steve,
Fiction or real or a combination of the two......no matter......but I have to ask, is Alaskan Highway a real route here in the Sierra? If so, any photos of the route/wall? I'd love to have an image to go with the story. If its fiction, then I'll just keep the cool image I already have in my head.
snowhazed

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 05:55pm PT
It's a route in Squamish
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Dec 16, 2012 - 06:01pm PT
Micro- here's a tr I googled. http://skisickness.com/post/vt377-squamish-alaska-highway


Edit just found your post on the solo thread. Wow. Balls. Nice work. Did you ever consider linking it into the calling for northern lights? Honnold pulled that one off last season..
Roadie

Trad climber
Bishop, Ca
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 16, 2012 - 06:06pm PT
Thanks, true story, all drawn from my life, for better or worse.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 16, 2012 - 07:12pm PT
Great writing and a proud solo to match!
RyanD

climber
Squamish
Dec 16, 2012 - 07:33pm PT
Very good read Roadie, thanks. I always enjoy your TRs, they don't need photos. That route is burl. Maybe Chief will chime in about his time up there.
Jingy

climber
Somewhere out there
Dec 16, 2012 - 07:50pm PT
Great read.

Sorry for the year of loss.



Cheers
ncrockclimber

climber
The Desert Oven
Dec 16, 2012 - 08:01pm PT
Thank you for sharing that. It really moved me.
Alexey

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
Dec 16, 2012 - 09:14pm PT
some route description and photos can help. At least it was useful for me to understand better:
http://www.mountainproject.com/v/alaska-highway/106209777
MH2

climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 10:55pm PT
Powerful
Captain...or Skully

climber
Dec 16, 2012 - 11:26pm PT
Right on, Steve. I could see it.
gf

climber
Dec 17, 2012 - 03:35am PT
Good writing Steve. I didn't know Ben apart from running into him a few times, but his death hit a lot of folks hard.
hooblie

climber
from out where the anecdotes roam
Dec 17, 2012 - 06:45am PT
now, if that don't clear all. stay tenacious, for our sake ... well, for goodness sake
cowpoke

climber
Dec 17, 2012 - 07:32am PT
Wow. The "Sweating up the trail" paragraph is powerful. It is where I realized this was not just a creative writing post, but also because the writing is creative...creating in my stomach a terrible knot. Great story, super impressive solo. And, I still have that knot in my stomach. I can't decide if I'm inspired, saddened, concerned, or some mix. No judgement. I am not, and never will be, mentally or physically able to do something like that. Just want to be transparent about the mix of emotions your catharsis raises for me. Looking forward to more of your writing!
Messages 1 - 20 of total 30 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Review Categories
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews