To dance beneath the diamond sky, with one band waving free. , .
—Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man
It is July 20, 1967. A hot Teton afternoon. Summits hover in the haze above Cascade Canyon, whose pines and stream-crossed meadows provide the background for a sixteen-year-old's approach to his first ice climb. The boy's boots leave perfect waffle-prints in the dust of the old trail as he takes long strides to keep up with his older partner. They are headed toward a logjam in the creek, across from the rocky bulk of Storm Point.
The boy's mind is filled with stories he has read of ice climbing in the European Alps: spindrift avalanches on the White Spider, Rebuffat's climb of the North Face of the Matterhorn. Scary stories they are, yet beautiful, descriptions of a world he fears but wants to know—cold bivouacs, glistening mornings, snowy days, the crunch of steel points biting into ice. But that dream lives across an ocean in mountains that are fairy-tale castles to the boy. The hills in his mind are romantic, but vague and shapeless when compared to the crags that surround him now. The boy scans the Guide's Wall of Storm Point,- he remembers the texture of the rock and the surge of blood and muscles required by the twin cracks of the last pitch.
The young man and the boy come to the ford in the stream. They cross the network of naked timber, rucksacks a challenge to their balance, and on the other side they stoop to drink. The metallic taste of the cold water lingers in their mouths as they start up the hillside to the hanging canyon of Valhalla, Behind them the sun drops below a craggy ridge, and they climb, puffing through the fir trees.
The forest thins, straggles, ends, disgorges the serene man and the sweating boy. The boy's thighs groan with painful relief at the final steps into twilight Valhalla, The man turns and watches the boy drop his rucksack onto the rich turf that covers a portion of the basin, The streamlet that bisects the meadow in a string of half-loops fills the air with gentle sucking and popping noises. The pair make camp against a square boulder. The man brings water in a mess tin,- the boy lights the stove.
While the soup is heating and sending beef smells into the air, the man points up at the West Face of the Grand Teton, which looms above them in the dusk. He tells the boy that between the main peak on the left (which is just losing its final
45 T Fear and Confidence alpine glow) and the lower shoulder silhouetted on the right lies the Black Ice Couloir, The boy tries to see into the gully through the increasing darkness, but his straining eyes discern no secrets.
Curled up on his foam pad against the square rock, and bundled in a down parka, the man snores. The boy shivers under the stars. His legs are cold. He tries to see himself on the ice of the couloir, but he has trouble with the vision. He feels young and afraid at the thought of the steep gray ice he has heard about around fires at Climber's Camp. He recalls tales of rockfall caused by tourists on the Owen route, which crosses a rock-strewn ledge above the couloir. He imagines the strain on calf muscles. They say it is like pitch after pitch of unprotected 5.8 slabs. The boy's fears keep him awake and shaking slightly in waves, synchronized with the rasping breath of the dark figure next to him. He watches Orion creep across the sky and waits, wide-eyed, for morning.
Years pass; seasons bloom and wilt, freeze and thaw. The boy makes many ice climbs and loses his fear, but not his respect. He becomes a young man himself.
The young man is in the Canadian Rockies. He emerges from his tent at the Columbia Icefields Campground just as a faint glow begins to wash the stars from the eastern sky. He stretches in the cold air. A month of climbing has left him feeling strong and supple, mentally relaxed, aggressive in an adventurous way. The clear predawn promises a perfect day for climbing, but one partner has gone home and another won't arrive for two days. He could spend the day photographing the bighorn sheep on the grassy hillside above the campground, or perhaps reading in the sunshine. But there's a nice new route to do over on the West Shoulder of Andromeda, The young man decides he'll take a peek at that instead. The date is July 21, 1973,
Dressed in wool knickers, tattered green cardigan, and brown balaclava, the young man throws his ice axe and a small pack containing a hunk of cheese, his cat/ouk, and crampons onto the front seat of his beat-up old car. Headlights glow like cats' eyes in the fading dark as the vehicle chugs past tents, vans, campers, and a log cook-shelter, bouncing softly down the dirt road to the junction with the highway, then heads west onto the paved road.
During the three-mile drive to the parking lot at the sightseeing concession ("See the wonders of the Athabasca Glacier from the comfort of an enclosed snow machine!") the young man is treated to one of his favorite sights: glaciated mountains awakening to the first light of a new day. On his left are Athabasca and Andromeda, the Snow Dome and Kitchener are to the right,- the tongue of the Athabasca Glacier laps down from the ice field between the two sets of peaks.
