An Ice Climber’s Vignette

Excerpt from Chapter 21 of

Chapter 21 – Here, There & Everywhere

or, Adventures for the Criminally Insane

A collection of vignettes — some humorous, some serious, 
some simply pathetic. 

With the promise of warmer temperatures than we had experienced earlier in the week, Dave Cooper, Dan Stright, and I decided to go ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park. So, there we were, mid-morning, with Dave climbing and me belaying. Dan was using a solo device on another climb. Lo and behold, a small trickle of water began flowing along between me and the climb, which is on the opposite wall of the narrow, slot canyon.
Shortly, the little trickle turned into a five-inch-wide stream with small sticks floating lazily past. I was enjoying the ambiance when I noticed that the five inches of water had turned into ten inches. Must be that new math. Suddenly I heard a noise to my left. Startled, I looked upstream to see a mini-tsunami of water, slush, and debris rushing toward my belay spot. All this while I was belaying Dave on the climb.

I quickly assessed the situation and decided that:

1) I would be unable to follow Dave on the climb due to my inability to cross the now-raging torrent, and
2) our packs were in immediate danger of being swept downstream.

How clever of me — a prime example of the climber’s mind at work.
Fight or flight wasn’t going to work as I was securely tied into the belay anchor. While drowning wasn’t in my immediate future, having wet boots was certainly a distinct possibility. I was pulled back to reality by Dave screaming, “Am I still on belay?” Oops, can’t forget about your climber! “Trust me, I’ve got you,” I replied as I hurriedly took up several feet of slack. (I’m about to be swept to my death and he’s worried about a little slack in the rope! Did I mention that I hate water?)
After what seemed like an eternity, Dave finally reached the top of the climb. I took him off belay and had him pull up the rope. My next task was to release myself from the belay anchor and retrieve the packs where I had tossed them as the surge of water approached. Now my dilemma was: how to cross over to the other side of the stream where I would be able to hike out of the canyon. Behind me was an 80-foot-high, insurmountable rock wall which looks to be rated M16. The next question was: how fast can I run through slush, water covering hidden rocks, and deep snow?
I can now assert without hesitation that I am literally able to walk on water! But, alas, by now my proposed emergency exit route was blocked by the raging, mineral-contaminated stream on one side and an unfathomable wide pool of murky-looking water on the other. In between lay a very large, ten-foot high boulder with a foot of snow quietly resting on its crown. What to do? I did what any incompetent mountaineer would do: climbed the rock in crampons carrying the two packs.
There I sat, contemplating the lesser of two evils. Do I wait until nightfall when temperatures might drop enough to refreeze the stream? Or take “the leap of faith”? Obviously, the only logical choice was slither down the other side of the rock into the unknown and run like hell through more gunk to another, smaller rock which fortuitously is attached to a five-inch-wide log that bridges the stream. No use burning up any more brain cells on this problem, so over the edge I went. Swoosh! Thankfully, a soft landing without any hidden obstacles to trip or impale me and I was perched on the only remaining rock sticking above the snow.
Suddenly, Dave appeared out of the trees on the far bank, carefully negotiated the log, and joined me on the rock. Actually, he pushed me off into the slop, grabbed the packs, and confidently strode back across the log to the safety of the other side, leaving me slowly sinking into oblivion. Wow, he sure made that look easy! I regained my rock sanctuary and hoped that vertigo didn’t strike while I attempted the log crossing.
While considering my options, it occurred to me that the water could possibly continue to rise, and I would be marooned indefinitely. Across the way, Dave sensed my indecision (cowardice), and broke off a ten-foot-long limb from a tree which he threw across to me. Using the limb for balance, it was a cake walk to the safety of the far bank. I really could have crossed the log with a blindfold, trust me. Nothing to this ice climbing stuff.
Meanwhile, Dan had finished his climb and was carefully assessing the situation to determine if they were going to have to call Search and Rescue for me.

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