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Solitary Refinement. A Trip...

Original Post
s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

has metastasized are the last words I hear. I know he is still talking but have gone numb and my hearing is temporarily non existent. He stops, the gravity on his face replaced with compassion. The corner of my eye catches a tear track down my wife's cheek. The bomb explodes. Just a short time ago remission was the order of the day. It has been a few weeks since hearing that. Time for a head clearing trip to the alpine.

A change in the weather stirs me from a fitful sleep. The wind has picked up. Pushing back my hood I glance at the watch. 2:11 am. Over head are patches of clear sky. A light snow is falling. I can see below me for the first time since moving onto this ledge. The clouds that have enveloped all for the last 13 hours are moving out. Just a few more hours and the warmth of the sun will reach here. This perch is directly below the crux pitch of Ellingwood Arete. I am alone. A chuckle consumes me as thoughts of Crowdorado come and go. Thanks Grog!

The route is a beautiful line on Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo range. A classic first ascended in 1925 to a gorgeous summit. Gotta pee. Keeping my back on the wall I stand and stretch. The dark world around me is wet but no longer socked in. The snow stops. Silence broken by the click of the headlamp. I relieve myself then take stock. Pint of water, a small chunk of cheese bread, two energy bars, an empty pack of tuna devoured hours ago, and my one hit. Take a hit, check the temp and click off the light. 36F. Wrapped in raingear and poncho I am comfortable. Life is good.

The drive across the San Luis Valley was marred only by an inability to focus my thoughts, drifting from upcoming treatments to the beauty of South Colony Lakes. Far to the northeast shine the Crestone's, rising almost 7,000 feet above the valley. A fleeting doubt makes me question the choice to solo this peak at this time. The latest round of treatments has robbed some of my energy, the weight of the battle tiring. Doubt leaves me be as I pass south of Blanca and continue on. The forecast showed a 20 percent chance of weather. For now sun and blue dominate all overhead. With 4 decades in the area I know a forecast can hold no relevance above the trees, the abrupt rise of these peaks above the valley more often than not create their own storms.

For almost 2 decades this poncho has lived in the bottom of various summit packs. Lightweight waterproof shell, built in hood, reflective interior and hand pockets on the inside edge make it a great OH SHIT shelter. Leaning against the wall with legs pulled up it covers me well. For now I choose to stand and munch on some bread. An hour passes and I sit down, sky above now clear. At 5:30 a glowing tent appears down by the lakes. 15 minutes later wishful thinking has convinced me I smell coffee. It has to be wishful as the winds are coming down from the peaks. I wonder about their agenda for the day and try to sleep. End up just waiting on the sun and picking out constellations.

Only one truck at the trailhead when I arrive. A text from my significant other. Be safe, have a great time, and drive yourself home. She always says that. A pic of her and our dog. I pop a beer and make lunch. It is only a few miles to the lakes and being in no hurry just chill. Today is for relaxing, tomorrow the climb. This is my 5th time on the route. 2nd solo. Confidence rises as I pop another beer. Two go into the pack, two left in the cooler for my return. 

As the rosy fingers of dawn light the sky thoughts meander to a favorite saying posted on the wall of a hangout back in Pagosa. In the gray below two figures emerge from the tent and lift their packs. I watch and see they are headed for a different route. It seems the arête is to be mine today. With the arrival of the sun I strip off the poncho and do a little dance. Vibrancy returns to my stiff bones as I eat and stretch, waiting for the rock to dry. For whatever reason I overslept yesterday and got a really late start. The rain came in around 1 in the afternoon. It stopped in 30 minutes but the clouds and occasional drizzle remained. I climbed to this ledge to wait for the return of the sun. Turned out to be a long wait. Should have set an alarm. Normally I have no need for one. Oversleeping seems to happen more often lately. Go figure. The rock begins to steam, glowing orange and red with the refracted light. The Blood of Christ. I am overwhelmed with emotion and tears fill my eyes. Such beauty.

Since my original diagnosis a few months ago I have not allowed self pity to darken my thoughts. It has caught me here on this ledge and I weep openly. Death does not scare me, the battle ahead to keep it at bay does. Just 6 years ago I was standing tall with my father as he struggled with the same battle. That journey was the toughest I have experienced. His last words echo through my conscious. Be good, strong, and true to your inner compass. Kiss your wife everyday. Then he was gone. Needing some time alone my brother leaves the room. I bend down and kiss dad's cheek. The journey ends on a beach in South America. His favorite place. I reach up and touch the shell I picked up that day. It has hung on a chain around my neck since spreading his ashes. Suddenly I no longer feel alone.

