Why I Climb Ice -
Walt Whitman, while working as a nurse in Union hospitals during the American Civil War wrote that “death loses all it’s terrors” after seeing “so many cases where it was welcome and a relief”. Those words swim to the surface of my conscious as I walk the halls of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. A hundred or so people crowd the waiting room of the Leukemia Department and I recognize myself in all of them: their grey skin, their yellow eyes, their thin frames and bald heads. These are my people. Fifteen months of facing death and being surrounded by death has only embellished my cynicism and eroded my bitterness. Still, at my home in Colorado I abide to a resolution of delusional optimism by sharpening the picks of my ice tools (I haven’t swung my tools into anything other than two by fours since I was diagnosed with Leukemia fifteen months ago). I’ll likely never feel that satisfying “thump” of placing my tools into plastic-ice ever again, and still I sharpen my picks and study photographs of the ephemeral ice smears I admire. In retrospect I feel fortunate having learned to climb by driven and competent men, allowing me to have climbed as many lines as I have. Still, I dwell in my disaster and fixate on the one’s that got away. A whole lifetime’s worth of melt-freeze, melt-freeze, season after season, defeat after defeat, the miles walked over talus and through drifts accumulating to a distance equal to that of walking to the moon and back, all for the chance to climb something beautiful and dangerous, impermanent and unique.
Things can always get worse. There really is no bottom to the depths of suffering, but I have learned that through it all we somehow find within our selves the courage, strength, and humor needed to carry on. We can dig so deep, and then deeper still when facing our personal tragedies, and we have the ability to view those tragedies as opportunities to grow as individuals. We seek out the lines on mountains that call to us in search of the same opportunity, and by accepting risk, overcoming discomfort and hardship, we are allowed fleeting moments of Nirvana, of grace. This is why I climb ice. My wanting for more routes, more fruitless treks, more screaming barfies, more defeats and occasional moments of success has kept me going day in and day out through what feels like a lifetime of suffering. A slow death is calling me and I know she’ll be a welcome relief when she arrives - whether that be in this hospital bed or years from now in the mountains where I have searched for and found dazzling smears of ice that appear for a number of hours on the flanks of granite walls and then disappear in a matter of minutes beneath a fierce western sun… I hope it’s the latter.