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On Finishing Things. Completing Goals, and Finding Others.


 

by Kelly Bates

July 23, 2002

Nothing seems to satisfy as much as having a Goal. It seems to give you a purpose, a motivation, desire, that is not there if you are just existing complacently. A hard, fair Goal challenges but is attainable with effort, time, and work. I’ve no idea why or how my partners concocted their goal(s) to climb (hike, slog, whatever) Colorado’s fifty-four 14ers; I’m not even sure of my own motivations for my own goal. Just having a goal, a quantifiable end-state, seems to be worth the effort.

Not succeeding, starting without a realistic chance of finishing, giving up because it would be easier; these would not be acceptable to us. Those goals are just dreams, simply desires that we know that we will never really fulfill anyway. Like growing up to be an astronaut, or being the first whatever to do whatever. Those sorts of dreams help us grow, and to form ourselves into the people we end up becoming. But a Goal, something that is attainable, but not easily, can help us develop ourselves even more, allowing us to grow and mature, and to realize failure, disappointment, hardship, misery, general unpleasantness, and, eventually, success. Nothing worthwhile comes easily.

Scott flew in last week to Finish. We had dinner at his parents’ house, and headed out to Longs Peak, my old nemesis. Because camping in the parking lot is ‘Strictly Prohibited’ we threw our bags out at the NFS campground and watched stars and satellites. Neither of us slept – Scott from the altitude adjustment, me I have no idea. At 3:45 we tossed the bags in the truck and drove the ¼ mile to the trailhead.

In the dark we hiked through the forest, stumbling over roots and protruding rocks. Twilight came as we were reaching treeline, giving us our first views of the Diamond. We stopped for pictures of wild columbines growing next to the trail, working to get the texture of the rock as well as the leaves and flowers. We passed parties headed up and through the Boulderfield. At the Keyhole we took a rest stop and ate, Triscuits and squeeze cheese.

We passed parties on the ‘trail’ between the Keyhole and the Trough by getting onto slabs and rock features, leaving the other parties saying ‘Are we off the trail? Their path looks easier. Should we follow them?’ Climbing up the Trough we avoided the rubbley trail-path wandering up by sticking to the slabs and dihedrals left of the col’s bottom; having to climb around, pass on more difficult sections, became a game, fun. The Homestretch was busy with parties coming up and down, and instead of wandering on the traditional path I wanted to see what the 5.easy slabs and cracks out to the left, heading directly for the summit cap, felt like. I wandered a hundred meters out, into easy-but-“R” territory, and played my way up. Scott climbed straight over and strolled easily to his summit, number fifty-three. The weather was perfect; a few small cumulus clouds in the southwest, and no wind at all; it was like we were supposed to be there.

I started working on my Goal a little over 8 years ago; for three years I’ve been (with luck) one trip away from finishing. And I still haven’t taken that ‘last trip.’ It seems more important to have a goal, something to still go do, than to finish and be able to say, ‘I did that. I finished.’ Perhaps this summer I will finish. Then I’ll have to find a new Goal, something else to strive towards.

The descent of Cables was straightforward. Hike down third class loose slopes to the dihedral, two short raps, stop and gape down Chasm View. Scott was thrilled to rappel again. We spied two parties climbing on the Diamond, and peered over the sheer cliffs of Chasm View. A faint ‘Rock!’ from above made us look up, as a bowling ball flew through the air towards us. It hit around the level of the second rap station and exploded, into baseball-sized chunks. About this time Scott and I were on the ground covering ourselves, and one piece hit me in the backpack. Needless to say, the rest of the hike down wasn’t memorable compared to that.

Scott H. has had his Goal for nine years – I haven’t known him for more than five, though, and at that point he had already moved out of the state. I was more competitive then, before I figured this all out, and he had more ticks than I did. I had to Finish! I had to Get There! For a long time I was focused on the Goal, heading out every weekend to solo up to two or three mountains on a weekend, always to tick them, by the most expedient route. Scott only had the opportunity to fly back in for a few days each summer, from Utah (where acclimatization wasn’t a real issue) or South Carolina (where it was), and when he did we made the most of our days and climbing time. Pete C. often flew back in from Special Forces land for these trips, when his training schedules allowed. And so, slowly, one or two at a time, we worked on Scott’s remaining mountains.

