Saturday, 12 December 2015

Caution: Fresh Coconut Juice, Tropical Temperatures, and Tigers can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health

For years, the object of my desire.

I truly believe that if you haven't seen this view, you are wasting your time in the Canadian Rockies.

My wife was sleeping with another man. It was not a situation I could liberally turn a blind eye to. She told me she was falling in love with him, her married-with-kids boss at the fancy heli-ski lodge where he'd wanted her as more than an employee. She told me not to come back. How it had come to this I had no idea. I'd left the mountains two weeks earlier to head to the coast on my seasonal migration for work. I was faced with months of straight labour and my reality was shattered. Something had to be done to change my mental state. As before, I turned to the mountains for peace and solace.

At work on the remote west coast of B.C. my mind raced looking for a solution. I would wake with a heart rate of 120. Like an animal caught in a trap, I manically searched for something new to give my life meaning. Always attracted to alpine climbing for the deep spiritual experience it offers, my mind took me back to the next most intense experience I could recall, to the North Face of Twins Tower in the Canadian Rockies

The most impressive spot in the range.
I had met my wife in the days following my first attempt to climb the Twin. I returned to my climbing partner's rental home with a hand the size of a softball and a new respect for rockfall. It had made an impression on my psyche, bailing down that face with a broken arm. My jalopy van was parked at my buddy's. The owner of the rental future wife. I guess there are some benefits of being an addicted alpinist. That was 5 years or so earlier.

Early on any Twin adventure you realize you are entering a special zone.
By the end of the summer I finished a purgatorial 110 days of coastal tree-planting. My new reality as a divorced man was about to begin. My coping mechanism was simple; head straight to the spiritual well, the Black Hole of Mounts Alberta, Stutfield, and the Twins. After moving my stuff out of her house I would avoid contact with anything that would remind me of my ex and head into the mountains to meditate. Trip after trip had me hiking the short 3 hours to the MacKay hut, and then further in to the Black Hole to stare at the North Face of the Twins. Could I find renewed meaning on that dangerous limestone canvas?

It gets more real as the sun rises.
She had told me she was attracted to me because I was pursuing my passion. We dated, went to the climbing gym, went ski touring, did all the middle of the road activities most couples can do together. None of which were as exciting as attempting the North Face of the Twins. But really, I hear Kevin Thaw dragged his girlfriend up The Wild Thing for its third ascent, but that wouldn't have worked in our case. I grew to accept and began to revel in the idea that I was beyond taking absurd risk, that I had matured and grown into my true self.
The rockfall relents once you exit the gully.
Slowly, as before, the mountains of the Rockies began to bring me peace in my heart. Little by little I began to relearn that there is joy in the mountains. They serve more than to be a place to challenge one's existence. One day I saw massive spontaneous rockfall explode from one of the vertical walls mid way up the Twin. Anyone anywhere on the lower half of the Blanchard route would have been instantly killed. I abandoned any idea of climbing the wall. With a renewed lust for life I realized there was a more moderate option, the North West Ridge, the unrepeated Abrons route. It was a perfect compromise for my older, wiser, mature self. It fit the person I knew I had become, rather than the impossible caricature my ex had taken me to be.
 Not many established routes take you to this vista.
She had told me she had jumped ship for her older, established ACMG boyfriend because she felt secure with him. I scared her because I took too many risks. What? I was the guy who'd broken my arm on the most notorious North Face in North America, and she was surprised I took too many risks? Well, forget about that, I had a new life to live.
Some absolutely abysmal Rockies choss. Takes a  special person.
Returning to town after my mountain seclusion I rediscovered the warmth and magic of making climbing plans with new climbing partners. By the second attempt with the second new partner we got it right. On the rope was the editor of this magazine. I'd always made fun of Brandon for being so boisterous about his climbing, so psyched and loud and jazzed about it. He made lighthearted company up a serious route. Laughing at the rock quality was the only thing to do. As the rockfall floated by some of my stress and worries of the summer fell off my shoulders too. Years earlier on the North Face I had not understood what Steve House meant when he wrote of the “mind of the observer”. Now I accepted the rockfall for what it was. I accepted Brandon for who he is. I accepted my ex for whatever it is that makes her tick. And I accepted myself for whatever risk I choose to take and whatever mountain I want to climb.
The famous Black Hole.
That night saw the most amazing meteor shower I have witnessed. Many wishes were made.
We crossed the Columbia Glacier having made the 5th ascent of the Twins from the Black Hole. Getting lost and sleeping on the glacier in the early morning, we returned to the highway to make a two day trip highway to highway. It wasn't the most rad climb ever, it wasn't the North Face, it wasn't “world class”, but it sure was fun and adventurous. It brought peace to my mind and new friends to my life. And as a younger wise friend put it to me after, “That's what it's about anyway”.
If climbing doesn't make you smile why do it?
6 months ealier:
 Caution; Fresh coconut juice, tropical temperatures, and tigers can be hazardous to your mental health.

This story first appeared in Gripped Magazine. See

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