Alpinism evolves – we all know that the lighter you go, the faster you go. The faster you go, the safer you are, the cooler you look, and the more you can spray. Indeed necessity breeds innovation, and on Thanksgiving weekend a year ago I invented alpinism’s next great step: the amazing, poleless tent.
Background: My girlfriend (fiancé, actually), Jenna, climbs recreationally and also loves hiking, scrambling, and skiing – in other words, and making me look bad by comparison, she has other things going for her. She’s an elementary school music teacher (quite possibly the greatest ever, if the kids who absolutely adore her are any indication), and teaching music is to her what climbing is to me. I love listening to her play piano, and seeing the school musicals that she and her kids perform.
When we climb, I usually do well enough to remember that it’s for the fun of being together, and I take it upon myself to be sure to make it fun. And of all places inappropriate for such outings together, one stands above the rest: the Black Canyon of
the Gunnison. Drop 2,000 feet down a horrible, loose gully, filled with poison ivy (apparently different people experience different sensitivities to it), then climb out via routes that are mostly loose, easy to get lost on, and often runout. Early starts, long hours of daylight, and a low IQ are good calls.
Anyway, last Thanksgiving…Jenna had the week off and I was in charge of the plans. We got to the Black Canyon about 2:30 p.m. It gets dark at 5 in late November. I figured we had time to climb a route called the Maiden Voyage – about a half-dozen pitches (less with simul-climbing, of course), 5.9, should be no problem for a guy like me and my lovely, lucky damsel. Except I’d never done the route before, didn’t read the description very carefully or bring the topo, and am a bit faster than she at bombing down the treacherously loose gully – for an apt comparison, picture me trying to play a Mozart concerto.
Hard to believe, but I got us lost trying to find it (3:00…). Then I got us immediately off-route by climbing a loose, runout pitch up the face on the right (3:15…). I came down to think (3:30…), and instead of trying to find the route again (turns out I was on the completely wrong face) I wised-up and accepted our fate: the walk-of-shame back up the gully to our campsite, me belaying Jenna up the rappels.
It’s dark at 5, with nighttime lows in the teens, but we’d just scamper up to camp, set up the tent and crawl in and I’d treat her to a back rub with a scrumptious ramen-and-mashers dinner. Except that I – I’m a veteran, baby, stick with me and I’ll show ya the ropes – forgot the tent poles. Enter the amazing, the one and only, poleless tent.
She’s a lucky gal, that Jenna. But we still had a blast, proving that I’m an even luckier guy. Proving, as well, that I’m smarter than I look, the next night we skipped the amazing poleless tent and the poison-ivy choss-pit, and got a room at a Days Inn in Salida, where we hit the hot tub, sipped cheap wine out of plastic cups and watched TV. It was the good life. Until the next day, when she started to itch…
Postscript: I didn’t catch the poison ivy myself. And yes, we are still engaged.
If you leave the tent itself behind, you can go even faster….
I think you were just giving her the girlfriend/fiance test. Lucky (for you) she passed! Reminds me of a guy who drove his Toyota over Teton Pass in reverse -during a blizzard- to bring his girlfriend home. As the story goes, they are now married 🙂 because proving that you can persevere in the face of your own stupidity is what some people call “passing the boyfriend test.”
Reading your post led me to some thoughts on my own experiences.
It’s beautifully enlightening to find a woman who puts up with our ineptitude, isn’t it? I recently became engaged myself to a non-climber, though through thoughtful encouragement and persuasion, she’s turning out to be a complete mountain girl bad-ass. After a recent trip to the mountains in New Hampshire, I truly realized how lucky I am, and how tolerant she is. We worked our way up a few pitches of water ice (where I emphasize water, basically we got soaked) to what I thought was an easy walk-off. Soon enough I hear, “Are we lost babe?” and “Do you know where you’re going?” All this came while I was wallowing through chest-deep snow as the sun was dipping toward the horizon. When she said she was getting scared, I knew I had to put on my serious hat and make sure she knew we would get back to the car before nightfall. Well after a bit more slogging we made it to the trail and back down to the car. While we were walking along the road back to the parking lot, hand in hand, I knew I was a very lucky man.
During the drive back to town, we talked about the importance of strength training to help endure our adventures, but as we’re getting ready to head to the Brooks Range in AK for 2 weeks this summer, I couldn’t help but introduce the concept of mental training too. I know that our little foray into the Whites is indicative of our future travels together – we might get lost from time to time, but we’ll find our way together.
I love reading your posts and I hope you’re leg heals up quickly…