7.30.2014

Rocks

The deer is kneeling in the grass beside the road, across from and just about even with the turnoff to Mazama in the Methow valley. He tries to get up several times but collapses each time and after one final effort he concedes. He's just been hit by a VW Jetta at 60mph and these are the last minutes or moments of his life. One velvety antler point is hanging by a thread of skin and the blood flowers brightly against the light brown of his coat. One foreleg is missing entirely and ragged bone protrudes from the stump; another flops down at a right angle while the bone exits straight out through the skin into the evening light. The deer's mouth is open and he pants, either from the pain or from the lack of airflow into lungs rendered useless by the impact.
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From the passenger seat, the deer was a loud clunk and blur as it catapulted in front of me from the front end of the car, off the hood and over the windshield. We stopped and I got out to look at the crumpled hood of the car and back at the road where the deer was stumbling away on ruined legs. It took one long minute to decide that there was something else that must inevitably be done before we could drive away. I asked Kevin if he had a hammer in the trunk. I started thinking about what else might work; then I saw a pile of rocks by the road shoulder.
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We're standing over the deer. His eyes roll as he tries to breathe. He has stopped struggling and is lying on his side now, waiting. I imagine that the pain of the deer is the same pain I would feel if my body was broken as his is, the same nerve fire that pulses and consumes time and by turn everything else. Kevin kneels and puts a hand on the deer's side. A brief movement in response. We pick up our rocks. The deer is conscious, but can he see us and the rocks? Does he guess at what we're about to do? I ready a rock by raising it overhead, aiming for the black eyes, the skull underneath and the still-living brain inside. Kevin tells me to stop. I see that as the driver of the car he wants the task to be his. I bring the rock back down and wait. The first rock misses its mark and furrows into the dirt. The second hits the deer's head with a dull thud and he thrashes violently. Another hit and the thrashing calms to spasms. Another crunches the deer's neck and the spasms become an occasional twitch. I lift and throw the rocks three more times until the twitching appears to have stopped. We're done. We walk slowly back to the car. I feel as though we've done the correct thing, really the only thing. Driving away and leaving the deer to a slow death seems to me an unfathomable act of cowardice or worse, laziness. Then we drive south on the highway, away from the carcass of the deer.
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The incident with the deer happened at the end of a very long day of climbing at Washington Pass. Kevin and I teamed up for our first real climbing venture together and attempted to free the Thin Red Line route on Liberty Bell. It was a great day but by no means easy. I reveled at the exposure of the steep east face of Liberty Bell but succumbed to nervousness and barely pulled off my first pitch of the day. I scrapped through an insecure off-balance section at the beginning and decided to link another short pitch, eventually ending up stalled out with feet pasted on either side of a smooth corner below a wet section of crack filled with mud. I stood there for a long while until my legs shook with fatigue, running through the full range of self-doubt, fear and intimidation so familiar to me when I'm out of practice on long routes with a lot of exposure. I have trouble focusing on the climbing instead of on everything else, namely all the distractions that detract from my ability to climb well, which in the past have led to me throwing in the towel on longer routes.

This time around I tried hard to let the mind-frying nervousness go and keep climbing, which at times resembled struggling. On my next lead, which was supposed to be the technical crux, I spent some time waffling on the 5.10 slab traverse leading into said crux. When I got to the most difficult part, a dihedral with some finicky footholds and weird granite maneuvers, I finally started to focus a little harder. I still felt like a clod, though, clobbering my way up. I followed the next crux which was a funky roof boulder problem. I was ruing the slightly less technical heel fit of my TC Pros as I wobbled up on an overhead heel hook above the roof. An easier pitch of flakes and cracks was fun but seemed strangely difficult and physical at that point in the day and wasn't quite the joyous romp it should have been. The next pitch seemed hardest of all to me, though, but was thankfully Kevin's lead. It consists of a hard 5.11 seam grovel that felt even harder than the other cruxes. Holding on a little too hard to a gravelly pocket at one point as I willed my toes to stick in some freakishly shallow jams, I was getting pretty close to falling off. I really didn't want to fall, so the only option was to bludgeon my way upwards through the weird pin scars and woeful footholds. Happy to be on toprope, I finally bellyflopped onto a rounded ledge that had been in the sun too long. Or maybe it was that my hands seemed to be having trouble staying chalked, for I could barely hold on. 

In any case, the belly crawl was trifling and was also to be a central theme of the next pitch, innocuously rated 5.10. Tiredness set in and my brain refused to function; gear placements became less and less inspirational. It wasn't that the pitch was hard to protect or even hard to climb, so I was confused at my apparent ineptitude. I grovelled into a small tree and perched there, momentarily concerned about a rather large potential fall I had created for myself below with some badly placed cams. None of the pieces I had seemed to be the right size. As I pulled over a small roof with another questionable cam placement, the situation grew more grim as I found myself yarding up a handrail with a lush garden flourishing on it. I grabbed a rounded ledge with gravel on it, pulled over and yanked on a hold that turned out to be naught but a small block sitting in the gravel. I put it back where it was and resorted to belly crawling, which worked yet again but I had unfortunately lost a certain sense of pride in my climbing. 

It was time to get to the top, the way forward being a seeming mile of labyrinthine granite ramps and corners. In reality it was easy, classy alpine rock to be enjoyed in tennis shoes while simulclimbing, but from my more myopic view somewhere on the spectrum of fatigue, it became a bit of a chore. My blown out running shoes felt slippery. My arms felt weak. Kevin led to the top in two long pitches with a bit of simulclimbing. Standing on the summit of Liberty Bell was wonderful but my legs wobbled in the gully on the descent. I gave in to temptation and slaked my thirst in a babbling brook a little way down the Blue Lake Trail. I quelled any doubts with the questionable but venerable mantra that if the water is moving, it's OK. The incubation period for giardiasis is quite long, so that it can at least be enjoyed at a more convenient time and place if need be. 

Harried by mosquitos, the walk along the highway back to the car seemed long but the overall pleasure of the undertaking was starting to outweigh the small nuisances. All day I had enjoyed the intense exposure on the wall, the trials and tribulations of not having been on a route like Thin Red Line in a long time, the nervousness and the overcoming of it, the comradery of climbing a long route with a good partner. I've never felt myself to be a master of the alpine. Even though I'm usually just rock climbing, I'm almost never in such good shape as to render these objectives casual jaunts. I have to try really hard. I never bring enough food and I bonk. Easy approaches beat me down because I'm lazy and I don't hike enough. Each component of the day is manageable but when combined become a potent challenge. I forgot, though, how interesting and rewarding it can be to push myself into and past discomfort. Everything is relative too: what once was exhausting becomes almost easy with enough mileage and practice. An all day affair for lazy climbers like me becomes a small piece of a multi-route enchainment for the more honed and intrepid. In the end it's really only the getting out there and trying hard that matters, but dreaming and scheming is always a part of climbing as well and there will always be another yet more ambitious objective waiting in the wings.

Of course, the combination of partnering up for the ritual of climbing followed by the partnering up for the strange ritual of bludgeoning a large animal to death with rocks by the side of the road was certainly a unique experience and not one that I'm soon likely to forget. If I've learned anything from climbing it's that ultimately it's the memory or perception of the experience that's most important. The climb itself is key to that experience but so are all the other occurrences and observations made before, during and after the climb itself. It's the intention to create space for these experiences that allows their magic to enrich our lives.