A T.R. of a different kind:
Getting in the front of the line
It's 4 am, midwinter, 1999, Rampart Hostel, Icefields Parkway.
Em's quiet wristwatch alarm has alerted us, although
we've both been awake for the last half hour.
Sleep beckons with the temptation of sweet slumber
in the warm darkness after an unsettled night spent in
restless anticipation of the coming day.
Quiet as thieves, we rise, and in the unlit murk of the
dead hours before dawn, slip feet into tennis shoes, and
feel our way out of Cabin 1. Momentarily freeze in terror, fearful
of discovery as the hinges of the closing door shriek
like a tortured cat.
The February air claws at exposed flesh. We quickly make
our stealthful way to the kitchen, soft crunching of shoes on
snow, a special forces team of two, executing a covert mission
on foreign soil in the commonwealth of Canada.
No one is up at this insane hour, save ourselves. That is how it
should be. The world slumbers, unaware of our intentions.
Our goal today is Mixed Master, a classic 7-pitch climb near
Weeping Wall in the Canadian Rockies. It will be the most
difficult long mixed climb we've ever attempted. As if to hobble
ourselves, we are attempting it while seriously deprived of sleep...
Sleep... my eyelids droop yet again, until the bump of my head
hitting the table in the kitchen reminds me of our mission.
The reason for our alpine start, and more to the point, our stealth?
There are two other teams at Rampart with the same goal for today.
(One of the teams still slumbers, unawares, in our cabin.)
Rock and icefall on this serious route makes the climb safe for only one
party at a time. If it is ever safe.
Our packing was completed last night. Everything we need, including
climbing gear, clothing, goretex shells, and our boots, was moved to the
kitchen, to reduce the noise of our departure.
Upon meeting our competition for the route, I commented to the other teams
"well, you won't have to worry about us [yawn]. We'll probably be getting up
sometime around mid-morning."
This mis-information has apparently accomplished its intended goal, lulling the
other teams into a false sense of security. Just one more of our tactics.
Breakfast is a simple affair of hot drinks and energy bars. A filling of the
thermos for the climb. By 4:30 am we have breakfasted, dressed, and turned
out the light, headed for the car. Still no sign of activity in the rest of the Hostel.
To all appearances, any party rising now will likely perceive themselves
the first, and not feel unduly pressured to rush out to the climb.
Our deception is complete. We motor into the night, first light
and "reasonable" temperatures still a few hours distant.
In the blackness of the Canadian Icefields Parkway, in the warmth of
the rental car, my thick, sluggish eyelids grow heavy, each blink lasting
a little longer than it should. Em slumbers in the passenger's seat. Occasionally
I roll down a window to wake myself. Finally we reach the
shoulder of the road at the base of the approach. The air outside is beastly
cold, a fiend prowling just outside the doors. We set the alarm for 1/2 hour,
snuggle beneath big down parkas, and snooze.
The alarm beeps. we hit the snooze button.
Beeps again. Button.
The third time the alarm beeps, it is 6:30 am. "You snooze, you lose"
Time to get this show on the road. We stumble out of the car,
hoist packs. As we begin to walk away, Em's headlamp fades into
blackness, batteries exhausted. We turn back toward the car,
ready to dig out new batteries.
Just then, headlights, the first in over an hour, sweep around
a distant bend in the road, and rapidly approach..
Panic grips us, momentarily freezing us into inaction.
Making a hurried decision, we abandon the thought of batteries,
turn away from the car and sprint up the trail toward the climb,
in a show of strength, more quickly than our lungs or legs can
tolerate for long, just as the first of our competition coasts up
behind our vehicle, already growing small in the distance.
A few minutes later, the other team arrives.
Our difficult mission has been accomplished flawlessly. As the
disappointed climbers drive away, all we have left before us is the climb.