The trick of making it to arrangements is too much for most, in a sense that most do not comprehend the truth of time. Scheduling and routine are the daily, and they allow the future to be predicted well. The issue with observations of NAM is that cycles give hints to what must occur in the future, there are just never enough pieces to make much sense of the whole picture. Knowing what must come is a stress when you can only see through a tiny portion of your window to reality. You are the one controlling the cleaning, and thus the reality you view. Making plans for a summit bid and doing beta is essential in the simple fact that as many pieces that can be found, must be placed on the board.
I had a plan to get back to Alberta for climbing. I did not know that it would be my grandmother’s funeral that called me back. My partner, a silly notion to even call him that, had completely fucked his season and told me to go for anything I could get my hands on. When you think you have plans to go after so much, and you are willing to sit in your car week after week in the Rockies to get summits, but your partner is all talk… I feel like I lost myself. I am a solo dude, and now I am realizing just how much climbing solo in the alpine is my thing.
Catlin was going after Cline. He wanted it and talked about it constantly. His plans involved an individual that he called a flake without skill. I am the type of idiot who will drop all my own shit to help someone if they ask, so I met up with Cat to lead his team through the notches on the SW ridge of Cline. Don’t get me wrong, I was fucking stoked to get out on an 11, but I had plans to do the North Ridge, and those plans were with an individual that I was banking on to actually climb to the summits he constantly talked about. I really dislike climbing with randoms.
I prefer to be 100% solo in the mountains year round, no matter the sport. Yet, now that I want to actually progress in the alpine, I need partners for belays. On my way to Alberta for the funeral, an event that I thought was so life changing – yet was not – I met up with Catlin and went after Cline despite the shit storm I received. The day has horrid from start to finsh to be honest. A forced day. It was amazing in the sense that I lead the way to the summit of an 11 in the snow, yet I was truly forced.
I arrived at a family campsite in the David Thompson Corridor. Catlin was there and was all smiles of course. He only wanted to talk beta and go over our plans for the next chunk of hours to come. The unknown partner, and his family, was there. I could instantly tell that I wanted nothing to do with the whole crowd. I do not understand the difference between my skill set and that of people who ‘climb’. This was not the first person I had met that ice climbed or sport climbed that was a complete liability in the backcountry. I made sure we got on the road as soon as possible to head to our trail head.
We arrived at the grassy pullout on the side of highway 11, where we would leave our cars, at midnight. I told them that we would be leaving as soon as they were packed. The result was that the random wanted to sleep in the passenger front seat of Catlin’s car for a few hours before departing. As I had driven through the previous night to get to Alberta from Williams Lake, and had a double bed in the back of my car, I figured why not? At least this way we would be rested and should be faster overall. I did not sleep anyways, but packed my backpack from the storage locker under my bed, chain smoked liked a chimney, and meditated. We ended up going a lot sooner than I even thought I’d be able to get them going, and I am really glad for that.
The approach started in the worst way. We headed out into the woods, with our headlamps on, and myself taking the rear. This was not my trip, and I did not know the leader at all, but he was an ice climber, and a regular mountain dude. An individual whom had introduced Catlin to summits. We immediately began to vear off trail and loose our way, and worse yet the pace was a slow casual walk. I started to wonder why I even agreed to go on this trip. I did not take the lead, and Catlin and I left him in front, so we would not leave him behind.
I took over 4 hours to make it to the lake on the approach, and it was clear why when we arrived at basecamp in the light. There was basically a frontcountry camp fest being brought up on the approach. Catlin and his partner were planning on camping at the lake after the summit, and I planned on jogging the fuck out of there as soon as I had met the random – and told Catlin as much. It was simply enough to get the random to give up and stay at camp. He was bagged from the approach and it took over an hour to set up his camp. With so much time wasted on a single day push on Cline, I just started for the summit, and Catlin diligently followed as he left his friend. I felt horrid. Who was I to come into this group in this sort of a situation? I have about 5000 hours alone in the mountains, but only intermediate rope skills at best.
The way I live my life for others, is typically viewed by others who are observant enough to see it, for it’s self destructive nature. Catlin on the other hand had mastered it. I still do not understand, and that is a huge part of my own journey.
As we gained the snow slope at the back of the lake, it was clear that it was going to be a warm day, if not hot. It had recently snowed while I was on Skyladder, and it was a Spring that was dragging out into summer. I was already growing concered about the glacier and snow conditions that we were soon to encounter. I was also ever grateful that Catlin’s friend was staying behind. The approach had a few snowy ascent sections, and this new dude had serious issues getting up them. The way up past the lakes was far steeper and the snow was softening.
