My Journey to The Tooth
• I work with a guy named Randy. He's really laid-back, soft-spoken, and a nice guy all around. One day Randy had a slight glint in his eye and said, "Tim, you look like you stay in shape, would you be interested in climbing?" Being from a very flat part of the country, and always seeking new adventures to make up for what I felt were some fairly boring formative years, this peaked my interest immediately. It was also something I had been thinking about trying for a few years. I told Randy I was very interested, he then nodded and started telling me about how he'd been climbing since he was twelve.
• Over the next few Winter and Spring months, every few days, Randy would come to me with climbing questions; "So...do you have any gear?" "Do you have rock shoes?" "Have you ever repelled?" "What sort of jacket do you have?" etc... The weather started warming up much earlier than usual for the Northwest. As this occurred, an aura of excitement increasingly surrounded Randy. With no jibe or offense intended, it reminded me of the way my dog would act when he knew dinner or a walk was imminent.
• Finally, Randy told me that the weather was good enough to head out. He said we were going to climb "The Tooth, a good climb for a beginner." We confirmed our plans for Tuesday after work. I was stoked; a nice hike in the afternoon with a good, new challenge sounded like an awesome way to spend an evening after work...
• We met up with two other guys; Nate, a guy about my age who'd been climbing with Randy for a number of years, and B, an experienced hiker but also a newbie to climbing. They were both really nice, and we had a fun ride to the base of our hike at a ski resort. One thing that started scratching my mind a bit was that during the ride the most common topic of conversation was about people being injured and dying on climbs. There were also some terms they started throwing around that I was unfamiliar with. When I asked what "punching through the snow" meant, I was met with a reaction of, "Oh boy, Tim, you're in for a surprise!"
• Upon arriving, we geared up and started up the ski slope. Looking up the slopes, part of my mind wondered if the chair lifts were functional, but I simply resolved myself to enjoy the good workout that was ahead. I did enjoy myself, learning as I went along, and feeling proud of myself for keeping up. I'd never thought about a lot of the aspects of hiking in this terrain; moving single file to follow the other guys' footprint-stairs, trying to keep the climbing harness at a good fit to avoid chaffing or pinching one's man-parts, etc...
• We made it to the base of The Tooth in good time, but it was still getting a little late since we didn't get on the road until after 2:30PM. Randy or Nate asked me at some point, "How do you feel about repelling in the dark?" I simply smiled and said, "I have no idea!" because I honestly didn't. I had a feeling I wouldn't really have much of a choice, so no need to get worked up about the inevitable-unknown.
• The Tooth itself did not look extremely steep or intimidating from our current approach, but the first challenge came in climbing up the steep snow to the true, rock-base where we would hook up to ropes and really start climbing. We had to shimmy next to a rock overhang, while standing on some hollow snow. Then, at the end of the rock, the only way to get up seemed to be to use the assistance of the local foliage. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have died or even been injured had I fallen, but the thought of relying on these green bushes for safety was not entirely reassuring. After a slight struggle that was made slightly more panicked when my foot broke through the hollow snow, I heaved myself up.
• We took a break to hydrate and refuel. The water and food definitely reinvigorated my morale. Still, I looked up the face of The Tooth, and it appeared much steeper from the bottom... The plan was: Randy would take the lead, and I would follow on the other end of the rope (pitch). Then, Nate would lead and B follow on the second rope (pitch). My heart-rate was gradually increasing as I watched Randy begin the climb, but it was still very cool to watch him work. Then, Nate helped me get tied in and it was my turn to go. •
• There was a lot of fear involved in the climb for me, but it was the kind of fear I like conquering; it sucks to varying degrees at the time but makes for some awesome memories. I felt like I made good time and only got slowed up at a few points on my way up. It took us two "pitches" to get up. Again, Randy lead the way on our second pitch. About 3/4 of the way up, I hit a spot where I was sure I'd climbed myself into a corner. I was slightly panicked and told Randy of my predicament as I recited the "Litany Against Fear" from Frank Herbert's Dune to myself. Randy very calmly gave me some pointers and added, "Just take your time, enjoy yourself." The part of my brain that was trying to freak out wanted to yell back, "Thanks, a**hole!", but the part of me that enjoys challenge took comfort in Randy's relaxed attitude. I realized that I felt I could really trust in Randy's experience, skill and in the equipment we were using. I asked him to pull out the slack to get an extra feeling of security, then I made my move and kept climbing.
• I reached the top, very thankful for the rest. I allowed myself a few breaths and then made my way to the peak for an amazing view. It is indescribable up there, I've really never seen anything like it...just endless mountains and Rainier in the background.
• Randy was truly in his element up there, and he was eager to get some photos. He took some shots of me and the scenery, then handed the camera to me. He informed me that he wanted me to get a shot of him doing a handstand. I knew of this strange tradition of his from seeing some of his other photos online, but it was another thing to see him do it in person. I got the shots, but I couldn't help my mind from freaking out a little, thinking "$#!*, if he falls, how the heck am I going to get down the mountain?!" Also, the new top-of-the-world environment plus looking through the camera was giving me some slight vertigo. I had to stop taking pictures so I could relax for a bit, but the timing was good because the other guys were just about to the top.
• After getting another quick set of photos, it was time to repel. The sun was just starting to set. This time the order was planned as: Nate, me, B, then Randy. B had already done some repelling, so he would help safety check me when I hooked up to the second rope. I wish I could say I moved like a commando down the mountain, but this was not quite the case. It was a little harder to let myself relax as repelling was an almost completely new sensation (the only other time I had gone was when I was 14, and I'm a little bit bigger now...). Also, it felt that I was relying more on myself rather than having another's experience to help. I survived the trip down without incident and even avoided giving myself rope burn.
• We repelled a third time to get down a steep, snow-filled crag. Nate was at the bottom, and told me I could go the rest of the way down and wait there. I looked down the steep snow and decided to take the quickest route. I discovered that sledding in soft snow without a sled is quite a bit of fun! I must have slid down a couple hundred feet (or at least it felt that far).
• The way down turned out to be the most taxing part of the day for me. Part of this was my fault because I put on too many layers before we repelled. I was cooking in a fleece that was covered by a wind breaker. The other guys were way ahead of me, especially on the downhill portions, surprisingly. I had no idea you could leap your way down a snowy mountain, but it seemed that this was exactly what the other guys were doing...and in the dark. I caught up close to the end and leaped/ran/sled the rest of the way down.
• We took some victory photos and made our way back to civilization. I arrived home around midnight.
• Looking back, the climb was awesome, not even despite the fear, but more because of it. At first I thought I would want to wait a long time before I went again, but the excitement of the experience continues to replay through my mind, making me eager to try to get back out some time soon. I have a lot to learn and practice, but the only way to really get better is by doing. Truly the Litany Against Fear from Dune is an excellent "ode" to this accomplished challenge:
I must not fear, Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear, I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing, Only I will remain.