Success Is Just Another Word for Something Left to Lose

Sixty degrees was the forecast high temperature for the next day. Standing in the Hyalite parking area, we felt some bitterness at having squandered our forty degree day. A bit of information would be our only solace. We had just come down from having a look at the route, Zack Attack. There are some things in climbing for which I would risk serious injury or death. I could now declare: Zack Attack was not one of them. That’s all our best weather day would yield, and it was a brand of success, I suppose.
In our defense, it was very hard to judge the nature or condition of the first pitch from the road. So, first thing in the morning, we labored up the valley wall, bypassing the unformed steps of easy ice which would have made the approach entertaining in itself. When we arrived at the base of the climb, we saw that the reports of “all ice” were outdated. Several warm days had cleared the first short corner of its climbable adornment. The naked corner wasn’t much to look at – a collection of blocks and frozen turf. Except it wasn’t frozen. As I climbed up to have a look, my ice tools cut into the clumps of grass with light pressure from my wrists. Some of the blocks shifted ever so slightly under the crampon points.
As I looked up the route, the only obvious gear placements appeared to involve similar sets of blocks and flakes. The climbing didn’t look desperate, but the protection was illusory at best. In short, it was uninspiring. Besides, others were waiting by that time.
A team had come up to stand in line while I was scoping out the first pitch. Their persistence despite our priority and the look in the eye of the younger one made my decision even easier. I climbed down. Back on the snow platform, I let the guy with the look know what I’d seen. I knew he wouldn’t heed my assessment; this route obviously meant something to him. We watched the other for a bit before heading down.
He moved up to the first cam placement behind a flake, plugged in the gear and moved on, fifteen, then twenty feet to the next, similar opportunity. Eventually he found something which looked like it might hold a fall, just ten feet below the crux. He paused to think about his situation for several minutes and we took our leave. I knew what was coming and I didn’t want to stay and watch.
Like Lot’s wife though, we were compelled to look back as we picked our way down the slope, and he moved ten, then twenty feet above his last good protection. He was driven right by the difficulties of the route onto ground which the guidebook describes as “sporty”, shorthand for unprotectable. Now at least thirty feet out, he stood for an hour in one spot, searching for gear or another way forward. Finally accepting the fact that the nature of his situation was plain climb or die, he made the moves left and up, achieving easier ground atop the crumbly slabs.
For my part, I’m glad he made it and I didn’t. He has a story to tell now, and a good one. It will be the kind of story I was recalling as I frowned up at the blocks and dirty slabs from the start of the route, and I’ve enough of them, thank you.

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