Last Thursday Doug Seitz climbed the North face of Chair peak. What follows is a short story about the climb that I used an writing exercise. If you have a comment about the writing feel free to leave one. Thanks — Bob
I’m starting to slip back down the black hole. For the past year I’ve bounced from one disaster to another. Meeting Signe and loosing my shitty office job two of the few spots of light in that time. But now my unemployment benefits have been denied for the last two weeks and for the second time since July I’m
flat broke with no hopes of income.
A friend was supposed to pick me up and drop me off on Mt. Hood for two days of running in an attempt to escape this black hole , but the ride fell through. As I walk the streets of downtown Portland I worry about when Signe will reach the point where she’s tired of my constant ups and downs, and tells me to get out. These feeling continue to build one upon the other creating a downward spiral, sinking me further and further until the only thing I’m capable of is lying on couch. I need something to pull me out of this. I stop walking, turn around and catch the bus back to the apartment Signe and I share in SW Portland. We live at a private boarding school where Signe works as a dorm parent , or rather she lives there. I have been floating without an official place to live for the last two months while the school makes a policy regarding couples living on campus. However a prescient has already been set, as there is already an unmarried couple living on campus together, but their age and their contract with the school somehow makes their relationship stronger than ours. I was asked to leave until they could determine “what’s best for the students”. So every morning when she
leaves for her classes I catch the bus downtown, wander the streets and bounce between Powell’s city of books and the public Library. I used to judge the homeless that make the choice to live on the streets of Portland. Now with
no job, no money and no permanent mailing address I’m not as far from them as I used to think.
I sneak across the campus and back into the apartment, grab the largest pack I have and attack my book shelves. Little is spared. What’s left is there due to sentimental value, or the fact that they have been destroyed by countless
cups of coffee leaking into my day pack, leaving the pages stiff and their words covered with stains. I shoulder my now overflowing sixty liter pack and hike the half-mile back to the bus stop and head back to my second home,
Powell’s offers me eighty-five dollars for my most of my collection, leaving me with books that I didn’t think where in that bad of condition and out of date computer manuals. I’m happy that my copy of “Conquistadors of the
Useless” has been spared, thanks to coffee stains. Leaving Powell’s I head for the Amtrak station, calling Doug in Seattle along the way.
“Were you still thinking about Chair Peak tomorrow?”
“Yeah” he responds.
“Ok, I’m buying a ticket for the 6:15 train. I should be there by 9:45. Cool?”
“Yeah, call me when you get close.”
I spend twenty-eight dollars on my ticket, head back out on to the streets and hustle to catch a bus before my transfer runs out at 1:00. I call Signe to tell her my plans. I also revel the fact that I sold most of my books in order to buy the ticket. A somewhat baffled “Oh” is all she responds with As I give her my literary I wonder if this impulsive behavior is throwing up warning signs of my instability. She knows I’ve stopped taking my meds a move I’m sure
both us are having second thoughts about. Three hours later I step off the number fifty-six bus once again and head toward the train station. Walking down the street, the only thing that separates me from the homeless youth lining the benches and doorways on SW 6th are the ice tools strapped to the outside of my pack. Again the thought occurs to me that I’m not as far from their position as I’d like to think. I’m a really pissed off girlfriend, a meth addiction and a malnourished dog away from sharing a seat on one of those benches. But to the “regular” work-a-day people who I pass I just another person with a full pack wondering the streets looking a place to stay. Making eye contact with these regular Joes and Janes I see a mix of disgust and pity in their eyes.
Boarding the Cascades line, I sit with my pack full of gear stuffed between my legs. As the train starts moving I loosen my tense body enough to be rocked with the movement of the locomotive wheels grinding against the tracks.
My battered and coffee stained copy of “Kiss or Kill” keeping me company.
My obsession with the mountains started at the age of eleven with a book. I read and reread James Ramsey Ullman’s “Banner in the Sky” more times than I could remember. I moved on to the fantastically awful movies K2 and Cliffhanger over and over again. I talked my parents into buying me a subscription to a climbing magazine. Armed with the knowledge gained from this mix of both reputable and in reputable sources I put up not so bold aid lines around the tree house in our back yard. At night, hand made ice ax I reenact scenes from the books and magazines. Not only did I lack real climbing, but also someone to show me how to actually climb. That and my intense and unreasonable fear of heights kept me safely in my imagination.
This however wasn’t enough to stop me from declaring in my seventh grade year book that my goals where to 1: live in the back of a pick up truck and 2: Climb K2. Seventeen years later, I’ve been climbing for three years solid and my dreams of becoming an alpine climber are starting to surface once again, but my family and lack of someone to show me the way keep me on crags around Portland. Then I found Twight’s book. It served as bitch slap, waking me out of the half assed life I’d been living. In those words I found someone who had put all of the angst I’d felt as a child to good use. It showed me that the road to self-fulfillment is paved with hard work and two other traits I posses in spades. The ablility to suffer and bang my head continuously against whatever obstacle stands in my way. I began training, lost twenty pounds,
became stronger, physically and mentally. I was on my way. But until now, all that training has been like masturbation. I’ve finally found a crew of people whose goals are aligned with mine. For the first time I’m starting to get out.
