Long's Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
I was available and interested, the two main prerequisites for my participation in this climbing trip: the route "D1" on the Diamond Face of Long's Peak (14,256'), Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. My experience at altitude and with crack climbing seemed secondary, or at least, seemed like something we could work around. It was an honour to be asked by Nancy Hansen, an experienced alpinist, so I immediately said yes and began researching what it was I had signed up for. The more I read, the more I wondered if I would be able to complete this project. Would I be able to shoulder a 60 lb pack over 8 or 9 rocky kilometres? Would my body adjust well to the altitude? Would I be able to climb these difficult and steep routes? Would I have something to contribute to the team? The question marks remained, but my thirst for adventure and new experiences was stronger than my doubts and, before I knew it, we were off to Colorado.
A few days before we left, a good friend of mine congratulated me on my participation in this trip and suggested that it would be an epiphany for me. "What do you mean?", I asked. "A life changing event", he replied. His words followed me throughout our journey through Montana, Wyoming & Colorado, along the trail to Chasm Lake, up to the base of the Diamond Face, and onto the summit of Long's Peak.
"An epiphany (from the ancient Greek, epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization. The term can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective."
On the crux pitch of Pervertical Sanctuary (5.11a), a trial climb, I huffed and groveled my way up, grabbing gear and stopping at intervals to catch my breath. I arrived at the belay doubting my abilities, wondering how I'd fare on the harder route slated in two days time. Yet, at the same time, I was determined to see things through no matter the effort required. My first realization became apparent: this is how Bill sometimes feels. For the first time ever, I was climbing in Bill's rock shoes. My understanding of his perspective grew as did my appreciation and love for him.
Meantime, a hiker stood by the Chasm View wall, waving his arms frantically and yelling "THERE... IS... A... STORM... COMING!". Nancy didn't seem to have heard him, so I repeated his words. She continued with the tasks at the belay station and prepared to lead the next pitch. Absorbed in her tasks, I waited until she was done and I said calmly again "Did you hear that hiker?" "Which hiker?", she asked. "The one at Chasm View wall warning of an impending storm", I replied. Without acknowledging this information or even without a shrug of her shoulders, she was off. Within a few minutes a hailstorm came over the ridge, quickly followed by a snowstorm. Nancy's entire lead was completed in this inclement weather. As soon as she reached the belay station, the sun started to shine again and it was my turn to go up. I moved as quickly as possible to try to warm up my frozen feet, legs and hands. When I reached the station, I turned to her and muttered "You are the most hardcore climber I know". A second realization ensued: determination and focus can get you through so much, including a snowstorm at 13,800 ft. What Nancy does and how she chases her goals inspires me to continue to push myself to go beyond what I perceive are my limits.
As for my initial questions, I do have answers to them now: I am definitely able to carry a pack that is half my weight for 4-5 hours over all types of terrain; my body can adjust well to the altitude; and while I may not be able to free climb these steep and difficult routes, I can find ways to make upward progress and keep the project alive.
"The surprising and fulfilling feeling of epiphany is so surprising because one cannot predict when one's labour will bear fruit; and is fulfilling because it is a reward for a long period of effort."
Climbing our goal route, "D1", on Long's Peak was as long a process and involved even more considerable effort. That climb took 19 hours of non-stop exertion (we woke up at 1:45 am and it was 23 hours tent to tent). As we topped out after the last pitch we both felt astonished at our success and shared a congratulatory hug. I took out the camera and captured a few of Nancy's thoughts on film. As I put the camera away, it dawned on me that I had just completed the hardest route of my life, at high altitude, on only 2 hours of sleep and while battling a bout of giardia. Imagine what I might be able to do when I'm healthy and rested! Now that's an epiphany!
Link to video: http://vimeo.com/reneebill/longs (password is longs)