Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Black Cloud Thunder

Thank you John for digging up this gem...

Black Cloud Thunder
by Twark Might

It is eleven PM. Thirty feet of snow has fallen in the last twenty minutes. My fingers are frozen solid. The wind is pounding our ropes and our determination. Our belay consists of one piton hammer stuck three millimeters into a rotting hunk of moss. Harry Hampered is vomiting green and brown spew and bleeds copiously from his rock-fall-broken nose as I get ready for the final pitch of our new route on Les Grands Tombés in Chamonix. Worst of all, I think I'm out of batteries and can't listen to my Discman.

I got the call three weeks ago in Boulder. I was sitting at the Airy Green Fairy café with--let's call her--Amy. "Twark," she pressed, sensing doubt perhaps by the way I held my pinky on my espresso-cup hand, "now is when I need you. I'm starting my organic community garden for underprivileged Latino youth with cerebral palsy and autism, and I need your support. I want you here with me and those kids, being a role model and helping." Away off in the distance, September snows dusted the Rockies. Her voice drifted away into the clear empty air as icy couloirs, sheer granite cracks and ripping winds filled my mind with the usual NWA soundtrack: "You think I give a damn about a bitch? I ain't a sucker!" "I've got stuff to do," I told her, throwing a fiver on the table and standing up. Idly, I wondered if she was good for another round in the sack, and then forgot about it as I saw the Big Bad Bodies Gym sign down the street. Time for pain.

Climbing will go faster, I realize, now that I have cut Leif Trailer free from the rope and he has fallen to the death that suits wussy people who refuse to lead dangerous pitches. His screaming is nearly gone from my mind as I start up the pitch. I find a tenuous placement for my left tool. An enormous chunk of ice slams my right shoulder, breaking my arm. I now have only one arm to climb with. As the pitch begins to overhang by 45 degrees, I have to do one-armed dynos with my left tool to ever smaller holds with no feet. I move up thirty feet on no gear, then grab my tool with my teeth so I can use my arm to put in a screw. "Eat my ass, Will Gadd, Raphael Slawinski and Stevie Haston," I mutter through a mouthful of tool. "THIS is mixed climbing."

Alpine climbing is brute amazing pain, punctuated with moments of elation that only the few and the proud-the hard alpinists-will (and should) ever be able to savor. I begin my training routine with six hundred one-armed pull-ups per arm off of my Stubai straight-shafts. Bent tools are for posers. I follow this with six marathons and two thousand push-ups. In the weeks that follow, the frequency of Amy's phone messages drops to around one per day. I get into the Zone, crank up the Joy Division and the Rancid, and get hard. Nights, I rent Masters of Stone videos and wonder at all the losers working boulder problems, prominently displaying their Patagucci and Horse Race clothing. The only way you could get farther from Real Climbing is to sit on a beach and imagine a mountain. And then float up it.

"Secure," I scream at Harry. Towers of black cloud thunder over us as Harry jugs the pitch. He arrives, and I look deep into his eyes, and want to kiss him when he says "You are one crazy motherfucker." This is why I climb in the alpine-to feel so close to both death and another man that kissing him and watching him die become equivalent sensations and equal possibilities. We are close, Harry and I, as we posthole toward the summit up the final snow slope. Then I hear the rumble of the avalanche.

I want to go light. We pack two screws, one nut, three small cams and one two-millimeter rope. Weight is for gumbies. I am naked under my Gore-Tex suit. The harness feels delicious on my scrotum as I test my gear in the privacy of my apartment. We will bring only water, energy bars and caffeine pills, and we will climb for 80 hours non-stop in order to finish the route. Boulder is full of girls with 'biners holding coffee mugs to their backpacks and morons in SUVs with Petzl stickers as I head to the airport. Maybe the hardest moment of the climb is persevering through the dangerous approach slopes of sport, trad rock, bouldering, aid and gym climbing that threaten to avalanche safe idiocy onto me as I work toward The Real Thing.

Hanging with one heel spur, the avalanche roars over me. I vaguely hear Harry screaming as I take his full weight and he dangles in space. Something jogs my Discman, and suddenly the music returns. "Don't call, don't call me white," sings Pennywise, something I can identify with. Who wants to be a member of the lame loser class that dominates? I get energy, and use my arm to haul Harry up. We continue to the top, blink twice, and stumble down toward bed. The next morning, we discuss the route name and grade over coffee. We agree on "Fuck the Entire Universe, Who Are Losers but Don't Know It," and grade the route at Grade VIII, WI7 A5+ 5.15c M22X. Harry, after this experience, will never climb with me again. And so, at the end of the climb, I am only really beginning up the lonely mountain of total alpinist commitment.

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