Getting off the train in Seattle I hope that this climb will be enough to pull me out the hole I’ve been living in, but deep down I know better.
Doug and I meet on the Cascade Climbers forum. He was looking for a partner for a trip to Bozeman, and I had the time and willingness to belay for hours in the cold in order to learn. That was two weeks ago, and even though we haven’t known each other that long, I don’t feel like I’m going to die with him on the other end of the rope, which is more than I can say for some of my long term climbing partners. I meet Doug and his girlfriend in the parking lot, we fend off a homeless man looking for twenty bucks so he can “make it back to
Spokane” and head back to his apartment.
Doug heads up the first pitch. Unwittingly we traded in the true first pitch of perfect blue ice for a variation. The pitch is a junk show of ice too thin for screws, windslab and loose rock. Between the feeding out of rope and the
dodging of ice I manage to take a few pictures of Doug climbing. I drop the camera, leaving it to hang around my neck and feed out some slack and hear Doug scream. “Rock! Rock!”. I have no place to hide, so like a turtle I put
my head down and shrug my shoulders, bringing my pack up to protect my neck. After a few impact free seconds I come out of my shell and see a roughly 12 by 12 inch piece of rock a mere two and half feet away. I laugh to myself
and check Doug’s progress. The rope come tight after sixty meters of climbing and Doug yells for me to start climbing. I start following the pitch, repeating the mantra he taught me just two weeks ago: Ass out, place feet, stand up, dick in, swing repeat. “Ass out, dick in, ass out dick in.” runs in constant loop as I climb. In the sixty meters of climbing Doug got two
shitty pins and a fourteen cm ice screw in the only ice thick enough for gear. That’s three times as much gear as he gets a on the second pitch, a pecker hammered into a tiny seem on the lone rock nub sticking out of the fifty degree snow slope.
I watch Doug start up the snow slope of the second pitch. I’m slightly frustrated. I wish I could lead. This pitch is well with in my ability, but at least my mind is free from the self defeating thoughts that haunt me
relentlessly in my non-climbing life. Checking my watch, I realize that we aren’t going to be on the summit when Doug wanted to. This is my fault. He
suggested we simul climb, but I was unsure of the mixed ground right off the belay, after climbing it and finding it easy I start chastising myself for slowing us down. While I belay, I make up my mind to start climbing when the
rope runs out. I can feel the my black hole creeping its way up the first two pitches. As the rope comes tight I yell my intention up to Doug, dismantle the belay and start climbing. My tools easily find purchase in the firm snow and I do my best to follow Doug steps. I loose myself in the climbing determined to not slow us down any more and to out run the gravitational pull of depression.
I meet up with Doug just below the summit block.”What do you want to do? Do you want to stay roped up?”
“Nah” I reply. “Okay” he says “Leave the rope here, we’ll get it when we come down.”
Of course I have to choose the hard way up. What I think will be firm snow over rock is just a sugar coating. I come down, spooked. We tie back in and Doug escorts me up the easy way. We take the standard shots on the
summit and start down. I’m pissed for giving up my chance to be out front, and gain some much needed self confidence. Now I can use my lack of composure to flog myself some more, just one more mistake and missed
opportunity to add to my collection. On the descent I slow us down again. I’ve pitched off to many snow and scree slopes to move quickly and
confidently on this terrain, Doug gives me a belay down the exit gully until the rope runs out. We continue to descend roped up and I “lead” us over to the notch where we’ll start the rappels back to the eastern slope of the
mountain, then finally back to the car and dinner. On the hike out I mull over the fact that this climb was a step in the right direction. I also know that its not enough, and that returning to the car is returning to my insecurities and
feelings of failure.
The next morning Doug drops me off at the train station. After buying my return ticket I have enough money for a pastry or a coffee, but not both. I take a sticky bun over the caffeine because I know that a headache is slightly
easier to endure than being hungry. This leaves me with just enough bus fair to get from the train station to my apartment. During the train ride I write in my notebook:
4-December-09 Amtrak from SEA to PDX: Doug and I climbed Chair Peak today (well I followed) by a variation on the North face. It was enough to quiet my mind at least momentarily. But the hole has come back and swallowed me. It feels like nothing will ever be enough to satiate this thing, or close the hole that I’m constantly falling into. Chris says I have the biggest self defeating streak he’s ever seen. Why am I so afraid of my own potential that I constantly defeat myself … how canI put an end to this? What will it take? …
I finish my writing, pull up the hood of my sweat shirt and rest my head against the window. At least I’ve got these two seats to myself and I can stretch out a bit. My last thought before I drift off focuses on how in-extraordinary our climb, was, but at least my obsession is finally being cemented by action, however small.