“Yep, we went pretty alpine on that decidedly non-alpine route” Matt confirms as we stand and gaze at the granite buttress protruding from the canyon’s tree covered wall. The evening light, aided by the smoke from a nearby fire, casts the rock, and the entire New Fork Valley in a soft glow.
Though not our intended objective, the climb was a success. We hiked in the previous evening on the photographic beta of cracks on a short buttress to the west of the China Wall. A bit of afternoon scouting revealed that these cracks were either already climbed (Knucklebuster), didn’t offer a doable start option or needed some serious, Squamish style grooming. So we peered right and spotted a line starting up the left end of the China Wall. The next morning we racked up and scraped our way up lichen covered rock and grass filled cracks. We wailed on gear, and according to the late alpinist Bjørn-Eivind Årtun, it went free. We topped out, walked off, and decided to hike out. No fireworks, no glamour shots, no fanfare, just another grade III 5.10 C1 route in the Wind River Range.
Back at the Washakie Street homestead, gear is spread out in the cellar and duffle bags collect the contents of my room. The bed and floor are covered. Lists of to-dos and to-brings are scattered through out the house. Boxes of recently ordered equipment pile up and I yearn for the simplicity of life in the mountains.
The eight days between finishing up work on my last NOLS course and when I fly out of Riverton on Saturday seem to be filled to the brink with stuff to do. Five and a half months is the longest I will have ever been out of the United States and the combination of NOLS work and a personal climbing trip challenge my organization and packing skills. Items not needed till I venture back into mountains of Chalten in January none-the-less still need to fit into my planning. Despite the psyche I get from planning and organizing, the sorting of the gear, the moving of the belongings and checking of items off their various lists are not on the top of my list of things to do.
Life offers up many options and the choices I make everyday affect the quality and outcome of my life. Getting out of the field on the 14th, I tracked down Matt and asked him if he wanted to go climb a new route in New Fork Park. Anna asks if I want to go sport climbing with her and Scott the following evening up in the canyon and then try to climb the Northeast Face of Pingora later in the week. I prioritize time with Jim Margolis to plan a trip to El Chalten. Then a Friday evening happy hour session at the Lander Bar with Anna, Matt, Scott, and several others. The following morning it is the trip to New Fork Park, then more sport climbing with the those three, and finally a trip with Anna to the Cirque. Somehow in all the inbetweens the work gets done, the lists get less, and things come together. After all is said and done, there is somehow still time for breakfast with Scott and Anna on Saturday morning prior to departure.
“Well, we pretty much crushed that thing” I say to Anna as we make our way up and over Jackass Pass and out of the Cirque of the Towers. “Yep” Anna replies in agreement “we’re rock climbing fiends.” Although we have climbed together for over six years and done many multiple pitch routes, this was our first backcountry excursion together. The timing, pairing, weather, and route all came together before my six month hiatus from the U.S. and we congratulate each other on turning our backpacking trip into a climbing trip. Our five hour romp up the Northeast Face of Pingora was characterized by long pitches, quality stone and agreeable weather. Now, hiking out, our tired bodies are on autopilot for the nine miles to the parking lot. The miles mostly pass in silence and the rain begins to fall. Behind us the mountains are engulfed by low lying, fast moving clouds and we ask a little more of our weary bodies as we push harder towards the chips and beer.
Time spent typing on this silver box, organizing and planning is not time that I will remember. Looking back on this week years from now, it is the time spent with the ones that I enjoy the most that will make me smile. The fact that the climbing ranged from ubiquitous sport routes in Sinks Canyon to world renown classics to a forgettable new route and the drinks at the bar were simply cheap beer is irrelevant. The time spent with Matt, Anna, and Scott is what truly mattered this week.