THE MIDDLEBURY FIRESIDE
The Middlebury Fireside Kindling Stories & Igniting Inspiration in Middleburyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Outdoor Community
Vol. I Fall 2015
We believe in the creed of the campfire, the religion of rock, the pilgrimage of the trail and the meditation of the mountaintop. We are the essence of stories and want yours to come alive in firelight.
Contents I. Up Liberty, Jordan Collins II. Crude, Ben Harris III. No wonder they call it the great one, Emma Erwin IV. Constants, Cooper Couch V. Tchotchkes, Hannah Habermann VI. Calculating Beauty, Mara Gans VII. Augusta, Hannah Habermann VIII. On Earth, For Earth, Jenny Moffett IX. In Search of Paradise, Meena Fernald X. Algonquin: Power, Peace, and Metempsychosis, Kent Ratliff XI. The desert, Mara Gans XII. Faces of the Ice, Ryan McElroy XIII. Teton Dreams, Morgan McGlashon
a note from the editor As I approach the end of my time at Middlebury, I find myself reflecting on the ‘good old days’ of being here. Those days when I was younger, the college was newer, and a different party graced the plush seats of the Proctor lounge. Yet, while faces change, and I feel my own four years ebb towards their end, there’s a steady cycle to the culture here. For every fading senior there is a passionate freshman ready to pick up the pack and shape their new home. And so, just as we all pass along Painter’s cane at convocation, as students here, we all pass along the memories and stories that shape our collective identity. Here, bound between the Greens and Adirondacks, guided by our shared culture, we become as resilient as the mountains themselves. As Laurie Patton put it when she joined our community, “These mountains call all of us to be bigger in our aspirations and yet also to be smaller and linked to a larger purpose. Middlebury’s mountains give us a sense of place that is also a sense of community. They help us find our place in the world, and even if we don’t find it immediately, we have a deep and abiding trust that we will. This is the strength of the hills.” We hope to share that strength with you, just as many before us have shared it, with stories and tales told in the glow of the fireside. - Mara Gans ’15.5, President
Cover photo by Mara Gans ’15.5; Mission statement photo by Sofi Hecht ’18; Logo by Evan Gallagher ’15.
Fremont Peak, Wind River Range. Ben Harris â&#x20AC;&#x2122;16.
Undisclosed location. Ben Harris â&#x20AC;&#x2122;16. 7
Up Liberty Jordan Collins â&#x20AC;&#x2122;15.5 We talked about how last night was like a birth canal the two of us starting our ascent without expectation, knowing only that the sun sets and sight fails, and realizing what it means to travel as if motionless through a vortex. To arrive out of such black silence, pierced only by our dim sphere of perception: that miracle headlamp glow, beyond it noise resounding in the imagination. What surrounded seemed empty, might not be. Moving like this changed our bodies, tricked them into strength outside of time and space, the night becoming an escape from intellectâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; consciousness pushed to the surface like sweat, senses carrying us forth as they would on scrambled legs. We were born, this morning, naked on a mountain, its cliffs conducting a symphony of orange. Our first wail was a melody from lives past, our singing caught by the winds that curve around this world in currents, the precious sting of those high breezes on our bare bodies bliss, coursing through new veins. 8
Crude Ben Harris ’16 Only rainbows she ever sees are in gasoline so she prays for a spill in the morning paper. Please no. No, not petrichor—petroleum, because the ugliest thing in the world is a bird so slick and black it cannot breathe. She watches the ship way out there keel over then she says seems like seems like the water just all of a sudden decided it don’t care to carry around any more dead weight. He laughs and grabs the camera, starts shooting as a thousand rotting octopi wash ashore one by one. When the octopus is faced with a predator it shoots black ink and swims quickly away. He films as the bird wades back into the bruising sea beak bowed before the breaking waves, the bleeding plume.
Accompanying photo by Michael O’Hara ‘17
No wonder they call it the great one Emma Erwin ’15.5
Foreword by Mara Gans ’15.5: So often when we talk of mountains, we get caught in the endless edits, reflections, and missed details of stories long since past. This watering down, mixing around and cleaning up of those tales is certainly valuable as we incorporate them into the rest of our lives—but there’s something to be said for the in-the-moment, unabridged rush of those same tales. This series of journal entries by Emma Erwin ’15.5 gives you the raw play-by-play of her daily life on Denali. It brings with it the fear, joy, awe and occasionally poor sentence structure of someone who’s really writing at 17,000 feet. June 18 Night hiking is awesome but I’m exhausted. Hiking for twelve straight hours is the norm now and the lower icefall was gnarly. I took a big fall when an ice block fell out from under me as I was crossing a crevasse. Definitely shaky after that, but a snickers bar helped. I’m a little nervous about going back through the icefall tonight to get the cache and bring it up. Hopefully it won’t be too bad, just another big push. My feet are starting to feel it and show it—long days in plastic boots make some pretty raw soles. So exhausted and glad to be able to get some rest. Real nervous about the move tonight but 10
hopefully it’ll be fine. This is hard work for sure—a marathon like no other. June 19 So tired again and my feet have disintegrated. The inside arches, heels, and toes are all rubbed completely raw. They’re pretty grumpy. Another big night, but not too terribly long. Snow/ice conditions were pretty stellar so it’s much less sketchy than yesterday. The hill of cracks lives up to its name: a solid running jump to catapult your body over is required to get past atleast a dozen of the crevasses. Not too bad with solid snow, but I’m guessing it gets pretty sketchy when the snow softens up (which usually happens around 7am)—luckily we made it through just before then. It’s awesome hiking at night though—better snow, cooler temperatures, no need to worry about sunburns, and the sky is in a constant state of sunset/ sunrise. It looks that there’s been a pretty big forest fire way off in the distance, so it smells like smoke and the horizon is hazy. Happy to have made it back to camp in under twelve hours and I’m so, so glad to get to sleep. June 24 Feels like Denali weather now. It was cloudy at 3 am when we woke up, and
now it’s pretty much a whiteout with a decent amount of snowfall and winds. Getting back down the ridge to pick up the cache was actually pretty fun. Going back up along the ridge was pretty gnarly though. Plenty of fresh powder renders crampons useless, if that wasn’t enough, add in high winds and next to zero visibility—plus you can’t hear anything. June 25 Today was quite a day. We ferried a load up to Browne’s Tower and back—it was by far the toughest day so far and completely exhausting. Up by 4 am and out by 6; it took us a solid 6 hours to get up and we didn’t make it back to camp until just before 6 pm. A long haul for sure with a lot of ups, lots of rappels, and all kinds of ridgeline walking. You have to be completely focused and on your A-game every single step. ’Cause if you take a misstep and a big
fall we’re all dead! The way up was quite a beat down— luckily we got stellar weather. I definitely freaked out a bit on the home stretch. Coming off a big ridge I had to monkey over a huge crevasse with horrible footing and no solid ice axe placement. But, like most things, I just took a big leap and it was A-Okay. Jackson struggled over that part and took a pretty big fall. But, everyone self-arrested and that kept us all from falling too far. The altitude is starting to get to everyone now. Little tougher to breathe up here. July 1 Welp, yesterday got a little crazy. We left Browne’s tower fairly early and made it to the cache in pretty good time. It was getting pretty windy so we pushed up to 11
the ridge to check out the conditions and try to scout camping at 18,000 ft. But at the top winds were so insane we decided to head back to the cache and hide behind a big ice boulder to set up and install high camp at around 17,000 ft instead. After putting in a few hours of work, we got the three-man tent up. Conditions quickly deteriorated and the wind picked up so much that all seven of us ended up hunkering in the three-man tent for over twelve hours straight. That was pretty crazy. Six big men and I do not fit in a threeman tent too comfortably. Don’t really want to do that again. Pretty sure no one got more than an hour or so of sleep, and we were all feeling pretty awful. Conor was starting to exhibit signs of HAPE and April was pretty hypothermic. The night was rough and far from pleasant, but we made it through. 12
July 3: Summit Day We made it! The view from on top was unreal and almost everyone shed some tears coming around the last ridge. It took a hell of a long day’s work getting there and back from high camp. We left around 7 a.m., stood on the summit at 7 p.m., and got back to camp well after one a.m. The way up was rather chilly and windy. I was pretty exhausted the whole way— maybe altitude, dehydration, or a lack of sleep. Who knows, but we didn’t take many breaks—maybe just three or four the whole day. Nevertheless, after making it to Denali pass, up to Archdeacon’s Tower, through the Football Field and up to the Summit Ridge, we all stood on top of the summit. A month of hard work finally brought five of us original twelve to the top. It was pretty awesome. Not the clearest of days, but it felt cool standing on top of all of the clouds and all of North Amer-
ica. As TJ reminded us: “Only because we have stood on the shoulders of giants can we see further than most.” Coming off the summit ridge Jackson started rapidly exhibiting serious signs of HACE, so we had to get him down fast. He pretty much looked like a drunken toddler and couldn’t function much on his own, so TJ short-leashed him and basically pulled him down to the Football Field behind me. Everyone was pretty dehydrated and completely exhausted. Conor started hallucinating on Denali Pass, but luckily David and TJ kept it together and we all made it down safely. July 11 At Wonder Lake campground and it feels so good. It is surreal being here—finally
done! And a kind of an overwhelming feeling of safety. No more obstacles to overcome—no crevasses, icefalls, avalanches, glaciers, bears, or raging rivers. Just a bus to catch in the morning. Today the skies cleared up a bit so we get an incredible view of the mountain. It looks absolutely humongous from down here. Crazy to think that we were standing on the tiptop just a week ago. We worked hard for it—and the hard work paid off. What’s even better is that we all made it safe and sound back to solid ground. Fingers and toes, too. No wonder they call it the great one.
