The Pursuit of Freedom

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As I stood at the very base of the Mooses Tooth, I heard a scream. It was the sort of scream from someone falling to there death. I looked up, scared. I saw a body falling from several thousand feet above me. I saw it continually bouncing down the cliff. Soon, the scream turned into silence. The body soon bounced right in front of me, without life. It stopped a foot in front of my feet. I stood there motionless and in shock staring, trying to process what just happened. Within an instant, I woke up.

Mooses Tooth with Ham N Eggs splitting the middle

Mooses Tooth with Ham N Eggs splitting the middle

Mt Johnson

Mt Johnson

Welcome to the Alaska Range!

Welcome to the Alaska Range!

I was breathing heavily. I realized my surroundings. I was in my tent. It was early morning. That was just a dream. Shawn Collins and I were the only ones on this glacier. I had to stay awake for a while to take in the current reality, not the dreams reality.

The route from the base of the shrund

The route from the base of the shrund

We hung out for the day and soon packed up for an attempt of Ham N Eggs (V 5.9 WI4) on the Mooses Tooth. We planned for a 5 A.M. departure.

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Upon waking up for the alpine start, I woke up Shawn. He seemed to act different. I figured it to be the early morning. He had a much harsher strange dream where he visited his own funeral and experienced his son crying from his death. On top of that, his crampons did something that I’ve never even thought was possible.

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Denali

Denali

I’ve been on a few trips with Shawn. We have developed a brother like relationship over the years. He invited me on this one. He’s wanted to climb this route for such a long time. I was more then happy to tag along. Without Shawn, I wouldn’t even have been in Alaska. Anyways, it was such a harsh couple of hours. Upon being so upset with the situation, he mentioned that this was how it was meant to be, for some reason that was beyond him. I tried to help the situation but it was also beyond me. He mentioned that I should solo it if I felt good to. I felt bad about getting on the climb without him. It felt wrong since I wouldn’t have been there in the first place without him.

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In the end, I started to pack a small bag full of gu gels and 1.5 liters of water. I gave Shawn a hug. I departed. I felt good mentally, and physically.

Looking down the first 5.7/8 crux

Looking down the first 5.7/8 crux

The suns rays started to appear behind me as I walked across the glacier. I looked for crevasses everywhere, fearing of falling into one alone. The smell of the purest air refreshed me as I looked up above me, once at the base. I took a couple deep breaths. I knew at that very moment in time, I was meant to be there. There was no question in my mind. I closed my eyes all a while going into deep thought.

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“….Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

As I grabbed my helmet and ice tools out of my pack, I didn’t think about life’s struggles. I didn’t care about them. All I cared about was searching myself. When you solo, you find yourself and you find it well. You find who you really are in every way. It’s not like when you’re in society where you can hide yourself so well. You come closest to your inner senses when you solo. Your senses are heightened. You can hear anything in miles radius. You come into contact with your feelings very well. Your common sense becomes that much more alive. You become alive! You realize and can separate every different kind of fear.  It’s addicting. It’s emotional. It’s such a pure form in climbing. It’s in these moments that I become the most in love with living life. You travel a fine line.

Life goes beyond your imagination in these moments almost like you are going beyond life. You’re not burdened by belays or any of that stuff. You just move in a perfect motion. It all just connects perfectly when you solo.

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I have those routes in my life I dream of soloing for personal reasons. I imagine myself traveling that fine line but yet being completely confident doing it. In those moments I reach the biggest euphoric feelings I can experience. It becomes emotional. Those moments are so real. It’s hard to put it into words.

I put in my headphones, turned up the volume, and started moving. As my mind went into a trance, I crossed the shrund and started up the 45 degree approach snow slopes; I couldn’t help but be amazed of my surroundings. I soon approached the standard first mixed pitch a couple hundred feet above the shrund. I noticed the standard 5.6 way to go but couldn’t help but notice what looked to be an easier way out right.

It’s always harder then it looks.

I started up this “easier” way. Soon enough I found myself wishing that I would have went the standard easier way. The start turned into a small steep sloping ledge with a steep headwall and no handholds to grab into. I carefully placed my crampons on small crystals and crept along with the perfect amount of bodyweight on each leg to keep my feet there. I looked down between my legs, already a descent ways above the glacier with exposure.

Take your time. Don’t blow it. 

