by Chris de Serres
I never sleep well on climbing trips. A mixture of anxiety, disorientation, and that pine cone protrusion in my back leaves me floating in that in-between place. Not asleep. Not fully awake. Just barely aware.
I’m just drifting along. I try not to look at my watch. The alarm is set. If I look now time will just infect my every thought.
The time to climb will come. I must let it.
2am. No one in camp is stirring, so why should I? I wonder if they are all just laying here, pretending to be asleep.
2:15am Fuck it. Time to start the process. I change my clothes without ever getting out of my sleeping bag. It takes talent. Once I unzip i’m committed.
2:30am I unzip the bag. All of my hard won body heat dissipates into the cold morning. I sit up and reach over for the banana and bagel. The only food I can keep down in the pre-climbing dawn hours.
3am My body is now ready to release it’s contents. This is not very elegant when done by headlamp. I fight the natural urge to break out into a sprint after bowel movements. I do feel lighter somehow.
3:30am I’ve checked and rechecked our gear. We leave camp as I worry I left something behind. Did I leave the stove running?
It’s pitch dark out as we descend to the valley floor with headlamps. Periodically a demonic tree root jumps out at me, trying to thwart the mission. I hear a dramatic thud behind me as the root finds it’s first victim.
4am We get lost. Was that the trail back there? Not sure if doesn’t look like a trail? Fortunately GPS technology saves us.
4:20am We arrive a brook. Our last water resource for the rest of the trip. I fill my tummy with cool, glacial meltwater. I fill up my camelback to the brim and we are on our way.
It is still and quiet as the valley slowly wakes up. We hear what sounds like low flying jets at the top of the pass.
5:10am We can now hear the jet blast quite clearly. The forecast called for winds of 10 to 20 mph. This couldn’t be right.
5:30am We crest the ridge. Strong winds blasting at us head on. My mate yells out something, but I can’t hear a thing so I just continue on.
5:40am I’m fighting for every step now. The wind is knocking me off balance. I reach for trees and boulders to yank myself forward.
There goes someone’s hat down the ridge into the abyss.
5:55am We reach Stuart Pass and huddle in a rock shelter. For laughs we stick our head into the jet winds and back into the shelter for comparison sake.
6am The group begins to debate our sanity. I hear things like “we could still do it, but it’ll be really slow” to “fuck this, I wanna go home!”
I visualize myself higher up on the ridge, crawling on my hands and knees. Mountains HAVE been climbed this way, just not by me.