Friday, February 26, 2016

Memories: I

It has been four weeks.  Four weeks since the death of our beloved younger child.  Four weeks of grief and loss.  (Here is a link to the obituary, for those who may not have seen it before.)

Eli (Miriam) led a short, beautiful life.  I'm intending to share some thoughts and memories on this blog.  Some tales of bravery and adventure and joy and sadness too.

When I think about Miriam's courage I often think of her indomitable desire, from an early age, to go climbing with me.  Below is a piece that I wrote nearly twelve years ago, just after our first multipitch excursion together at Seneca Rocks.

Off belay, Eli.  Safe now.

First multipitch (June 17, 2004)

Not mine.  My daughter's.

It began when she was eight.  `Will you take me climbing on some real rocks this summer?' `Maybe'.  Over the next couple of years we had climbed indoors, and gone on top-roping trips, but these weren't enough to satisfy the urge for `real rocks'.  Now she is ten and I've promised to take her climbing at Seneca.  Multipitch day - `C-day' - is June 17th.

I don't really know how I'm going to react to having M. on the rock with me.  I normally get nervous when I see my kids anywhere within six feet of a steep dropoff.  Since this includes just about everywhere at Seneca Rocks, I wonder if I am going to be too protective to let her climb at all.

C-day minus four.  We head out to a local crag where we can practice ropework and gear placement.  Passing hikers are bewildered as we carefully belay up and down an easy slope.  M. is quick to get the idea of the system though extracting a tricam proves something of a struggle.  Then it's time for something a little more serious - a lower down a 70-foot cliff. Here's the first test of my nerves - M. though is totally confident and steps off into space as instructed.  She walks easily down the face as I cautiously let rope through the GriGri.  I rappel down to join her and we agree that it's time to head home.

C-day minus two.  To the local climbing store to try on rental shoes.  This will be the first time M. has had sticky rubber on her feet.  I assure her that in these shoes, she will be able to stand on anything.

C-day minus one.  We leave at nine on a grey morning to drive to West Virginia.  Drizzle hits us several times as I take the familiar road.  Not the most auspicious start.  Fortunately a back seat movie offers distraction.

Heading up the Ecstasy Junior ramp

We arrive in the visitor centre parking lot, eat, and sort gear.  Today I will lead a couple of short, easy pitches - if the rain holds off.  We head up the West Face trail.  For our first excursion we'll climb the starting ramp for `Ecstasy Junior'.  This is a short, barely 5th class pitch, and I've seen kids on it before.  M. climbs it smoothly, pausing to marvel at what she can do in climbing shoes - `Look, Dad, I can stand on a hold this small!'.  I had thought of continuing up `Gert's Grungy Gully', graded an amenable 5.0, but the day seems grungy enough without committing to such an unpromisingly-named route.  Instead, we scramble up to Luncheon Ledge and I lead off up Humphrey's Head.

Thunder rumbles as I reach the top.  M. is nervous at the base of the final tower, which has some exposure.  She struggles with removing a nut. Time to bring out an old cliche - `the best way down is up'.  I suggest leaving the nut - we'll return for it tomorrow - and bring her up to the summit.  One hasty lower and a rappel later, we are back on the ledge as the rain opens up.  By the time we make it back to the car we are saturated.  Fortunately, the shower passes and we are able to pitch our tent.

With Tony Barnes

C-day. I've arranged for a local guide to climb with us and give M. some instruction today.  Maybe this wasn't necessary, but I want to do everything I can to stack the odds in favor of her having a good experience.  Turns out that we hit the jackpot; our guide will be Tony Barnes, longtime local climber and guidebook author.  I'm thrilled that M. will be taking her first climbing trip with someone who has been such a part of Seneca's climbing history.  There's a photo in the guidebook of Tony with veteran climber Don Hubbard, Seneca's first recorded ascensionist.  I plan to take a photo of M. with Tony; who knows what the future may hold?

Miriam belays Tony up pitch 4 of Old Man's

 It looks like another damp, grey day as we hike up the trail again and gear up at the bottom of Old Man's Route (5.3).  M. is puzzled about what is involved being the middle person on a rope of three, but we try to assure her that it will all make sense once she starts climbing.
She moves uncertainly up the first pitch.  At the top there is a narrow chimney between the face and a featured block.  Most people just climb the block, but M. gets involved in the wide crack.  It's awkward and insecure for her, and hard to see up or down.  With some help and reassurance she works it out and arrives at the belay.  Pitch 2 goes much better for her - we don't go into the chimney here, whatever the guidebook says - as she arrives at the belay, Tony comments `I wish I could put my foot by my ear.'   Pitch 3 is a fourth-class walk and on pitch 4 her nervousness is obviously gone as she bridges up and pulls over the chockstone in fine style.  Now it is scrambling to the summit. The sun is out and the view is great.  M. signs the summit register.  At my suggestion she adds `Age 10'. Then she adds on her own account, `Hahaha!'  I think this means she enjoyed the route.

On the summit tower

When we get back to the ground M. is exhausted.  It's easy to overestimate a kid's stamina; she had enough for this trip, but not much in reserve. It has been hot and humid; it's time to get somewhere cool and head off for lemonade and pizza. 

1 comment:

D said...

What an amazing and special day