credit j. richter, feb 2009
On that crisp, indigo morning it was still dark and my body didn't want to move out of the tent next to my partner. The rope pillow felt nice and, as usual, it was an alpine start and I had not slept. I'm not a nervous person but I do project too often, thinking about the texture of snow, remembering before they happen my tool misplacements. After the alarm rang a few times my partner bolted out of the tent, ripped off his shirt in the cold and began to prepare for the long day so I decided I would get up too. J is a fast walker, his speed scares away partners but I'm not scared. Only a little and I want to keep up. Lose some sleep and say you tried, lose some sleep and say you tried. It was still dark and we'd just finished walking up the closed road. Mile five and my legs were waking up, J was beginning to fall into step with me. So long, I can't wait anymore, I can't wait anymore. Trumpets blasting in my ears on the trail, four more miles down. iPod off, J set off across the takeout container lake. I felt unsure so we spread out, maybe the ice would bear our weight better that way. whumping as we crossed, the lake warned the hill of our coming, rousing its noise from the silent deep, giving away our sole presence at the foot of the route that day. Eleven miles of walking and we stared up the route, just as I dreamed it would be. We began with J industriously kicking steps into the easily-compacted snow. Soon, the chute steepened to a knee-dragging gradient. Every time I caught up I stopped to brush the hardened snow from my knees.
We roped up as the avalanche-scoured frozen rut steepened and became rocky, belaying over the vertical portions. J tacked against the grain one way then kicked the icy corner in the opposite direction. A couple pauses and he was through. I danced in place in the ice shelf I'd created for myself. Already wearing all my layers a lack of food and excess of movement pricked my skin with cold. We segmented the portions between vertical steps with useless pickets; the snow was softly placed atop decomposing granite like silk over fur. We moved as tentative bugs over the silent elegance of the beaten surface. Finding an impassable roof, I swung left up an unknown couloir consistently steeper but less rocky than the last. Beating the slope up to our thighs we sweated through the sunless north-facing afternoon but I didn't want to stop to remove my down so I pulled off my soaked gloves and ignored my wet legs. Move move move, into what we didn't know. The col could provide a cliff-out ending, a ledge on which to eat cheese dogs, the summit, or more spiraling couloir kicking. We were worked, nothing but the mind left and weren't halfway through.
The world was a nest woven into the silence. Every soul--lame, dark, defeated, clean, far away, dead, dying, being born, leaf, granite, andesite, ice, snow, cloud, wind, arms, rope, partner--were in my soul and my being beamed out of my heart, lifting us all and managing to keep me from launching backward in ecstasy into the twisted dark chute below. Bounding out of my chest into my throat, passing behind my eyes and to the top of my head the fearcompassionlovefulfillmentexertion rushed to collect my entire being into one fleeting and indelible moment. I was there, I was ultimately aware of the effect of each breath of dying wind on the minuscule hairs on my face, loved my partner through the electricity in the rope. My life was connected to the slope by four steel tools too secure to let me tumble into the swirling clouds below. As I breathed in the fear one last time before moving, my eyes focused on the white and the light breaking over the col above my partner, my soul extended ahead. Then I moved with freedom, deleting my way up the hill and serving the snow with my swings.
The day died with us on top, reveling in the first sun and heat of the day. Chipping footholds into the downclimb to the glacier, I peered between my legs into the darkness glad I couldn't judge the exact distance of the exposure that fell below. Keep moving. The glacier, too, steepened to such a degree as to relieve my mind of making estimates of when I would reach the edge of the lake. The moon rose and we took off our headlamps and baffled by the light, drinking apple cider to lull us into a stupor as we stumbled the last eleven miles to the car.
I still heard his voice.
written feb 2009
with a little help from Beirut, Joy Division, and José González