All accompanying photos, Emma Erwin 13
Cooper Couch ’14.5 I went backpacking for the first time when I was twenty-three years young, and it won’t be the last. Never before had I carried a pack that held all I would need for a short jaunt away from civilization. With a group of close friends, I went to Point Reyes National Seashore in California, where the crisp, dry heat from the sun helped warm the winter skin I’d built up over the last six months in Vermont. It was refreshing to feel so disconnected from the over-technologied, overworked atmosphere we live in at Middlebury, and away from the resources we so often take for granted in our homes and workspaces. After a long first day of hiking, we made it to camp shortly after sunset and had a quick dinner before passing out. The next morning, we woke up early to watch the sun rise over Alamere falls. Our groggy dawn march down the mountain path to the seashore wasn’t the most pleasant, yet still, it made me feel more connected to my friends. We were all fighting fatigue and pushing our tired bodies past our comfort zones with the goal of sharing a breathtaking scene together. I felt their companionship as I trudged along the seashore in the darkness of early morning, mist shrouding my already half-open, sleep-seeded eyes. 14
We each walked at our own pace, watching waves crash against the shore as they were made visible by the rayitos of light creeping over the cliffs. We reached the waterfall slightly before the sun. Rushing water plunged down from the mountains, diving into the vast ocean behind us - the same ocean that swallowed the sky in its hues of deep blue. Such a scene marked the beginning of a perfect day. I can’t exactly say why we all kept calling it “the perfect day.” Maybe it had to do with the weather, or the serene beauty of the natural environment surrounding us, or having shared the experience with people who care about each other. Maybe it was the feeling of accomplishment for having beaten the early-morning urge to stay asleep. Perhaps it was the cool refreshing water coupled with the warm sun at the swimming hole we stopped by on our return. Or, perhaps it was the ice cream we devoured afterwords at Fairfax Scoops, a local favorite. I honestly can’t attribute that feeling of “a perfect day” to any one of those moments or even a particular combination of them. I am much more inclined to say that it was the fact that we were all present in each moment. We were present together at times—cognizant of each other’s presence while still living in
the beauty of the moment. At other times, we were each individually present, free of any distraction to separate us from that inner connectedness between mind, body and spirit. There have been very few “constants” in my life, or at least the typical constants many college students tend to have. The issue that feels most constant in my life is loss; however, I decided recently that I’m
ready to focus on creating some constant good in my life. As I do that, I look forward to experiences like these, which have proven to continually empower me, boost my self-confidence, connect me with others on a deeper level and clear my mind to find that sense of inner peace. For me, exploring the outdoors with good people is the most nurturing space for resilience, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are coming my way!
Accompanying photo by Cooper Couch 15
Hannah Habermann ’18 Much to my parent’s chagrin and the chagrin of airport security, I am an expert at packing, lugging, moving, lugging, and unpacking what would be considered by many as, to put it bluntly, a lot of shit. Last fall, one of my friends visited my room for the first time and said, equal parts stupefied and amazed, “that’s a ton of tchotchkes.” Being from the pulsing, diverse metropolis of Montana, I was decidedly unfamiliar with this Yiddish term, which I later came to discover refers to “a small bauble or miscellaneous item.” Wikipedia also goes on to say that depending on context, this term can have a connotation of “worthlessness or disposability, as well as tackiness,” but clearly that context doesn’t apply to the tangled collision of colorful beads hanging from my lamp, the rusted piece of metal I found on a school playground that almost certainly could give me tetanus, the flower seed packets that I insisted were too pretty to be thrown away, the scraps of cloth and seashells and pinecones and feathers and rocks and concert tickets and scribbled notes from friends that pass for my version of interior decorating. Amongst this hodgepodge of nouns that clutters my room, there is a string of prayer 16
flags draped across my window. Most of you probably know the ones I’m talking about, with red and yellow and green and blue squares that college students hang in their dorms after taking one class about Asian religions. Outwardly there is nothing notable about these flags – they aren’t handmade, they don’t speak of a lifelong devotion to Buddhism, nor do they come from trips to India or hiking expeditions in the Himalayan mountains that I’ve never taken. In fact, you can currently order a ten-pack of prayer flags exactly identical to these ones on Amazon Prime for $7.97. But when I was seventeen, I spent forty-two days paddling on a river through northern Canada with five other young women, and every night we would fall asleep staring at these flags hanging in our tent, the colors illuminated by the golden sun that never sets when you’re that far up north. As we camped somewhere new each night, they became a symbol of consistency, of brightness, something grounding and comforting and familiar. On my eighteenth birthday my parents told me they were getting divorced, and my flags, my dog, and I drove up to the mountains to start the process of beginning to grapple with what that means.
Since that trip they’ve hung in goat barns in foggy late October Washington, flitted in the breeze down California’s Highway 1, and grown sun-bleached in the unforgiving Utah desert heat. As I moved out of my childhood bedroom, and into the room across the hall that my parents used to share, they stood witness to my small, brave, determined attempts to start fresh, to let go. I hung them up as I moved into my cramped freshman double at Middlebury, scared after a year of traveling
to commit myself to one place for four years. A year later, they keep watch over my sprawl of tchotchkes, objects that hold stories of me despite their outward knickknacky appearance. They remind me of the places I’ve been, the place I am, that is finally, slowly starting to feel like a good thing, and the places I have yet to go. They remind that home is wherever I choose it to be, and that making a place a home can be as simple as hanging up your flags and calling it your own.
