Monday, April 22, 2013

Slave of Adventure

A short piece that I am integrating into a larger piece; this regards a solo alpine climb.

Slave of Adventure

Sunrise floods the snowy forests east of Mt. Hood and the summit of the mountain flares brilliant gold and white. High on the face I pick my way between leaning towers of rime ice the size of apartment buildings. They glow a sweet pink where sunlight strikes their tops, and between them is the cold blue of winter snow interrupted here and there with knobs of black rock. When I kick my boots into the snow there is a satisfying crunch or thud, but when I use ice axes on the rime pillars ice shatters and tinkles away downslope. I do not look down often; the snow drops away so steeply that if I fell it would be a hundred feet before I hit the surface, where I would tumble two thousand feet down to the glacier. As I climb toward the light my iron crampon points screech when I use them for purchase on rock. I remember being on this face during a storm a year earlier. Snow and chunks of ice had flown horizontally, driving me and my partner to retreat. This morning the mountain is still and silent except for the occasional and sobering clatter of falling rocks, a lifeless sound that freezes me in motion and halts my breath until it fades below.

Climbing alone demands focus but here I am dangerously distracted. Lyle has recently died somewhere nearby. He was also climbing alone and it is easy to imagine his gasp as he comes free of the face and falls. Falling mountaineers scream in the movies but on the few occasions that I have fallen in the mountains I have been silent and felt not fear but rather a thorough embarrassment. I have never met Lyle but have recently by telephone learned of his disappearance on the face. The body has not yet been recovered and must be with a mile of me, probably somewhere in a crevasse below. It's winter, with high avalanche hazard, so rangers are waiting to find Lyle's body during the spring melt, months from now. I hope not to find Lyle snagged in rocks here high on the face, but that is possible. In the last decade over twenty people have fallen from the buttresses and faces on this region of the mountain so that here I am moving carefully through a sort of graveyard. Mountaineering is normally this callous; the clear and cold conditions were perfect for this kind of ascent and normally came only once per winter, so naturally I climbed, regardless of Lyle's disappearance, and with little more thought for the many dead in this region than a general contempt for their incompetence, an ugly sentiment that is usually swiftly mugged by remembering that a single mis-step or simply being struck by falling rock or ice could easily place me among the ranks of the dead. So this gruesome distance that I carry for Lyle and the other dead of this immediate area is not without its function as it prevents me in some measure from making the mistakes that have killed them, some surely more skilled than myself.

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