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2012 Alpinist/Bozeman Ice Fest Writing Contest Winner Announced!
Posted on: December 1, 2012
This month, we asked you to tell us why you ice climb, in 500 words or fewer, as part of the Alpinist/Bozeman Ice Festival Writing Contest, judged by Editor-in-Chief Katie Ives and Managing Editor Gwen Cameron. What we got was more than 30 submissions that spoke of the pursuit of intensity, welcome solitude, inescapable fear, pilgrimage, the taste of liberation. We congratulate winner Nick A. (whose submission we rescued from our spam folder) on his artfully written piece about finding clarity in the dark.
On a cold spring day in 2008, I clipped a worn carabiner to a weathered piton, a piton I'd carefully placed years before. I was standing on a small ledge above an old favorite toprope—a mere 40 feet of granite that looked down upon a subway station in my hometown of Malden, Massachusetts. My mind had been muddled from the hydrocodone, the oxycodone, the diazepam, the codine, the pain. Stiffly, I bent down. A fresh pink scar ran seventeen inches down my sore spine. I was supposed to be in homeroom an hour ago.
I ice climb because I'm grateful.
My first real ice climb was a scramble up Mt. Washington's Central Gully. Climbing unroped and swinging tools into real ice, above huge exposure, was the epitome of exhilaration for a 16-year-old boy. There was no squeaky neve; my partner and I took turns kicking steps up sloppy snow. Pulling onto flat ground for the first time in a thousand feet, no simple handshake would do: we embraced to celebrate our escape from the grasp of death. The tonic spindrift washed across me at breakneck speed as I bathed in the sunlight. Rebirth above the dark gully.
To piton and 'biner I'd attached a fuzzy green cordelette, given to me by the friend who'd patiently belayed my first ice lead. My focus blurred and cleared with each thumping heartbeat. Nothing could be heard but thin, weak blood trickling through my ears. Inside my jacket pockets, I felt a dozen bony ribs, exposed by painkillers and bruised from weeks lying in a hospital bed. Inside my jacket pockets, I felt a single sheet of paper, a few words screamed in red crayon, the crayon snapping like a bone as I'd smashed down a final period. I girth-hitch the cordelette around my throat: it pinched a little when I gulped.
When I climb today, my mind is clear from the confusion of opiates, my body is sound, and my scar a little less pink. With each swing of a tool, I remember what was. I was forced to stop climbing for just two years, but those years almost took everything from me. For that time, I lost both my tribe and my temple. From my home crags of New Hampshire to unfathomably scary routes in Alaska, every single pitch is now sacred to me. Now I feel solid on my tools, alive on the ice, and at home in this cold, vertical world.
I adjusted the rope around my neck. I smelled the first hint of spring in my last breath. I slid myself off the ledge.
Was it supposed to be a happy ending?
—Nick A., North Conway, New Hampshire