If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.
When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.
The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott
Sunday, July 08, 2007
"Look at where you WANT to go, not where you DON'T."
This Saturday I had decided to give it another go. While I wanted to repeat what we tried before, Oleg thought of starting me slowly and taking me to the North side, much more technical (thus not to the very top), yet more beautiful, with more solitude and less technicality till those last 2000 feet. We ventured to climb right off Eliot Glacier, lying between Cooper Spur and North Face, to Snow Dome (I think).
4 am wake up call was nothing new to either one of us, but having been sleep deprived for various reason, we drove (changing) with our eyes closed. At 7:30 am we were at the Cloud Cup trailhead. While Oleg dressed up as a serious mountaineer, with full backpack filled with out climbing geer and my boots (I rented this time), I, of course, had my running clothes, camelback and shoes on. The first mile went along the ridge and it felt easy and pretty. I gave Oleg a hike for his money, charging ahead, to the first opening of the majestic views.
We took a breather pausing for the views around and descended to the first snow filed – small at first. I was still OK in my running shoes and still going first. Soon after short rock ridge we were at another snow filed, bigger and steeper than first one , and in the middle of it I finally switched to full gear, boots, crampons, climbing belt and helmet.
There was a huge crevasse filed on the left, one nobody tries to cross even in winter. We continued going up, and after initial uncomfortable feeling of heavy boots, I finally got if not to like them then to use them well. I was still going pretty fast, and Oleg called me a Mountain Goat, natural climber and “Legs” - best compliment in my book I’d take over “Pretty Woman” any day (wait, wasn’t I the one complaining American men don’t say compliments? I am confused now). The field was huge, and the grade was varying from may be 10% to 20%. It was almost fun, with white all around and wherever you look – beautiful peaks far back and huge monster of Mt. Hood itself ahead – it was breathtaking. I was having a blast and thought I might become one of “them” some day. Oregon is amazing, as it’s sits in a valley and then you see snow caps picking here and there – I find it much more striking than just high altitude mountains that are even out. We stopped for a short snack for the first of 2 times.
The route continued up and up. We saw two guys going down, they said the snow is soft and dangerous to climb all the way – nothing that Oleg wasn’t aware of. The grade got steeper yet, and we exchanged leads once – Oleg told me it doesn’t mean I am weak, it means partners are supposed to give each other breaks. I used my ice axe but found I can’t put my weight on the arms and still unable to use much of upper body strength. My legs are my savior.
Soon after we came across my first ever crevasse – not to huge yet, but scary nevertheless. Here is Oleg said we need to rope-up. He got the rope out, and we linked together, while he read me a crash-course on how to climb with “no slack”. He went up first, and after a short time there was our last pitch, 35% at least, short yet petrifying. I was still looking up and doing OK and made it with no fear.
We had our second break here, taking lots and lots of pictures. What amazed me the most was the insane amount of butterflies flying around, huge groups of 100’s, beautiful and fast. What were they doing at 9,000 feet in the snow, aren’t they supposed to be flower insects? It was awesome!
Well, the break was over, and we headed down, roped-up on down-climb, Oleg first, backwards, no slack and all. This is where my fear first reared its head. I tried as I might to look straight in front of my feet, but my legs were shaking. However, it fast over, we made it on rope to the crevasse back and un-roped from there, mostly because Oleg was going down much faster, and I was picking my way and planting my feet carefully. Eventually I got comfortable and started sliding on my feet just as he did what was a much faster way to get down. This is where our adventure had just began…
You know how it’s said the right-handed people veer to the left in the forest? Well, snowfields are just same forests. It is amazing how fast the foottracks get melted in to a snow field. Pretty soon after that picture, sliding more down, I realized I don’t remember this particular steep downgrade ahead of us, and the views forward are from different angle, while the views back are completely different (we couldn’t see the Eliot Glacier anymore, while climbing up it was right in front of the eyes all the time). The question rose whether we should turn back or continue down and hope there will be a cross-field to where we can go. Why did we decide on the latter? We didn't think of conical effect at all - just one ridge over, we thought.
The slide down gotten too steep to even think about going, and we took it to the right to cross a boulder-rock filed. After first 2 minutes I asked Oleg to change from my climbing boots into running shoes – I felt like a cow on ice in those heavy huge things on the loose rocks, not knowing where to put my feet down. Even in shoes, I was frantically grabbing ever rock I could spot – and almost none of them were stable!
