Go Spew It on the Mountain

An ode to a dedicated belayer.

Hyalite… the Wild Rockies… land of frozen falls, bristling buttes, U-shaped valleys of glacial grace. We are headed deep into the heart of it, in search of solid, vertical water—also known as ice.

Gripping the wheel of my churning jeep, I grimace through the frozen windshield, scanning the snow drifts for signs of the road.

“Wish the heat worked,” gripes the Beave, slurping honey-laced tea from a homemade thermos wrapped in frayed duct tape. A crash course in four-wheel-drive winter travel (I just acquired the old Jeep Commando) gets us to the Window Rock Cabin, an old Forest Service ranger station we have rented for our holiday. Decadence! A backcountry palace all our own, accessible by motor.

Beave and I have come to hide from the Christmas holiday chaos in the city and to thrash ourselves in attempts to climb giant icicles. Of course, holiday cheer cannot be neglected, so we drown the pain of flogged skiing muscles with four bottles of cheap wine Christmas Eve. Talk comes cheap of tomorrow’s feats on the frigid falls. Our recent success on Blue Gully (Beave’s first ice climb) portends a great future of similar and ever more perilous exploits, and we babes hang our foul stockings (to dry) and dream of plucking frozen plums.

Two in the morning. We wake to creatures bursting in the door. Santa? Elves? No, it’s liquored-crazed demons. It seems Beave neglected to tell me that he had invited some of his town buddies to join us at Window Rock. They choose to arrive in the wee hours by moonlight and are drunker than skunks. Howling and chuckling, they exhort us to rise to revelry. We decline, banishing them from the cabin. In revenge they build a huge bonfire outside and dance about it all night, shrieking like banshees and scaring off Santa.

Christmas morn and not a piece of tinsel in sight. Plenty of snow, however. The demons have departed, but Beave is suffering ill effects from the wine, just how much I did not discover until later. We scoot along on our skis to where we’d stashed the mostly borrowed ice-climbing gear and saunter up to a wall draped with gleaming bliss.

The Beave weaves unsteadily as we stagger up to the base of the climb. “You OK?”

He groans. I leave him to his misery and set up a top rope so we can abuse the ice with our sharp little tools. Then I harness poor Beave, to his chagrin, to two well-sunk ice screws, pinning him to the wall, a prisoner. I enjoy a delightful hack-and-chop session, sending shards of ice flying and whooping at my success atop the icy falls. But where has the Beave gone?

Suddenly he appears, pale and wan, from the woods, having scurried off to spew his breakfast in a hideous mess in the snow as soon as I hollered, “off belay!” Now there is a partner, hanging in there to protect my worthless carcass as overindulgence demands its retribution! He barely made it back to the cabin, where he celebrated the birth of the Christ Child by puking and shivering while I, remorseless, went skiing.