In the dark of early morning my alarm sounded. I sat up slowly on the edge of my bed and slowly my brain started to catch up. As I sat there I desperately hoped that yesterday had been a bad dream. Attempting to believe that the worst had not happened. I slowly moved my shoulder and reality sank in. What I feared the most had happened, my shoulder dislocated AGAIN… I was promised that it would not come out unless I injured it again. Yet somehow while climbing yesterday it slipped out or maybe just sublexed. It wasn’t even during a hard move where I did something stupid. I was simply moving my arm from my waist up to above my shoulder. Nothing particularly strenuous and I felt that familiar muscle tearing, weird sensation of dislocation. Sitting on the bedside my optimism crushed, I was really down.
This entire summer had been incredible, the climbing was so inspiring and exciting. My body was in the best shape of the last 10 years, strong and fit I felt free of worry about my shoulder. I could launch and land hanging on my left arm and have no worries about it. Climbing, something I love, was back and feeling decent. Not up to the standard I used to have in the nineties but getting pretty solid again. I was getting out 3 nights a week and really loving it. I climbed my first 5.12 in years and it was relatively easy, 4th try on lead.
What was even more exciting was the alpine climbing, it was something I had never really done and was incredible. The combined years of all my ski mountaineering had honed my alpine skills. To climb these routes safely was so complex and challenging, so many things to consider to be successful. The second you approach a mountain the senses have to be on one hundred percent, always watching and calculating. It was so engaging.
I had dreamed of climbing Downie for ever, but never really thought I would or could. But since things were feeling so great, I joined up with Darek and attempted to climb the north ridge. We had little beta and I was going to learn a lot from him. He is a full mountain guide and very particular about safety and will always suggest a better way to do something. So I knew I would learn a lot from him. But we ended up getting rained off and going and sport climbing. Which is when I sent that 5.12. Then a few weeks later Dave and I joined up and headed to Downie peak.
This time we were armed with a little more beta and were planning on going directly up the ridge. All we knew is that it would be around 5.9. This was from the hardcores that had climbed it on a whim in a long 13 hour car to car mission. So the beta was better but really still quite vague. I thought the crux was the first pitch so I got Dave to lead it. It ended up being a super long 500 foot simul climb that brought us to the first steeper pitch. Which ended up being mine, a cool corner lead that was somewhere around 5.8-9. Near the top I disloged a large rock that flew down and crashed into Dave’s belay spot. Luckily I had shouted and he had ran away and all was fine. But the hazards where huge. The pitches continued on for awhile, long simul climbs for Dave and steeper leads for me.
At one point I was in a cave where I had to step out and around with thousands of feet of exposure, it was so intense and amazing. It felt great! My next pitch I ended up searching for an easier way instead of the direct way and found my self out in chossy rock, poor protection and loose stuff every where. Gripped for a solid hour I worked my way up and back to the ridge. When Dave joined me I realized we could not go down and had to keep going. It was quite a moment to realize that there was no down, no real escape, climbing upwards was the easiest way out. Eventually the pitches got easier and we cruised up the ridge. I finally got back at Dave and lead a 1000ft of simul climbing and stopped under the next steep pitch. He led away
By now things were awesome and we were getting near the summit. Finally the summit ridge was snakeing its way up. After hours of vertical climbing the final stairway was excilerating. Narrow, thousands of feet of exposure on all sides. It was a dream for me, the summit so close and the situation so REAL.
Nine hours of continuous climbing and we were on the top. OHHHH Yahhh so great, no ski lines of this baby, so an amazing alpine day was needed to summit it. Then 5 hours of descending brought us back to the car, 16. hours and 15 minutes car to car. Wow…
Now I sit on my bed and wonder whether I have lost this alpine experience. With a dislocating shoulder I don’t think I could safely do something like that again. Is it really a lost love ? I cannot express how much I wish it to not be taken from me again. I can only hope that my shoulder just sublexed and somehow I have to keep it stronger than I was…. I really do not want to loose this new found passion for alpine and or old love for rock climbing. I am not sure what I did to pull it out again but restrengthening and tensor exercises will be a must and try again next summer.