Accompaning photo by Hannah Habermann
Calculating Beauty Mara Gans ’15.5
“That’s good coffee,” said Eli Mauksch (’15) pand my outdoor playground a little. So, as we drove his Subaru out of Lander, WY after some driving, hiking, and a thorough and up towards the Wind River Moun- discussion on who we’d put on our Zomtains. I sipped my own coffee, trying not to bie apocalypse team and whether we were critique the under-extraction too much; cake or pie people, we set up camp at the I’d had better. Mostly though, I thought base of the cirque. Eli and Austin spent the about the adventure ahead. I’d spent my remainder of the evening with their heads entire life growing up in the shadows of towards the rocks and their noses buried the Cirque of the Towers and had long in the climbing guide, scoping out routes ago learned to and fantasizsport climb in ing about being their foothills, stronger climbbut until today, ers. I spent I’d never had most of my eveplans to climb ning looking any of their big at flowers and peaks. Sure, taking pictures I’d fantasized in silent disbeabout it, but lief that we were most of those actually going dreams were to manage to pushed away climb anything. into the ‘to- View of the Cirque from our camp. From right to left, the three We packed up peaks we summited are Pingora, Tiger Tower and Wolf ’s Head. do-when-I’mfor the next day: older-and-wiser’ drawer of my life plan. some extra clothes, climbing gear, food, Which mostly means I didn’t actually be- and a couple headlamps amongst the lieve climbing them was possible. three of us. I sort of thought we should each bring our own headlamp, but mostly However, when a peppy and confident Eli I was still caught up in the flowers. showed up at my house with his friend Austin and a trad rack in tow, I certainly Our first day was a breeze up the threewasn’t going to turn down an offer to ex- pitch 5.8 K-cracks variation on the South 18
Buttress of Pingora. Or at least I thought so; I’d given up any decision-making, route finding and leading to Eli and Austin, and so I happily, thoughtlessly followed along, stoked about the clouds, and rock crystals, and flowers. I also complained some about my feet. Apparently multi-pitch climbing and scrambling aren’t so great in way-too-small aggressive sport climbing shoes. Lesson learned. We summited Pingora and rappelled to the base of its mini neighbor, Tiger Tower. Trailing behind Eli and Austin, I scrambled up barefoot, trying to save my feet and imagining how not cool my parents would be with my current combination of unroped exposure and lack of appropriate footwear. I guess you have to break their rules sometime. We rappelled off the other side of the tower and walked back to camp. The next morning we packed up and again took off towards the granite walls. Confident after a successful yesterday, we tied in at a leisurely 10 or 11 am—definitely stretching the borders of “the alpine start.” We started a not-so-highly-recommended grassy ledge approach to the 5.6 classic, the East Ridge of Wolf ’s Head. Besides a general lack of protection and layers of ledges full of exposed, slippery, wet grass, the grassy ledge approach wasn’t that bad. Nonetheless, I was thrilled when we finally made it onto the ramp. Ahead stretched
pitch after pitch of sidewalk-like exposed ridge, followed by columns of rock towers waiting to be woven between. I may not be one to pore over images in guidebooks, but once on the rocks I knew there was nowhere I’d rather be—the flowers could wait. In many ways climbing is a lot like dancing. The wall is your partner, and each feature is a sequence in the flow of the dance. The best climbers aren’t the strongest individuals, but rather the ones who can best match their own movements to the lead of the rock. Dancing with the East Ridge is unreal: tiptoeing exposed slabs
Eli scrambles to the East Ridge of Wolf ’s head. 19
over thousand foot drops is broken up by flawless hand crack traverses—guiding you boldly over its stunning ridge and intimately through its many towers. All that said, however, I’m not really that great a crack climber, so my dance definitely involved more bicep strain than grace. But, I guess that’s what there’s a ‘next time’ for. Above us, the sun moved across the sky, and we watched a storm system build up above Wind River Peak to the south. We’d lucked out; afternoon storms build up quick in the summer, but this one missed us. More dancing was matched by the continual saunter of the sun, and we eventually reached the summit. You never want to spend too much time on top, but our seven pm summit time made hanging out particularly unappealing. Eli’s guidebook recommended a descent involving a few raps and a way-longer-than-we-wanted scramble off another part of the ridge. Some mountaintop I-spy revealed a different set of rap anchors just below. The guidebook didn’t note them, but confidence in the length of our double ropes directed us there anyway. It was a good call. A couple raps later, hanging off a vertical wall at 12,000 feet I watched an absurdly phenomenal sunset. Normally during a sunset you look up to the horizon. This time I was looking 20
down. One rap later, it got dark. I suppose that’s what normally follows phenomenal sunsets.
Sunset from the Wolf ’s Head rappel
Eli and Austin pulled out their headlamps. I didn’t have one to pull out. The next three-ish (60 m long) rappels I made were in the dark. Well sort of. Stars lit up the sky, marking a clear division between rock and heavens. Eli and Austin’s headlamps danced above and below. Murmurs of nylon jackets and whispers of ropes sliding through expensive rap devices spoke a subtle reminder that, as much as I call the mountains home, I owe it to my ‘man-made’ props to even make it out there. Alpine romance is charming, but it’s not outright purity. After an eternity of rappels (Eli was count-
ing, I was looking at the stars), my feet came to support their own body weight. It was late, and our sleeping bags were still a mile or more of steep boulder fields away. Now I wanted my headlamp. I switched my thoughts out of ‘beauty appreciation mode’ and into their ‘pay attention now, or you’ll break an ankle’ setting. Silently computing our footsteps, we worked our way down. I hovered between Eli and Austin’s headlamp beams, reducing my world and mind down to each step and the pool of light around it. Sometime after midnight we made it back to the valley floor, but not to our tent. After all the technical climbing, scrambling and navigating we’d done, locating our beds proved to be the surprise crux of the day. Stumbling around, everything looked the same in the dark: tents and boulders, trails and streams. For the first time all weekend I felt my good attitude start to waver. I insisted our tent was farther south. I was wrong. Eli suggested backtracking on the trail we came down. Still no tent. We stopped to elect another direction, referencing boulders, tiny streams, and faded trails. Nothing was that convincing. I zoned out and looked up at the sky. My mind’s ‘pay attention’ setting faded as I retraced the silhouette of the cirque—again, that clear division between rock and heavens. This time, however, it was different. The new angle
was a turned page in a coloring book; it brought the same theme, but with different outlines. . . “Wait! I know how we can find our tent!” I announced. “Which peaks could we see from camp? We just have to walk until we find the same view and we’ll find our tent.” As I stated this, I felt dumb for not knowing myself what the silhouette of the cirque had looked like from camp, but I knew in the hours Eli and Austin had spent pouring over the guidebook and mountains, they would know exactly what we’d been looking at. Sure enough, they did. A couple days later, Eli and Austin piled into the Subaru to depart for their next adventure. As they drove off, I sat enjoying a not under-extracted cup of coffee, contrasting the science and precision that goes towards brewing it with the brilliance of its divine taste. It’s not unlike a good day in the mountains where you need both a meticulous calculation of the details and an appreciation of beauty to make it home. Accompanying photos by Mara Gans
Hannah Habermann ’18
put yourself in the way of beauty, my mother told me when I was a gap-toothed seven hiding in the sunflowers, elbows dirty with the morning’s explorations, hair tangled, smiling. now each peak is everest and we are in antarctica, just us, the sky hills trees, the two-fingered wave to every truck that passes. have I ever really known how delicately wind and sun and snow dance together? a waltz tango box step sped up slow dance over the road clouds over earth, a free joyful kind of fleeting this blurry window screen whipping past moment is a gift, freeze frame, the frost an elongated leaf of diamonds. this is the quiet sacred sigh of your body pressed against mine in the back of your car, curled into a nest of winter coats and soft scarves and a sled. and yes too this is the empty still of the moon with the crooked line of a barbed wire fence carelessly strewn across its surface. I want to share this moment with you, like the little green plant on my crooked sill wants to grow tall. if you start to come here I must warn you – you can never go back to small, the sky too big to be pushed back into the place in your mind that forgets. anyone can be an artist –just stare at the mountains long enough, but if I made you stop the car every time I wanted to take a picture 22
we would never get anywhere but here.