After a rest day at home (we had planned a weather day into the schedule this time), food, beer, and the hot tub, we drove to Northglenn to pick up Pete, and headed out for our next endeavor.

The rest of the state’s in a drought, and it’s obvious in the North Capitol Creek drainage as well, but the water flows quickly and the ground is moist. It’s 87 degrees at 10,000’, humid, and the flies and gnats are all over us whenever we stop, to drink, rest, or take pictures of Scott doing handstands with his pack on. We’re quite finished hiking up for the day when we reach the lake, and pick out a protected spot on the larger knoll. The clouds have suddenly come up over the ridge to our south, and as we find a spot with a few trees and a large boulder that we can work with the rain slowly starts. We unpack our bivy sacks and sleeping bags quickly, and try to stow all of our gear in a protected niche under the boulder. I sit across from Scott and Pete, watching them toss the growing beads from one bivy sack to the other, as I just drape mine across and over me. Eventually I have to get inside – it’s cold now, too. We talk, laugh, take pictures of each other sitting there in the rain. Every once in a while Scott can see around the boulder, and see a growing patch of sky not covered in clouds. We argue, briefly, about barometric pressure and whether our apparent drop in elevation is a good sign or a bad one. Just before dark, about 8:30, it has stopped and we go to the lake to filter water. We eat two rehydrated meals, fettucini and Jamaican rice, standing, passing first the foil bags and then a pan around, one bite each, then pass it on.

The morning is clear and cool, but pleasant. In the dark, we’re hiking by 4 again, straight up towards Daly Pass. The trail is actually easier wet, as it doesn’t slide around as much under your feet. Twilight meets us around the top of the pass.

Somewhere along the way I began to see this differently. It wasn’t about Finishing, or being first. I’m really not sure what it’s all about yet. Being high, away from people, doing difficult things, seems to make me happy. Of my 86 summits, I soloed 28; more, more recently, have been more committing, more objectively hazardous routes that sounded ‘fun’ as opposed to just ‘ticks’ for the list. The enjoyability of the route is more important now than completing it successfully; and still these aren’t the best routes. The most enjoyable have been those where we’ve shared fun, misery, and hardship among friends, climbing together. The climbs we’ve had to rush onto, rush along, and rush off of, to meet external schedules, have been thoroughly the most enjoyable. Spending time hiking and sweating, beating off swarms of flies, running crazily away from lightning, sleeping in growing puddles, diving to dodge earthbound bowling balls: these made the trips memorable. I don’t remember the summits, when we got to them. I remember the camaraderie that makes us reminisce and happily remember terrifying events.

Climbing the Moon Lake drainage to K2 is fun and easy on large blocks and slabs. One climber, ahead of us, turns the wrong way above us below K2 and heads towards Clark Peak. We see him sitting on the 4th class traverse, contemplating, wondering if he’s gone the wrong way. We top out on K2, twenty feet out of our way; it’s important to be able to tell stories like, ‘when I was in the Corps’ (the Ordnance Corps, not the Marines), or ‘when we climbed K2’ (the subpeak on Capitol’s ridge, not the Savage Mountain) when we’re old and gray. I think youngsters will appreciate it, when we are only there for their amusement.

The knife ridge, the hardest or most technical part of any 14er trade route in the state, is easy, after so many mountains. When I climbed this last, alone, it was bloody windy and I sat-scooted across the edge. This time we all walk, handrailing sometimes, to the far side. The pictures, with the sun glare rising over Clark, are fantastic. And then, it’s an easy hour of ridge climbing across and around, on solid rock with occasional loose blocks, to the summit ridge. I am still carrying the rope and gear, in case it becomes necessary, but Scott and Pete are old hands at this as well. I turn into ‘expedition photographer’ and try to capture everything for Scotty. I know this is something that he’ll want to remember in 20, 30, 50 years.

