Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vision Restored

"Accept your situation in the mountains and in life," I think to myself. Waves of puffy clouds spin over Fitz Roy and tumble across the lakes and deserts far below. Calm, warm air embraces my tired body, but my mind twists and my heart wrenches. With so much beauty around me the tightness in my chest makes no sense. My inner self asks, "What is your problem?"

Joel Kauffman on his way to Pier Giorgio

Two days ago, Joel Kauffman and I high fived on the streets of El Chalten after separate escapes from the spreading winter in North America. Blue skies set a frantic pace of stuffing packs and hitting the trail towards our first objective, a new path up a broad fortress of granite and ice called Pier Giorgio.

Fresh quads and calves carried us to the start of the glacier, where a pasta dinner and excited conversation accompanied fading light. Only a few hours later our boots crunched up towards Paso Cuadrado, a rocky barrier that had to be crossed in order to reach our route. Although Joel had been over the pass many times, I had never witnessed the view. A bowl of cracked ice and snow was hemmed in by the western breaches of Guillomet, Mermoz, the mighty Fitz Roy, and numerous other spikes of granite, and aqua ice falls. Of course, I was blown away.

Moving over Pason Cuadrado...what a view!
Photo by Joel Kauffman

Within a few hours we had chosen the smoothest path through a chaotic scene of hanging ice cliffs. Joel kicked up to the intimidating bergshrund, twisted in a screw and begain looking for a place to pull through the bulging snow. One half hour later he was only eight feet higher, digging a trench over the lip, searching for something solid to grab the tip of his axe. Although his effort was futile, it was a proud. The climbing looked desperate. My heart, so wonderfully inspired only an hour before, began to sink into despair. "This isn't how it was supposed to be," I thought.

Bailing always hurts, but the pain is sharper in Patagonia. Good weather can be rare and taking advantage of each clear moment is a must. After deciding to remove ourselves from under the warming, drooping bergshrund we sat on a patch of granite under Fitz Roy, roasting in boiling sunshine. All of the sudden our ice addled minds realized the weather window was actually one for dry rock climbing. Unfortunetely, we had only brought one pair of rock shoes into the range. Our heavy boots and serious crampons did not lend themselves to a light sprint up a rock ridge. Knowing we had played our cards wrong hurt even more. Unhappiness and negativity swirled in by brain. "This might be the only window I get and I blew it" or "Everyone else is sending" are examples of my unruly thoughts. Even the beauty around me felt like a terrible nightmare. It really seemed a taunting titty-twister of a situation.

That evening I lay in my sleeping bag questioning my unhappiness. Why couldn't I be thankful just to be here? Why did my ego demand I climb the right routes? Could I only love myself if I accomplished my goals? Why did I care so much? Over the course of the starry night I tried to find peace. I began to realize that perhaps my vision was out of balance. Was it not enough to have the good health to be here? Was it not enough to witness the setting sun meld into a jagged skyline of rock and ice? Didn't I already know the mountains always win? That when we do stand atop a summit, that it is not a conquering feat, but rather a gift from the mountain itself?

Both photos by Joel Kauffman

"Look at this man!", I yelled down to Joel. He smiles knowingly. Two days after our discouraging failure, we've pooled our meager resources and chosen to climb an easy, but classy rock ridge up Aguja Guillomet. Although no where near the challenge we had originally sought, the route still brings me the head space I always strive to be in. Golden plates of tilted granite are broken by perfect fissures. The cracks take my hands like an old friend and lead me over pillows of rock, through breezy cols, and up laser incisions. The tightness in my chest is long gone, replaced by the feeling of freedom I always seek in the hills. Even though the route is not one I've dreamed of, I accept the gift of a summit and feel peace in my heart. My vision is restored. I can see again.


Blake said...

Congrats on Cumbre #1 Jens, way to roll with the punches, and good luck in future windows! I think you picture is NOT cuadrado though, but somewhere near Filo de Hombre Sentado. Cuadrado would be out of view just left of frame in the distance.

Marty said...

Good to see you're still climbing-Marty Bland