Gone Postal: How to Find Suffering and Your Will in The Mountains
If the 4:07am wake-up call wasn’t enough of a clue, the loaded to the nuts backpack should have been a dead give-away. Ice axes, cramp-ons, rope, snow-pickets, climbing gear, gloves, camera, water, food, extra socks, headlamp and almost none of the 10-essentials filled out my pack as we prepped ourselves for voluntary pain and suffering.
As my body started moving around the dark hours of morning fetching food and adjusting to the beginnings of a new and what would be a long and grueling day, the fog in my brain started to question my good intentions.
- “You don’t mountaineer, you ride chairlifts.”
- “What business do you have on a glacier, you’re a rock climber.”
- “Who are you to climb mountains, they will crush you.”
Thankfully, my rock-climbing partner is a true mountain man and he’s been pushing me to get out deeper into the mountains to experience the more grizzled side of mountain sports. That, and I was awake at 4am: I was committed.
Being a relative rookie to climbing long routes over a mixture of snow, rock, and ice I suggested we tackle an introductory climb. The route he chose as my introduction to mountaineering is not well travelled because of how “easy” it is – the north face of Mt. Slalok via the Stonecrop Glacier above Upper Joffre Lake.
Kevin McLane’s Alpine Select Guide gives the route a PD+ rating; i.e. Peu Difficile, a little difficult with some technical climbing and complicated glaciers. And I would agree, the route is technically not very difficult at all but after 13-hours of constant movement over steep mountain terrain, my legs were destroyed. I found this to be true: easy becomes exhausting if you give it enough time.
1. The view of Mount Matier from Slalok’s peak.
2. Newly christened mountain man.
3. Pretty mountain things.
4. Off the mountain and finally relaxed.
Beginning on the well manicured Joffre Lakes trail system we approached our route early and quickly. Once at the campsite we found a steep approach ridge leading us into our first section of rock as we scrambled towards the snowfield. The rockfall hazard was apparent and so we moved quickly and carefully through this section before roping up at the bottom of the snowfield. Finding perfect snow, we made decent time and covered significant ground before coming face-to-face with a large glaciated ice field.
Crossing a small corner of the ice we were able to avoid crevasses and continue our route on the now slushy snow, making our way to the final long section of 50-degree snow before topping out the mountain. My climbing partner, good man that he is, kicked stepped up the entire last section without swapping leads leaving a nice tidy staircase for me! Good thing too, or I might not have made it back.
After some time spent on the peak, we geared up, made our descent down a fun and exposed scramble, slid down the Tszil Glacier, and willed our heavy legs over every root, boulder, and stump back to the truck for the end of the day – and I’ve been recovering ever since.
“A few hours of mountain climbing turns a villain and a saint into two rather equal creatures. Exhaustion is the shortest way to equality and fraternity – and liberty is added eventually by sleep.” -Friedrich Nietzsche