At the parking lot below and between Athabasca and Andromeda, he grabs the blue pack and ice axe from the seat. The car door slams as he hops out into a slight breeze. It's chilly, and he wastes little time in shouldering the small load and hopping over the guard rail onto the surface of the moraine. The wooden-shafted axe feels familiar and good in his hand as he scrambles up an unstable hill toward the glacial bench that contours beneath the North Ridge of Andromeda, giving access to the face he wants to climb.
The bare ice of the shell is weathered like an old man's face and littered with small dark stones that have fallen from the rocky buttress of the ridge. Crunching noises punctuate the young man's footsteps as he rounds the corner of the ridge to see the top of the West Shoulder turn pink at the first touch of the sun. A shallow arête of ice interspersed with rocky steps falls 1,800 feet directly from the glowing summit into the small glacier that still separates the young man from the climb. Yes, a good route, he thinks, taking a deep breath. But to get to the base he must first negotiate a jumble of ice blocks the size of houses and then traverse the upper glacier, whose crevasses still remain partially hidden by last winter's snow.
He avoids most of the short icefall with surprising ease by hugging the base of the North Ridge. A latticework of ramps and bridges winds around the edge of one serac and spans a gap between two others. But the upper glacier is more worrisome. It is a gently rolling quarter-mile of half-covered crevasses—easy terrain, but dangerous. It is with more than respect in his heart that he bends forward at the waist and begins the probing and poking with the shaft of his axe that will continue until he reaches the foot of the climb. The young man presents a humble figure bowing his way across the snow, dwarfed by the rock ridge behind him and the ice wall ahead.
Arriving below his planned route, the young man rests a few minutes. The sweat streaking his face from temples to cheeks evaporates as he sits on his pack and straps crampons to boots. The sun has reached a point two-thirds down from the top of the face, but it is still cool where the young man sits. He takes a moment more to eat a piece of cheese and regain his composure. The obvious problems of the route—wide bergschrund, steep ice, snowed-up rock, summit cornice—seem far preferable to the unseen holes of the glacier.
Crossing the bergschrund is difficult. At its narrowest it still yawns six feet wide, with a bottom too dark to see. He breaks the overhanging lower lip back until a platform can be made to support his weight. He makes a quick calculation: If he lets himself fall forward, will he be able to span the gap with the full length of his body plus outstretched arms? He decides he can. The shock of contacting the upper wall is greater than he expected. Then, maintaining the bridge with one hand, he swings the axe with the other and plants it well in the ice of the face. Feet swing from the lower edge of the split, and the young man is established on the climb.
For fifty feet the ice is tilted up at 70°. He wishes he had brought along an ice hammer to complement the axe, but the steep part is soon behind him. Conditions are excellent: hard snow, ice that takes points like cork. As he climbs farther, he enters the sun. He pauses a moment on the 50° slope to change to dark glasses and store his sweater in the pack. The rim is etched white against a lake-blue sky. He lopes upward, climbing a narrow gully through one rock band, skirting another by
1W OtftboT M the SHIUMl of JHoart llMa«a, a neighbor of Momt Andromeda, a few days before his (limb of Hie W*tt Shoulder Direct, August 1973 ¡Photo: Christie Northrop)
a couloir on the right, regaining the ice arête again 500 feet from the top. He is feeling as light as the ice crystals that sparkle in the air, immune to the old avalanche runnels that swoop down to the glacier.
Crampons grate on limestone as he climbs through an unavoidable cliff a hundred feet below the summit. The top of the rock tapers into snow that gets looser and steeper. Right under the jutting cornice it reaches 80s, and he has to plunge the shaft of the axe and all of one arm into the snow for purchase,
Directly above him the cornice juts out a full fifteen feet. An insecure leftward traverse of forty feet brings the young man to a place where the cornice has fallen and only a seven-foot vertical step bars him from the top. But a full half-Hour is consumed while he carves a groove through the snow. At last, however, his careful efforts are rewarded, and he flops safely onto the fiat summit.
He stands up and brushes the snow from his clothes, slowly turning full circle. A panorama of his favorite mountains fills his view. The pyramid of Mount Forbes lies to the south, Double-sum mi ted Bryce is to the west, sun gleaming on its ice faces. The broad shield of Athabasca can be seen to the east, and the snow domes of Kitchener, the Twins, and Columbia rise out of the ice field to the north.
Looking down through the notch from which he recently emerged, the young man sees the pockmarks of his crossing on the small glacier at the bottom of the face. He sees how the small tributary glacier tumbles down into the mile-wide stream of the Athabasca. He watches as a tiny red bug with thirty people inside winds its way down a bulldozed road from the snowmobile concession on the lateral moraine to the flat surface of the broad ribbon of ice.
The young man gives a single whoop of joy and then begins the descent down the Skyladder route and back to his tracks on the glacier. By noon he is at the campground, reading in the sun, v
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