Date: Sun, 03 Mar 2002 11:01:48 -0700 From: "Roberta Jenkins" Subject: Well Cinderella, I think it fits! March 3, 2002. 3am. Shoot awake, clawing at covers, animal moans escaping through pursed lips, desperately trying to reach white hot pain shooting through calves. Muscles on fire, clenched tighter than ever before, pulsating stones beneath madly massaging fingers. Happy Birthday! Tears make salty tracks down wind-scoured cheeks, but I am looking back, remembering. Relishing. Smiling and satisfied, drifting past pain and back to dreaming. Where I still feel the pull of rope against harness, of steel against ice, of mind and muscle over it all... March 2, 2002. 6 am. Pulling on layers of tights, poly-pro, fleece, wool, down. Cramming endless mits, hats, snacks into backpacks, alongside carefully stowed harnesses, boots, crampons, ropes, axes. Watching sky lighten over quickly approaching mountains, as sun rises behind us in the east. I am flushed with excitement. Eager. Afraid. My stomach is doing dances inside, making me feel nauseous, uneasy. Ritual McDonald's, scent of greasy McBreakfast permeating air. An elk at the margins, flashing lights and retreating roll-over. Our destination approaches. 9:27am. Trees give way to glorious spectacle - frozen waterfall half way up mountain, catching sun, flashing diamonds across eyes and sky. Blake and Steve disappear, tools and ropes in hand, to set our path for the day. Wick and Juanita work on their gear just up the trail, while a solo climber, already on his way back down, helps me into my own. He gives me tips on walking in crampons, cruel blades gleaming brightly, grabbing the ice. He teaches me about movement, about safety, about the pure joy of winter climbing. He eyes me critically, nods satisfied - "You're about to be blown away," he says, serious but smiling, "the ice is perfect, the day is perfect, and I saw a magpie earlier so you are protected." Vanishes around a bend as thin ropes snake down the sheer glass face before me, bouncing slightly with the weight of my friends descending for the first time. 10am. Juanita has crested the top. The first one of us all. I see her arm raised in triumph high above, and snap a picture, uncertain of my footing on the steep incline. I am so proud, so amazed! Everyone else is walking about easily at the bottom of the line, comfortable on the solid ice. I watch and marvel. Every step costs me dearly, a tremendous battle of will that leaves me weary and on edge right from the first. I re-evaluate my goals for the day; getting harnessed in at all will be a tremendous victory. I tust my companions implicitly, with my life, (more dangerously still) with my fear. Blake's wide, green eyes probe deep inside as he commands me to relax. Every breath I take is a battle not to retreat to the perceived security of the trees. With effort I slow my racing heart and attempt forcibly to unclench. 10:25am. Blake asks me to bring him an ice-screw from the packs. He is right at the base of the first vertical line, a good ways up. Juanita says that she will fetch it, and he tells her no. He is forcing me to move, to face my fear on my feet. His gaze tells me that he will be there beside me, but that he will not hold my hand today. It is time for me to begin. My mental war rages on, but so do I. He is tying me in. 11am. I will go over the bulge. It is low on the wall - a good place to try out the gear, to build up my confidence. I am alone on the face, but Blake is holding the rope. I trust Blake not to get me killed. I am not sure yet that I trust myself to do the same. Or the ice itself. I approach it warily, cautiously. Pick, pick, foot, foot. I take much too long, much longer than necessary. I am barely off the ground and my legs are burning. The falls seem now to be a hundred feet high, two, rather than less than half that. Blake tells me I must move to the left. I am falling. 11:02am. Aside from the sudden shock of being free of the ice, falling is remarkably untraumatic. I swing wildly to the left, accomplishing Blake's request in very short order, and re-anchor myself to begin again. I have moved across space, but not down. The rope is dynamic, I stretch and bounce. Nothing else. Beside me I see the stark, snowless peak of a nearby mountain, jutting harshly up through the blue, blue sky. It is not so far above me. My heart swells, and I continue to climb. 11:10am. I am coming down, testing the feel and weight of walking nearly vertical, suspended. I am learning to trust the rope, to trust my belay. To trust myself. My fingers are burning, inside my heavy, double layer mitts. My legs are cramping. I have not gone far, but I am happy. Satisfied. I start to understand that for me, much more than for anyone else around me, this must be a process. Little by little I am scaling not only the falls itself, but also the walls of my own defences. The latter are, I realize, by far the hardest to overcome. 12:30pm. Scrambling up and down the low approach, I am gaining confidence in the steel on my feet. Wick is endlessly patient on the end of my line, allowing me to set my own pace, to challenge myself slowly. Painfully. The curtain above me is suddenly teeming with climbers, spanish, french, californian. The frozen baseballs they are knocking loose rain down on me, thudding against my helmet and thighs. I am improving. Steve and Blake and Juanita take turns on the other rope, but I am oblivious to them. Until Blake pulls us back to use the other line - less congested. Infinitely more steep. 