There were pretty big, and released they caused a rockfall right on your legs. I fell once and not only hit my leg pretty hard, I also hit that leg into my chest under the breast and it bruised. My inside demons were rising their heads minute by minute.
Next was pretty big snow field, where Oleg lead by making “steps” with his boots – I was still in running shoes. Making across is more difficult than going up or down, so in the middle of it I slipped and started my slide down – terrified! “Self-arrest” rang in my head as I tried to stick my ice axe into the snow. First time it grabbed but pulled up, 10 more feet down I tried with all I had and it stuck – and I hung on it with my right side twisted and my chest hurt like hell from after the surgery. No upper body exercise - I can't even close a trunk of my car or pull the door open. It hurts – I screamed – I can’t hold anymore! Oleg made his way down to me and carefully put me on my feet, helping come back up again. My right side was scratched from snow and stinging – silly runners, climbers wear long pants for a reason!
I set down at another rock field, breathing deeply and assessing the damage. My ring finger on my left seemed to have been pulled as it swelled up and didn’t move. Right side red and scratchy. Right rib muscles hurt. Well, how many more snow fields and rock fields do we have to go? Oleg explained to me how to make a complete self arrest – I was supposed to turn towards the snow and lean onto the axe, not hang from it, not to mention crampons (I took off) would have helped too. While he talked doing it, he hit himself with the other side of the ice axe into the chest and poked a hole. More injuries?
Short rock filed, short snow filed, and then – oh, my – grade 5 rocks down with loose boulders and sliding volcano sand. I stood there for a minute, but there was nothing else we could do, so I inhaled deeply – it is short, please let it be last! At times Oleg had to physically take my leg (he climbed under me) and put it on safe spot, but it was over, and I was still OK.
Another snow, and here we are – loose rocks, two kinds: either very tiny as sand or between golf ball and football size – but ALL loose! Every single one of them! And we need to cross it to the last downclimb. In the middle of this crap I finally had it – my fear simply overwhelmed me. No matter how you try, if you shake big rock, the whole sand starts sliding with you, if you hit sand – the big rocks slide onto you. I clanged to a spot and broke into tears. Oleg dropped his backpack, came back and tried to talk me into helping, but my mind was gone all at once. I don’t want to die, I’ve got two kids at home, I am scared shitless and not moving. It took him 2 min to make me let go of the thing I was holding to and carefully make it last 10 meters. And that was not it – last down on loose grade 4. Enough already!!! I set down and sobbed loudly more, screaming about how terrified I am. I kind of knew there was nothing else to do but get through it, but it was downright horrible to think about and I totally lost it. Oleg had to snap me out by yelling, then he made a rope and talked me into getting down by using it.
It was all of the adrenaline I had in me. Next 2 snowfileds were easy (one, though, went over frozen river we could hear below) as well as a small rock part, and we could finally see the trail we started from. Behind me in a picture (if you click on it) you can make out the sliding field of crap we went over and then left lower class 4 rope climb. I wasn’t scared anymore but utterly shaken by the experience, ashamed of myself, with broken ego and self-confidence. I am never going to be a mountain climber, and he will never have a partner in me. I am a wuss who can’t control his fears. I can only do things that depend directly of me and not on nature, technology or chance. And now I am going to be even more worried when Oleg goes climbing, no matter how amazingly strong and confident he showed himself this day. Petty me.
We made the trail part quietly, thinking each of what was. But once changed, looked at each other with a smile. Oleg said – it’s OK, it takes practice. I said – it’s OK, I am going to try again. And we drove to an awesome Pub with views at Eliot Glacier and drowned all the negative thoughts in beer while trying to make out the route we screwed up so badly. When I saw it and realized what I had just made through – it was so many feelings, from panic to pride. Yes, I am an ultra runner and sucked today at mountain climbing gig. Yet I made it with a HUGE help of my husband and I am not giving up on the idea of overcoming my fears by going again. After all, I hadn’t started running by doing a 100M race, right?
Approximate route starting on the left, going up, then veering right and across to the left over fileds.
Sunday…Sunday is normal. I ran Maple loop in Forest Park in the early hours of morning and had no life threatening experiences. And that is great too, in its own right.