JAGGED RIDGELINES DARKEN and blur in the dim light. A palette of blues merges into thick, bland grey. I lean my head forward to rest on the rock wall in front of me. I pay out slack listlessly as the rope twitches to Chantel. In the murk of early morning, we find ourselves 2,500 feet up the Denali Diamond, with another 5,500 feet of mountain above. We've taken turns belaying each other as we explore the "snow band" for possible bivy spots. So far, we've found only shallow ice over steep rock. After thirty hours of climbing, my fatigue dulls the brilliant Alaskan skyline. I forget the gift of moving in such extraordinary terrain. I might as well be checking out at the grocery store.
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, reading adventure stories in a house by the sea, I often dreamed about worlds above the clouds. One day, my father took me on a hike up a nearby mountain. It was just a little one—a rocky summit poking through a thick carpet of trees—in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. But for the first time, I thought I could touch the clouds. It was as though I'd walked into one of the illustrations in my books.
Death? That wasn't something I was ready to contemplate. Pain was forcing me out of bed at 2, 3 or 4 a.m. I couldn't sleep. I felt like a driver in a car skidding out of control. I kept hitting the brakes, but the car just accelerated.
NO PLACE SUCKS UP SUN like the Johnny Cat enclave at the Cat Wall, Indian Creek. The maroon cliffs are striped with perfect, cleaved fissures like vertical gateways into a hidden world. The desert heat can be oppressive, but in late autumn, the low golden rays cast long shadows over the walls.
August 9, 2011: The mountains march east into China. That silver sentinel on the horizon is Muztagh Ata, I tell my sister, Christine. To the south rise the dusky ramparts of the Hindu Raj, indistinct in the morning haze. I point north across the Wakhan Corridor, panhandle of Northern Afghanistan.
The story of Cochamo can start anywhere. But since the trail is where all climbers now begin their adventures, that is where this story will begin. The path was likely cut by the Mapuche, "People of the Land," or by their ancestors, some of the first known human inhabitants of Northern Patagonia.
DARKNESS OVERTOOK US. In the midst of absolute night, in the heart of the Cordillera Sarmiento, Camilo and I returned from the summit of Cerro Alas de Angel. The fog closed in, and a white wind filled the gloom, deepening our blindness.