Sunday, September 27, 2009

Moron Rocks

Yesterday's blog was all about rocks, and today...more on rocks. I just got off the phone with my brother who, as of late, is very much into rock climbing with his daughters. The girls are young and fearless, which differentiates them from their father, and most certainly from their uncle who is still washing out his underwear.

My brother had e-mailed some pictures of his girls scaling a face in Saint John's Rockwood Park. It looked impressive. I was telling him about my 'near death' experience in les Iles de la Madeleine while climbing an escarpment (not quite a full blown cliff). I was hiking along a beach one morning, the one pictured above, when I decided that I'd probably get some nice photographs if I could just climb up to the meadow at the top of the cliffs. I had seen images taken from that vantage point before, and they looked impressive. I wanted some. I could have walked back along the beach, up the stairs to the parking lot and then along to the gently sloping meadow in the manner that a cow might get there, but I was too lazy, so up I went.
I didn't want to leave the bulk of my camera gear on the beach while I climbed, so I strapped on my yellow, thirty pound Billy Blast-off backpack that was chocked full of lenses. In my left hand I clutched a heavy tripod with my new Nikon D90 nakedly perched on top.
The rocks, as mentioned yesterday, are very soft and crumbly. They would quickly, without notice, disintegrate underfoot and not offer much in the way of a firm bite. Soft rocks are not consoling on the way up, though I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that you're head will be hitting soft rocks, at least for the first few bounces, as you plunge down to your death. Of course I wasn't going to die on this climb, but there was always the possibility of a sound thrashing.
I managed to get myself about sixty feet above the ground vertically, but I was still about 15 feet shy of the top. I had pretty much convinced myself that I could make it to the top, if I didn't have to carry an photographic anvil on my back. The backpack felt like the hands of a horse-collaring bouncer who was dragging me out of a pub, not that I've ever been on the receiving end of that loving touch. I began to sweat, so I paused on the cliff side.
Breathe, Ian, breathe.
I looked down and enjoyed the view, as one might enjoy the view of earth while trying to untangle their parachute. I looked up and began to sweat again. I might have gone for it, the summit, had someone accompanied me on the climb. It's not that they would have spurred me on, it's just that I wanted an eye witness account if I didn't make it and went ass over tea kettle down the cliff.
Yeah, I thought he was going to make it, but then he slipped. Oh well, he died doing what he loved.
I'd rather have people say that he lived doing what he loved. I don't love rock climbing, but I'm compelled to do it. I don't know why. It runs in the family. My brother's daughters are doing it, following in the footsteps of their father, except the girls are doing it with all the proper gear, and hydrating with juice. Not my brother.

Do you see the rock face below? That's Martin Head on the Bay of Fundy. My brother and his drinking buddies thought it would be a good idea to try and climb it.

Here's what my older brother (the role model) had to say about the experience...."Your story reminds me of the time Hughson, McKenzie and I had a few frosties then decided to climb Martin Head. We got to a certain point and realized if we tried to go back down, there was a 100% probability we would slip and fall and probably die, and a 90% percent probability that if we kept going we would slip and fall and probably die. Fortunately (and obviously), we beat the odds."

Is rock climbing about 'beating the odds'?

As a young child I used to love the autumn. I would roll around in the raked piles of cherry, pumpkin and mustard coloured leaves, spreading my father's handiwork to the four winds. One of my all-time favourite things to do in the fall was to go apple picking. I liked apples, but I loved climbing the gnarled branches of the old apple trees. The Government of Canada took note of the fun that children were having in the trees, and decided that it was too dangerous.

"There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation", spoke Pierre Trudeau, adding that the orchards were a wholly different matter.

Legislation was introduced. Scientists at Agriculture Canada worked feverishly to develop an unclimbable tree, and thus the dwarf apple tree was born. It's practically all you see in the orchards these days.

I suppose that's why I climb cliffs, because my inner child doesn't get to climb enough. Going up the ladder to clean the eavestroughing doesn't count, that's work. It's amazing how alive you feel when you're 'near death'. As it stood, I decided not to make a break for the summit and I slid back down the cliff on my sorry ass, scraping my legs and arms along the way, and bleeding a bit from my hand.

When I got back to the bottom I laughed at myself, not for the folly of my actions, but because I had beaten the odds.

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