Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fourteen Months or "the last climb"

Fourteen months. I’m living in a tiny apartment in downtown Denver with my mother - We’re just a short walk from the hospital where I’ve spent the majority of my time since being diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia fourteen months ago. There was a brief moment of overcoming and joy following a successful bone-marrow transplant in February. During the initial weeks post bone-marrow transplant I was so weak that a walk around Cheesemond Park in Denver was enough to bring me to my knees and I remember pissing thick bloody clots of tissue for days on end and vomiting from the pain… I remember watching my dad cry, helpless as I lie in a ball on the bathroom floor amid my own blood, urine, and vomit. 
Although it takes years for the body to recover from the lethal doses of chemotherapy involved in a transplant, I was back on the sharp-end just forty five days post transplant, and what a sight I must of made huffing and puffy my way up sandy 5.7 bolted routes at Garden of the Gods… In the coming months my recovery remained steady and it wasn’t long before I was climbing 5.10 trad routes again and pining for a real adventure.
By summertime I felt well enough to climb easy multi pitch routes at Lumpy Ridge. The short approaches and moderate terrain was perfect rehab and I enjoyed several pleasant days out climbing with friends or soloing, literally rejoicing in my good health and good fortune. But still I longed for a real adventure and a return to my beloved high-country. When the bug bit it was easy enough to find a partner in my friend Kent, a top notch individual and a fine person to boot. I was keen to step away from our usual RMNP stomping grounds and climb something remote and unique. The S. Buttress on Haimovie Tower, deep in the Indian Peaks Wilderness bordering RMNP’s West Boundary seemed like a fitting objective and Kent (ever patient) was happy to oblige me. We met at the trailhead late in the afternoon and hiked the steep and endless trail towards our bivy beside an alpine lake at the foot of our chosen peak.  What a joy it was to be humping heavy packs and talking shit with an old friend. We enjoyed a picturesque bivy in a meadow beside a lake which was coming alive with feeding trout. In the time it took me to pitch my sexy little tarp-shelter in conjunction with my even sexier carbon trekking poles, Kent had chilled a six pack of Dale’s in a little stream and we settled in beside a delightful little twig fire as the stars invaded the night sky. We shared a small meal, sipped our cans of beer, smoked our cigarettes, and talked about life - about cancer, stem-cells, women, and of course women. We would have made fine cowboys, I like to think.

A warm morning greeted us and we took our time rising, brewing cup after cup of delicious coffee. I was already tired as shit from the previous days approach and knew my ass was about to get worked over. We racked up in camp and approached the general line we intended to climb – both Kent and I had forgotten the topo – and a broken buttress of endless granite lay before us. We intended to simul climb the route with myself leading most of the pitches. I set off on some foreseeable line and enjoyed excellent stone and position up the buttress. It felt wonderful to be climbing in the mountains again. My chosen line was more difficult than I had expected, so I climbed slowly to compensate, following various corners and cracks through brilliant folds of granite with the occasional section of choss. There were a few sections that felt steep and challenging in my weakened state and I had to commit to solid moves on suspect rock high above my last gear. These were wonderful moments and they reminded me of all the routes past, all the previous times when I’d overcome my apprehensions and committed in confidence to the moves that lay ahead of me. It’s these fleeting moments of focus and control that draw me to climbing and always have.  By mid-route I was exhausted and passed the small rack over to Kent. We followed a beautiful ridgeline for several more pitches of excellent scrambling and low 5th class climbing, ending on top of the tower by noon. We snacked and enjoyed a fine view of Lone Eagle Cirque and the greater Indian Peaks Wilderness. Big gracious shapes, storms building to the west, the sound of our hoods rattling in the wind – time to go home. I am elated repacking in the meadow, but the hike back out kills me. A week later I’m planning a solo adventure in the same vicinity. I’m mulling over a map at a bar in Fort Collin when I go to scratch my beard… a large chunk of hair detatches from my face and glides in slow circles to the ground. Something is wrong. My stomach twists into a knot and deep down I know that it [the cancer] had returned. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Death

Death has been on my mind for over a year now. Most days I feel like I’m merely observing life from a distance, watching the steady movement of clock arms and the shapes of passing clouds from my bedside window. There is no risk involved in my actions, I lie in this bed all day everyday with no real life to lose, surviving from one blood or platelet transfusion to the next… instead it feels like death is ready to swallow me whole. It surrounds me and fills my days – death – death is the space that I am eroding away into. I’m a hoodoo in the badlands waiting patiently for the rain and wind to wear me down to the ground. I suspect that I will welcome death when it comes because I will no longer have to think or feel. I'm bald, my skin is ridiculously pale, and my cock is limp and useless. I no longer look at woman with lust or longing or wonder - This Is Death - there is no passion in death, it is simple clean and pure, it does not discriminate and it does not judge. Death is like big sky country on a moonless night. Death is simply space moving in.