March 22, 2017

Behind the Shot: Rest(less) Day

Forest Woodward and Graham Zimmerman find themselves stuck on a route as the sun goes down. But it's not all bad. It's just another adventure.

“Let’s get out of here,” Graham mutters hurriedly before disappearing around the corner on a narrow ledge system suspended over a glacier hundreds of meters below. I probably would have laughed at the overly dramatic exit had it not been for the fact that I shared the sentiment. What the hell are we doing here?, I wonder, as I watch the orange rope play through the belay device, now cold in my hands as the sun’s last warm glance slides across the rolling sea of mountains.

This was supposed to be a rest day.

man climbs cliff face with rope

It had, in fact, started out as the perfect day of resting. We spent the morning at our base camp in the hanging valley we called home for two weeks, deep in the Leaning Towers of British Columbia. After a long day repeating the NE Buttress of Hall Peak two days prior, this would be our second rest day in a row, in preparation for an ambitious day of climbing the following day. We reveled in the relaxation: waking slowly with the sun, sipping coffee and making breakfast in the warmth of our tents. Later we would lizard out onto the rocks where layers became lounge pads as we soaked in the sun’s heat, occasionally wandering to the river to soak sore limbs in the icy water that flowed from under the glacier just a short walk from camp. We did laundry and hung it to dry. We played game after game of Scrabble on the hand-drawn board we had made on the back of a foam backpack insert. We inhaled food and coffee.

Somewhere along the way, though—likely between the third and fourth pot of coffee—our rest day turned restless. And now, just a few hours later, Graham and I find ourselves halfway up a new line on the flank of Hall Peak, some 2,500 feet above our stores of food, sunny rock patio, and promises of relaxation.

Sitting now on our ledge, I realize that our location is not, in and of itself, a problem. The problem arrived with the only vaguely anticipated disappearance of the sun, coupled with a simultaneous disappearance of climbable features on our would-be-route above. If all had gone according to plan, the route would have continued to the top, the sun would have stayed in the sky until we decided it could leave, and we would have conveniently and creatively avoided a miserable hike and choss scramble in favor of establishing a new route, and positioning ourselves at an advanced bivy for a pre-dawn start the next day. Because the next day is, in fact, what we were resting up for: an attempt to establish a new route on the NE Buttress of Block Tower.

But when your plans are guided by the shrill voices and eccentric devil-drum beating of a caffeine demon, coupled with a neglect to account for the age-old wisdom regarding the time at which the sun sets, they don’t always unfurl as intended.

I suppose it should come as little surprise then when those plans leave you sitting on a strange ledge in the dark in the middle of nowhere, your only friend 70 meters (a rope length) away and out of earshot, with fatigue setting in and an inner rebellion against the idea of a pre-dawn start the following morning.

Yet through the haze of my caffeine comedown, ruminations and growing darkness, I eventually feel the three sharp tugs of rope.

Graham is off belay.

Three or four hours later, the moon high in the sky above us, and the coffee finally out of our systems, we crawl into sleeping bags laid over coiled ropes, exhausted but content in the end, with our rest day turned restless.

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