Chapter 1 - The Madness always begins somewhere...We were somewhere around Morrison on the edge of the mountains when the drugs began to take hold. Suddenly there was an ominous roar of an ugly old trucks engine and I noticed the parking lot for the first time was filled with what looked like half-crazed skiers, flittering and moving to and fro amongst the parked vehicles. Some crazy lunatic was getting out from behind the wheel of the ugly truck and I remember a far away voice screeching 'sweet fancy moses! Where are all these people going?'
Andy: "What are are yelling about?"
ZenAlpinist: "Nothing. Where's Brenta? It's his turn to drive."
ZA: No point in mentioning the crazy skiers, they wouldn't believe me about them anyway.
MountainManDan: "There's Brenta now."
ZA: Was it really drugs kicking in, or just the urge to find a bathroom? Did these things really need to be differentiated from each other? Can such distinctions truly be made? The high had been running strong for a few hours now, at least since I drove the Jeep to pick Andy up. He saw the icebergs. He understood. It's good to know you can pick up your climbing partner at 5am and know the drugs are running in his system too. Those damn road icebergs, they still haunt me. Been a plague in our home town for the last few months. Sun'll have the last laugh with them though, and I'll be there driving over their remains, cackling with a gin and tonic coursing through my veins.
Brenta: "Let's get that gear loaded up"
< 0730 hrs >
ZA: The Subaru is the quintensential mountain vehicle of choice these days. It's hard not to show up at the crags these days without seeing at least half a dozen or so of these beasts scattered around the parking lot. Brenta had our particular beast floored and we were cranking along close to 100mph through the sinuous terrain. Vapor trails wafted through the interior and through the haze scattered vials of some forgotten substance could be heard clinking around empty on the floor.
MMD: "I'm turning on the defroster, can't see through this windshield."
ZA: Insectoid-like vehicles carrying elongated wooden planks on their roofs flew by us in a vast fury. Poor bastards, they'll never know. They didn't have our drug, how could they ever understand. The operation today was a simple one my agent found laying around the back of some junkies kitchen. We were heading to the Lincoln Falls ice flows, scout out the area and report back what we found. Concealing our true identities, we would arrive at the location just north of the little town of Alma, Colorado and assume the personas of seasoned ice climbers. It was a simple assignment, nothing would go wrong...as long as we could control the drugs. I knew the seasoned amongst us would handle the trip fine, but I was a little worried about the kid. I absent-mindedly patted the whip lying next to me and knew we could handle him if needed.
Chapter 2 - Ascent into Insanity.< 0900 hrs >
ZA: We arrived on the north side of Mongomery Reserviour. The squirrels. That was the first thing that impressed me, the squirrels. Multi-coloured hordes raged across the frozen watertop and circled around the Subaru in a cyclonic frenzy of fur and claws. I've handled squirrels before, but I wasn't sure how the others could take it. Screw it, trial by fire eh? I stepped out into the furry maelstorm.
ZA: The hatch was popped open revealing the implements of our destruction. We had two bags of rope, seventy-five multi-colored biners, over a dozen ice screws, four sets of ice tools, a rats nest of various lengths of webbing and slings, screamers, crampons...several quarts of water, gatorade, a few thermo's of cocoa, and bags of unknown quantities of munchies. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the cocoa. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an cocoa binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
ZA: We all took a shot of something Brenta distilled from some rock moss he scraped off nearby. Packs loaded, we marched onward to oblivion...it didn't take long to reach it.
A: "Where the hell's the trail?"
ZA: It was true, but it was tough to discern if trail obscurity was a figment of our minds or a factual obstacle resulting from hours of wind deposited snow build-up. Either way, it was all going to hell fast. I could feel the walls closing around so I picked a poppy growing nearby and hoped the opiates would do the trick. I wasn't ready for the stuff in my knapsack yet...god help me when I reach for those.
MMD: "Praise the lord, I'm diving in! Crank the tunes! More Bass! Yes, yes yes!!! Sick!!!"
ZA: I watched with detatched amusement as he took off - one of nature's prototypes - a high powered mutant of some kind never considered for mass production. Dan frenetically broke trail for a while, his raving musing growing steadily incoherent. The steepness of it all and falling through hidden snow crust until one was chest deep in snow took its toll on reality. In the deep recesses of my mind I recall someone saying some phrase with the word 'snowshoes' in it sometime earlier that day. Raving lunatic madness. I could feel the strength leeching out of my legs. My very soul.
A: "Here take this - it's your half of the power gel."
ZA: "How long do I have?"
A: "Maybe thirty or so minutes. As your climbing partner, I advise you to break trail at top speed. It'll be a friggen miracle if we can get there before you turn into a broken-kneed animal. Are you ready for that? Approaching unknown ice with the intent to climb it fueled by power gel and jelly legs from the approach."