Fishing in the last light. Owen’s River Valley, CA. Sofi Hecht ’18.
Cochamo. Chile. Mara Gans ’15.5. 23
On Earth, For Earth Jenny Moffett ’16
I believe in conversations with ravens. I believe in keeping mindfully mindless, a stream of consciousness, and wide set eyes. * * * My breathing riffles, lingering in the shallows. It darts—arrhythmia. I feel no feelings and just keep pinching myself, pulling up more skin, hoping it will pull me out, but the skin tents. I drink in the water of the barren, dry lake and dust swirls inside my lungs. Cementing my alveoli, I take in more, more. I lay down in the desert whose edges have blurred. Sierras press down on me to the east, visions of deep pools churn in a wide ocean overhead. I’m drowning. Yet I have drowned before and the peace was greater. Empty life moves past my lips through osmosis and I dissolve. Dust to dust. Breath labors. Pumping, thick, bloody lungs find it hard to decipher the identity of the particles. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, just dust? Are we fluid? Where has the water gone? It’s flowing East now, I suppose. I’ll stay here and wait for it to find me. * * * Blue-green creek water billows through the eddies of my consciousness. I watch 24
caddisflies touch like water skimmers on the folds of the bleached white, sunsoaked water. My eyes burn at the sight. In a haze that comes from eyes too fragile for a world so bright, my gaze softens back to the flow of the water. It moves with me. I lie down like a boulder in its path and let the current flood my body. I am a fixture of the waterway. Each torrent, pool, and riffle is predicted by physics; I simply play along. My mouth opens just millimeters above the arc of the water’s pourover on my chin. I am full. I have enough. * * * I wake from a still sleep. I am floating in a sea of blue whales. Interpreting blue, opaque objects. They see me and are singing. I understand their songs but they are meaningless; they sing of nirvāna. The greatest calm I’ve ever felt, reaching out to them. Our eyes lock and hold. The one on my right, her eye is deep blue and I see my reflection. I hold on. Submerged in belonging. I have been a whale, I tell the lump next to me in bed. * * * Tires rolled on black pavement. Spring babbled from the speakers like mountain runoff. Warm summer air wrapped me in place. Suddenly, we heard them. Like
a gospel chorus driving a congregation to its feet, the frogs’ voices compounded on each other, rising out of shallow pond waters near the road. I bore witness to a miracle. In perfect harmony with Vivaldi, the frogs joined the music, becoming members of an interspecific orchestra. Instruments were inherently, instantly inferior to the music of the world. Inspiration and art collided and clattered down around me. Foot hit brake and neither spoke. Every window and ear opened to be filled. My eyes closed and a hand held mine. The bullfrogs, the spring peepers threw out their voices as dutifully as members of a choir. Where the song told the story of three high-pitched notes, the peepers obliged. Tears swelled and turned tides in my eyes. Rapt, my foot gripped the brake. The night dissolved into their concert. * * * Today I know grey. Grey jays at lunch. Grey evening sky. Grey fog on my thoughts. Clarity and focus go out from the meditating mind like spruce needles off a branch. Their bodies like spokes, like outstretched arms to a god above. Nature arranges them in rows, structured and purposeful, their angles precise. I long to be a drop of rain off their tips. To stay and observe the path of life before it erupts. To literally hang on to the moment. To graze the hand of
a higher power—then only to fall. To pull into myself, gather all of my light, and reflect it out. A single drop of light against the grey sky. Brilliance lasting only for an instant. Likewise, I am moved by winds, by the hands of the world around me—a ball of clay. I sway. Light stratifies with the mountain horizons in a monochromatic painter’s palate. Feathery blue-grey streaks across the sky, dark-to-light-to-darker. The sky tells stories in color. It speaks in rhymes and riddles and paradoxes and when you finally sit for a still life you find life is not still. It makes profound statements in rising clouds. It holds dialogue with the heavens. Stratus is more mild-tempered than cumulonimbus. Cirrus does not engage in such trivial matters, preferring to muse about the state of life below. They chatter on as light rains sprinkle damp spots on my knees. * * * Spruce limbs wear delicate opal earrings of leftover rains. Mist rises off a mountain stream—the world saturated with moisture, air thick with water. Spider webs apparate into view with the turning rays of the sun. In their centers artists become hunters. I watch them all. Wood thrush dances from limb to limb above the forest floor, then flits out of sight. Stillness pervades. 25
* * * Lighting bugs rehearse their choreography in open fields at night. Sparkling like scattered glitter, the hills are alive. Flash. Flash. Flash. Their pulses of light are breathtaking alone, heart-stopping together. They put on the only show worth watching tonight. I think of bottling up their masterpiece, of holding a dancer in a jar, but only this stage will do. Inspiring awe. Letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s close our eyes, close our minds, and watch them dance. * * * Blue sky on blue lake. From the shore the water looks blue. On it, it is as dark as the depths of the ocean. Like paddling across a pool of black tar. A pond in a deep cave where bodies rise out of the water, met by a blue fire on an island. My imagination strike-slips. Crushed ideas brush past one another and powder my mind with their sandstone rubble. * * * From the corner of my eye it happened. A flash of navy, a flash of yellow, a flash of gone. And I dashed. Images from half-seconds before registered slower than my feet hit the sand. She soared higher and higher above my head. Past a grove of tamarisks, I met her, six feet above my head, as she soared away. Larger than a raven, smaller than an eagle. Outstretched wings curved like a boomerang narrowed into 26
arrow-like points. Navy blue backside, white face, black cheek. Yellow eye. As she tumbled up into the wind, she exposed her white, grey-banded underside. The image formed. Just moments ago, in my periphery, less than five feet away, she had dove, snatching a songbird from the air, before releasing it, startled by my presence. I stood alone now in a grove of tamarisks, red ants crawling up my legs, sand hot on my soles, neck craned, eyes strained, to watch her fly away over the terraced red canyon walls. The wind blew hard and hot against my face, like someone had opened an oven. My mouth opened, and I said her name out loud: Peregrine.
In Search of Paradise Meena Fernald ’16
I am suspended mid-air in a chair made for one, rocking back and forth as I slowly ascend to the summit, where fresh powder and rugged terrain await me with frosty, open arms. A GoPro awkwardly secured to my helmet catches the wind as it soaks in the breathtaking views, compensation for the frigid conditions. Bursts of blinding sunlight behind snow-encrusted pines, white-topped ridgelines for miles in every direction, and deep powder stashes combine to create the perfect winter wonderland vista. After weeks of freezing rains followed by warm, 40 degree January days, winter is finally here and the Single Chair lift at Mad River Glen is open at last. Downhill skiing seems like a rather mundane adventure for a 20-year-old like myself, whose fate as a skier was decided before I could walk, when my dad took me speeding down mountains in a backpack, much to the distress of the other parents on
the slopes. However, rumors of Mad River Glen, hidden in the peaks of the Green Mountains and home to legendary glades and unbelievable snow, have traveled with me throughout my skiing career. “We’ll take you there when you’re older. When you’re ready,” was my father’s constant refrain. His depiction of the iconic single chair to the summit—so cold that they once provided wool blankets to keep skiers company—contributed to the enthralling shroud of mystery that surrounded Mad River in my youthful eyes. What’s more, at the top of this solitary journey, Paradise lies hidden. This trail, deemed by experienced skiers as “an actual black diamond in the east,” remained elusive to our father-daughter team in the winter of 2013. So, now, in the winter of 2014, following a newly discovered instinct to push my The Mad River Single Chair, by Mara Gans
At the base of Mad River Glen, it is -15 degrees without wind-chill. In the warmth of the basebox lodge, patrollers insist “we’re lucky there’s no wind today.” Good god it is cold. No wind today my ass.
