The Creation

The Creation :
By Peter Austen

Icefields are satisfying but rock climbing is wonderful too. I was elated. We had just finished a fantastic climb after many days of intermittent effort over a 3 year period. Lying in the warm shallow water of Stuart Lake, near Fort St.James, British Columbia, looking back up at the 1000 foot limestone prow we had just climbed, a name came to me: "the Creation." This was in keeping with the tradition of religious names on this huge limestone cliff on Mount Pope in central British Columbia. We had "created" this climb. It was not a straightforward line as for instance a long crack or a rock chimney would be. We had pieced every bit of it together to make progress up the cliff. The grey cliff resembled the inclined forehead of an elephant, and when you stood underneath it was like being under the prow of a ship in dry dock.

We were 400 feet up on a hot day in June. Timo, a Finnish friend, was 30 feet above me and struggling on a blank looking wall. He tried to move up, the rope snaking out jerkily. I saw his leg start to shake- the Elvis sewing machine, caused by cramping in the calf muscle. There was no protection between me and him apart from the anchor point, or belay to which I was tied. The rock was too blank. There were no cracks or holes of any kind. We could not use normal protection or camming devices called "friends" or wedges or pitons. I saw his fingers clutch some tiny spikes on the left and his feet scrabble on tiny scoops, called smears, in the rock. "Vatch me ," Timo shrieked.

An eagle wheeled leisurely underneath me, happy, secure and in total control of its environment. One of Timo's hands blew off the rock. I was fearing the worst: a 60 foot fall with no protection between us. He would fall past me and the impact forces on the rope and me would be enormous. If the rope ran over any edges it would probably break. I silently prayed at high speed. Anyone seeing my lips moving would have thought I was freezing cold. I was at least as scared as Timo. He almost slipped, lunged downwards with a big step and his foot lodged in a tiny hole. I saw him taking deep breaths of relief. He climbed over to easier ground and we retreated that day.

When we returned we had expansion bolts with us. You drill a small hole 2 inches deep and insert a bolt which expands when you unscrew it. Then you insert a snaplink or carabiner and pass the rope through it. You may do this every 6 feet or so if there is no other protection. The third pitch was a curving crack which took pitons and nuts really well. The top part of this was a layback - a strenuous movement whereby you put feet against the wall and hands pull back in the crack. The opposing pressures allow you to move up.

Then came another very hard section. Timo hung on somehow and hand drilled 2 bolts over a 3 hour period. The wall steepened up and there were no handholds to hang on to in order to place bolts. We retreated and came back the week after to rappel down the wall and place bolts while hanging on the rope. The 1000 foot drop licking at your boot soles was scary but stimulating. When you rope down a wall a strange type of unreality overcomes you. Going over the edge was worse than the time I had 3 teeth taken out by a sadistic school dentist akin to the one in "Little Shop of Horrors."- the one where Steve Martin sings while he extracts teeth. Perhaps this unreality results from a high safety concentration level. This sharpens the mind. Most of the time, in everyday situations a person goes around with a complacency that only gets shaken if you are run over by a truck or happen to be in an earthquake.

Another hot day in late June saw us back at the high point. Timo was anchored in the middle of the wall and I took over the lead. As I moved left and tensioned across the drop below me grew to close to 1000 feet. Sailboats moved serenely across the lake. Why was I struggling up here when I could have done much easier activities. My rewards, I believe, are greater.

I stretched over and thought I was on the ledge we had eyed for days. There was a 6 foot wide loose block in the way. It was detached from the rock and I had no idea what held it there. I estimated its weight at 1000 pounds or more and I had to stand on it. I tiptoed gingerly on to it and transferred my weight. It moved but did not cut loose. I collapsed on the ledge like a wet fish, sweaty and wasted. Timo came over fast, as if he was barefoot on a hot beach.

"Zat vas vild and hard," he said, panting heavily. The last pitch went straight up a vertical crack, 2 inches wide for 40 feet. Right at the top was a big hole to lovingly sink the hand into and lurch over the top. It was right out there, strenuous but enjoyable. We lay on the top and basked in the sun. There are many futuristic problems left on the overhanging walls of Mount Pope. We will leave the really horrific ones to a more talented generation.

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The Creation