We are able once again to talk her down and convince her to keep on. She is breathing hard and I can see her trying very hard not to look down or think about where she is. We move along and the first on our team begins to cross the ice. This is a slow process and the waiting is a bit painful. I look down and am not put at ease by the size and angle of the slope stretching down into the depths below us. We are at the edge of the ice and the rope comes taut on Lisey. She makes her first wary step out onto the ice. There is a muttering of curses and fast erratic breathing.
One step at a time, Lisey, one step at a time, I tell her. More encouragement comes from ahead on the rope. She takes another step and places her ice axe. There are holes from previous climbers so placing the axe does not require a significant swing. She pauses, eyes clenched with a death grip on the axe. At this point my palms are sweaty, the adrenalin is flowing and I have no idea how this girl is perched on this sheet of ice with 2,500 feet of slope below. If she can do this, I should be able to pull it off backwards. However, as I head onto the ice, I am not too comfortable at all. I dig in the points of my crampons and place my axe. My mitts slide on the shaft of my mountaineering axe.
As Lisey slowly and deliberately places her steps, pausing to catch her breath and calm her mind, I slowly follow. It is quite a process and I feel a burn begin in my calves as I try to keep the points of my crampons down and holding solid. I try to sound like I’m totally comfortable and encourage Lisey on. Climbers on the rope ahead call back encouragement to Lisey. There are even the occasional shouts from above as people appear through gaps in the cloud on the summit ridge above.
One step at a time, Lisey, one step at a time. You’ve got this, I say to myself.
The ice traverse seems to last an eternity but in time we reach the other side. There is a short period of happiness and then a realization by Lisey of the vertical climb that lies ahead. Climbers on the rope ahead are calling back to her and encouragement comes from all around. The holds are a bit shaky and near-vertical ascents are not Lisey’s favorite pastime.
She slowly slides her first crampon up onto the first foothold then carefully raises her axe, searching for somewhere solid without actually opening her eyes. Finally her axe hits its mark and with shaky legs and labored breathing Lisey pulls on the axe and weights the foothold, hugging the wall as she pushes up. This process is repeated again and again. Faces pop over the ridge at the top and call down encouragement. Lisey is on the verge of panic but manages to keep putting one foot above the other and keep moving. After every move she stops to try and regain composure. I keep on her, not letting her stop long enough to absorb the precariousness of her position. I am fired up she’s pushed it this far and we are so close to the summit ridge.
ATBO students Miles Minichiello, Kim Jackson & Kye Walker enjoying the summit view from St Nicholas Peak.
Photo courtesy of College of the Rockies
Come on! You can do it! And then there are people and a small flat area where the front of our rope team has congregated. We’ve made it! There are cheers and congratulations for Lisey, who immediately collapses on a flat spot and curls up, eyes clenched, trying to calm her breathing. She remains in this position and those around can’t help but laugh while being a bit amazed at the same time. We are at 10,500 feet, on a knife ridge, almost narrow enough to straddle with a leg on either side and this girl is terrified of heights. She definitely faced her fear in a big way today.
At this point we discover that the route down to where we reassembled for the final summit attempt is a near-vertical lower. Everyone is pretty excited at the idea of being lowered off the top of a mountain, descending down into the cloud.
Lisey, however, has never been higher than ten feet on a rock climb and has never attempted a full rappel. But after what she has just gone through to get here, and given the relatively few options open to her, she is determined to go for it.
Keep looking straight ahead, I say, we are almost there. Whether due to the shock of the whole situation, or just getting used to it, Lisey begins laughing and even enjoying the decent. We push off and swing a little bit, steadily lowering down. Walking backwards down the face, negotiating small overhanging sections and rocky terrain, we are soon touching down on the traverse where it all began.
What a mission. There is an excited energy and feeling of accomplishment amongst those back in the shelter of the windlip. We still have the whole descent to go but the main objective has been achieved and it has already been a very rewarding experience. I am impressed and inspired by the facing and conquering of fears I witnessed on my rope. I am sure everyone is feeling like they’ve just accomplished something significant that won’t soon be forgotten.
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