When it rains, it pours – as they say! I’ve been working feverishly on multiple book projects and have also finally tackled learning various Adobe Creative Suite programs including Premiere (video editing) and After Effects (more video editing). To go with those, I’m also learning to use Audition (audio editing) and Story (script writing and scheduling) and you can see why my head is spinning! I’ve also been busy behind the scenes organizing a new website for a big storytelling festival here on Vancouver Island (happening summer of 2016)… so I’m learning how to build a Wix website that includes a shop for tickets and links to all the mandatory social media tools – which means setting up new twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ accounts…
Add to all that work-y stuff several visitors are staying with us at the moment (from Switzerland and Australia) so my calendar has been full, full full for the past couple of weeks. There is also a chance I’ll be heading off with the Ocean Legacy crew on August 3 for ten days or so of remote beach cleanup on the Brooks Peninsula, a very cool wilderness trip I’m super excited about but for which I have been scurrying about gathering necessary items in my spare (!) time – stuff like a decent lightweight backpacking tent and bear spray and some parachute cord. You can see why this final Joy post has been pushed aside a bit…
I had grand plans for integrating some spiffy video (you know, because of my newfound skills with Premiere), but the learning curve is steep, so that isn’t going to happen in a hurry – for the moment, stills and prose will have to suffice!
So, Joy – I think I left things hanging as we approached the top of the slab some ten or so pitches and about four hours after hiking in from the parking area and then wobbling over the talus approach (see the earlier posts – Joy Part One and Joy Part Two). Which is about where I’ll pick up the story.
When I think about climbing up mountains I think about climbing up, as if getting to the top is going to be the big effort.
In the case of Joy, dancing up the slab was actually pretty joyful. The problem is coming back down. Because there are no permanent rappel anchors you’d have to abandon your temporary gear up there if you used ropes to aid your descent. Even though it isn’t super steep or anything, a slip would mean you could bump and slither your way down the slope for quite some distance before friction stopped your descent.
I shudder to think where you might wind up if you tripped or toppled over and started rolling.
Anyway, without ropes to stop you from cartwheeling into oblivion in case of a fall, the only option is to exit through the back door. Except the back door on that part of Mount Indefatigable doesn’t lead to a handy escalator or a paved road or even much of a goat track. The top edge of the slab sort of crumbles away into this narrow ledge and lump, which is where Anne and I waited while Fabio took the other ends of the ropes and picked his way along the most ridiculous of non paths I have ever encountered. The rock was terrible – crumbly and fragile. At some point he put a foot down, shifted his weight and the lump of rock he had been about to stand on gave way and ricocheted off into … I have no idea where it went. Over the edge and down, down, down. I couldn’t see where it wound up, but judging by the ever diminishing sounds of its endless descent over the back side of the mountain, it must have fallen fifty miles or so. If one of us went over…
I had plenty of time to think about the perils of missteps and loose rock as I was to be the last one to traverse the tricky you-call-that-a-ledge? ledge. That meant I had to sit and wait on the exposed lump at the end of the mountain until Fabio had found a decent place to anchor the ropes for me and Anne and then for Anne to pick her way along the edge and around the corner to safety. The good news was I got to enjoy the spectacular view over the slab and into the valley for the longest of all of us.
The bad news was that the wind had picked up and I could feel the mountainside vibrating below me.
I thought mountains were big, solid things until I sat on one that was quivering. Not long ago a chunk of El Capitan peeled off Half Dome, a thousand foot tall slab of granite that keeps an eye on visitors to Yosemite. The chunk wasn’t something insignificant like something the size of a fridge or a couch or even a bus. The monster piece of granite that ‘flaked’ off is estimated to be about 100 X 200 feet!! (If you want more details, there is no shortage of articles about the incident online. Here’s a link to one from ABC News.) It was probably quivering before it let go!
So anyway, I was sitting up there thinking about glaciers calving and mountains cleaving and rock slides like the Frank slide that carry enough debris along with them as the mountain exhales and sheds a few billion tons of excess weight and wondering how long I would stay conscious in the event that the mountain did fall apart under the weight of my backside.
Was I going to be the straw that broke the back of Mount Indefatigable?
I decided that I would probably black out in sheer terror if my perch dropped out from beneath me and that at most I would have maybe a minute to feel exuberantly, gloriously alive before the falling rocks buried me.
I could only hope that something big clunked me on the head early in the going so it would be over as quickly as possible.
With thoughts like these wheeling slowly through my mind, I watched Fabio first place temporary gear in tenuous, crumbly rock and then think better of his plan. He climb up to a point above us and out of sight but where, he shouted back down to us, he found a much better place to set up an anchor. Secured from above by a rope, Anne made her way along the precipice and around the corner, Fabio flipping the rope over the sharp rocks from his vantage point above.
