Four years had passed, four years of constant reminders. Every glimpse of a rock face, every postcard of a mountain, every carabiner keychain a reminder of that day. Looking in the mirror........I had to wonder if I still had it in me. Sure, accidents happen and people die in the mountains, but it wasn't supposed to happen to me. And it wasn't really my fault. Even my friends have told me that over and over again. But then why does it plague me so. Why does my gear just sit in the corner? My old partners don't even call me anymore. Deep inside I know I have to climb again. That's what Kristi would have wanted….
Things seemed simple at that time in my life when she and I first met, I was youthful and full of energy ready to conquer the world. Looking back now though maybe I was too careless, blind of my lack of abilities and too willing to take risks. I promised myself to change my ways when I first took her climbing, but I didn’t and my recklessness led to my demise…
Remembering is like a dream. Dreams are surreal in color, things are out of place, but in the dream they are natural, the way things should be, the way they have always been.
It was supposed to be just something basic. Kristi had been pestering me to go for weeks, so I finally hit the books (Beckey, Volume 3) and found something that would be challenging and suitable for both of us, but not too far out there. Kristi was a very good climber. She pulled down hard at 38 and plugged the pro on Davis Holland. I thought I was a stud because I ran laps on Godzilla. (It didnt matter that even after 2 years of trying I couldnt pull the opening move of The Second Pitch.) This was going to be no problem.
Like all trips into the mountains, this one started with us hastily packing the Subaru on a lazy Friday afternoon. Getting to the North Cascades was going to be a casual drive, we were going to miss rush hour.
After two hours of driving, we pulled in to the burrito joint in Burlington for an early dinner and a beer. Or two. Beers seemed in order as we were thirsty and having fun, and we knew we'd still make it to Washington Pass before dark. The mood was light; the Mexican
beer was dark; I was horny.
On the way out of the restaurant, we ran into an unlikely pair -- the mischievous Ray Borbon and the notorious sport climber "Lambone." They too were headed for the pass, but their agenda was different than ours. Different, to say the least. It involved a croquet mallet and ball, but beyond that they would not say, and we didn't want to know.
Liberty Bell looked gorgeous in the late afternoon sun and I pointed out one of the 50 crowded climbs that I was gonna do someday. We pulled off and geared up quick to take full advantage of the daylight and crystal clear skies. Kristi was a climbers dream date: gorgeous, easygoing and able to carry her weight and more without a problem.
We wanted to get ourselves setup for a solid push tomorrow up Early Winters Spire. We had heard there was some steep sections of ice, but everyone assured us it would be no problem. As we hiked in I was preoccupied with thoughts of my warm tent and how Kristi and I would make it warmer...
However, lighting the tent on fire while starting the stove was not one of the ways I had intended to make it warmer. As Kristi and I dove through the flaming vestibule, I lost most of my hair and all my eyebrows. Thank god I had shaved my beard in anticipation of the trip, otherwise things could have been much worse. We both laughed hysterically as we watched the tent melt in a pool of bubbling nylon goo, feeling fortunate not to have lost more than some hair and, for me, a little bit of pride. As the last of the flames went out, Fred Beckey strolled up...
"Thought I recognized that stench, seen folks try to burn their tent down like that, but never were they successful, I must congratulate you, a North Face down to the ground, how long did it take?"
Embarressed as I was, the simplistic and harmless demeanor of the man whom I had only read about, soothed my wretched nerves.
Uhhh, it happened so fast, I guess about... Kristi interupts in her zeal of excitement, "it was under 5 min", as if to impress Fred. She doesn't realize the only reason for this silly small talk that he is graciously engaging in, is due to the fact that she is standing there...
naked and me in my wicking rei boxers. Finally, several hours later we find ourselves in the back of the car doubting whether or not to continue on with our misadventure filled trek. Most of our gear had been scorched in the fire, except for the important pieces of gear, we had left the rope outside and the few pieces of protection we owned were blackened, but upon closer inspection seemed to be useable. So the next morning we set off for the climb that changed my life forever…
It had been a rough night (in more ways than one). With all of my gear and clothes now a melted pile of plastic, Kristi and I had to take turns sharing my REI boxers. But we survived, despite the frequent trips to the brush (those burritos had taken their toll). But, man! what a night of passion in the backseat of my Subaru!
We set off at first sign of light. Kristi strategically placed the shoulder straps of her backpack and wore those cherished boxers of mine. Me? Well, I had the rope and the gear rack... so to speak. We made great timing with our light loads, picking up the pace even more so as to avoid encountering anyone on our approach. Still reminiscing about last night and contemplating our upcoming "climb au naturale", it was almost unfathomable that we ran into Rachel Babkirk the famous Rock and Ice pin-up girl.
I managed to stammer out "Aren't..you..uhh..you know..uhhh"
"Yeah I'm the hottie from Rock and Ice" Rachel replied without missing a beat. "Have you seen my agent? We're supposed to meet a photographer out here for a photo shoot. He wondered off to mark his territory and I think he got lost".
"uhh....uhhh..aren't you.." the strong punch to the shoulder from Kristi dislodged me from my stupor.
"Hey do you know you have a big zit on your forehead" Kristi directed to Rachel.
"What the f&^%...do you have a mirror!" Rachel replied to Kristi.
"Nope sorry..we have to get going..take care trail slu..I mean Rachel" Kristi spat out as she dragged me up the trail by my ear.
We pushed on for what seemed like another hour burning more calories swatting at flies than hiking. Just then......