I slowly realized – no matter the intensity of fire inside, the dark cold of northern winter will always have the final say. It’s a broad and complicated lesson to pass on, but The Mountain did so with no words at all, only cold implication.
Closing my eyes, I can easily visualize the basin above the lake and feel the freezing spray of water, whipped airborne by gale-force winds: immaculate granite soaring in all directions, limitless possibilities for alpine endeavors left to the creative mind. Stepping out of the shack, my head spun with sensory overload —the wind, the stinging spray, the contrast of earth to sky and water to storm; the world outside was raging.
Unload from the tram on top of Big Sky Resort’s Lone Peak, let the view wrap your mind with 360° exposure—the wild Montana landscape, its dramatic rise and fall of range and valley—and 99% of the time, find your eye drawn to the prominent south face of nearby Beehive Peak, centered along the lofty and jagged skyline.
That all sounds good, but it still looks crazy, right? It’s all relative—there are dangerous ice climbs and there are dangerous rock climbs. The trick is being able to recognize the difference. Ice climbing, much like skiing, is all about understanding the medium. Just as different snow conditions demand different techniques and differing degrees of snowpack instability afford greater or lesser risk, frozen waterfalls offer a broad range of conditions as well, from friendly, sun-warmed “thunker” ice that behaves like soft plastic, to cold, brittle sheets that shatter and fall with the slightest provocation.
The upper face was surreal. Between mental fatigue and our setting – dawn light stretching over alien flutings of ice, enormous snow mushrooms dolloping spines all around us, shattered seracs lingering high to our right – it was difficult to stay in touch with reality. Hours 25 through 27 were at once a dim blur of endless 60° ice, creeping trench foot, and a vibrant blend of arctic dawn colors that culminated with final steps clearing the exit cornice and gaining the summit plateau.
A Grand Scheme
The Grand Teton is iconic. Dark rock, traced with veins of snow and ice, stress the apparent challenges in reaching its summit. There is no easy way up or down. To ski the peak is a revered accomplishment for good reason – not in the least, for the imagination required to even visualize such a line. While no one challenge is particularly great, managing a descent from the summit requires nearly every trick in the book.
...I’m off again, cutting the slope hard; nothing moves and I carry my energy into a quick turn, picking up speed with edges set – the arc forms, the fall-line under-foot, eyes downhill, shoulders square, I lean into the front of my boots and accelerate. It feels good...
Easter Washington University Technical Climbing Handbook
Fear is Not Your Enemy
Arguments are quick to arise on either end of the commitment spectrum, from indoor bouldering to high-end alpinism; polarities are common in opinion, yet the baseline remains the same: whether strung out after a forty-plus-hour push on one of the world’s wildest faces, or sit-starting an indoor V0, the climber steps outside of the standard human experience model and enters a realm fraught with risk – it could be the objective hazard of unstable seracs overhead or the subjective and seemingly innocuous ankle-twisting seam in the padded floor. In any case, it is important to recognize and then attempt to mitigate the risk(s) at hand.