Time to go. Shouldering my pack I take a minute to absorb the surroundings. This may be my last time here and need to savor it. With a calming breath I turn and climb. The Head Crack pitch is the crux of the route. The crack is wet but easily manageable. Clarity encompasses me as I move right onto the crux holds. Fully engaged in the moment and movement the summit arrives as a surprise. Alpine splendor shines in every direction and through my soul. After a leisurely time on the summit I slowly pick my way down the South Face back to camp, elk stew, and a cold beer. Descending the couloir windswept voices reach me. An argument in progress somewhere below. I see no one but hear them clearly. WE ARE GOING DOWN. Then silence. 5 minutes later they come into view. Announcing my presence with a loud hello they both look up, mild shock on their faces. His eyes are cloudy with fear. Hers disappointment. We chat for a few minutes but mention nothing of their plight. My input is definitely not needed. I say be safe and continue on. Everyone you meet flutters around my mind as I leave them. 

Fed and smugly satisfied I take a hit and open my last camp beer. The couple arrive back at their tent, drop packs, and wander off in different directions. Fighting a battle I know nothing about. Tomorrow I will head home. After that more treatments to continue the fight. Rust never sleeps.

Just outside of town the phone rings. It is my wife. She is at happy hour with the usual suspects. I'm 10 minutes away I say and hang up. Upon arrival they are sitting on the deck laughing and playing guitar. I join them and give my wife a kiss. A beer appears in my hand as I sit down and grab a guitar. Over my shoulder on a wall inside hangs a plaque. I know the words displayed there by heart. With a song or two left in me I take a sip and begin to play.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 863

Astonishingly, beautifully well written, sir. 

If I never have the opportunity to meet you in person, please know you will be forever carried in my heart.

With a smile on my face.

The people we meet...   Every. Single. One. I will think of you.

Love to the three of you, Helen

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

Thanks Helen.

DavisMeschke Guillotine · · Armchair Asshole · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 220

You recently wrote the words, "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." That has really stuck with me over the past few months.

Thanks for sharing.

BrokenChairs ~ · · Sultan, WA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 235

Sending you all the good vibes I have to offer. I wish you and your wife the best. 

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,625

Tears cloud my eyes as i write, for both  the beauty and the pain encompassed in so few words. I too have memorized and quoted to many the sign quote you closed your previous post with. "....B)e kind. Always".

May you live many days, may your days be full, and please keep posting such beauty.


Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 412

Beautiful, thank you for sharing! I wish you many more days in the hills and peace in your journey.

Alicia Sokolowski · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 1,100

I am glad you have your wife and your dog. I am also glad they have you. Excellent trip report. 

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 430

Thanks for posting. Keep it coming. Peace.

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 1,673

Thanks for sharing. Just... thanks.

Fritz Nuffer · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 430

Superbly written ... felt like I was right there. Thank you. That poncho shelter sounds bomber. And I greatly appreciate the tribute to Homer with the line "As the rosy fingers of dawn light the sky..."

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

Big fan of Homer and it seemed appropriate here. The poncho is awesome.

pizza.eater · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 5

Powerful words, thank you for sharing. Wishing you strength

Fritz Nuffer · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 430
s.price wrote:

Big fan of Homer and it seemed appropriate here. The poncho is awesome.

Right on. I read the Odyssey (tr. Fagles) aloud to each of my fifth grade classes. The kids ate it up. After hearing the Polyphemus episode, they would go around saying "NoMan has stolen my pencil" etc.

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

Thanks to all for the wonderful emails. What a great community we have on MP.

Max Supertramp · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 65

we all come from stardust but you're something special.  your strength inspires.  

Anthony L · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 25

Wow. Thanks for that. Seriously. As someone afflicted with chronic illness, this hit home pretty freakin hard.  I wish you the best on your journey.  Seems like you're crushing it thus far.

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

Writing this proved to be very cathartic for me. Since heading down this path I have met many in the same boat. Quite a few much worse off than I. Sadly many seem to give up on life. My hope is that this may inspire all to not quit when things get tough. As Donald Shimoda said, "Perspective. Use it or lose it".

s.price · · Pagosa Springs · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 1,346

I met a man yesterday who said the following to me.

There is real beauty in adversity. You just have to look hard to see it. 

Considering his very precarious condition those words really touched me.

Great advice for us all.

Fritz Nuffer · · The Western Slope · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 430

You've got a way with words. Like I said in my PM, I was hearing echoes of Pat Ament's account of climbing with Kor in the Black. Your trip report here hits a deep chord ... keep playing. 

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 863
Fritz N. wrote:

You've got a way with words. Like I said in my PM, I was hearing echoes of Pat Ament's account of climbing with Kor in the Black. Your trip report here hits a deep chord ... keep playing. 

Thank you for the correct version of cord...

;-) OLH

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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