Part of me wonders whether there is someone I wronged in my past that has a voodoo doll of me. And when they know I am feeling great they just pull out the left shoulder to keep me grounded…
Inevitably when people ask me why I play in the mountains one of my answers is “ the endless challenge”. Which is very true; no matter what level of mountaineer you are there is always a challenge that will test your mettle. This progression is what keeps it all so interesting. You can always improve, always get better and always have a challenge that will fulfill this new level. To remain stagnant is not what I am living for. To push myself, my boundaries, my skills to new levels, that is what makes living fun.
This is why I have loved ski mountaineering for so long, I have always been able to find new challenges. From my daily goals, to my year long challenge of 2 million feet, to harder and more difficult lines. It’s endless, I feel like I have met my goals in terms of endurance so I am now furthering them on the ski mountaineering side. Using more and more rope work to access remote lines. Increasing the complexity of the situation as my knowledge and skills are developed.
Now it is summer and a way I can progress my ski mountaineering is to improve the “Mountaineering” part. To go and climb large vertical walls, big mountains and get familiar with the exposure and intricate rope work needed to make it all safe. I have mountaineered a little in the past but never really a lot. Sir Donald, Uto, easy 5.1-5.4 days where you travel through the mountains, but the climbing was never really a huge part of the day. Well its time to change that. And this weekend was stage 1 of that change.
I have skied off Mt-Macdonald, down the south side, which was 2 different great days. But I have always wanted to climb up this imposing wall. The trans canada drives directly underneath it and my neck usually hurts from craning up to look at it. The line Dave and I wanted to climb was the North West Ridge Integral, it goes at 5.8 with stellar quartzite and 16 pitches of climbing if climbed to the summit. It looked amazing!!
The mountain is named after John A Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and seemed like a perfect thing to attempt on Canada Day weekend.
At 4:10 am Dave and I left the truck all ready for our mission. With few details on the approach we wasted 30 minutes bashing through alders, devil’s club and stinging nettle to get to the herdman avi path. Boot packing up the snow we made it to the bottom of the climb in 2 hours.
I wanted to get right into it and started my first trad climb in 14 years. I immediately followed to nicest line and found myself getting gripped. Wanting to get the climb under way I pushed up a little higher and started placing a cam behind a flake. As I pulled on the cam to test it I watched the 500 pound block flex with the pressure.I stood there and debated whether this was acceptable risk, the type I was going to have to take all day to be successful. I decided it wasn’t and downclimbed back to Dave, feeling that I had wasted a good 30 minutes on a lead nowhere!?? I looked up and chose an easier start. Soon enough I was climbing up through stellar rock, hand jams everywhere, great gear and fun movement. Once past one of the first 5.8 pitches we simulclimbed through more moderate terrain. Incredible horizontal edges, combined with great cracks and solid rock had us climbing huge pitches where the leader would go until he ran out of gear while the follower would clean after him. If there was a cruxy bit and anchor would be placed and the flow would continue.
Dave and I worked well together and push hard, powered by clif shots and bloks we had energy to burn and never really stopped.
It felt like we were climbing non stop, and 8 hours later we were nearing the summit. We found a great chimney and worked our way through it and to the summit.& non stope pitches.
A quick relax, change out of the climbing shoes and time to down climb our way home. Pretty wicked descent down the snowy herdman (where I wished I had gloves on) and some serious glissading down the snow. Then the shorter river crossing back to the car. 11hours later.
Crushed and pumped by the day we enjoyed a beer while dreaming of where we could progress ourselves next time.
Like all my fun adventures I use a Suunto ambit 2 to follow them. this oen looks pretty wicked on Suunto maps or google earth.