Once Anne was safe, it was up to me to disassemble the anchor we had used to ascend the final pitch and then follow along. Having a task was great – I took apart the slings, snapped carabiners to my gear loops and pretended like I was getting comfortable up there ‘just doing my job.’ And then I set off.
What is amazing to me is how sure-footed a person can be when a gaping space yaws beneath one’s backside, when there are no holds to speak of (I grabbed a rock at some point and it came away in my hand. I tossed it over my shoulder and tried not to count the seconds before the noises it made while falling finally ceased), and when one looks down (mistake!) and realizes the ‘path’ in places is only wide enough for one’s toes and the ball of the foot and arches and heels are being nicely cooled from the draft below.
What choice does one have in a situation like this but to keep going?
Slow and steady breathing on a regular basis, resisting the urge to grab, lunge, or leap – or the opposite – freeze, refuse to move, and curl up in a little ball, crying. Not that there was any room to curl into a ball and crying seemed a bit pointless, but I could see how people could react exactly that way when one’s reptilian brain threatens to take over. The fact is, with that top rope in place, I might have missed a step and fallen a few feet. I might have dangled for a few seconds before regrouping, climbing back up and continuing on. There wasn’t actually any real danger at this point, but the body and its fierce desire to stay alive and out of trouble can trick you into thinking ‘this is it! Say your good-byes!’ and for someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience in such situations on the top of fragile windy peaks, it was all a bit unnerving.
Had serenity and a pleasant stroll back down to the parking lot been the end of this expedition, well, I could have wrapped up this blog post right about now. But the next section was what they call a ‘challenging scramble’ which, translated, means, “You have got to be kidding!” At this point the other two really put me to shame, marching along a narrow goat track, seemingly oblivious to the kilometre (? I’m not exactly sure of the distance, but that’s probably not so far off) drop just to our right. At some point Fabio decided it was best to short rope one section, a technique where the leader basically puts the followers on a short leash so that if he feels one of us losing our balance he can lean against the wobble and help the vertiginous regain equilibrium. To me, this seemed like a good way for a wobbler to pull all three people off the mountain in one fell swoop as he was not actually fastened to the mountain by anything more than experience and the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.
Thankfully, this bit didn’t take too long and after we used ropes to back us up though a rubble-filled chute (probably not necessary – at this point I was feeling confident enough that I would have tackled that without out support) we emerged from the worst of the endless end of the climb.
Getting over that hurdle was still not the end of my troubles, though. Though the terrain lightened up a bit and shifted from loose pile of rock to something rather grassy and alpine meadow-y, we were now in prime mosquito and grizzly territory.
Honestly, I don’t know what was worse – the clouds of mosquitoes that immediately found us and settled on every inch of exposed skin or the shocking numbers of bear diggings we found in amongst the wild strawberry plants.
We could not step more than a few feet in any direction before we saw evidence of bear activity. Fresh digging. Heaps of scat. We all got very noisy, especially Anne and Fabio who sang and whistled and called and shouted so there was no chance that we would accidentally stumble on a bear with its head in a hole rooting around for succulent grubs (or whatever it is they were digging for). The bear population is so dense in this corner of the Rockies that the Mount Indefatigable Trail has been closed since 2005.
It had rained the night before (which might explain the mosquito frenzy) and the steep slope was slippery making it necessary to proceed carefully, though I would have preferred to jog (sprint?) through to get out of the way of any bears curious about the approaching singers. This bit of bear meadow was followed by a LONG scree gully, down which we had to slither/ski, trying to stay close enough together that lose rock (or falling people) didn’t gain enough momentum to take the others out and far enough apart that falling people didn’t take each other out.
And, by falling people, I mostly mean me.
Between my arthritic hips and wounded arm (I was worried about losing my balance and falling on it, even with the brace) I was a) slow and b) hopeless at this ludicrous sport. Imagine trying to stay upright while timing each step on a still fairly steep slope while everything around you is shifting and sliding. Scree is a dreadful mix of gravel and smallish stones, all of which start moving along with you as you go so your descent is precariously accomplished atop a modest landslide you can only hope doesn’t get too terribly out of control.
Descending the back side of that ruddy mountain took nearly twice as long as climbing up the front of it and by the time we reached the trail leading back to the car I have to say I heaved a huge sigh of relief! That said, by the time I reached the car maybe half an hour later, I was scheming and plotting where I could go to work on my scree ski skills and how I was going to learn about placing gear and how long it was going to be before I could get back up on another mountain.
My theory is that a similar mechanism to the one that allows women to endure childbirth more than once was at work because these days if anyone asks if I found joy on Joy I don’t hesitate to answer, “YES!” And really, does life get any better than finding a way to a high point where one can look back on the valley below and consider how far one has come? Even better, do all that with fine company and good conversation and it seems to me that whoever named the route Joy knew exactly what he was doing.