A climb in the Rockies
With a 530 alarm, we made our way to Morraine Lake. Bundled up for a cold morning in the Rockies and a bit stiff from sleeping in the truck bed for two nights. I prepared eggs and coffee while Hayden packed our gear. Eager hikers gunning for sunrise photos darted past us. We scanned them for climbing gear, skeptical that another party would be aiming for our intended summit..As we entered the alpine, haze from the forest fires blanketed the mountains and made for an almost eternal sunrise. We hauled our gear up 2500′ over 6km through colorful forests, lakes and 360 views of the Rocky Mountains. As we continued up to the Pinnacle mountain – Mount Temple col, the Grand Sentinel came into view. A towering 400 foot quartzite tower, the most prominent in the area. Goosebumps rose on my arms, it was the culmination of 4 months of our first real summer of climbing. Smith rock, Squamish, Skaha, Revelstoke, the Rockies and now back to accomplish the big goal. With Hayden starting an engineering job in Nelson, this was our last chance and we lucked out with the perfect weather window.
Descending the pass, we began to question the approach. The faintest trail was in sight along a scree slope, made up entirely of loose rock. The trail was barely visible because it had been continuously wiped away by rockfall. Fortunately, we left early enough that the heat hadn’t began melting the snow and releasing rocks.
As we entered the path, the mood went from psyched to serious in seconds. Communication became rare, used only when necessary. Adrenaline pumping, we both began to question our desire to do the climb. Although, knowing each other, we kept those ideas to ourselves and pushed on.
We made it to the safe (ish) zone, dropped packs and both understood the worried look on each others faces. We pretended to be psyched, not wanting to let the nerves get the best of us.
After a summer fueled by Trader Joe’s coffee, we’d decided to have one last cup at the base of the climb. We boiled up some water, ate our sandwiches and both asked how we were feeling. “Good, ya that was sketchy but we got this”. Knowing that saying anything else would only generate more doubt than we already knew existed.
After staring up at the looming tower, we realized carrying a camera bag, lunch and extra clothes was not realistic when climbing up the sheer vertical slopes (hence the iphone photos). Jeans, long sleeve and a power bar it was for the 4 pitch monster.
We entered the ledge, already 150feet up, I looked up at the first bolt, legs trembling, hands shaking. We rock, paper, scissored for the first pitch. I’d been on a losing streak lately and for once hoped it would stay that way. It didn’t, so I roped up, opted for a hug over a high five this time and went to work.
Elvis would have been proud by the shakey legs we maintained through the climb. The first pitch was graded at what I would have no doubts climbing on a normal day, from the ground. But suddenly when you’re looking up at the exposed corner, then down a 150 + feet to a rocky scree, then surrounded by towering peaks, loosely glued together with flakey rock, everything changes. My arms tensed, my mind started playing tricks and my confidence dwindled. I took deep breaths, made one move at a time and inched my way to the first anchor.
Hayden cruised up the first pitch, knowing the hardest pitch of the climb was on him, up next. Our minds were clouded with fear at that point, having never felt anything like that in my life. He made his way up the next sustained pitch which held potential for some gnarly falls, especially amongst the jagged quartzite that made up the route. If he got through this, we’d be half way, giving me slight comfort. Although, at that point, I had begun convincing myself that it was okay to bail, I can always come back.
He made it to the anchor, we were halfway there. My arms got a rest as I belayed and after watching him making the first few tricky holds, I knew how to tackle it. I climb far better when I talk to myself, sing or grunt (loudly). Noticing I refrained from that on the first pitch, I let it all out on this one. I began to trust the rock and more importantly, myself. The moves started to make sense, hard but doable. I met Hayden on a small ledge below the 3rd pitch.
I almost shit my pants on the first pitch and I think Hayden was about the same after the second. We both looked at each other, knowing we were being pushed outside our comfort zones. I think we both considered bailing at that point, just wanting to be on flat ground again. We got close to the breaking point but after a summer climbing together, we knew we were safe and it was just nerves getting the best of us. We knew the subtleties of how to ask if we were alright without actually asking the question. The crux (hardest part) of the route was said to be above us. I was worried about my arms getting too tired since not climbing enough in August. I had myself convinced there was no way of getting over the massive roof I saw 30′ above us. But, we’d made it that far. Hayden was moving, winter was coming, our epic summer of climbing was coming to an end and we were halfway up our ultimate goal.
I started talking, then singing, then grunting and mixing it all up to get through the next pitch. Hayden came up to meet me and had a tired, worried face on looking at the last pitch, leading up to the top of the thin tower. The most exposed section of the route, climbing a flat vertical face with nubbins for footholds and two finger ledges for hands.
We pulled it off, both summiting on the sketchy ledge, covered in loose rock. We both were convinced the entire tower would come down. So we yelled at the top of our lungs, high fived, took our ‘selfie for the moms’ (which we never actually show our moms) and started the descent.
The way out was sketchy, with refrigerator sized blocks tumbling down the route we had taken in, we opted to reroute via a somewhat more protected route, which added length to the hike but necessary for our well being. After a long, strenuous day, we made it to the lake, the safe zone, free from rockfall. Packs off, sandwich in mouth and a face wash. We both couldn’t describe the day we just had, the rollercoaster of emotions we went through and the culmination of a wild summer.