Whaaapshhh, whaapish, whaaaTHACK. If you've ever climbed ice, you'll know that there are few sensations more satisfying than the solid thud of a well-placed ice tool. I got my fair share of climbing this spring. That's why I've been away from the computer. Now that the ice is melting, I should probably fill in the internet world with my escapades.
Wedding Cake, Mad Dog, Annie Greensprings, Starbright, Hollowhead, Boones Farm, O'Malley Falls, Ripple, and Jack River Falls filled my spring. We esentially get one month off between ski seasons, and I spent mine calttering up frozen water. In the spring sunshine, it's been super easy to get out and swing tools on the weekends or after school.
There's something about leading a nice solid WI3-4 climb. It's something very intense and gripping, but it's sublime and fulfilling too. I never feel threatened, but my subconscious understands the severity of the situation and diverts all energy and attention into the action at hand. I realize how focused I've been throughout the climb when I top out and clip into the anchor. I suddenly notice how wet I am from the dripping ice, that my hands are severely cold, that I'm thirsty, that my calves are burning, and my knuckles are throbbing from punching ice bulges. Somehow on lead I never notice any of those things. I only ever feel the absolute satisfaction of sinking a tool into a solid placement and pulling down.
Ice climbing is one of those things that really gives me a powerful feeling of accomplishment. There are definitely huge risks involved with taking the sharp end of the rope, especially on ice. Protection is sometimes questionable, ice can be unpredictable, and with all of the sharp pointies, falls are rarely clean. In reality leading ice is a lot like soloing with a rope. The only reliable and safe belay is from making good placements.
But this suits me fine. Making good placements, calculating the risks, setting bomber protection, and picking the route are all decisions that I make. These are things that I can control. The risk involved is directly based on my ability and my decision-making process. There are some outside, uncontrollable factors. Ice and rock fall or avalanches from an unseen gully above can be difficult to predict. Realistically though, if I get hurt it would almost always be caused by my own screw-up.
Compare this to driving home from work. Obviously there is a lot of risk. Doing 75 on the highway feels pretty safe from the cockpit of a climate-controlled, suspension dampened car with anti-lock brakes, seatbelts and airbags. You have control of your vehicle, you're doing the speed limit, paying attention, not talking on the phone or with your passengers or even picking songs on the ipod. You suddenly get broadsided by a drunk in an F-350. Toast. That's it. That's all you get. Someone dies in a car-wreck every 13 minutes in the US.
The difference is that when you drive, the risk isn't really in your hands. Even if you're doing everything right, you have little control over your safety. You're depending on the abilities of everyone on the road with you. And lots of those people are clearly less than trustworthy.
When I go climbing, the risk is mostly in my hands. Deciding whether to go, where to go, when to go, where and how to place protection, whether to swing again and get a really solid stick, are all up to me. So when I successfully lead a ropelength of vertical ice, I feel self-reliant, fulfilled, confident, cautious and safe. More so than on the drive home...
Here's to being safe and having outrageous fun!