limits, I turn to face the mountain and the trail that has, for so long, loomed on my horizon. Past the mid-station, the sunshine becomes a little more consistent, and like a morning glory, I instinctually turn my face to bask in the warm rays. Below me, the run Chute promises to be my first real test as I embark on my adventure. A logically crafted strategy for descent replaces what once would have been mind-numbing fear and confusion at the winding, rock-strewn, mogul-ridden trail through the trees. At one point not too long ago, I would have looked down at Chute from the lift and thought: No way in hell. I am not jumping off that rock. It’s too patchy, too steep, and too public. Instead, I find myself picking out potential routes, thinking strategically and excitedly about my impending descent. Several minutes later, my plans become a reality as I plant and turn around moguls, rocks, towers, and ice. I reach a rock wall, only a two-foot drop, and finally my nerves start to kick in. Eyes scan the precipice, straining to find a point to launch. I breathe easy. Skier’s left, a layer of powder cushions both the rock face and the landing. Bend knees. Deep breath. Go. * * * Back at the bottom, my blood is pumping 28
a little faster now, and the lift ride is not nearly as frigid as before. Channeling my inner owl, I twist my neck to take in the snowcapped mountains and valleys and lose my breath again. It’s not like the view is new; I’ve been living here for over a year. Yet, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the three mountain ranges that surround my home in Vermont. In the middle of the Green Mountains, I look west to the Adirondacks of New York and East to the Whites of New Hampshire. Again, I marvel at my luck. Ski tips up. Poles in right hand. Go. Disembarking from the single chair, I immediately look up to the right, where I know the trailhead to Paradise lies hidden. A wooden sign reads “Paradise Closed Today.” The temptation to ignore this warning and embark on my adventure is overwhelming. Paradise is a supposed rite of passage for Mad River skiers. It was originally declared too dangerous to be an official trail, but thrill-seekers and daredevils continued to trek through the woods to leap over the waterfall and down its steep turns. Thus, in 1984, Manager Bob Cooke decided to put “Paradise” back on the map, making it the steepest official trail in New England. Such a reputation is daunting, and dissuades me from my original plan to disregard the sign and venture out
to Paradise today. Next time. Next time. Don’t be an idiot, Fernald. You don’t want to lose the rest of your season. You’ll get there eventually. I head to Fall Line, Paradise’s steep companion, instead. Cutting under the lift, I shoot across Chute and into a small path through the white evergreens and deep powder-stashes and emerge on Fall Line. Narrow, winding, steep and mogully, my knees, quads, and ankles are pushed past their breaking points, and yet I speed downward, sweating and exhausted to the base. * * * Back in line, I’m suddenly alone. On this sunny, -15 degree Thursday, the mountain is occupied by myself, a small handful of other skiers, and the members of the Mad River Glen ski patrol. I think to myself: This is it. This is your deadline. Today is the day you ski Paradise. Only one problem: I’m alone. And Paradise is closed. Nearly every other trail on the mountain is readily accessible, and yet the one trail I need, I can’t get to. Just hike up, ignore the sign and ski it. The line for the single chair is shortening, and as I obey the red “WAIT” sign covered in a light dusting of snow, I remain
conflicted. “Paradise is one of those trails you want good conditions on. If it’s not open, it’s for a reason,” says ski patrol officer after officer. Neck strained to see the incoming chair, I release my knees and enjoy the steady ride to the summit. Every ride up, I get less cold, and I feel lonely only when the wind picks up. I wonder how much good those wool blankets used to do? The consistent snowfall, a blessing on the trails but a curse on the lift, finds its way into my goggles, through my face-mask and freezes the back of my neck. Shoulders hunched, eyes down, I think: If I fall and hurt myself and I’m alone… and the trail is closed… ski patrol won’t happen upon me and neither will any other skiers. I am a strong and independent individual. Get over this, Fernald. I am not only by myself on the lift, but also on this adventure. I experience solitude unlike any other. Arriving at last at the top, I look to my right at that fateful sign “Paradise Closed Today,” my stomach drops and I turn my back. I may not have conquered Paradise yet, but I will return soon. Its gates have been opened and I have an adventure to finish. Next time I come I’ll bring backup, because Paradise alone is no paradise at all.
Leigh Lake Alpenglow. WY. Morgan McGlashon ’17.5.
Sometimes the best adventures aren’t the crazy summits and extreme hikes. Sometimes they’re the days where you pack the truck, grab some fruit, and drive to a place that fills your soul. Santa Fe, Ecuador. Anahí Naranjo ’17. 30
Algonquin: Power, Peace, and Metempsychosis Kent Ratliff ’16
I step out of the van onto the hard packed snow of the Adirondak Loj parking lot. The wind sweeps flurries of white, dancing from snow banks, and bullies clouds to the horizon, drenching us in warm sunlight and crisp blue air. Parker Peltzer ’17 and I prepare to lead a training trip for students pursuing a winter guideship for the Middlebury Mountain Club. Around me are participants strapping on snowshoes and hoisting their packs, excited for the chance to be in nature. Their stressful lives, now left somewhere on College Street could no longer be called that. I watch as a sentinel, the energetic guidesin-training eager to prove that they are prepared for full “guideship.” “Trip to Marcy Dam, let’s gather over here!” “Does everyone’s pack feel comfortable? Here. Here’s how it should fit.” “Oh, you have your snowshoes on backwards.” “Everybody’s got two full water bottles?” As I look around, I realize that I’ve personally trained every one of these guidesin-training. It was a strange thought, simultaneously bringing forth the emotional realization that I am past the halfway point of my college career and filling me with a sense of wonder that I was, in that moment, significant. It is interesting, how our perceived relationships with the
outdoors can so differ from the bonds and experiences we truly cultivate. With all packs on backs, all feet in snowshoes, and all spirits high, we embark on the trail. As a training trip, my role is part participant, part teacher, and part mentor. We had spent a little over two hours a week for the past three weeks going over skills of leadership and familiarizing everyone with equipment in a classroom setting. Now, I must provide the example of proper outdoor etiquette for these aspiring guides to witness, allow them opportunities to prove and polish their own leadership skills, and take any teachable moment to give constructive curriculum. Amidst the teachable moments, Parker and I have two concrete scenarios planned: the “Lost Person Drill” and a medical emergency. Parker and I had talked through the situation earlier: I was to be a patient with a broken ankle, an allergy to ibuprofen, and severe internal bleeding due to blunt abdominal trauma. All day, I will hike with painted bruising around my ankle and lower abdomen, carrying a bottle of fake blood in my pocket should I want to make it interesting. Parker and I agreed that I would fall injured whenever it seemed logical. We want to make the situation as believable as possible. 31
old any time soon. We stop at our campsite on the way to Algonquin Peak, a small snow-covered clearing just off the trail, to eat and drop superfluous gear. Doing so, I catch Parker’s eye and hurry away with the excuse of a full bladder.