ZA: Thirty minutes. It was going to be very close. Never lose sight of the primary objective. Climb the ice.
Chapter 3 - Breakdown.< somewhere around 1000 hrs >
ZA: We had setup under the left flow. A multi-tiered cascade of frozen destiny. Brittle. Much like my sanity a few nights before on a lunatic bender, but I digress. The lower part topped out on a fairly wide platform and I decided I needed to see what the anchor possibilities were up there. In a few minutes I cautiously walked out onto the relatively flat area and scouted out the upper flows. I tapped the ice with my pick to test it out.
ZA: When the mind is addled via the ice drug, extremely heightened awareness arises to encapsulate ones reality. I could feel the ice...move? Not really move, perhaps shudder. Auditory sensors were assulted by the cracking of the whip through the air. No. I left the whip in the car, we'd have to find other creative ways of dealing with the kid. It was the ice and it was behind me, towards the dropoff to my friends below. I turned to witness a cacophonic explosion of ice spew into the ether in front of my eyes. An eruption of locusts shot into the air and flew away. Or was it trapped water from under the ice? The mind didn't care. I could actually feel the three sides of my brain wheel into action. "I'm dead, holy shit, the whole thing is going to break apart and I'm going with it completely unanchored." Fight or flight...except staying and fight would mean going down with the disentegrating icefall. I felt the ice again, it was speaking to me. Caressing me with it's voice to my impending doom. The decision for flight came naturally. Or maybe not.
ZA: "I'm coming down. Holy shit! I'm coming down."
B (from below): "What??!?"
A (from below): "What's happening? The drug's weren't supposed to kick in yet...but I'm seeing water spraying from up there."
MMD: "Is it time to solo yet?"
ZA: I put them out of my mind, just get across the rest of the ice and to the rocks. It was simple, but they seemed so far away...nitrous had a way of distorting distances like that. Something moved my legs with cautious and determined skill and upon reaching the rocks I turned to survey the scene. Nothing moved or fell apart. But at the curved apex of the shelf was a veratible geyser of water spraying out and downward. It would seem a combination of sun and my weight managed to allowed a trapped pocket of water to spring free. It copiously flowed for several minutes. Needless to say, we decided against this route for now.
Chapter 4 - Their rules do not apply to us.< time unknown - reality has become unhinged >
ZA: We setup camp under the right flow. All that remained was a half-rotted carcass of picked-out, chopped up vertical wall of frozen bliss some 20m high. We couldn't have asked for anything better. I broke out the cocoa. Ah, devil cocoa. It makes you behave like the village drunkard in some early Irish novel... total loss of all basic motor skills; blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue -- The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. Which is interesting, because you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can't control it. Or perhaps that's the result of an ether binge, either way my innards needed warming and the vile chocolate medicine was my ticket.
MMD: "I gotta solo. The birds! The birds! I'm flying up this ice. Come on, hook me up."
ZA: We sent him up first. Poor kid, the demons'll shred him to fragments before the synapses have a chance to fire. It's better that way, honestly. The base of the flow had a very low angled pathway of ice leading up around a corner. His first lead. He got to a spot and setup anchor allowing me to follow along so we could check out anchor opportunities above the vertical curtain. The landscape above was fairly flat, around ten degrees slope if that, and littered with various artifacts of rocks and vegetation. Upon some far rocks we spotted the glitter of metal. Bolts. Chains. Salvation. All that stood between us and them was a shimmering carpet of inch thick ice. Needless to say, MMD belayed me over to the bolts.
ZA: I clipped into the chains and put MMD onto belay and started to take up slack. He wasn't immediately wanting the belay, after all the terrain was nothing to worry about right? You must learn this, if you want to survive in this madness we call fun - the most innocuous looking things are often the most dangerous to our fragile existence. The patch of ice was no more than three square feet in area, but it was enough. I yarded in the rope as fast as I could, mental focus and training kicked in sharp. I locked him off as he fell and slid across the ice...remember it was still fairly horizontal at this section. However,that particular facet of angular measurement ended within 5 meters of where he was headed and entered the realm of vertical. He was able to arrest his movement before he weighted the anchor though and all was right in the world again. He picked himself off and finished the traverse and clipped into the chains.
ZA: Did I mention the wind? Foul succubus from the nether regions raging down upon us to suck the veritable life heat from our souls. The sky betrayed our senses, or perhaps it was the mescalin. Either way, cloudless blue skies gave no indication of the despised temptress whipping around us in invisible fury. We rappeled down in turn and joined the others at the lowest, frozen level of hell. It was indeed cold and the frozen breath of lucifer fought hard to encase us motionless for eternity. I needed more drugs. We all did.
