Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ice Climbing and Free-Soloing...

Sunday brought me the opportunity to try something new, something I've been putting off for 2 or 3 years now. JF called me at work on Friday and asked if I wanted to go ice climbing with him and his coworker Andy. He assured me Andy was on board for both taking two novices and lending me gear so I could send the ice.

We met up early Sunday morning at Andy's house. Of course, I forgot ALL of my climbing gear, and only remembered the warm clothes. Thankfully Andy had a harness to lend me, and some crampon-compatible boots. We headed up to the Narrows, near Allentown PA and the adventure began.

We realize that it is a 3 or 4 pitch ascent. Sadly, there are 2 sets of axes and crampons for 3 climbers. This means that one lucky climber gets to go ahead on lead, and wrap off a top rope. Climber 2 gets to climb up to Climber 1 and bring back the gear for Climber 3, who is patiently waiting with NO gear - halfway up a 300 foot ice covered gully. Andy was #1, JF was #2, and I was lucky # freezing-my-balls-off-waiting-to-climb.

Climbing the final pitch.

None-the-less, we send the first 2 pitches with no real issue. For the final pitch, a vertical 60 - 70 foot headwall, we decide to drop down a top rope. This involves scrambling up a sketchy walk-around to get to the top of the waterfall. I have never been so sketched out. The footing was decent, but we were unprotected, and one wrong step meant you were taking a 300 foot ride to the bottom, probably in a pool of your own bodily fluids.

We finish the scramble, drop a top rope, rapel down (Andy without crampons because I was wearing his), and each send the final pitch. It.was.amazing. I felt so lucky to try something so few people on earth ever get to do. Additionally, the view was amazing, the wind was insane, I was surrounded by beautiful blue-white ice, and we were at the mercy of mother nature and our climbing / cold weather gear. I definitely pushed the limits of my fear-o-meter. But once we were in the car again, I forgot about the cold, the waiting, the fear, and thought only of getting that final pitch clean.

Windburn and chapped lips = a good day out.

We did see one guy on the ice free-soloing. He climbed right past us, finished everything but the final pitch, then downclimbed the whole thing. He didn't touch a rope. It just seems so senseless and unnecessary to me. Which brings me to the Michael Reardon talk.

Reardon: Glam ain't dead.

Four of us went to see free-soloist Reardon give a talk on his adventures at UPenn. He is a sick climber. But he also climbs without ropes or any protection. And we are talking thousands of feet off the ground. I was fascinated by this obsession, but also felt my palms start sweating every time he talked about sending a 5.12 1,500 feet off the ground.

My impression of Reardon was that he was arrogant, cocky, and completely talented. He claimed he only climbed "for himself, not to make a statement", but several times completely contradicted himself. Talking about doing a second ascent of Romantic Warrior for National Geographic, and climbing in a Wonder Woman suit to prove a route shouldn't be bolted. I think he wants to convince himself that he is only doing it for himself, but he's had a taste of the drama and he really kinda likes it. Come on, we're talking about a guy who was in a Glam Band. Either way, he's got the skill to back up whatever he says, I just wish he wouldn't say it's only about the climbing... and not the fame.

I really think that free-soloing is pretty dumb, and unnecessary, but he did provide some justification. The best being this: once you get over the fact that if you fall, you're dead, then nothing else matters aside from the rock directly in front of you. It doesn't matter if you're 50 feet up or 500 feet up. You fall, you're dead. So focus on what is directly in front of you. Focus on the moment. Make every move deliberately and thoughtfully. This, to me, is important because it can transfer to every aspect of one's life. Don't get caught up in the past, you can't change that. Don't worry about the future, that is subject to change at any moment. But the NOW, the present, you can control. Every movement and thought is yours.

1 comment:

Silas said...

Free Soloing, so little to gain, so much to lose...