Photo by Kent Ratliff
The metal lining the bottom of our snowshoes crunches against solid snow as we make our way towards Algonquin Peak. Conversations lull to an appreciative silence for the sounds of snowfall and the odd bird call. The wind flows through snow-muted needles of evergreen and the leafless branches of maple and birch. There’s something so sublime about the sound of winter in the woods. The tracks of the snowshoe hare cross the trail and dart off behind a boulder. Fresh, crispcold air fills my lungs, carrying with it the metallic taste of cold and physically ridding me of the past, rooting me to my surroundings. This is why I go into nature. When training guides, I get much less of this sense of rejuvenation, though it is satisfying in a different way. I risk approaching nature more as a job than a passion, but it’s a job I love, and I can’t see it getting 32
In a snowy winter, it’s difficult to get “lost.” Anywhere you go, you leave a two-foot deep trail, easily traceable. I walk on the path, hiding my prints among many others before embarking into the thigh-high wilderness. I climb over boulders and to the top of a small cliff—finally finding my stage: a hole in the snow, just big enough to snag a snowshoe. I lower the bruise-painted ankle into the hole, surprised at just how deep it was. With my entire leg and lower torso in the hole, I finally find the bottom, a tangle of roots perfect for snaring my snowshoe and getting properly stuck. In my head, I go through my mechanism of injury, deciding exactly how I have gotten injured. I had stepped above the hole, slipped and fell, bashing my abdomen on the sharp rock and coming down on my ankle at a sharp angle. The scene is black and white, lacking color. I smear the tube of blood on my forehead, allowing it to drip down my face. Head wounds bleed more than you’d ex-
pect, even from a small cut. A small cut! This wasn’t believable if there was blood and no cut. I grab a sharp stick and scour a line just above my bloodstained face, not deep enough to actually bleed, but deep enough to make them question. I embed the stick in the snow in front of me as evidence. With the stage set, I have only to wait. Within five minutes, I hear my name shouted in unison from our little clearing. For this first call, I give no response. I count the silence. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1… “KENT!!” This time I give a feeble call. If they can’t hear me, they are to remain in place calling my name for a full ten minutes before moving to part two of the missing person drill. Ten seconds pass. “KENT!!!” “Here”
10 seconds “KENT!!!” “Over here!”
They hear this call and move towards me. From the crunching of their snowshoes, I can tell they move on a snowpacked trail, not straight towards me through the brush as I had hoped. “Here’s some tracks!” Too easy; Damn those tracks. At least they had performed the first part of the drill
well. They struggle through the obstacle course of boulders, fallen trees, and snow-hidden holes, arriving with good communication, guiding one another over the obstacles. A first head pokes into my field of vision, and her eyes go straight towards my bloodied head. Then, a team of two comes to assess, picking their way up the steep ledge to my position. “Are you alright?” “I don’t know” I manage, fear in my voice. I must be quite the sight. Having no mirror I have no concept of just how much blood was on my face. My right leg is buried up to my hip, and my left splayed across the snow, with the angle between painfully obtuse. “Is anything hurt?” “My ankle’s killing me.” The words wince through gritted teeth. Their primary concern is my bloodied façade, as it should be. The possibility for serious head injury is present, so movement has to be limited until they can rule out further spinal damage. Through several quick questions about mechanism and pain quality, they diagnose that it is only a surface-level wound. Each of the two reaches under an arm, ready to hoist me out of my selflaid trap. “AHHH!” The snowshoe pulls at my wounded ankle and my outcry causes them to pause their hoisting. I have given 33
them a lose-lose situation. They obviously cannot leave me in the hole, but my removal would hurt my ankle further. Carefully, positions are reassumed and steadily I creep inch-by-inch out of the hole. By this point, I am entering acute hypothermia from lying directly in snow for nearly 20 minutes, and they quickly move me onto an insulated pad. “So your ankle hurts, let’s take a look.” The distraction had worked, they miss my abdominal wound, and without following the proper protocol my internal bleeding would go unnoticed. They take vitals, but are treating it like a basic scenario to practice splints, disregarding the possibility of more serious afflictions. My hypothermia is dealt with expertly. I lay wrapped in a -30 sleeping bag, insulated from the snow with a thick foam pad, and protected from the elements with the outer tarp casing of my insulated cocoon. They begin work on my ankle, pried out from the other end of my swaddling, and I begin to mentally and physically deteriorate. With my breathing hidden by the layers, I hyperventilate. Rapid, shallow panting tricks the brain into emergency mode. My pulse skyrockets, and some pigment drains from my face. Emerging from my preparations I gaze at some point well beyond my attendees, wincing with every jostle of my ankle. “How does this feel” they ask with nurse-like care as they tighten the 34
Photo by Ryan McElroy
bindings on the make shift splint. Silence. “Kent?” “Huh? What?” “Does this feel alright?” “I…” “Something’s wrong.” “…n..no, that, that doesn’t… hurt” I begin to go into shock from blood loss. Recognizing my worsening condition, they place a call to 911 through Parker to
request an evac crew. During shock, the body pulls blood to the core vital organs, leaving the rest of the body at risk. It’s the last-ditch effort in prolonging life. They take vitals again. “Pulse is higher, breathing rapid.” I am passed three water bottles filled with hot water to place in my groin and armpits, areas with high bloodflow, to help warm my hypothermic body. I’ve been under care for two-and-a-half hours at this point, and they still haven’t found the main injury. I decide to help them out, give them at least some reason to suspect a stomach or abdominal wound—plus, I was having fun with the fake blood. I dip my head into the sleeping bag and fill my mouth from the tube. The acrid, sickly sweet blood fills my mouth, but I let it sit until I am forced to talk. “Are you feeling warmer?” I look up in glazed comprehension, teeter back and forth, and heave blood onto the pure white snow beside me, now looking like a strawberry snowcone. That did the trick. They peel back my layers and do a pain quality check on my abdomen. I can see the realization of this missed step in their eyes, in the sagging shoulders and furled brows, in an awkward half-smile. They have learned something.
left beyond the trailhead. After acting out such an extreme situation for nearly four hours, it takes time to regain composure. With participants debriefed, lessons learned, and myself composed, we pack away our little scenario, making our careful way back to the trail. The day was gone, and the peak would remain pristine, unconquered and infallible, until next time. The next day we break camp and retrace our way to the van. We hurry, rushing to make it back by the appointed time. We climb a hill within one mile of the trailhead and one participant stops in his tracks, gaze shooting upwards as he exclaims, “Wow…look at those trees!” I break my pace, pausing to gaze up, aware that every stop delays us. But these trees, what majestic trees. They soar skyward, in that moment dwarfing any mechanical achievement of man. Deep red bark and bright green needles flash against the white scene of snow and sky. I have led six trips on this wild trail, but not once have I paused for these ancient sentinels. I was lost among their branches, and I may never be found.
I regain composure, slowly, my symptoms slipping away like the school stress 35
the desert Mara Gans ’15.5 Speed-up, keep-up, grow-up quick play the game, you know the one caught in the commercial hum. Get-up, move-up, speak-up quick work the game, it’s all a race stumble with its manic pace. Jobs, people, phones, stress. Beep, beep, beep, beep. (Pause, breathe).
