It was 80-degrees in Boulder yesterday, October 29th. Almost too hot to climb…rock. The ice, on the other hand, is on.
Pike’s Peak, Colorado. Home to a road to the 14,000’+ summit and early season ice. I don’t exactly live next to Pike’s Peak, but I live close enough to warrant a drive down with my ice gear fresh from six months in summer storage. Like all climbing excursions, it seemed like a good idea to Peter and I at the time. All the way through the Denver traffic and construction, past Santa’s Workshop where seniors get in free with children (grandkids, anyone?) and through the entrance fee to the “America the Beautiful Highway.” In fact, it all worked until I got out of the car at 13,000’ and started sucking wind.
It’s not that I thought I would be immune to altitude. I know better than that. Or I do, in theory. But I still refused to admit that the mild headache and slight nausea might be related to having strolled out of the car in the wind-scoured alpine.
Turns out, however, that ice climbing at altitude for your first go of the season might be the perfect re-introduction to the frozen vertical. Everything takes longer. It has to. Any standards you might have had about how quick you should climb get softened, blurred. You take in the total quiet, the remembrance of the kick, the swing, the grovel, the scratch. Up one side of the Corinthum Column, down, then up the other just because we could. At then end it was a final top out over a talus ridge and back to the car in less than twenty minutes.
Seven pitches, 800-feet of thunks, slices, clips and, in this case, breath. Lots of breath. The ice is on.