Monday, March 24, 2014

Reuniting with old friends - a day at Devil's Lake.

This post was started in 2009, it's finally finished below:

The compressed snow is solid underfoot - the repetitive cycles of thawing and freezing have left it more like concrete than ice. My pack is heavy, laden with a full rack, a rope, winter clothes and a thermos full of coffee. Like an older brother, the pack scolds me for my winter sloth. As the trail steepens the snow dissipates, no longer strong enough to fight the all-day sunlight on the southern aspect of the bluff. My heart-rate quickens, and every breath burns as the crisp morning air fills my lungs. I consider for a moment that, like the snow, perhaps I too have lost the strength to face my own challenges on this bluff.

One of the things I love about the CCC trail is that after the first steep section it flattens out considerably giving me a short chance to recover. No matter what shape I am in, it is at this point that I can stop focusing so intently on moving and start noticing the beauty of the park. Familiar stones line the trail at this point, and it is comforting to know there is some small semi-permanence in our uncertain world.

After the short flat section, the trail begins to steepen, only yielding on two other very short occasions. The second of these sections comes just after passing by the Byrd (5.10d) and as you enter the Talus field proper. It is here that one can stop and appreciate the magnitude of the park, and the CCC trail. Finding myself deposited here after a great deal of effort I stop for a few seconds to absorb the power of the park. Here, above the trees nestled below, is where one can view almost all of Devil's Lake State Park. The south, west and east bluffs all tower above both the lake and valley below - the turkey vultures soar on the updrafts above the giant talus field. All of this spreads out before me, like a moving masterpiece, painted in time. My heaving lungs draw the cool morning air through my nose and the Lake smells like home. The smell changes with the seasons and the weather, but there is an ancient underlying smell that is always and only there. This smell permeates the park, and it takes years to notice it hidden among the others, but now I would know this place by nose alone.

The trail meanders through the Talus field for a short distance, then turns sharply uphill into a final steep wooded section. This is where I begin to feel like a modern day Sisyphus - always walking up the hill, or climbing a route, only to go back down to the base, and repeat again later - although that repetition is preferable to the thought of a last trip up this trail, or a last ascent of some of these routes. Sisyphus's blessing is that he lives forever, and even though every success is ultimately met with failure just think of how many times he has topped that hill out and mentally high-fived himself for the effort.

At the top of the trail I look for John and Paul, my climbing partners for the day. They had planned on dropping Sometimes Crack (5.10a) , and there was a rope there, but no one in sight. So I stood for a few moments looking around, trying to decide what to do.  Suddenly, I hear John's voice, "Yo, James - up here!" and I turn to see him standing on the cliff top above the rope. I walk around to the top and we have a brief discussion.  He and Paul have already put a rope on Peter's Project (5.7) and are getting ready to go there to warm up - a plan I was agreeable to, since my only real goal for the day is to lead Peter's as my first route of the season (after a 5 month winter hiatus that is).

So we made our way to the base of Peter's. John was psyched to lead it - while I was a bit apprehensive, so I let him have the first go. After John led it Paul and a couple of their friends took turns toproping it, while I racked gear and talked to Coach, who had just shown up. Coach agreed to belay me and second the route, and after all possible means of procrastination were exhausted I started up Peter's.

(WARNING: Onsight spoiler below skip to the next paragraph if you are going to try to onsight Peter's)

I can't say how many times I've climbed Peter's in my life, but I can say it's a big number - certainly well into double digits, and perhaps pushing triple digits - it is my favorite route anywhere, and a constant against which I can measure myself. To say I have the route (and the gear) wired would be an understatement - or at least would have been an understatement. The route is a one move wonder, and that move comes in the first 15 feet - yet people have been hurt falling from it. It starts with a few easy moves, then a big high-step to one of the start holds, then latch a jug. Next, I place a purple offset behind "Idaho" to protect the crux. After a couple of breaths, my left hand latches the top of Idaho, then my feet go on the..."Shit! Where do my feet go?"...suddenly I'm at a loss, I can't remember my own beta. Back down to the jug..."Breathe, think about it, all you need to do is get to the fingerlock." Left hand to Idaho, right foot in the alcove, left foot over the bulge, right hip against the wall, reach, further, right hand to the finger-lock, left hand to the jug, and finally yellow tcu in the crack - "Safe." At this point I'm feeling weak, breathing hard, and completely red-lining from overgripping. I hear Coach say, "It's not a race man." After getting my heart rate slowed to a reasonable pace I begin to contemplate the next set of steep moves. The rock is cold, I'm pumped already, and the holds feel tiny. I pull a move put in a piece, then repeat, and repeat again until I'm on the slabby upper section. I spice it up a little on the slab by combining shaky climbing and decent runouts, my mind works well and the world doesn't close in around me from fear. Shortly I find myself on the large ledge right before the final set of moves - which if done properly represent the second cux. I spent a lot of time gathering the strength and guts to pull those last few moves, a fall from that position would not be pretty.

After topping out I put in an anchor, and bring coach up. While belaying him I have time to contemplate the meaning (or lack thereof) of all of this, but more importantly I can feel the sun on my face, enjoy the view, and take it all in - which is ultimately the meaning of all this...

No comments: