The Seed

At what point in time does an expedition begin?  With the lacing of the boots and the first few tentative steps forward toward the unknown?  Is it when you walk down the muted gateway and enter the belly of the plane – with butterflies floating in your own stomach – the plane that will take you far away from your familiarities and comfort zone?  I wonder if it goes back further still to the inception of the idea, the first inspiration, the glance at the photo that became a stare and then a trance and an obsession.  Or even far, far back, when climbing was new and unfamiliar; when the reality of “climbing” in the mind of the starry eyed novice was a collection of images gleaned from magazines and books; images of haggard and bearded types clinging to small holds with bloody finger tips, determination glinting palpably in their steely eyes and thousands of feet of rarefied mountain air yawning wildly beneath their feet in one fell plunge to the grim and uninviting ice of the glaciers below.  Those pictures – the mind images – that set fire to the imagination, that, separated from the reality of experience in the imagination of the novice, seemed so glorious and far away and unknowable to the inspired beginner that they spawned no specific plan; just the thought: that looks so awesome!  And too, the first step to getting there: finding the nearest climbing gym and discovering just what this world called climbing actually is.  If you can imagine the beginning of a puzzle as the cluttered act of dumping the box of pieces on a table, then maybe this jumble of inspiration in the heart of the novice can be likened to that dumping.  Then carefully observing the mind image of what the final product is to be; we begin carefully pawing through the mess and selecting pieces one by one.

Wow, where to begin?!  Well, if it hadn’t been poor weather in the Bugaboos of the Canadian Rockies, Ben Venter may not have had an excuse to find himself in Golden, Canada, and may never have had a random conversation with some Belgian hardmen who had gone the the Charakusa Valley in 2007 and climbed the first route on Nafee’s Cap (Nico and Oliver Favresse and Sean Villanueva).  He may not have ever seen their photos and learned firsthand beta from them, and possibly would not have been so impacted with the idea of going there.  [Ben, please correct me if this info isn’t accurate!]  If I hadn’t worked along side of the indomitable Willy Oppenheim on a challenging NOLS course in the Coast Range of British Columbia, we may never have had the chance to part ways with an obscure suggestion that “we should try and do a trip in Asia sometime”.  And if Willy hadn’t been close friends with Ben, Ben’s seed thought may not have had the chance to germinate in the way it did.  Finally, if Ben and Josh hadn’t run into each other in a bus station in Argentina, Josh may never have considered cramming his already full year (he’s in Peru at the moment leading a course in advanced expedition training), with yet another epic adventure.  There we are… the seed is germinated; small tendrils of roots are spreading into the fertile soil of our imaginations and the snowball is commencing it’s downhill roll.

Visas!  Joy!  How fun!  My personal office from which I (Jake by the way) executed this complicated maneuver of compiling and sending such a mountain of personal information, was the Redmond, Oregon Public Library.  And I want to take the time here and now the thank Eva, for her undying patience with my stressed out condition at that and other points in time and climbing along side me in the thick and the thin; and also my awesome Mom for playing mail catcher and forwarding on my passport to me; since with my lack of physical address I had to default to the timeless default: Mom and Dad’s house!  To perform such exciting tasks as printing papers and making copies, I needed much help from the proverbial “Grid”.  And to do that I needed to crawl a long way out of my dark little hole of dirtbaggery.  But I still found such obstacles as: Office Depot doesn’t cut passport photos to size…. the librarian was kind enough to lend me an extremely(!) dull pair of scissors which mangled the edges of my beautiful photos to a point that it was with some concern that I stapled them to the front page of the visa application; the nagging idea in the back of my head being: what if they turn me down on the grounds of having unsuitable passport photos?  God forbid.

Team Building and Fitness Preparedness:  I call it that because to call this training would be overstating the reality.  When Ben and I met up here in Yosemite we had no spreadsheet annotated with training blocks.  We just wanted to climb our faces off!  And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  For a while we had kicked around the idea of climbing the Nose of El Cap in a day.  This is routinely done here in Yosemite, but no matter how you look at it, it’s a large undertaking.  Especially having done the route in the past, and knowing first hand just how immense the Big Stone really is.  (Ben soloed the route last year(?), and I spent four days of epic groveling on it in 2008.)  We decided to climb a shorter route on The Captain called Lurking Fear, as a warm up so to speak; to work out systems and dial in our teamwork.  So that’s what we did on Monday.

We got up at 4am, choked down some food and tea, then hiked up to the base of the route.  It took us about 14.5 hours to climb those 2000 feet (by no means record setting!), and we were topping out as the sun was turning crimson in the west.  What we discovered was: what incredible fun it is to climb that much rock all at once!  No haul bags!  No sucky bivvies!  (well, there could be if you don’t make it)  Just one long day.  So, our confidence bolstered, we took two rest days and began to strategize for our push on the Nose.  We topped out with food on Lurking Fear… we could shave a little there.  The tag line was a pain in the tookus… leave it behind…. one rope and no way to retreat…. “fail upwards!”  Puffy jacket or no?  Forecast is looking a bit chilly…. we’ll take one for the follower.  4 liters of water…. a few bars…. some gels…. a sandwich….. an orange.  Yesterday we got up a 4am again.  We started climbing at 5: 37; topped out at 6:20pm.  Now, it’s worth mentioning that a certain friend named Zach, had told us the previous evening that if we were down in time for dinner he would buy us pizza.  I wrote that off as highly unlikely.  But as we neared the top in the afternoon, as the biceps began to cramp, and energy wavered between “just enough” to “just not enough”, the thought of pizza was a nice added piece of motivation, on top of the motivation to not be stumbling down in the dark.  So… Thanks Zach!  The pizza was awesome!

On top after The Nose in a day

Thus, the pieces of the puzzle come together.  I’d like to echo Willy by saying Thank You to Chicago Steel and the American Alpine Club for the significant monetary support, without which, this venture might not have been possible.  Also to Rab and Patagonia for the new clothes and equipment!  We’re psyched!

One Response to “The Seed”

  1. Susan Tipton Says:

    After reading but a few sentences, being completely drawn into the experience by the writer’s ability to paint a remarkable graphic vision, I overwhelmingly thought, “May those men climb as well as this one writes.” Know that there will be little people back on tera firma committing to pray for your team. Journey’s mercies to all of you!

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