We had overpacked. I brought my 60m, as my broke ass did not have a 30m yet, and I do not trust partners. I had everything I needed to summit, and potentially save one of my partners lives. Self sustaining has been the way that I have lived through countless idiotic bids. Even if the snow was complete shit on the way down, I would be fine. I knew Catlin would be solid through it as well, despite the fact that our trip to traverse Grizzly Peak had been his only snowy climbing experience in his life. The trip was on, the sun was out, and we were ripping towards the notches on Cline with smiles that were larger than life.
As we topped out on the glacier we began to scope out all the action that could be seen from our newly found vantage point. Cline was way off in the back, and Catlin was green enough, in the not being solo sense, that he was buying me telling him, “We are almost there.”. The sun was seriously hot, and avalanches started coming down the Western aspects of the unnamed peak we skirted. The only reason I actually continued past this point was that everything that was going to slide, had already slid due to our extremely late arrival to the area.
We pushed on, and smiles were shared. I did not an any point wonder if we were not going to summit. I did not have summit fever, but I did see enough of the reality we live in to see me safely back at camp, so we pushed on.
The ridge that houses the notches, was covered in snow, just like the the entire approach from the lake. It was an 8 hour approach to the notches, and I still had to teach Catlin how to belay me through them. Thankfully I was more than confident to make it through the notches solo, for it was a ‘pychological’ belay at best.
After a quick rundown of the situation, and feeling confident in the anchors I set up, I ventured into the first notch with my tools in hand and my pons still on. The aspects of the notches that were North facing were still covered in ice, while the ones that caught the sun were dry. While we were standing there avalaches were bombing down the Southeastern aspect of the Cline summit block. The slope we were to ascend after making it through the notches looked scantily covered with snow, and stable enough to continue. If we got through the notches and encountered snow that was uber sketch, we would turn around. At least I would take Catlin through the climbing he was so highly seeking, and I would not be to blame for the lack of a summit if it came to that.
We used the centre fin of the first notch to set up a terrain belay, and the situation felt extremely solid. Despite Catlin wanting to carry on as quickly as we could, due to the snow, this was a situation where care was needed more than ever. When I am with confident and somewhat cocky partners, the ones that bitch that I am too cocky – as folk pick out what they hate in themselves, I tend to bend over and not stand my ground. This is a flaw I am working on, as I know I have more experience. This is especially the case when it comes to snow and survival. I was thankful in the sense that Catlin would listen to me if I said we needed to bail. That alone gave me the confidence to make the correct choices to summit safely.
The notches were the only fun on the whole trip. Not to say that approaches and scrambling to the alpine is not fun, it is just that we were finally sharing smiles and working with the skills we were wanting to hone. I do not know why anyone would want to jump the second notch. The rock is a mix of slab and scree, and a busted ankle would be a real risk. What kind of idiot takes a risk like that at that elevation?
I left my rope in the first notch, and we used Cat’s 30m to rap down the second notch. After making it though the second notch, I was actually super stoked for getting the chance to pass through them on the way up, instead of hitting them on the way down from the North Ridge without a top rope left in place. After tying off the safety line home, and retrieving a crampon that fell into the notch, we were on our way. The summit was a walk up to the top, and we were there. Summits truly never matter if you do not return home. The urge to get back to those notches, and through the heavily melting snow, was weighing down on me.
Catlin took a fall on Mount Smuts this summer, and did not return from his bid. The reflection that I am having while reliving this trip is sad to say the least. The summit he achived, only to die in a >300m choss fall, is worthess to him. To me it was the end of my summer. It was also the start of something far greater.
We made our way back down after the ceremonial high five and shared summit beer. The snow was gone. We walked down on scree where there was once snow. Water was flowing over rocks where we ascended snow a few hours earlier. There was no more risk than a typical hike. The joys were filling our hearts to the brim and beyond, to the point where I completely forgot about the dude back at Catlin’s camp.
We arrived at the now two lakes, where there was previously only one, and shared an hour of smiles. I stood up after a long silence, and I jogged home. The leasuirly jog to my car took me 45mins. Counting the time it took to set up the camp at the lake, this was less than 10% of the time it took before we departed the lakes that morning. The idea of going back to climb solo was not just appearing in my mind, it was solidifying. It was truly safer to go back to freesoloing over 5.6, than banking on idiots in the backcountry. The summit was rad, but a line had been drawn on my heart. I started my car, and drove into the heart of Alberta. To seek water. To seek meditation. To seek family. There was something shooken in me that had not been stirred since I was taking fat photographers to Kananaskis for hikes. It was not the thrill to better myself, it was the need to start telling people to fuck off, instead of thinking it was a good idea to venture out into the most sacred of places with them.