1:30pm. Hanging overhead from the tethers on my axes, trusting them far more than the tiny points of my crampons dug in below. Blake is beside me. Free climbing. Following me motion for motion. Talking me through the ascent. I am simultaneously barely aware of him, intensely focused on the sheer face before me, and strangely dependent. I tell my own feet to move, nothing happens. He tells my feet to move, and as if in a dream, they do. I am vaguely aware that without intending to, I am slowly gaining height. And the earliest hintings of skill. If every ounce of concentration which I posses were not singularly focused on my next movement, I would be marvelling at my actions. 1:40pm. I am gaining, little by little. I talk to the axes, to myself. Come on. Come on. In, in, in. Testing. Strong. Trusting. Hang from the tethers, consciously letting go of the handles. Look down, centre myself, take another step. Dig in the crampon, toe first. Almost always forgetting to drop my heel. I don't know where the strength is coming from, I think each step must surely be the last. The axes strike glancing blows to the ice overhead, chipping off frozen shards of glass which cling to my cheeks and melt there, distracting. I want to wipe my face, but instead must repeat my actions, once, twice, again. Come on. Come on. In, in, in. Testing. Strong. Trusting. Hang from the tethers, consciously letting go of the hanldes. Look down, centre myself, take another step. I hear Blake say, as if from a great distance, "right now, I am so proud of you." It feels good. 1:45pm. I look up. For the first time I see the top. It is still a long way off, but it is there, a thin blue line overhead. I can no longer feel my fingertips, am less solid with each grinding step. I pray silently to Steve or Wick on the bottom of the line, hold it tight, soon I will be falling. I tell Blake, just one more step, that's all I have left. He tells me okay, one more. Then, one more. Then one more. Then one more. I am no longer afraid. There is no room in this kind of concentration for anything except consideration of the next hold. I have never been this focussed before. Ever. If there were room for emotion, it would feel good. But there is not. The whole length of my fingers is numb now. Clumsy. One more. And one more. And one more. 1:50am. It is time for Blake to go back down. He does not have the security of my rope buoying him. From behind and to the left of me he says that if I am coming back down, it must not be until I reach the triangle in the ice above me. Six more feet? Ten? My concentration is broken momentarily for the anger I feel when he says that he will not push me all the way, but that he will challenge me. I marvel that he could be oblivious to the nearly overwhelming challenge that every single step has been all day long. Strangely, although much harder physically, actually climbing is the least challenging of all the things I have done today. I yell "Take!" and wait to feel the pull on my harness, resting, deciding whether or not to climb on. 1:53pm. One more. One more. One more. Come on. Come on!! In! In! In! Testing. Not so strong. Try it again. My hands feel like dead weights, hanging from the tethers, each position more rest, less movement. I am getting slower. Look down, centre myself, consider another step. Dig in the crampon, toe first. Feel it slide in the increasing slush. Try it again. My calves are on fire and I know that I am getting sloppy. A trickle of water is running down the rope, distracting. I watch it spread and pool on my mitts and knees and toes. One more, one more, one more. 1:57pm. The triangle is just above me now, a melty, dripping gap in the otherwise solid ice. There is nothing left. I flail my right tool overhead, probing the heart of it, and hear Blake's words again. If you are going back, not until the triangle. I yell "Take!" again, one more time. Hang, resting. Contemplating. The top is not so far above me now, less far than I have already come, surely. I wonder how it would feel to crest it, but know immediately that I won't. I swing the axes one more time, don't coxe or cajole them into the ice this time - have no more strength for that. Testing. Trusting. Hanging from the tethers because I can no longer make my deadened fingers grip the handles. Look down, centre myself. Know that there is nothing left for another step. I have lost the focus, mind as exhausted as muscles. I hear the rushing of running water off to my left for the first time since coming out of the trees first thing in the morning, and feel the wet seep into my bruised and shaking knees. I pull the sharp tips out of the ice above me, contemplate the triangle for a long moment, let go. Late afternoon. Unexpected, blinding flashes of pain shooting through left knee, making me dizzy. Level ground underfoot strange and alien without crampons to tame it. Forgotten helmet still perched firmly a top my toque, forgotten harness still feeling the comforting pull and creak of frozen rope. I feel glorious. This is my best day. The words of ee cummings ring in my ears along the trail as I gaze in wonder at the jagged peaks around me: i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is Yes! March 3, 2002. 10:31am. My arms are stunningly not stiff. My shoulders and back feel a satisfying tightness that lets me know that they have worked hard. My knee is hot and angry, my calves pulled in much too taut for the length of my bones, but the more that I move, the more bearable they become. I am much less sore than I expected to be. This fills me with a warm glow, a confirmation that I was not completely out of my league on the mountain. I am anxious to return to it - to feel again the thrilling exhaltation of so unique a thing. To lift my voice to the sky once more and declare with all of my being, YES!!