What I thought would be simple scrambling terrain soon turned into a slab. I stood there for many minutes. I refused to move ahead until I felt secure. Yet, the stance I was in was precarious. After trying different things, I finally committed to the crux moves. I placed my crampons on smaller then dime edge holds and tried to keep the weight off my feet. It was sort of like aid climbing, balancing weight on horrible pieces. Soon though, I swung my ice tool into gravel and pulled up.

I hate mixed slabs.

Up to the chockstone

Up to the chockstone

I climbed up the steep snow for 100 meters until I got to a 4 move M4ish chockstone overhang. It sort of reminded me of something on Birdbrain Blvd. I put one of my Nomics into the overhang. I hammered it in further with the other ice tool and placed that tool above. I yarded on it to a move or two more before I grabbed a jug. That’s the type of mixed terrain that I find awesome!

Above the 40 ft. overhung ice

Above the 40 ft. overhung ice

The trance music kept raging louder and louder. As it kept the beat, I found my own beat. I felt as if I was doing a different sort of dancing to it, a dance between life and death.

I turned the corner and soon was underneath a short 40 or so foot vertical ice gully. Only it was out of normal condition, it seemed. It was delaminated and there was a Bridalveil overhang at the top of it to navigate. I placed a sort of okay knifeblade and threaded the rope through it. I gave myself 50 ft of slack and then tied that to my harness. I took the first swing into airy snow. Stemming with my left foot on the left rock face, I started stemming. The placement of my crampon on the rock felt much better then the ice. I approached the overhang. Through awkwardness, I soon swung above it. Occasionally, I would swing and my ice tool would just bounce off the rock since the ice was by no means thick. I finally swung into a solid chunk and pulled over.

I guess that was WI4. 

I untied from the knot and pulled the rope through the knifeblade. I left the ropes hanging and continued up a few hundred meters of steep snow. The sun was up by now. I felt so alone on a big wall. It was perfect. I found myself a little nervous, satisfied, and so free. These are the moments I live for. Life is so vast and amazing. I soon approached the crux of the climb.

Crux

Crux

It was a 100 foot step with an overhang at the top. There was tat at the bottom so I decided to do a proper rope solo of this pitch. I just had not clue what that overhang would be like, if it was out of condition. I tied one end to the tat and left my pack behind. I tied off a huge amount of slack. I started up. The ice was thin and unprotectable. Soon I found some left over stuck rock gear. I clipped it and soon was making the crux moves. This time I was moving left, up, and over the overhang. Both feet were soon on the vertical rock slab while I was pulling over. All of a sudden, something slipped. It wasn’t my feet.

My helmet fell off! It was hung up on my headphones. I told myself not to move. I needed both my hands to hang on to the crux. Then as fast as it happened is as fast as it fell down 2,000 ft. to the ground. I started cursing at myself.

No helmet

No helmet

Freaking Noah. That was such a rookie mistake. Seriously, dude? You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you just did that. 

It was like a flip of a switch. All of sudden, I felt so vulnerable that something was about to fall down from above and now hit me in the head. I continued on horrible alpine ice but once I swung above the overhang, the ice turned out to be great. I ran up 30 meters to the belay. I tied off the rope, rappelled and top roped the pitch with the one half rope. I got back to the belay and looked above.

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I had just done the crux pitch that felt a bit more like WI4++++. I just had a couple easier pitches and more snow to the summit. The solo of Ham n Eggs felt so close. It felt so achievable. I wanted it more then anything right then. I stood there for a while staring out into space. I was so upset with myself.

Deep inside, the little man was throwing up a red flag. I knew it too. This climb was a garbage chute for everything above. The heat of the day was about to come. I had no helmet now. I was by myself a couple thousand feet up an Alaskan wall.

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Live to climb another day. 

I started down. Upset with myself. Despite that, I realized I had made great time, only taking 2.5 hours from base camp to my high point. I was on track for a near 4 hour ascent. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. Things didn’t feel right after the helmet fell off. You got to listen to that.

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Rappel after rappel I bombed down. Rappelling is also way faster by yourself. I found myself at the base not too long after. I even found out that my helmet was not even damaged. It’s so light, it probably parachuted down.

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 I was back in time for breakfast and coffee with Shawn. I sat out in the hot Alaskan sun for the day. I contemplated what I needed to improve on, what my weaknesses were. I guess my weakness for the day was loosing my helmet and maybe some stupidity.

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About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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