This is one of the post from the second edition of BBOOKS – A tryst with nature.
About the Author:
Skander Spies is a building design engineer currently working in Missoula as a residential energy performance contractor. He was raised in
Chicago, Illinois and graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2007.
His professional experience has included major commercial buildings across the west coast, speaking engagements at national conferences,
and ground-breaking work in the area of building energy use simulation. To complement his professional work, he has developed strong
interests in information design, client education, and small business management. He regularly writes about adventure, life, and letting go of
our inhibitions in his blog http://stickthefeeling.wordpress.com
In the Arena
I was about 15 miles west of Bozeman, MT talking on the phone with my brother Friday afternoon when I noticed the road was solid ice. I ended the call just in time to see a 3-ton flatbed truck, only four cars ahead of me, complete a 360 degree turn across two lanes of traffic. I had been driving for 3 hours on my way to Bozeman to pick up Drew. We were supposed to head another 3 hours southeast for a big ice line in the Bear-tooth range, but after witnessing the truck skid in front of me, I had an icky feeling about the whole plan.
I picked up Drew, gear, and gas in Bozeman, and headed east into a snowstorm that was gaining strength. We had decided to drive to the highway cut-off and make the call whether to continue with the plan over dinner. Although both of us were stoked for the route we had picked, the thought of climbing a 3,500′ avalanche chute with a foot of fresh snow on it seemed plain stupid. We ate dinner, got back in the car, and drove back to Bozeman in the dark. While the turnaround was unsatisfying, we knew we had made the right call, and enjoyed a great conversation despite the hairy driving. Which left the question, what else were we going to do?
When Drew asked me what else I might want to climb, the first line that jumped to mind was Cleopatra’s Needle.
Cleopatra’s Needle is a Hyalite classic, typically completed in 2 or 3 pitches and can vary in difficulty from WI4-WI5+, which is not for
novices. It was also the first “harder” ice line that really inspired me to learn the craft. Drew said it was in WI4 shape, and in lieu of
getting our big line in the Beartooths, it seemed like just the thing to test us on Saturday.
It’s a long hike to the base of the route, and we felt committed to the challenge by the time we got there. The crux pillar (which Drew
encouraged me to lead) was obviously steeper and harder than anything I’ve climbed to date. The thing about pushing yourself is you
never know what you’ll accomplish until you put yourself in the arena and make a go of it. Ice climbing has some real consequences, but I knew that I could make good decisions and back off if needed. It was time to step in the arena of leading steep ice.
Towards the top of the pitch, I ran out of gas. Just below easier terrain my hands started to cramp and fail, so I fired in a screw and sat on the rope. Certainly not my preferred style, but at that moment, it was necessary. I’ve only sat on a screw on lead once before. If I’m going to learn and progress, I need to fail more often and that means pushing to the limit. After a long rest I topped out the column and built an anchor. Rather than climb easier terrain to the top, we decided to top rope the pillar, and spend more time on the steeps. It was a great day out, and I actually felt more accomplished by not climbing the pillar clean. The success was doing something I knew would be really hard for me.
On Sunday, even though we were still a bit sore, we went back to Genesis I. Genesis I offers a variety of terrain- low angle to super
steep. We burned 3 top rope laps each on the steepest section we could find. It felt good to practice the craft.
The drive home was uneventful, except for an unbelievable sunset. I love this state.