Tight Spots

I stayed up kind of late last night gripped by stories of moutaineering survival while reading
In the Zone by Peter Potterfield ( why does that name make me giggle?) In this compilation people huddle in the snow at 20,000 feet broken and battered before somehow crawling on bloody stumps through glacier fields and across crevasses to safety. Death is a character in almost every story.

I haven’t done any high mountaineering, but I have certainly gotten myself in some outdoor predicaments and probably have a few more in my future if I continue going on trips with Mystery the Untameable Stallion. In terms of survival it seems like two ingredients are essential: skill and will. Wanting to live is apparently not quite enough, you have to know some basics.

In my early climbing days in Montana I went out to the crags with Scott, the bartender from The Filling Station in Bozeman, MT. He was older and took me under his wing because we shared a last name, a cynical disposition, and a tendency for late nights. Scott chain-smoked Camel non-filters and talked through his teeth. He was a world-weary thirty-five to my dewy twenty-four. He wore his hair in a scraggly ponytail and enjoyed the full musical spectrum from Golden Earring to George Thorogood. One afternoon we climbed some unnamed cliffs out towards Norris Hot Springs. Upon reaching the second-pitch belay and rigging a rappel, I pulled out my “ATC” belay device and prepared to clip in and descend. Scott looked at it and asked, “Hey, that’s cute let me see that thing.”

Then he tossed it off the rock. “Now how are you going to get down?”

My mouth went dry and I shakingly reached for one of his smokes, as I thought perhaps I had made a horrible character judgement and Scott was about to kill me.

Instead, he taught me a skill that could one day save me. I learned how to build a carabiner brake system up on that ledge, improvising with gear we had available. Scott was adamant that just because I was from Florida I didn’t have to become a naive mountain casualty. The lesson has never left me.

-and my Mom worries if she brings me a triciclo from Mexico I will get killed crossing Monroe street on it.


27 Responses to Tight Spots

  1. Hey, accidents happen closest to home, ya know! ;/
    It’s not that I doubt YOUR abilities but the other idiots out there. Let me add to this story one I clearly remember from when you were 8. Good little swimmer, experienced in pools and lakes, suddenly finds himself in fast-running south Florida summer creek. Couldn’t swim against the current! What did you do? The only thing, you told me, that you could THINK of to do – FLOAT!

    Matthew ran alongside the creek bank following you until a spot where the current brought you to the bank and he helped you up the muddy slope. So I see two muddy litte boys, ALIVE and hoppin’ mad because when you had yelled for help from the adults (the stupid ones out there in the world), they ignored you. But did I tuck you under my arm and protect you? No. Sick as I was inside at the possiblities that DIDN’T happen, I realized WHY they hadn’t. You said it:
    “The only thing I could THINK OF.” I figured if at 8 you’d learned to think yourself through a life and death situation, I had probably done my job and hovering over wasn’t necessary. Still…that triciclo on Monroe? Gives me the willies! 😉

  2. oh my, yes, he learned, and he’s “floated” through some tough situations I’m sure.

    I always wonder if I’m teaching my youngin’ to think and survive. I’m worried that she will just repeat my swearing and jeering which is typical while driving on monroe around the various idiot drivers swerving toward 180lb hunks of confused meat on wheels.

    Thanks lopo, it gives me hope that my youngin’ will float.

  3. Now I know how people feel when I write surf stories. That scared me. I am glad your clamp thing held on the piroohette, belay deal.
    You know Sinks is going to put up a yarn to match!

  4. Funny you should say that. Of course, I immediately starting thinking about close shaves of my own, the rock climbing angle, the floating with the current theme, north Monroe street traffic, etc. I was about to start typing up a yarn as you say and then I realized, This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! And I told myself: I should get a blog of my own like Big Worm and Wrecking Ball!

    Naahhh, I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.

    Actually, I have been working on several blogs for a good while but none are published, they’re under an alter ego and they’re not for entertainment purposes only. Multimodal smart growth grownup stuff that’s so boring I may never turn on the Open sign. But it gives me something to procrastinate about.

  5. Listen Sinks, it’s bad enough you don’t ride with us (btw one of the most memorable rides of my life was with this dude!). You need to throw down the story jam! In the very least I want the one about you and the Faust, jumping buildings in the Capitiola!
    You are amoung friends!

