Not Second Rate, Just Third Class
Glenwood Falls - 1/13/16 - words and pictures from Wyatt Payne (@chronic_case_of_living)
Yesterday I felt that I had to adjust the volume on all the life crap that feels like it is trying to eat me alive. Sometimes I just need to feel anything but numb. To be totally present in the moment, and take a vacation from the thoughts of debt, fights with health plans, not having a "REAL JOB", and yeah even relationship stuff as long as we are being honest. All this is just life, and sometimes it gets way too damn loud in my brain. Do not get the wrong impression here. I love my life and would not trade it to be anybody else. All my friends are best friends, my family is unbelievably supportive, and there has never been a woman present that was not absolutely wonderful. The things that I've seen and done may be more than any one person should be able to claim. True there are loads of issues that suck but that is not why I climb. I climb because I am called to do it. Climbing is life for me, not how I escape from life. Please don't assume I have some sort of death wish. Actually it's quite the contrary. I seek out beauty, simplicity, and to really know what I'm made of. In short, I have a life wish and plan to continue breaking the needle off of the fun meter to the very end.
The night of the 12th, my buddy Bo told me that “The Glenwood” was in, and in fantastic shape all the way up to the final pitch. He had climbed it with his daughter a few days ago when they got to the final pitch and bailed. He said, "It looks climbable, but not protectable due to the ice being so chandeliered". For those of you who don't climb ice, that is when the ice forms up in delicate tubes, and disconnected segments like a crystal chandelier in a ballroom. Obviously that is not ideal for climbing but with enough patience and delicate foot-work I've found that I can usually locate trustworthy sticks on heavily chandeliered ice. The problem is I have to move extremely slowly, and that is not very helpful when you are managing muscle fatigue on vertical to slightly over hanging ice. A better climber can surely do it faster but I gotta play by my own limitations or pay for it dearly.
Up until recently the only mention I would make of a solo was just to my ticklist on Mountain Project where I would record the date and that I "Third Classed" a particular route. This is because I feel that soloing is a very personal undertaking that really can only be appreciated or understood by an extremely small group of individuals. That's why it's called "soloing". It is just you confronting the unknown and unpredictable situations with little or no ability of escape. To intentionally face such serious situations is one of the most liberating, educational, and empowering experiences I’ve found. Soloing something that is not dialed in to the point of muscle memory requires you to really analyze and make all the physical and psychological decisions and adjustments required without a potential “do over”. It requires you to slow down and actually be totally present in what is happening. It's that total presence in the moment that really draws me to climb. I never want that feeling to end.
I told myself I'd solo up to the cave just before all that last pitch nonsense, and take a look. If I didn't feel like playing Russian roulette on the last pitch I was trailing some 70 meters of 7 millimeter cord that I could use to V-thread the ice and rappel out from below the crux. The line that looked most workable to me unfortunately ran directly up the tallest section of that head wall and stayed in a bit of a runnel. It seemed like the line with the greatest probability of secure stances which would allow the time needed to find trustworthy placements for my tools. That was the line I liked but one minor drawback to this otherwise delightful plan was that there would be no stepping to the left and getting to safety until the very end of the pitch. If you look at the picture of the flow the last pitch starts out of a cave on the left with a few human sized icicles hanging there. The closer you can stay to that overhang the better the opportunity to dodge off to the left sooner. The line I stayed in is the first faint blue streak to the right of the cave. I have no idea how long that section took me to lead. I just told myself that I would do whatever was necessary to always have at least one solid pick placement before moving. I'm not sure if I have ever worked so much to actively control my emotions on a pitch of soloing.
Our society loves to hate people that they see doing something that makes no sense to them. They want to call them crazy, or say they have a death wish. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth than saying I, or anyone else that solos has a death wish. I have a life wish, not a death wish. I want to cram as much living into my life as humanly possible because it is very short and I have no desire to say that I left anything on the table when it's done. I've always lived like it was going out of style, and yes my diagnosis with MS did heighten my sense of urgency on that front.
The best explanation I've heard was from Dan Osman's father. He talked about how Samurai would train with weapons that were not lethal. Eventually they would put down their wooden swords and walk into the unknown with little else than their training both physical and mental. For me it comes down to that "To be or not to be" type of dilemma. It's the ultimate challenge. Am I enough? Do I possess the fortitude to do what is necessary in that situation or will I crumble under the weight of it? Unfortunately, even if you do everything correctly the circumstances of the situation can still cause your demise. When we are talking about ice those circumstances and variables become exponentially greater which is why every ice climber or kayaker will tell you that ya don't F#@K around with water.
Every so often I’d look down behind me and see my tagline hanging plumb below me and not touching the flow for most all of that final pitch. I knew a personal melt down would absolutely result in a horrific ending, which lets say I was less than psyched about. So as they say. "Slower is faster", and it seemed that the plan to be in that runnel was paying off because it did give me more opportunities to stay on my feet, and balance better. Anyone who has climbed knows there are situations and positions you get into where you will never be able to reverse the moves you have made, or make some play for safety while you are in it. Sometimes the only acceptable way out is up, and as nauseating as it was, that moment of realization arrived quickly after the first body length or so into the pitch. Part of me lives for that moment because there is no more second guessing. That’s the “To be or not to be” situation, and It's there that you find out what you really have inside. That would be the slow methodical fight for every stick that felt solid enough to take weight which hopefully would get me another step closer to safety.
Every inch up where the pitch let off and I could sink both of my tools into trustworthy low angle ice at the top of the flow was a battle to control my mind, balance, and the pump clock. Knowing I finally gained a reasonably safe stance I shot the pics of my 7mm trail line hanging free over the six hundred feet of Ice below, tried to take it all in, then figured out how the hell I would get back down.
The Glenwood allowed me to climb straight up to the very point that the water starts flowing, which reminded me just how amazing this life is, and how insanely blessed I am for all the people and experiences that make it what it is. No one could ask or even hope to cram more living into 35 years than I have. I also realize what a burden being witness to some of my shenanigans can be as well. For that I'm so deeply sorry, but ya gotta admit no matter what is going on life with me is not boring.
"The edge ... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over." – Hunter S. Thompson