A first date to forget.
So there I was, leading the second pitch, the crux pitch, of Guinness Gully. Normally grade 4 but today in grade 6+ condition. There was a thin veneer of ice spit over the rock. More frost than ice really, like a freezer needing to be defrosted. Screws were out of the question. In a gallant move of grizzled bravado meant to impress my new partner, Julie, I had left the screws with her. She was impressed.
I was wearing new boots. They fit like a glove in the shop, but on the ice I started to feel my heel lifting. My heel lifted higher and higher until it finally levered the rear snap buckle off and released my crampon. I had recently removed my crampon straps to cut weight for an upcoming attempt on Reality Bath, so my crampon launched out into the void. I felt a chill. I was 15 feet off the deck, with no protection in sight or even with me.
“Jul-lee, Jul-lee,” I yelled. (Julie is French.) “Jay purdoo moan crampon.” But there was silence. I thought I might have heard some mumbled cursing, but it was just the wind. I knew this was for me to sort out and not for her. In the sagacious words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket; take the ride.”
Down-climbing sans crampon was unthinkable on this rock glazeé. There was nothing to sink a tool into, nothing that could support bodyweight. I felt doomed and began to give into that despondency that always precedes illumination. In a flash of inspired observation I realized that I was surrounded by Burgess shale. So I dug out my pocket knife and slid the blade in between two flakes of shale and pressed it in with my thumb. I tied it off with a screamer and asked Julie to take on red.
She took on red and pulled me off the route. In my momentary glee over saving my ass, I had forgotten to clip in.
The snow was soft. Now lying prone on my back, I gazed up at Julie, who wore a look of disdain mixed with disbelief that could only be described as Gallic. She then turned away and would not look at me. Which was weird. Very Gallic-Canadian.
Gingerly I wiggled my fingers and toes. I was pleased to have survived my fall and the sharp pain in my back suggested that I had found my lost crampon. I knew that Julie and I would never again climb together. She was already walking away to find a rappel. She left me with red to find my own way off.
If there’s a lesson to take from this, I don’t know what it is. Sometimes a person does everything right and the mountain bites back without reason or provocation. Chance is a cruel mistress, but to someone she’ll now be a generous lover, as there’s a deeply discounted pair of boots for sale in the gear forum. Used once. Just barely.
Editor's note: On January 27, 2019, Tanner Jackson, the author of this article, took his own life. Tanner struggled with depression for decades, often turning to the mountains and the outdoor pursuits he cherished to find solace. While we tend to focus on the cheery sides of our mountain lifestyles, we often neglect the stresses many in our community face. We’ve long valued our physical health; it’s even more imperative to value our mental health.
Recreation is our sanctuary, healing in ways few medications can. But sometimes, it’s not enough. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed out, call the Bozeman Help Center Crisis Line at (406) 586-3333 or 211. Your climbing partners and skintrack pals will be happy you did. If you suspect someone you know is struggling with mental health, reach in and be a source of support.