Art by Mara Gans
The desert is not like that. The desert breathes, in and out, slowly, a landscape in meditation, tranquil and intentional—but certainly not dead. Wind and water carry the rhythm of heartbeats, the intonation of respirations. Together, they sculpt: canyons, arches, towers, and the unnamed features, those free of entrapment by language. Notice these wrinkles and dimples. Footprints in the desert’s hearty face, they tell tales of ancient laughter and share worn records of prior battles. They breathe: in and out, slow down a moment, let cease your hasty gainful pace, and perhaps, you will hear its whisper. 36
Faces of the Ice Ryan McElroy ’16.5
– Zach – “ICE!” Zach’s voice echoes through the falling snow, louder than the wind whipping through the surrounding spruce and the trucks passing by on route 73 far below. It cuts across the frozen Chapel Pond, which I had crossed less than an hour ago. I hear it, but nothing registers in my brain. My gaze is ever upwards, neck craning to spot the orange blob that marked the other end of my rope. Just barely making out the moving speck of a man, my eyes shift focus to the dancing shapes falling from the sky. Like pieces of glass, these shards spin and flip, clatter and sing, bounce down, down, down… Oh shit. That’s what he meant—I suddenly drop my head and curl inwards after being struck by a flying slab. No way I’m forgetting that one! Now I know: ice is the name of the game. This season’s first day of climbing was off to a slippery start. * * * I met Zach (’14.5) early my freshman year at a Geology Department pizza lunch. His large shoulders and burly frame were softened by his calm voice and dimpled smile. We soon became friends, and I learned he was one of the most patient teachers I’ve ever had. He could have been in his thirties, speaking so eloquently, knowing so
much, and climbing so well. Yet, he was only a year older than me. The story he told me on the way to the ice, the one about fishing for crawdads, keeping them in his apartment sink, and coming home to find one on the carpet, pincers raised, looking up at him, reminds me he’s not all grown up. He’s still a kid just like me. Or maybe not. I feel like a modified kid. Like a kid who lost his essential fearlessness. Now, taking the first step is the hardest. Putting off an assignment, postponing a phone call, or stumbling to let 37
someone know how you truly feel about them – it’s always so damn scary. Zach continues ascending, now beyond my line of sight. And then there are those other fears. Smashing in my teeth. Eyeballs. Wolves. Abandonment. Addiction. Living an incomplete life. The list lengthens at a frightening pace while I stand belaying Zach at Crystal Ice Tower. He’s gotta be there soon. The anxiety is closer to freezing me than the single digit temperatures. I wait and wait.
the drive home from a full day in the Adirondacks. “You gotta have your systems, man. At least two sandwiches. Make ‘em before breakfast. Three gloves. Each with a purpose. Oh yeah, and you can’t leave your boots in the trunk – there’s no heat back there!” I certainly made mistakes, and my lack of systems was laughable, yet I had managed to keep my feet nice and toasty. I brought my boots with me in the front seat. At least I had that going for me.
“Ryan, off belay!” That’s my signal. He’s made it up. It’s all me now. If I can just manage to breathe…here it goes.
– Scott – Scott’s a make-your-own-adventure kind of guy who skillfully avoids getting stuck in routine. His decades of climb-
My mind is blank. I reach. Swing. Swing. Step. I’m up. Steel robo-talons pierce the ice and miraculously hold me. Swing right. Check the feet. Packs look like dots below. Kick. Test weight. Breathe. Swing left. Shattered ice. Swing again. Dinner plates. Swing and…perfect. Hero Ice. You can’t plan for it, but when you sink it, there is nothing better—an ice climber’s nirvana. * * * Our day out ended just as it began: dark skies, temperatures just pushing double digits, and turkey sandwiches on my mind. But my body ached more than it did at 6:25 am. That’s for darn sure. “Classic rookie mistakes,” Zach explained on 38
ing, mountaineering, and traveling take a backseat to his current pastimes: sunrise hiking Mt. Abe, sledding down Lincoln Gap, or ski touring a chunk of the Catamount Trail. The list goes on, but rarely will he bring this up unless you ask. And it’s even more unlikely that you’ll get the details on his past escapades. A climber’s modesty, filtering both thoughts and words. Any lessons or snippets of insight are prefaced by, “I hate to sound like I’m lecturing here” or end with a “take that and do what you will.” * * * Listening is one of Scott’s greatest gifts. When we first met, I was taken aback by how much I opened up—and how comfortable I felt doing so. Early sophomore year I struggled with direction and with finding a place to be comfortable here at school. The year before was real rough and lonely. I was searching for something to fix me. I tried studying harder, running further, crying louder, and sleeping longer. What I really needed was someone to hear my story. Finding Scott was a huge turning point. I dumped out the jumbled mess of thoughts I’d been carrying around with me since walking from Georgia to Maine just over a year before. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail was unbelievably satisfying. The hardest part was stopping. Scott got this. He honored my pain of the ‘in between’ and deeply understood
the complexity of life off-trail. * * * “There’s old climbers and there’s bold climbers. But there’s no old bold climbers.” Scott smiles, eyes twinkling. He tries not to take full credit for any of his wisdom, attributing this phrase to his good friend, David Stone. “I don’t know why going up has such a draw… it’s a total exhilaration, but I don’t know how to put it in words.” That’s it. You can only feel the movement and the rhythm. Beyond that, it’s just silly. The ice raining down on you, fingers frozen, and wind whipping past your face—we laugh at all of it. “I could just throw rocks at you all day if you want,” Scott jokes. It might just do the trick. Pausing a bit longer, he echoes what Zach has mentioned. There’s an “addiction to that ‘thunk’ when you first set a tool and it goes right in…it’s almost like bliss.” He holds out the ‘s’ as he sits back, eyes closed. I picture the ‘hero ice’ he’s dreaming of. “How do I get that back?” he asks longingly, more to himself than to me. * * * As with other climbers, there’s a tension in Scott between striving for more and restraining this drive. Modesty usually wins out at the surface, but today I see deeper. Scott appears to be wrestling with finding 39
peace in his life, whether or not climbing is a part of it. “I don’t climb much, sadly,” he tells me. “It’s not that I’ve ruled it out…” but just that there are other things keeping him busy. And fulfilled. He appreciates a good cup of tea and loves conversation with his family. But he’s the same guy who gets upset when a good streak of getting outside is interrupted by poor weather or personal commitments. Reflecting on my conversation with Scott, I find that I too struggle with finding a sense of balance. The outdoor pursuits can start to dominate and run my life without allowing me to breathe. But then the plodding through a semester crammed full of class and scheduling with no time for climbing brings me way down, too. I have been plotting my next long hike for years now, but I still doubt it will do what I need it to. Do I spend too much time in the future, sifting through all the self-created possibilities? And the reminiscing on the past? It’s so hard to stay engaged. So difficult to focus. Maybe that’s why we climb – to center ourselves. – Doucet – It’s now Thursday night, and I scroll through the backlog of email. It never stops. Perpetual sounds, images, messages. Buy our jacket, sign up here, this weekend at Midd! I don’t care. I hate the clutter in my life. 40
Midway down the screen I find an orange dot flagging a note from Derek Doucet. “Ice Is Nice!” reads the subject line. “Hey there, looking forward to seeing you at 8:30 tomorrow morning.” How could that have slipped my mind? I scramble to pack up and leave a yellow sticky with a list of things not to forget in the morning. Thermos. Lunch. Sunglasses. Wallet. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep tonight. In my dreams, ice shards ominously rain down. It does not stop. * * * Most adults Doucet’s age avoid risk. They are far more likely to stop at Cookie Love for a creemee or the Teddy Bear Factory for a bit of amusement along Route 7. Why then does he cruise past these spots in search of icy walls? For Doucet, being out in the extremes—the cold, wet, and wind—is “perversely amusing.” He laughs. It’s appealing to some. To us. “Operating within an acceptable level of risk, never recklessness, is a fascinating thing.” He chuckles again, well aware that what he says does not ring true with most. I am so curious about what it is exactly that keeps him going back. He struggles to find the right words. “Immediacy and focus, maybe.” We so rarely are present in our lives. “I think it’s the necessity of
being right here, right now.” We all feel the distractions. Preventing them from consuming us is so difficult. Doucet describes the power of a climb to “strip away the noise.” I get goosebumps when I recall Scott’s words matching Doucet’s almost exactly. And I feel the same way. It’s nice to know none of us is alone. When I ask Doucet if he can achieve the same level of focus in any other part of his life, his answer is a pained “no.” “I wish I could say yes, otherwise the whole thing smacks of addiction.” After some thought, he mentions that really long days of trail running with a “healthy element of suf-
