Cold and Dark

The air temperature felt quite nice, actually, but the small ice pillar in front of me seemed ridiculously cold. Not that the cold was seeping through onto me; I was toasty warm beneath four layers of outdoor clothing. This ice felt cold and brittle, like porcelain. It reacted like porcelain, too. With each swing of my sharp, hardened steel ice tools, a small pocket of the brittle ice would explode, filling my field of vision with sparkling slivers. One of the difficulties with brittle ice is dinner-plating, or boiler-plating. When planting a tool, a thin ice disc, roughly the diameter and thickness of an average dinner plate, fractures and breaks free. Oftentimes the sheet of ice remains in place until you pull up on your tool, releasing unexpectedly, bringing your ice tool with it. Though annoying, the only thing necessary to overcome dinner-plating is an extra swing or two. Eventually you get a solid placement.

Of course, darkness changed things up significantly. Save for a circle of light directly in front of my face, all was dark. It had been dark before we arrived, and twilight was long gone when we set up our top-rope. Isolation proved most striking. Not isolation in the sense of separation from other people. My dad, holding me on belay, stood below me in his own little pool of light. We could converse without difficulty. I looked up, however, and did not see him or his light. My light did not extend far, my world remained limited to a small visible portion of the climb, and all else left my consciousness. I felt as if I were ice climbing on a vertical treadmill, always climbing, never moving. Height, width, distance, it all melted into the black and I continued to place my tools on the ever changing globule of ice before me. Stemming between columns, moving gingerly on thin ice, throwing in a dry-tooling move here and there, I continued to climb never feeling as though I were gaining elevation. And then the ice ended. I had reached the top.

After two climbs each, we took our leave. Not that we wanted to leave, climbing in the dark was radically different and still novel enough that the shiny newness hadn’t worn off. Though I can’t guarantee future events, my guess is that we’ll have opportunity to climb more ice in the dark. Soon.

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