Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The sun is starting to rise and we don't know it yet but hell is about to be unleashed on the mountain.
Profile of the north face from the standard route on the southwest rib.

Approaching the north face.

Doug finally feels safe to crack a smile after we are off the face.

Dead sea bird in the glacier on the approach, maybe a bad omen.

“Rock!”  Doug Chabot and I where at the belay, tethered to the icy mountain face together. We heard the rumble and simultaneously looked up to see the sky above us filled with a barrage of stones. Doug yelled the warning of rock to Steve Swenson who was out on lead above us. There was nowhere to hide, nothing but 70 degree ice for hundreds of feet in all directions. There was no escape. I remember thinking of a turtle as I tried to suck my body under my helmet and backpack. Doug doing the same beside me began saying, “fuck, fuck, fuck!” I could hear the fear in his voice.

We were in Tajikistan, on the north face of Peak Karl Marx. We had already summited the 6,800 meter peak by the standard route, and were now trying for the first alpine ascent of the north face.

Then, the rocks hit. Steve, who was out on lead, had one ice tool ripped out of the ice. To his credit he managed to not fall. A fall would have been catastrophic. Doug, who was beside me, suddenly seamed to go limp and started to moan. He had taken a direct hit to the shoulder. Then my world went black for a split second, and my ears began to ring, I had taken a rock square on top of my helmet. There was no fight or flight. We had no options. All we could do was wait, wait and see if that one unlucky rock would come and take one or all of us off the mountain face.

That moment is burned into my mind, it has haunted my dreams on many occasions.

After many rappels always under constant rock fall, we escaped to the safety of the bergschrund.  Steve and I were unhurt, but Doug had been hit by another rock, this time to the face. There was a lot of blood, but luckily nothing was broken.

That was a year and a half ago, and I have struggled with the thought of going back to climbing big objectives. But everything is a learning experience and everything is training. From Steve I learned how to remain unflinchingly calm under stress. The guy was the picture of efficiency and calmness on the retreat off the face. Doug who took two big hits, one to the shoulder and one to the face, showed how to be a tough son of a bitch! Because of his injuries he couldn’t help much on the descent, but he kept moving and did what he could. A lesser person could have shut down physically and put the team in an even worse situation. I learned from myself to trust my judgment. The day before the climb I voiced concern about the weather being to warm, but I was very easily persuaded to go have a look.

Lastly, I learned that the big mountains are where my ambitions lie and where I want to be. Its okay and healthy that I stepped away and took time to reflect and look inwardly at myself and decide just who and what I want to be. And now I feel ready to step back into the game. I leave for Pakistan mid-June. Onward!

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