fering” can bring him a similar feeling but that it truly is a unique headspace when climbing. Where in my life can I achieve this? Must it be inherently dangerous to bring clarity? * * * Complete honesty. Doucet values this in climbing of all surfaces. You must assess every flake of rock, each piece of gear, all knots and hitches, the individual muscles contracting and relaxing to get you up the pitch. If you can’t be truthful when evaluating the risks, it’s bound to catch up with you. Climbing requires an honesty I wish to emulate in my living. Scott and Doucet, both older climbers, let this value speak in their lives. Clearly, with practice, it begins to permeate all aspects of life off the wall. For Doucet, one reward is feeling more engaged at work and at home with his family. But, it still is painful to realize that every time you go out, you put yourself at risk. “You know, I have thought about quitting altogether.” I swallow, not knowing how to respond. Surprised Doucet has told me this much, I need a second to take it all in. “Wouldn’t that be hard?” I ask. Of course it would be! What kind of question is that? Climbing “consumes your life,” Doucet explained earlier. “I don’t have any close 41
friends who aren’t climbing, guiding, or thinking about their next trip.” There’s no escape. The odds are stacked against a cold-turkey halt. * * * Focus. Wake up. The day of cold, old, vertical ice pushes me to place feet more deliberately. Brittle ice shatters, even as I am careful to stack tools vertically as Zach taught me, rather than the vertical matching I still revert to. C’mon, Ryan. Smooth, triangle, breathe. He’s watching. Why did you have to hike seven miles yesterday – before 9 am? Sunrise, was it worth it? And the seven o’clock ski at Rikert on Wednesday? In -50 degree weather? You’re wiped. You can’t do this. Just give up, man. My left foot scrapes out the thin ice. I look down to watch it delaminate from the rock below, not registering what’s happening. I’m suddenly thrown off balance. My right hand slips. Harness jerks up into my crotch. The voices stop as I immediately let out: “Damnit.” I have broken the number one rule in ice climbing—don’t fall. Zach, Scott, and Doucet had all emphasized this early on in our discussions. Unlike climbing rock, especially bolted sport routes where falls are part of game, ascending ice brings with it unimaginable risk with one misstep or tenuous swing. Snapped ankles are the most common injury, and it doesn’t 42
take much. Falling even just a couple feet on an ice route generates enough force to instantly shear through leg bones if crampon points stick the ice. And you better hope they’ll stick if you want to climb with the orange talons. Different from rock crag climbing, ice should not be about testing physical limits. “Often it’s a mental and emotional issue on the ice.” I think I’m starting to understand this. “A huge part of the game is keeping it together.” My climbing today is far from perfect. I blame myself and the crappy conditions. But I must let go of this negativity and keep it together. I think back to Doucet’s story in his Suburu. He talked about how when things get “funky, goofy, or hairy” in the mountains he laughs it off. “I got myself into this mess,” said Doucet, “I better get out smiling.” He relies on humor to keep him going, and now I choose to follow his lead and laugh it off. * * * “Nice, man. Get those hips up. Sweet stance. Maybe stem your right leg?” Who said that? Belaying Doucet at the end of the day, I catch myself coaching. He certainly doesn’t need it. But maybe this is why he has offered to me out today. I do enjoy helping people. And I am probably more encouraging, approachable, and
trustworthy than I give myself credit for. Maybe he wanted to share that, to help me see myself in a better light. Perhaps we all transition from student to teacher. And there is much learned beyond the hardskills I feel obliged to pass on. How great it must feel to inspire wonder, provide a sense of accomplishment, and stand as one honest person willing to help another along, up, and away.
bother trying? Are they worthy role models? As long as I continue to meet these people and seek answers to these questions, it’s likely my story will read similar to those of the men I’ve met. But nothing is written in stone. I proceed with caution as on ice, aware that my words may melt, freeze, flow, or shatter at any moment. Accompanying photos by Ryan McElroy
– Ryan – I feel fortunate to have been so warmly welcomed into this community of ice climbers. Reflecting on my time with each, I catch glimpses of an unwritten future. Might my senior thesis involve work with ice flows? Will I take Zach’s job as head monitor at the wall? Might I lead mountaineering trips out west and be able to laugh off the dark times? What would a family change? Is there hope of being as calm and content as Scott? And might I someday question all of it? Like Doucet, might I ask if it is all worth it? Is this my future? Possibly. Possibly not. I will forever be in awe of the extreme. Rigid peaks, ancient rock, gnarled trees, and violent storms – they captivate me. But the people testing themselves out there are even more interesting. Their pushing of physical, mental, and emotional limits fascinates me. Why do they do it? What is the point? Should I 43
Morgan McGlashon ’17.5
I’m sitting in Pearl Street Bagels in Jackson Wyoming, and it is pouring rain outside. The forecast for the rest of the week is thunderstorms and more rain. I sigh with the realization that winter in the Tetons may finally be coming to a close. The lifts at the ski area stopped spinning nearly a month ago and kids are running around town in board shorts and flip flops, but if you are as desperate to hang onto winter as I am, it’s hard to ignore the 70-plus inches of snow that have fallen since the beginning of April. A mere 24 hours beforehand, I was standing at the top of Teewinot Mountain (12,330 feet) for the first time; the edges 44
of my skis clinging to the mountainside as we began to make our way off the summit. My partners and I struck out on the first attempt due to some route finding and incoming weather earlier in the week, so we went back for round two. Confident in our route this time, we cruised up the first 2,500 vertical feet by 8 am. At this point I put my ski boots on and started skinning around 9,000 feet, while my partners Caleb and Andrew decided to see how far they could get in shoes—10,000 feet before they started post-hole-ing and gave up on the trail runners.
The sun was hanging high in the sky by 9:15 and it was heating up rapidly by the time we started boot packing up the East Face. We may have turned around if there hadn’t already been a boot pack put in by three climbers ahead of us. There were two guys down-climbing that had decided they didn’t like the snow conditions, which was a little concerning, but they also didn’t have skis, so their descent would be much slower than ours. We decided to keep moving at least over the crux and see how far we could get. Just as we made our way up through the narrow crux, a mere 500-ft from the summit, a rope came barreling down the narrow couliour and nearly took Caleb off the side of the mountain. A little confused, we grabbed the rope and continued climbing. Shortly after making our way over the crux, we ran into the party of three who were making their way down. Thankful that we had saved their rope, they told us they would leave a few beers at the car, gave us a nod of good luck, and continued down to rope up through the crux. We were only 400 vertical feet from the summit, but navigating slick snow, rocks, and melting pockets at 12,000 felt like it took an eternity. Yet, no matter how hard it is to make the final push to the summit, the last 15 steps on the edge feel effortless.
There is nothing quite like peering down 6,000-ft between your feet on a knife ridge, in ski boots and crampons, gripping your toes for dear life. The top of Teewinot is breathtaking. The north side drops off with a few thousand feet of exposure; there is a stunning view of the north side of the Grand, and Owen sits high and mighty just to the west. After enjoying the summit hangout and snapping a few quick photos, we de-cramponed, clicked into our skis and began to make our way back down the east face. There were two tricky spots that we could have down-climbed, but for the sake of racing the sun and saving time, we skied through both cruxes. The snow was hot and heavy as we descended, but we kept moving and made it back to the snowline. Reaching the point where we have to take our skis off and begin the bushwack back to the car is always a bummer, but there is a sense of relief that comes over me, knowing that the scariest parts are over (usually). After cruising through the sagebrush, we laughed and high-fived as we hit the dirt road, excited and relieved that we had a successful day and a new ski descent under our belts. Accompanying photo by Morgan McGlashon
Editorial Board Mara Gans Ben Harris Sofi Hecht Evan Gallagher
Special Thanks To Scott Barnicle AnahĂ Naranjo Morgan McGlashon
Questions? Submissions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org go.middlebury.edu/fireside