Saturday, December 22, 2007

Success on the Solstice

Today was a fantastic day. It came at the right time. Sometimes you just have to have a bad week in order to really appreciate a perfect day.

Being the shortest day of the year, we decided to sleep in. No use going out in the dark anyway. Rolling out of bed around 9:30 felt great. Around 10:30, Kim, Brian and I left town to go climbing at Candyland. Candyland is just what it sounds like. A playground for ice climbers. Off of the Seward Highway, cut into the side of the mountain there are rows and rows of ice to climb. As a bonus, the view from the climbs of the Turnagain Arm are not bad.

The cold snap last week fattened up the ice everywhere around Anchorage. Then it warmed up Friday night to make it just that perfect consistency like swinging your tools into firm butter. This is the kind of ice that makes you believe you can't do anything wrong. Completely the opposite of the ice on our attempted climb two weeks ago.

Kim and I warmed up on the ice at the bottom of the climb. Kim was psyched to do her first waterfall lead. I was psyched to get back into leading after a seven month break from waterfall ice. I was also a little nervous after the attempt a few weeks ago. Did I still have the guts to lead? Or had I completely lost my nerve?

Kim led up first and did an awesome job. Clean lead, no problems. I followed her up, and felt little more than awkward. I hadn't really followed anyone lately either, so I found the rope above me constraining, and downright annoying. I had to go in the direction that the rope led me which meant getting myself in some awkward positions. At one point I was totally straddling this bulge, with the worst form ever, and felt so insecure. But the ice was nice, and it was just great to be out there.

The three of us did laps all afternoon. It warmed up to somewhere in the upper 20s it felt like and we relaxed, ate, climbed and took in the view. I was ready to lead again.

I geared up and kept staring at the climb. I felt pretty confident at this point, but there is always that thought in the back of your mind. What if this is the day that I am going to fall. I started climbing and 10 feet off the ground, my fears just vanished. I was leading again and felt amazing. No more rope in front of me directing me where to go, getting in the way of my swings and constricting my movement.

There is a certain freedom in leading. Of course you are putting in protection, but each screw is quickly behind you and it becomes just you and the ice. The possibilities are endless. It becomes a kind of dance. You swing your tools with a rhythm and use your footwork to slowly and gracefully move up the side of an enormous frozen mass of ice. I felt more comfortable on this lead than ever. It helped that ice was super sticky, but I have my leading confidence back and am ready to move on bigger and better climbs.

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