Chapter 5 - Heightened Awareness.ZA: Screaming Barfies. If you don't know these, you haven't been cold enough. Or rather parts of you haven't been cold enough yet. I drew the lucky lottery numbers and won a paid trip into maddening, stinging hell for a few minutes. For me it was my right toe. Clarification for the uninitiated - random appendage gets very cold, same appendage warms up. Pain ensues. You've been on a bender before haven't you? If you haven't, go now. Come back after your subsequent trip though vomitous hell. I'll still be here. Good, now you understand what you feel like doing as the blood rushes back into your once semi-frozen appendage.
ZA: The barfies were out to get us all. I know this, heightened drug-addled paranoia brings clarity. MMD got his first taste, and I think Brenta had some too...he was a man and suffered in silence. His frozen hand failed him halfway up his first climb and he needed to be lowered. I think Andy avoided the barfies...we'll have to examine his bloodwork when we return to find out why.
ZA: The climbing. Yes. It was there. It was good. We were in the zone. The days passed us by and still we climbed. Meters of ice flew by under our picks like a modified form of an old english measurement. We were riding the ice drug hard now and it was riding us. It really is a partnership in neurosis, this drug they call ice. You can't really experience it without it experiencing you. My climbing partners had never been able to accept the notion - often espoused by former climbers - that you can get a lot higher without ice than with it. And neither have I, for that matter.
ZA: The kid was losing it. You could see it in his face. Perhaps it was the grimiced contortions of his mouth, or the hazed, unfocused eyes. We warned the poor bastard about the effects of the drugs. The young never listen. The best we could do for him now I thought was give him a fitting funeral; viking-esqe, but without the fire. Between belay sessions the rest of us took turns chipping out his icy tomb within which we would encase his burnt out shell of existance. We were halfway through this task, when Brenta discovered the tea. Tea. I hadn't considered that possibility. We held him down and forced the vile, hot liquid down his gut. He wildly thrashed about and tried to reject his salvation. I didn't envy him; tea was a nasty drug and I knew his subsequent addiction to it would haunt him the rest of his life, but he'd thank us for it in time. All strung out, half-frozen junkies do. Some of the tea stayed down. I began to think we might all make it home together after all. Amazingly enough, he managed to really enjoy his second climb.
ZA: I volunteered for the final climb to clean the gear at the bolts. The sun was getting low, and we knew the insanity that would ensue if we ran out of drugs in the dark. The final rappel, the slog downhill awaited. We passed frozen entities along the way. Other ghost-like creatures adorned in similar fashion to us. Poor souls, they too were hopped up on speed like us, some variant of mescalin never meant for mortals of this plane of existence. We bade them good day and left them to their ice. We understood their cravings.
ZA: Like all good trips, the high began to wear off. Vaguely buzzing, we stumbled into the 'Subi' and rattled off down the road to the quaint spot called Alma. Like all good mountain towns (although it might have been the drugs...the pixies floating around were a give-away), they slaughtered our cows right in front of us before serving them up in delicious burger-like fashion. Freedom was served up in abundance in the form of dip, onion soup and various forms of fries. God-bless America! Gotta love these mountain towns. The miles stretched before us along hwy 285 and soon a vaguely familiar parking lot appeared. The parting of the ways. Sweet sorrow, shared bliss. We celebrated the day in the fading twilight and climbed into the Jeep which floated us back to the Fort and much needed slumber.
ZA: As I drifted off into sleep, the high of the day crashing me down into a vast darkness of mental incoherence, I wondered why we are so apt to suffer through such a miserable drug ride as that which the ice so seductively offers us. Why do we place our lives within easy reach of random mortal peril? A friend of mine told me something once when we were on a trip in Vegas; when riding the ice drug, the possibility of physical and mental collapse is very real...No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride... I'm not sure if that completely answered my question, but I didn't care. I'll be taking the drug again soon, knowing it's just my way of life.
EpilogueThanks for suffering with me through this. It has been awhile since I've dabbled in gonzo fiction. Not all details were real, yet not all were fictionalized. Yes, the main basis of the story tries to mimic H.S.Thompson's classic novel of similar name. Blantant plagerism does exist within, but I am giving him credit here as its due. I am sure his 'bits and pieces' are spinning faster in whatever orbit they obtained during his funeral. It's almost a work of meta-fiction; a blended fantasy combining elements of another blended fantasy. I hope it worked out on some level...I'll leave that to the historians to debate about. Like Duke and Dr. Gonzo, we were searching for some slice of the climbing dream. Did we find it? Does any of us ever really find it? Perhaps not, elsewise we not venture back into the crazy insanity of our sport. Until next time.
- Brian "ZenAlpinist"
PS: no drugs were harmed in the making of our adventure. Or used. Except for meth, we always have meth. Thank god for Sudafed.