Rocktober

Sipping on sweet chai, I drove north along the Matanuska River while the wind slipped through the barren trees and buffeted the windshield. Across the flood plain a spindrift of dust swelled up and obscured the opposite banks and the haze glowed in the low angle light. The skeletal forests cast long straight shadows across the pavement creating an endless ribbon of black and gold. The contrast, as crisp as a barcode, was staggering and beautiful.

 

This past week, my motivation for climbing was about as low as the charge in my car battery, but in the glory of the day I was rejuvenated. The conditions were perfect. I left the wind whistling in the valley 1000 feet below and in the newfound stillness the air was neither warm nor cold. I took in the blue sky, the golden light, and the dry leaves crunching beneath my feet. So often in Alaska the summer ends with the beginning of an unrelenting winter, but this was as beautiful an autumn day as one could ask for. I reveled in the mysterious third season as I hiked. I had abandoned Long Lake since early June, but the path I wove from the frozen creek by the road felt familiar and I soon found what I was looking for, a small platform that marked my project from earlier this summer.

Heffalump V7

I recalled the hours spent scouring the face of the boulder: chipping and scraping the rock; brushing the moss and dust from the holds; cutting and hauling dead trees to build the landing. I had video of the entire process, but it was all useless without the conclusive send. It was go time. My cold, achingly tight tendons and joints creaked as they engaged the start hold. Whoa, it was time to stop being an idiot and do some warm-ups.

While stretching I assessed the landing. Conditions were perfect except for the thin pad coverage draped over the rickety scaffold comprised of dead limbs. I gave it a dry run and bounced on it like a trampoline that concealed the pit six feet below. It was solid, but I wished I had a spotter or another pad. The pads were arranged to best protect a fall from the top which I had not yet touched. I really did not want to test my pad placing abilities, but there was nothing else I could do so I put the idea out of my mind.

And so I pulled onto the rock and felt the cold, friction on my tips, as I worked the technical crimps and easily reached a chossy new high point on my second go. The hold crumbled beneath my fingers so I bailed and brushed the feature as best I could with the pole fully extended. Then I set up the camera and started rolling. Each subtle tweak and twist fell into place, as did every delicate crimp and thumb catch. Pulling again onto the choss hold, I high stepped and put all of my weight onto it as I slapped the lip for a bump that I knew was there. My fingers engaged the invisible hold above me and I instinctively moved my right foot up, but found no foot holds. I reached my right hand up and snatched at lichen, my left hand began to shake. I wasn’t terribly high, but my head began pulsing with an unspoken mantra, “I do not want to fall, I do not want to do this again.” The world around me faded away as I focused on the rock.

 

Finally I pressed with my toe and by standing up a few inches I was able to flip my left hand to a palm press. From there I brought both feet onto the slab near my hand and the calm mantra relented to an internal scream. My heart was pumping and my body was trembling, the consequences of facing real fear. I imagined myself tilting backwards, missing the pads, and lying there beneath a boulder that no one knew about in an area that only I had visited this year. But it was passing vision. My toes delicately pressed into the rock and I stood up and grabbed for the safety of the top, done with the FA  of The Heffalump V7. The magnificence of the my surroundings returned and I drank in the sweet nectar of sunlight. Shortly after the thrill had subsided I went to check the video and then I realized my mistake of not erasing the card before starting it. I had missed the whole thing, rendering all of my previous footage useless. So I did it again.

With my project done I went in search of easier, safer, sunnier things to climb. I found a beautiful a new boulder and did a few fun lines until the sun shifted and it went into the shade. I found an old project of mine and ticked it off of my list. I ended the day in brilliant sunshine where the hill overlooks the road, and I repeated a few more problems and then sat in the sun, still blown away by the late season climbing and the lack of snow and the brilliance of the sunshine.

Sunshine

Sunshine

 

The weather is supposed to hold through the next weekend, so cheers and Happy Rocktober.