Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Knowledge Route

My climbing mentor and I couldn't have been more different than one another. He slept with a gun under his pillow, frequently pulling it out, and soloed like he was pointing it at his own head.

I felt lucky though, because he liked me, the town hippie, and he was willing to show me the steep side of ice climbing around Valdez, AK.

When I first met "The Climber Who Shall Not Be Named" he had just soloed, Keystone Greensteps, Bridal Veil Falls, Simple Twist of Fate, and The Glass Onion; in his first three days in Valdez.

Some of the locals were pissed, because that's Valdez. Who was this guy? Did he ask permission to come in here and crush our routes? These are the biggest climbs we have. Damn him.

The guy had Montana plates, and looked to be living in his truck in the winter. Kindred spirits, I thought. I walked up immediately and asked him….. WTF dude? Where's your partner?

Like any good recluse, he avoided bragging at all cost and looked at me and said, "don't have one, just kinda made my way up." He didn't even know the name of the route he just crushed. I did.

I lived in a shack just up the road from the canyon. I asked DG; my ski partner, landlord, and resident sourdough, if our new friend could join us and stay at the compound. He said yes.

Then I made another no-brainer. I asked to go climbing. I said I had three years experience, was self taught, my gear was outdated (even for 1999), but that I would be willing to follow anything. Trouble started with the next breath.

Let's hop on Royal Ribbons, he suggested. My heart fell out of my ass and ran away. Royal Ribbons I trembled. Right now? I'd never climbed a multi-pitch mixed route. I don't even think I knew what mixed climbing was.

The climb looked spectacular. A 150ft pitch of beautiful blue/green ice leading up to a roof, where the ice ends as it emerges out of cracks in the rock.

From there, the climb traverses right on loose rock for 30 feet to reach a tiny ribbon of ice that spills down a blank vertical wall from above, for a pure 100 feet of perfect climbing. The Royal Ribbon.

I remember thinking, this is my first hanging belay, and shouldn't there be more than two ice screws. And when buddy kicked off a huge piece of ice on the second pitch, and it started oscillating at 150mph, making a loud hissing noise as it arced through the air…..

Well that's when he started screaming. At first my ass fell out again, but then I realized what he was saying. THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME!!!!! Yeah it was. I saw this huge grin, and about a 50 foot run-out from his last piece.

Welcome to the real world of ice climbing, I thought. Now let's pass the initiation exam….. It lasted two years.

I know that I am lucky to have found an old school, old world, and traditional coach in the sport of climbing. Funny thing was; he's 2 years younger than me.

HydroMonster; Yellowstone NP.  2010

Well now the exam is over, and while my mentor moved further into the AK bush to quietly push the limits of extreme alpinism; I moved back to Montana, and have been holding classes of my own.

My first attempt at mentoring ended poorly; with a broken leg, a ten year limp, and my best friend moving to Sacramento.

But then I met Kyle Rott. A goofy 17 year old kid from South Dakota that wanted to climb so badly, he was willing to try anything. Ice, rock, big walls,,,, he wanted to climb it all. So we did.

Maybe someday Kyle will start holding classes of his own, but he might have to move out of his truck first.

Kyle Rott, Avalanche Gulch, 2014

The Prodigal Dirtbag warming up on the choss in Hyalite Canyon.

Kyle of Expanding Horizons, during The Bozeman Ice Fest

Making it to the ice on Expanding Horizons.

1 comment:

  1. I love your stories about the climber that shall remain unnamed! Wouldn't it be wild to go find him now?!