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A Lesson In Suffering

Updated: Mar 2

It was dark, cold, and above else, miserable. The wind violently shook the car. With clumsy fingers, I finished lacing up my boots and stepped out into the howling black of the night. My hands were already freezing and my toes felt numb. The sound of crunching snow underfoot reminded me of the 'squeak' styrofoam makes when touched. I knew the approach. I had hiked this way hundreds of times, although, something about today felt different. The cold! That had to be it!


The normal quick jaunt to Mills Lake seemed to take forever in the overcast, grey sky. No spectacular sunrise today. It was so cold I had started to believe the sun didn't even exist. What were we doing up here?

I had heard many horror stories of the the approach to the Rocky Mountain National Park classic, All Mixed Up. As normal, I was convinced it would not be as bad as everyone said. I was very wrong! The words post holing, flailing, groaning, and suffering didn't even come close to describing the misery of wallowing through waist deep sugar snow for 1,700 vertical feet. For every step we took upwards, the snow put us back two. The path we excavated was quickly back filled behind us as the 60 mph gusts concealed all traces of human activity.


Two and a half hours after beginning up the slope of misery, we stood at the base of our objective. The ice looked much thinner than expected. Today, it was more mixed up than normal. A quick snack, some water, and the chill of the wind brought us back to reality; we were here to climb! After trying to take pictures with numb hands, I realized that my camera was frozen. How was I supposed to update my Facebook from a belay ledge?

I stepped up onto the slabby gneiss with delicate tool placements. The scrape of crampons on rock was dulled out by the ever loudening growl of the wind. The few patches of climbable ice were delaminated from the rock behind it. 10cm stubby screws bit firmly, then poked through the backside of the ice. The reverberation of tool placements was sickening. There was nothing holding the ice up! There were no cracks for hexes or stoppers. Thank god we had a few pins for the hairline fractures in the rock!


Even though we climbed with efficiency, we were still chilled to the bone. Looking into the wind was miserable. Our breath froze on our faces. We had icicles growing from our eyelashes. After climbing quickly above poor protection, I was at the top. My partner climbed efficiently and met me at the belay. We set up the rappels and descended with lightening speed. Everything was covered with an ever growing coat of rhime.


We faced the same post holing nightmare on the descent. Our tracks had been covered up, and we again had to excavate a path down the slope to Mills Lake. The thought of warm food and cold beer at Ed's Cantina kept us moving with a purpose. Less than an hour later, we were back at the car. I half expected it to be flipped over on its side courtesy of the wind. As I unlaced my boots and peeled layers of frozen clothes off, I couldn't help but smile. Despite all the suffering, the freezing cold, the bone-chilling wind, I still had fun. Perhaps the suffering made our ascent more fun? Yeah right!


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