Monday, January 25, 2016

One weekend in Wyoming

...I set off on an adventure with people I hardly knew.

I liked that we weren't brought together by our love for each other, but by our love for the mountains and mutual interests. We all wanted to be away for the weekend, to be in the mountains ice climbing, to go adventuring. I knew by the end of the trip we'd be friends.

Maybe one might say we'd been spoiled in our previous ice climbing experiences by the easy accessibility of Ouray and the Black Hills. But I don't think that's the case. These climbs, though prolific, were not easily obtained. The searching in those mountains, however, wandering around the steep rocky, snowy slopes, amidst the scraggly evergreens and sage, was an equal part of the adventure.

 It's never just about the climbing. It's about being out and exploring, and finding. We earned our ice and were pleased to do so.

When we finally trudged, out of breath, around that bend in the canyon and saw our ice fall, there all along, all still and blue and validating, it was like finding hidden treasure.

Matt. Unassuming, cheerful, much to say and not in a hurry. 

An Atlanta boy grown to be a Colorado mountain man who didn't lose the Georgia drawl. 

We talked about poop.

We fancied ourselves nature experts. We argued about whether or not it was deer or elk or goat poop (by the end of the day it made no difference in Eddie's scooping it up and throwing it over his shoulder at me as we hiked back to the vehicle) (he used to play baseball, he never missed), horse or bear poop (I hope you're picking up on the irony of the nature experts comment by now), whether or not bear poop changes drastically depending on whether they last ate berries or people.

We argued about whether or not bears hibernate in winter if there hasn't been much snow or cold ("Don't they build snow caves?"), whether that was a coyote or a wolf cry, if moose travel in herds, if mountain sheep can really fall over dead from fright (they can), and how much work it would actually be to have an ostrich farm.

(Of course we talked of other things too - of how they met and past relationships, of politics and travel and our jobs and previous ice climbing trips and mutual friends and childhood and injuries. But who wants to read about all that?)

We learned about Cody, Wyoming. That it's the rodeo capital of the world ...

...and that it's the gateway to Yellowstone, and the home of Buffalo Bill. And from experience we learned that although the mountains around Cody contain the most backcountry ice climbing routes in the United States, the locals don't care. They care about religion, guns, trucks and cattle. They do not care that out their back doors there are over 150 natural frozen waterfalls in a 10 mile radius.

We even went to the outdoor shop and they could tell us nothing to help us in our quest for ice. But there was a certain appeal in this, too. It wasn't a trendy Colorado sporty town full of Patagonia clad enthusiasts and wannabes. These were just cowboys and there happens to be ice out there.

So we poured over the guidebook, in all its vague and misleading glory, discussing and puzzling it out together, and ventured our way into the mountains.

We were like kids in a candy store as we pointed out to one another climb after blue iced climb, far up into those mystic canyons.

Lovely, imposing, poignant, remote and mostly unattainable to the likes of us. They whispered promises of someday, those endless frozen flows, those elusive heights, holding secrets of things beyond our skill and knowledge and strength to know. Maybe we haven't the heart for it, maybe we'll never have the courage for the potential heartbreak found in the magnitude of that level of climbing. But it whispers to us, and we wonder what if. What if we could climb that high. What would we know then? The secret of the universe lies in those heights.

We don't speak of it aloud, but the wonder of it is in our hearts and leaks through our eyes as we gaze up at those summits in longing and fear and contemplate things beyond our knowing.

I saw a moose, which I've always claimed don't exist because I've never seen one before in all my travels.

"Did you see the moose?" Matt asked casually, like it was just another mule deer. "It wasn't!" I exclaimed. "Oh, was it an elk?" He asked. Matt, in his unusual and unpretentious innocence, assuming I must be right. "I thought it was a moose." Eddie whipped the truck around and there it was, it was a moose.

It reminded me of the time I stood in an orange sunset deep down in Mexico where the river meets the Gulf, and suddenly there were dolphins jumping in the waves below. How I was so astounded and consumed with delight at the long awaited sighting. Seeing the moose felt like that.

A mile down the road we saw a magnificent herd of elk lounging in a high desert meadow.

We heard a wolf's cry and an owl's hoot.

We shared puffies and advice.

Puffy on puffy on shell on hoodie on wool.
We watched the sun set behind the high and broken horizon.

We saw the laziest of snows mosey down defiantly from a blue sky.

I broke through the ice on a creek crossing.

We dug out seats in the steeply angled slopes and sat conversing in the snow, shivering and uncomplaining, waiting our turn on the rope, drinking in the crisp mountain air.

Just another day in the mountains.

In another year Eddie will be transferred out of state for his job, and Ashley - by then his wife - will go with him. Maybe we'll meet up from time to time on impromptu climbing trips. Or maybe we won't.

Matt will probably still be in Colorado and we'll remain uncommunicative Facebook friends.

But for this weekend we were together, an unlikely team, adventure buddies, sharing inside jokes and staring together at unknowable heights with our hearts in our throats. When axes and cleats slipped their icy grip and someone gasped in startled fear as they came off the ice we'd holler up "I have you. You're good", holding calmly to their belay, their safety.

We stood on belay, hunched with our faces toward the ground as shards of ice rained down like shrapnel to thwack mightily upon our helmets. We called encouragement and challenges, high fived successes, exhaled deep breaths of relief when he finally made that clip and the danger was past for the moment.

For this weekend we were in the mountains, holding the rope and each other's lives in our hands.

How could we not be friends after that?

I love things like that, sports like ice climbing, that bring random strangers together in the mountains and make friends of them.

There was that. And what else is there? For that moment, in that present, there is nothing else.

Nothing that I know of.

1 comment:

Donna said...

I love reading about your adventures and new friends. Glad you had such a good time!