Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zen and the Art of Suffering

The early morning was calm and erie, there was a thick cloud limiting our view to about 30 meters. It wasnt what we´d hoped for but there was still alot of adrenalin running through our veins so we got our battle gear on, Jake wore everything he had, prepared for some long belay sessions, I wore all I had except my shell pants, the mistake that was the catalyst for my recent enlightenment. It was cold, the sort of cold that keeps everything dry, why woulld I need shell pants.
The pitch´s above were covered in rime ice, the driven snow would be stripped from the rock except for the tiny features on which these tree like formations grow directly into the direction of the wind.

These formations made free climbing impossible even if it was possible to free climb in the -10 degree C temp. I was back in dogging mode(sorry guys aid mode). They weren´t the crux pitch´s so it didn´t seem like such a loss of classic free climbing times. After 3 pitch´s I was out of the protection of the massive roof and suddenly confronted by a cascade of spindrift pouring over a pitch of water ice complete with a big stalactite of ice.

It was impossible to aid in the traditional sense but also not possible to ice climb due to the ice being too thin to get purchase with crampons. The only solution seemed to be to find placements for my ice tools in the very narrow crack, clip an etrier into the bottom of it and step up I managed to continue like this for some time until good old familiar rock was gained. The rest of the pitch was a mixed affair of aiding and improvised ice tool hooking.

During the eternity that the pitch took to complete Jake was witnessing a strange change in the weather, after the spindrift cascade slowed the snow on his gloves started melting at a crazy pace, I too realised there were now small trickles of water cutting there way through the snow in places leaving the rock completely bare. ´Great´ I thought ´rain is our friend up here, cleans all the pesky snow away´. Jake jugged the pitch and I got into the next one, now the cliff was running with water, I was wet, very wet and was starting to realise the limitations soft shell pants have when it comes to water repelancy. I was damp but nothing seemed to dampen our new steely resolve for making good of a not so good day. We started to think again that maybe we´d discovered something no-one else had before, the weather may not be all blue skies and sunshine but who says we can´t knock off 5 pitch´s before lunch?
By the end of that pitch the rain and subsequent snow-melt-waterfall was becoming a joke, I fixed the rope and rapped back to Jake. We left the tools and lead rope there for tomorrows foray.
Rapping back down the next 4 pitch´s saw the water force its way through my pants and up my jacket until I was thoroughly saturated. Back at the portaledge I contemplated for quite some time while Jake followed me down the ropes about how to get my wet clothes off, open the ledge and get inside without saturating everything inside. In the end no ideas came to mind so I clambered in shoes and all, stuffed the sleeping bags to one end and began to undress down to my thermals. By the time jake had done the same the tiny space had become a sauna, the steam was that thick, and just about everything was wet.

We got into our bags and lay our wet clothes over the top in an attempt to dry them. Jakes clothes were mostly dry so this method seemed like it might actually work. After seeing all my clothing, like every peice of clothing I had on the wall, do a great job at saturating my sleeping bag and inturn me as well, I gave up on the idea and decided to stick with just trying to keep warm for a few hours before embarking on the drying process.
The rain soon turned back to snow and the temprature began to plummet. I was wet to the bone and my drying process was somewhat thwarted by the laws of physics that seemed to dictate that the evaporation occuring in and on my sleeping bag was counteracted by the subsequent condensation of that moisture on the walls of the portaledge fly which then began to drip back down onto me. At the same time the strong updrafts were pumping snow in through the small vents of the fly leaving a white covering over every surface.
Now this is no fair weather portaledge fly it is an all weather expedition fly made for the worst weather in the world, on thinking about this and the fact that it was struggling with the conditions, I realised that we´d really put ourselves out there, we were a long way off the deck, it was just the 2 of us, no-one in base camp, the radio we had brought had as yet failed to reach anyone when we turned it on at the end of each day and I was starting to do some fairly wild shaking.
Jake realised the state I was in when he asked if I could reach outside to get some snow to melt for dinner, to which I apparently said through blue lips that I can´t get it but if you don´t want to get it I´ll happily wait till tomorrow. In the bag was managable, just, the 5 and a half days of forced downtime already on the route and the countless days waiting in the cave had got me used to enduring these less than comfortable cicumstances, out of the bag, even reaching for something sent chills through my body and would trigger another uncontrollable episode of the shakes. For me the following day passed far less coherantly than any of the other forced ledge days, my body seemed to be struggling quite hard to keep warm and sleep came easy most of the day.
Jake was in charge of all the cooking, 3 times throughout the day I´d poke my hand out of the sodden sleeping bag and spoon something warm into my mouth.
The following day was much the same, breakfast came along with my 40th hour of shivering. The day passed slowly and being the 14th day on the wall (technically our last day of food, however on all the ledge days, much to the dislike of Jakes appetite, I´d been the snack nazi and made sure we only ate the bare minimum, this gave us an extra day and a half worth of food) conversation focused around what to do next. We had a day and a half worth of food, we were only half a day from the summit but we´d probably need at least 12 hours to descend if nothing went wrong and I was still shaking. We were starting to experience the bitter flavour of defeat, the voices of the naysayers began echoing strongly in our heads, it was hard to keep the thoughts from drifting to where we´d gone wrong, the times we´d moved too slowly, the apparent fact that we we´re too small a team with not enough rope.
We thought about where we were and what we´d already managed to accomplish given the adversity of our attempt, our whole approach for that matter and tried to be rational. We looked at the facts and it was clear, we were at the whim of the weather but that is what this place is about, it is what we came for and what we were starting to become at ease with, all we needed was for tomorrow to be good and we could make the summit and start our descent. If not, that would be that and we would just have to start to descend with the first break in the weather.
I shivered my way to sleep with the alarm set early and tried not to think about what was riding on the next days weather.

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