I wonder why we’re climbing at all, sometimes. It’s such a useless, egoist, silly thing to be doing. It says a lot about our society that we have the time and resources necessary to climb, instead of scraping out a subsistence existence. I’m certainly not responsible for such that allows our fancies to wander into such an odd recreation as climbing. I think I’m working well, making the economy work, being a little cog in the big machine, but none of our jobs matter beyond us. But the resources we’ve expended to get here! Planes and cars built, roads put in, textiles and gear manufactured just so we can get to the top of some silly crag or rock pile. I suppose in the end it’s no more nonsensical than watching professional sports on the tele, or dressing up to go to a symphony. It’s just another recreation form for the oddball crowd. The outside world doesn’t listen, couldn’t understand our lexicon, doesn’t want to know anyway. But then, I think that football and the huge salaries paid to players are hugely excessive and offensive. To each his own. I’ll let them have football and baseball and television if they’ll let me climb.

Pete and I climb to the ridge, and stop to let Scott pass. He gets his moment standing on top of the summit boulder, and then comes down. We sit. Some triscuits and jerky are passed about. I break out a celebratory beer I’ve carried up for Scott, but the altitude and carbonation don’t agree with either of them. It’s okay, there are three more staying cold down at camp. Pictures are taken as another group joins us on top. We’ve had enough time on top now, and head down. I work hard to stay on the top of all of the arêtes across the ridgeline, just because. In good Kelly tradition, I get naked and balance walk the knife ridge back across to K2; Pete and Scott can’t stop laughing as I go. There’s still one more thing to be done today, very important to our group.

I wonder what I’d be doing if I hadn’t found climbing. My start in this environment wasn’t exactly stellar; it was miserable, and dangerous, and our inexperience could have cost people life or limb. Very easily. But I enjoyed it; I knew it was something I could do, and something that I enjoyed, from the first time I wandered back down Pikes to grab frozen soldiers and herd them into waiting rescue vehicles. I can’t imagine being happy doing something else for my life right now. I don’t know what else there is. What else could bring out the physical, mental, emotional, and everything else just right like this?

We stop at basecamp and drink our beers as we pack up for the march out. It’s even hotter than it was yesterday as we begin hiking back down. I try to stay close to one or the other on the way out, talking about how and what I should say about this trip. For Scott it’s anticlimactic. That makes sense now. For Pete, it’s about being with friends, doing things that we’ve all enjoyed together. We all talk about old times, climbs we’ve done together, being miserable together. We don’t even touch on the summits we’ve climbed, or the tops of mountains. That doesn’t matter at all. I wonder what we’ll do together next. I don’t know what the next Goal is. I just know that I’m going to enjoy the process just as I’ve enjoyed this one. Perhaps I’ll go get my last one now, and figure out what’s next when it comes along.

We have a tradition in our group after alpine climbs, whenever it fits into the plan. We take the extra couple of hours to have our celebratory Mexican meal with milkshakes at Pancho’s in Buena Vista. It’s not too far out of the way, and we’ve earned it again. The tradition is almost as important as the climbs we’ve done together now, at least to me. It says something like, ‘Here’s your reward – think about it and remember.’

What will we be doing the next time? It’s getting harder to write stories about our adventures here; we’re becoming, slowly, competent. Epics and ‘I barely made it out alive’ stories make the best writing and reading; or at least, they’re the ones I can relate the best. Finishing the Goal is just another little step, and I guess we’ll have to try more fun, harder, relatively more dangerous things now that we can manage the hazards better. Finishing can’t mean stagnation. I can’t just finish, and hang up the hat.

Scott wants to come back out next year to climb again. I think Pete will too, if the fiancée will let him. We’re already talking about climbing some of the classic ridges in the state together. I don’t think we’ll ever all go to Alaska or Nepal together, but we won’t ever really be apart, either. Maybe the friendships I’ve developed climbing were what it was supposed to be about. Maybe it was just a growing process that each of us needed to go through. Maybe it’s all just egoism and machismo. I can’t put it into words for you – it’s either something you understand, something you live, or it isn’t. It’s climbing, and that’s all it is.

Postscript: Scott and I drop off Pete in Northglenn and drive home. We’re beat. It’s been a long week. We keep each other awake talking about mountains, ones with climbed and with whom, counting summits, counting trips with one another. We talk about why we started and why we’re still doing it. Pete emails us after he gets home and tells us that the next day he took his girlfriend Kathy up to Mount Evans (in a car – plenty of hiking already) and proposed. She said yes. Pete’s probably got his goals straight right now. I keep wondering about myself.



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