"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

01 December 2015

The Gem

I have been talking with Miguel Loco about learning how to ice climb for at least two years now. After all, when you live somewhere with long winters you learn to do things in said winter other than hole up inside and drink. That leads to madness, if not liver failure. There's also the fact I like climbing things, despite that I have been prone to moments of vertigo. You push through these things or you die, that is the way of it, and I have no time for dying.

Timing and lack of gear had been the excuses the past two winters. Then, I found that old, old pair of waffle-stompers. Two weeks later, Miguel acquired equally old, and hardly used crampons that fit those old boots like hand in glove. For my first forays, I would borrow things like ropes, axes, and a helmet to see if I even liked what I was looking at doing.

"He really wants to get out there, and I have a feeling once he gets going, he won't want to stop," Miguel told Sabina recently.

A few days ago, we were at his shoppe. The weather has been cold and he spoke of scouting ice. A few places he wanted to take me are starting to freeze up nicely.

"Oh, that reminds me, I never showed you this from last spring," I said, pulling out my phone and scrolling to the image of the waterfall up Mosquito Gulch.

And you would have thought I was showing him pictures of naked girls in provocative poses what for his reaction. I was tempted to tell him to put it back in his pants, for there was a lady present, as well as Sabina. He demanded I text him the image.

"Where is this?" He asked excitedly.

"Between the 730 and the Bull's Head," I said.

"I've never heard of it. Is it right off the trail?"

"Sorta," I replied and then added in a somewhat sing-songie voice; "I can take you there."

"We're so going!"

There is something kind of cool about knowing of a place one of your gurus does not. Playing guide for a guide. I would remark on that, as well as his reaction to the image of the falls. Miguel would tell me it was porn.

Ice porn...

At the falls, using a certain tall, lanky aberration for scale...

By Miguel Loco's reckoning, it's maybe fifteen feet of straight vertical. A good inaugural climb and a way to learn some technique. He told me to watch the ice and keep him posted, and used terms like farming for sculpting the ice for a better climb.

"This is great," he said. "A real gem. Sheltered and in a place you'd never find unless you do some bushwhacking. I really doubt anyone has ever climbed it." He smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "You found this, you get first ascent, and then, you get to name it."

That's the rule, apparently. Back in summer, I'd called it Mosquito Falls for the gulch it was in, but apparently, that will not do. Sabina suggested Robbie Grey's Grab. I thought of Robbie Grey's Roost, The Gem, or even Lankin's Lookout, should I want to name it for a fictional character. Or maybe I won't name it at all. Edward Abbey once bemoaned the human propensity for naming nonhuman things like mountains and canyons.

Maybe I'll tell you my decision after I bang some ice...

After our scouting, we went and had brunch. It was grand to discover we shared similar scientific interests. We parted ways on a cold and blustery afternoon and I went to scout the ice of Brown's Gulch, another place we mean to climb. It might be the only way to reach some of the ruins that can be seen along the sheer rock faces.

Yes, I am going to learn the discipline of ice climbing. I have the blood, the blade, the courage, and the gear, whether my own or what will be lent. I get a first ascent for my first time, which I wonder how many other first-timers get. I may have a new way to pass our long, dark winters. Even if it plays out I'm not into it-of which I seriously, even comically, doubt-I'll get a story out of it. Sometimes that's the greatest gem of all.    


  1. I tried ice climbing in Alaska, winter '76, out near Portage. Scared the crap out of me when I got up around 30 feet and started thinking about exactly was between me and consequences of gravity. You enjoy, though, and get some pictures.
    Heading back east to Butte this morning, think it's going to be 4wd most of the way.

    1. I think a fifteen foot ascent is a good start, see how my vertigo handles it.

      Have a safe trip. We're supposed to be dry for the next week or so.

  2. Go for it, my friend. The whole idea scares the bejeesus out of me, so I'll stay warm and safe and read about your exploits on Sunday mornings while drinking my morning coffee before dawn.

    1. As I think about it, the idea of climbing something transient, impermanent, is fascinating. Sort of like walking along high peaks in the mist and realizing it's a cloud bank never to been seen or felt again.

  3. Did ya name it yet? Because I like Lankin's Lookout! Also, I'm sorry I'm so late reading this. Finals had me under a spell.

    1. Not yet, but I shall take your vote under consideration.