Fun And Games: Ice ClimbingJosh Lee, Sunday July 1st, 2007
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“Belay on!” my partner informs me, as I begin to tie into the climbing rope, which will be my umbilical cord for the next hour--assuming I last that long. I check all of the straps and buckles on my harness, and glance over those on my belayer as well. I slip on my gloves, and grab my two ice axes. The beginning of the climb is rock, meaning I have to try tool, finding small ledges and cracks in which to place the tips of my axes and crampons. I have done this section before. After one final tricky "dry" move, I come to the crux of the climb. Hanging about a meter out from the rock face is a sheet of ice, about fifteen centimeters thick. I latch my left ice axe into a crack in the rock so that I can pull out to reach the ice, and then move my legs up so that they are level with my arms. I take a deep breath.
A group of students waiting on the next climb over begin to cheer for me. I hear one of them say "that takes so much pure strength" and my resolve is bolstered. One more deep breath. I enter “the tunnel”. I can see only one thing -- the ice that I must conquer. I can hear only the wind rushing through my jacket. I feel the brisk chill wherever it makes contact with my skin. I take my arm, and with as much might as I can muster I swing my free axe into the ice sheet, so that I am stretched between the rock and the ice, my body completely horizontal.
I’ve got it!
On all of my previous attempts it was this move on which I fell. Without hesitation, because my stamina is quickly waning, I remove my left axe from the rock it is wedged in, but my feet fall loose. Hanging by one axe on a thin sheet of ice, I don't know if I'll make it. I let out an enormous bellowing shout, and pull my self up on one arm while simultaneously swinging the other axe, landing a perfect shot, and I can feel it sink in. I have avoided a terrible “barn-door” situation (where the climber falls while holding on with one hand) -- or so I think.
I hear a noise dreaded by all climbers. "crack". I did not spread my weight enough, and the ice sheet begins to crumble. I scramble to support my weight with my feet, but the rock face is out of reach, and the entire column of ice vibrates, then crashes down.
I expect to fall a few inches and then bounce to a stop, saved by my rope, but instead I just continue to fall. Because of the shape of the waterfall, and my failure to pay attention, the rope was tangled on an ice formation below, and was slack. I fall, taking up the slack in the rope quickly, but reaching the ground even more quickly. At the last moment I stop, and the stretch in the rope leaves me bouncing, upside down.
My nose dips into the snow on the ground as I dangle there. I am unable to speak, or even think. I become as frozen as the ice I fell from. And then my lungs remind me that I should breath, and so I snap out of it, and inhale. I check to make sure I haven’t soiled my pants - I haven’t. I pull on the rope and upright my self, then untie and sit. I look at my belayer, and then at my other friends, and simultaneously we all begin to laugh. It is all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and so far, none of us have been injured, at least not permanently.