Friday, March 02, 2012

Mad Rock Climbing

As a young man I overcame a fear of heights by learning to rock climb and mountain climb.  I spent many of my best days out in the wilderness (long before cell phones).

My last big climb was Mt. Ritter in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I never climbed at the level you'll see in the video above. However I did some free climbing in Canada that took me right up to the edge where life was one breath at a time.  (Experiences I never shared with my parents!)

This is a shot taken in the Selkirk Ranges of Central British Columbia summer 1974. In the background are the peaks surrounding Glacier Circle.

It took a long trek across a glacier to get to this spot, on the flanks of Mt. Sir Donald.  We climbed until midnight, but ran out of energy.  Spent another tough windy night high up before descending to the little valley of Glacier Circle. There we found a Canadian Mountain Club hut stocked with survival provisions for climbers.  Just 23 visitors had signed the register in the past two decades. WE Spent a few days re-cooping in comfort.

My climbing partner Rico and I spent as much time as we had climbing in this area.  Most of the first ascents were made by Norman Clyde back in the 1930s.

We'd lugged 100 pound backs up the trail.  Too much weight in climbing gear and not enough food.

When the time came to leave we ended up making a 20 mile cross country hike on empty bellies.  about half way back to the main trail we came across a glacier swollen river.  The swirling muddy white water boomed with big boulders swept down river.  Fall in meant death.  We found a steel cable slung bank to bank and use it to cross.

I recall getting vertigo as I hung upside down pulling hand over hand along the steel cable as it cut half way through the carabiner holding me to the line.  I went over first.  Then Rico rigged our backs and I brought them over. Finally Rico made the crossing.  It was good to be alive and on the other side of the creek.

Crossing this river was one of the crazier things I've done with my life.  I remember hiking another 5-6 miles with an empty belly.  We came across an empty Canadian forest service cabin. The crew were on the job, but had left the remnants of breakfast stacked on the sideboard.  There must have been a pound of prime bacon!  I recall some plums in syrup as well.  It was one of the best scavenged meals of my life! 

Later on the same trip I was solo hiking near Banff.  I'd heard of a great fishing lake 25 miles in.  The rumors were true.   

This was in August of 1974.  While I was in the back country Nixon resigned and Ford took over.  I heard the news from other hikers as I trekked out  (filled with fish and the calm resolve of a week of solitude).  It was a good time to be out of the country and deep in the wilderness. 

The following year I returned to British Columbia to climb in the Bugaboo Range.  I went out alone, hoping to find a climbing partner on the mountain.  As it turned out no one would climb with me so I set about climbing solo.  It was the most challenging climbing of my life.  It meant the world to me to be able to climb up the face of the Hound's Tooth free of ropes and worries about the world at large.

This shot was taken by a member of a Polish climbing team that followed me up the Pigeon Spire. They were training for a climb on  Aconcagua  in Peru and invited me along.  As it happened, I was in the Bugaboos as a consolation prize.  I'd been hired to cook as part of a climbing team going to Aconcagua that summer, but was replaced at the last minute by a Spanish speaker.   The irony of getting another invite to Peru on a mountain top in British Columbia was not lost on me.  Unhappily the Polish team was useless. They were under-skilled and downright dangerous.  No way I'd climb with them. 

Crossing the glacier to get to the approach and climbing route up Pigeon Spire was exciting.  I crossed solo several times that week.   

The Canadian Mountain Club maintained a climbers hut on the edge of the Glacier.  For a few bucks a day you could lay down your sleeping bag in the big Quonset hut at the base of the climbs.  It was an international spot filled with climbers from around the world. I was part of the brotherhood for several weeks of literal high times. 

All of the above was recalled spontaneously after viewing a rock climbing movie.  Friday, March 2, 2012.  (37 years after all this wildness.) ~ Dennis

1 comment:

Rick Gauger said...

Jeez Dennis. You were a Mountain Man! Amazing shots, and daring crossing. I love it! Show us more !