  6. One of the coolest hikes I ever did in Grand Teton National Park was Waterfalls Canyon. There is no trail and it can only be reached by boating across Jackson Lake. But the canyon entrance gaped at me all summer when I worked at Colter Bay with my buddy Ken Foster ages ago. So one pre-dawn morning in late summer I grabbed a john boat from the marina and set off. The first mile or two of bushwacking my feet barely touched the ground as it was so thick and there was so much deadfall to scramble over. But gradually the hiking got easier and the scenery extreme. By the time I scrambled to the top of Wilderness Falls and looked out over Jackson Lake I was in awe. From there my plan was to bag both Ranger and Doane Peaks which anchored each side of the top of the canyon. Like Juancho, I was no mountaineer but the climbers guide said these peaks were a pretty easy scramble. I thought it was cool that with a canyon head between them they are both exactly the same height – 11,355′. Sure enough, I was on top of Ranger Peak by noon looking down on Colter Bay and the laundurette that was my livelihood at the time. Looking northeast there was a spectacular view of the Snake River emptying into Jackson Lake with the squattier mountains of Yellowstone behind it. Moving on, I was able to stay mostly on the ridge top around the west end of the canyon and worked my way to Doane Peak in pretty short order. What a beautiful day it was! After sitting there for a bit and snapping 35 mm slides with my Pentax K1000 I started plotting my exit route. The lake at the top of the falls is at 9,615’. A glacier ice field looking thing came within 50’ of where I was sitting and went all the way down to the south shore of that lake. Now even if I had an ice pick, I had only practiced a self arrest one time but the fact was I had no ice pick and that was clearly what was needed to attempt a safe descent of that snow field. But damn, what a direct route it presented and how fun it would be. I’ll just take a closer look and walk around if it looks too hairy. So I find myself standing precariously at the top of this late summer snow field with about 1,700 elevation difference and maybe 2,300 linear feet between me and the edge of that lake with a decision to make. Do I, solo Florida Boy with no gear attempt to ski down this glacier in my boots and hope to stop before I hit the water? Or do I walk way around the same way I came?

    I started off pretty smooth and on my feet but in no time my speed was way too fast for comfort. I flipped around and tried a self arrest using just my gloved hands but my speed kept increasing and my gloves were quickly shredded. I was genuinely scared and still had at least 1,800 feet of slope to careen. I managed to turn around with my feet in front and my butt on the ice but otherwise I was out of control and going really, really fast. It took every ounce of my abilities, hydrenaline and death gripped concentration but I managed to keep just enough control of my fall to watch for small rocks on top of the ice field. Several times I had to bounce my ass up and over cantaloupe sized boulders that would have decapitated my crotch area no doubt. As the lake finally started to approach I had a new worry – will I be able to stop before plunging through its thin ice? Fortunately, the slope mellowed at the bottom and I finally skidded to a stop some 20 feet from the water. I was shaking, my fingers were bloodied and my pants worn thin. But I was alive! And I had chalked up another “You ain’t in Florida any more boy” lessons that would serve me well for years to come.

    There. Are you happy now?

  7. And to the women out there — we thought only the Aztec mothers had to worry about the hearts of their finest sons being cut out. From then until now, for a mother, it’s best not to look, and men, don’t tell your mothers these stories until afterwards!

    One day do I get to tell my story of fjording rivers and climbing bombed out bridges during the war in Guatemala when I was a young ‘un like Juancho is now? I had 4 wheels, not 2, but it was still pretty adventurous (for a gurrrl), starting out taking a road (well, “pass”) along the edge of one of the 3 uncharted areas o the world.

  8. OK, Well, let’s see if I can remember how it went. Met this dude wanted to go to Guatemala a week after I met him. Cool dude. (Juanchito approved.) Can’t walk or drive. Needed a driver. I needed adventure. So I’ll cut out the part about the prelude of flying into Cancun before it was “Cancun” and taking a bus to Belize (which had just become Belize) to get the “cigarette car”(previously had been a cooo-ell ’76 Chrysler Cordoba) which was in a body shop in Belize, having supposedly been repaired.

    Anyway, cigarette car retrieved, now marshmallow seats FILTHY beyond imagining, had to be started with a screwdriver, and cruise control stick hanging down. All minor problems. Back to Merida , Yucatan with it, fight about getting the brakes checked (with new man who wanted complete control of car and new chaufferess), and off we went. This gurrrl had 1) two kids at home with ex, 2) no idea there was a war going on in Guatemala, 3) no idea really where Guatemala was from where we be. Nor that 10-12,000′ ft. mountains of Chiapas lie between us.

