It's been a busy couple of months, and I've not been doing a good job of keeping you current on what I've been up to. It's hard to believe that I've already come and gone from Chamonix. I can say with certainty that France is a very glorious country, and Chamonix might just be the crown jewel. It may have helped that I finally got to be with Colin again -- he'd been in France since March 11. The time flew by but there was much laughter, good food, friends, and of course, mountains. I'll tell you more about it when I finally find the time.
But, in the meantime, I wanted to share a link to the most recent edition of the MEC Outsider's Journal they've titled, Pursuit. As with the last edition, I contributed to the journal. Here's a link to my story, The End.
I wrote a longer version to the article linked above, so I also figured I'd share the long version as well, -- just in case you're bored one day and don't feel like watching TV. Unfortunately, I don't have time to include very many photos, but I promise my next post will be photo heavy from my time in France.
As I write this, I’m sitting out a stuffy Air Canada flight bound for Vancouver after another Patagonia season has come to a close. This was my fourth trip. I think I’m beginning to form a habit. But this time, as I reflect on the season, I do so with trepidation. This was to be the last adventure in my two-year hiatus from reality. Recall if you will, I quit my full-time desk-job in June 2012 and made a promise to myself to climb until the bank account ran dry.
The bank account has run dry. So, as I put pen to paper for this little season recap, I ponder how these next few months, and years, will play out. Two years seemed an eternity away as I packed my life into boxes and moved out of my apartment in Squamish at the start of my journey. How quickly will the rains of the coastal home I’m returning to wash away the memories I’ve accumulated over these two years? Am I the same person?
At least with certainty, I can say that this season, I’ve become a better ice climber.
This Patagonian season was not exceptional by any stretch. Riding on the heels of last seasons near perfect weather, I had visions of doing high-fives on the summit of Fitz Roy after climbing 35 pitches of warm granite while wearing a tank top. Authors note, Patagonia is never so civil as to allow safe passage to its summits with merely a tank top on, but it was a nice fantasy all the same. Instead, this season my skin barely saw the sun, I had sharp objects strapped to my hands and feet every time I went climbing, and I didn’t get to wear the dress I’d packed at all!
In a range of mountains known for some of the worst weather conditions in the world, Patagonia really shone this year. The winds blew ferociously. They blew at night, they blew during the day, they blew in the sun, they blew in the rain, and they blew in the snow. The wind is the Patagonian alpinist’s worst enemy. For the first time in my life I witnessed ropes thrown in preparation to make a rappel, not fall down the mountain at all, but rather blow directly horizontal into the void.
When it wasn’t blowing hard enough to rattle one’s grasp of sanity, it was raining biblically. The rains would soak us down low in town, but when the clouds raging around the mountain summits finally cleared, it revealed whole mountain faces covered in snow, plastered there like spray on Styrofoam, by the blasting winds.
Climbing became an act of shear determination. In two months, there was not a single day offered up to the alpinist that was sunny, and free wind. So, we buckled down and prepared for battle every time we headed into the mountains.
I was not born to be an alpine climber. I come from southern Ontario. My fingers get cold easily, and ice scares me. So, in a season befitted to the hardened alpinist, I was finding small successes by summoning the courage to go climb the now snow and ice covered mountains. Each successful ascent considered an SFA, otherwise known as a Sarah First Ascent.
On one particularly marginal good weather window, Colin, my hardened alpinist boyfriend, and I headed into the hills. Colin wanted to solo an ice route that had recently come into condition on the east face of Aguja Guillaumet, go figure, and I wanted to climb Guillamet’s classic Amy Couloir. So, we formulated a plan to make the most of the tiny weather window. We’d wake at 2:30 am from our bivouac below the mountains, hike to a high pass, where I’d put on every piece of clothing available, and wait while Colin climbed his route. He’d then descend the mountain, return to the pass where I was huddled in a cave waiting for him, and I’d take the sharp end and lead us up the Amy Couloir. Seemed reasonable enough to me?
So, as the sun rose, I kissed Colin goodbye and watched him march across the glacier, a lone figure in a sea of snow and crevasses. Colin solos a lot, so this is a feeling I am becoming accustomed to, but it’s still an odd emotion, watching your loved one walk off into the white void, alone.
But, like clockwork, two hours later, from my perch I could make out a small figure down climbing to the bergshrund below the east face of Guillaumet. By the speed at which this figure was down climbing the steep snow, I knew it could only be one person, Colin. By 11:00 am we were roping up to head back up Guillaumet for my turn. It felt awesome to stand on the summit after leading us up the mountain in full winter conditions, climbing the whole route in crampons and boots. This was a big win for this wimpy sport climber, and another SFA!
After waiting out another week of horrendous weather, Colin and I hiked back into the mountains, this time to try a little known peak skirting the edge of the vast Patagonian ice cap, named Aguja Volonqui. The mountain had yet to see a full ascent to it’s summit, and on a previous visit to this part of the range, Colin had spied a climbable looking ice chimney splitting the mountains northwest face.
I was getting used to summoning all the give’r I had to go climbing in the little windows of weather Patagonia was offering up. So it was no surprise to me when our alarm went off at 2:30 am, and the wind was howling. We began our trudge up the glacier to the base of the chimney regardless, hoping that the winds would abate a little as we climbed.
Graciously, Patagonia allowed us smooth passage as we climbed the narrow ice chimney to the snowfields below the summit. And, as we descended from the summit, I congratulated myself on another successful SFA, climbing with crampons and ice axes the whole way. Perhaps I’m beginning to like climbing with all these dangerously sharp objects strapped to my appendages?
The remainder of my Patagonia season continued on in much the same way, digging deep in the wind and rain, and finding satisfaction in climbing the “little guys” of the massif.
Now, there’s a house waiting for me in Squamish. My friends, and new roommates, Susie and Eric have been moving my stuff in. And, I’ve been talking to a potential employer, and things are sounding very promising. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a house and a job waiting for me when I was ready to step back into real life. I am very lucky. As the plane takes me further and further from my Patagonian home, I can feel my focus shifting. I’m looking forward now. The future is whatever I make it.