    Trip going fine. Even have a AAA map of Mexico marked with the route. Whoops. What’s THIS road then? Ah, new man says, “Always wanted to know what was down this road.” What the f???? AAA says THIS WAY for a reason! OK, OK. We’ll check it out. Dirt road through mountains, BIG mountains, bordering the eastern part of Chiapas and Guatemala which had literally never been charted.

    Hmmmm. Up ahead looks like trouble. Big US bulldozer and similar testosterone vehicles and very large boulders blocking way. Side of mountain had fallen down. Ahhh. Nice Mexicans moved bulldozer — but not ROCK. BIG rock disguised to Florida girl as sandstone rock. Whoops. Hole now in gas line. No problem. Every mile or so, stop and pour gasoline in carburetor. Oooh. Neat trick. Finally, trick no work anymore. Dusk coming. Guns going off. No problem, probably Indians out shooting dinner??? Oh, forgot detail. Belizean in back seat, but pretty useless. Been smokin’ it since 5 and eyeballs are shot. Mexicans hate Belizeans. Had to get him to stay on back floorboards so that Gurrrl could flag down nice Mexican logger in beat-up Nissan truck to give ride down mountain. Belizean gets to stay on mountain with car. Nice Mexican drive like CRAZY Mexican. Gurrrl very scared for her life, but arrived at nice hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas.

    After finding taxi driver and someone to tow, new man sends them back up mountain to retrieve cigarette car and Belizean, and on we go….

    ….to war torn Guatemala. Guuurrrl is VERY hungry. Sees sign, Huehuetenango, this way. Ahhhh. Maybe McDonald’s. But no, whole town is closed. Oh, well. Center of guerrilla wars tend to close down to reduce murderous activities?
    On down mountain on empty stomach to VERY steep slope to…RIVER. Hmmmm. Where’s bridge? Oh, well. Can’t back cigarette car back up dirt hill so gurrrl throws rocks in river looking for shallow spot. (Cigarette car very coo-el low-slung vehicle.) Verrrry slowly….made it!! Next bridge. Ah, better. One side still attached to top of hill. Drive up from river bed back to sort of real road. Big thump, but, made it!

    From there, most beautiful ride of my life, along mountain road with Indians in colorful garb walking, farming, doing their daily thing. FINALLY, cut off to Antigua Guatemala and across little bridge to cobblestones streets and fairy land, surrounded by 3 volcanoes, bougainvillea spilling everywhere and 15 yr. old military guys with (Sorry, guns?) on every street corner. Hotel room with fireplace. Safe at last, and had accepted marriage proposal. NEXT TRIP, I SWORE, would be 4 wheel drive, and thus, a couple of years later, a repeat trip in a 1968 Land Rover, big tire on front and al! Car of my dreams!!

  9. If you couldn’t get out of bed without help, wouldn’t you want someone “nuts” enough to do this if you needed to? My daddy taught me to be a “Rowan.”

    How can I make a link to my own blog on this? It’s
    if anyone wants to know about Lt. Rowan!

    You know what takes nerves of steel? Doing taxes, waiting on “hold” for 15 minutes, going to the grocery (even Publix!). Those things take nerves of steel.

    Where are you, Ample? Defend me!

  10. Y’all are some adventurous, fun people! Now after reading all these stories, I think Juancho’s wanting to try a triciclo outing on (across?) North Monroe sounds like a dance through some daisies. What about a spin down Apalachee Parkway?

  11. Don’t y’all think Juancho oughta come down here to Mexico and help drive that triciclo back to Florida to earn it?? 😉 He’s got some excuse about WORK!

  12. Here we go. I remember when it was all the rage to encourage Juancho to get a job, and just a few short years later…

  13. …he spends his time with this blog instead.

    I don’t yet believe you really have a job; likely you got a settlement from some accident about which will never be as cool as the above stories.

    c’mon, tell us about the weird medical settlement money.

  14. Who’s this Magnum who doesn’t understand multi-tasking? 😉

    Now everybody, TGIF!!! Go party, ride, or sleep, but do it SAFELY. Mom has spoken. 🙂