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A Wasatch Spring Climb


by Jim Dockery

December 29, 2001

Originally published in Climbing Magazine #60

"To those who have struggled with them the mountains reveal beauties they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again.

The mountains reserve their choicest gifts for those who stand upon their summits."
Sir Francis Younghusband

Moving in the dark chill of the predawn mountain morning, I feel my body pulsing, radiating heat as it burns the hearty breakfast I gulped down an hour before. I knew that I would need the fuel, and now I can feel the nutrients do their work as my metabolism adjusts to the climbing work. God, it's good to be alive and healthy, using a well-trained body to go where you want, do what you want to do.

Today I want to do a bit of alpine bebopping. It's gotta be third classing, no ropes, heavy hardware or tedious belays. I am in the mood to move, eat altitude, burn up the thighs and lungs.

Living in Salt Lake City, the south side of 11,107 foot Dromedary Peak is a prime candidate for such a climb on a clear spring day like this. A 30 minute drive from the university ends just below Snowbird ski area up Little Cottonwood Canyon. The climb rises in direct simplicity, a 3 ,000 foot cruise from the road.

Rick and I are psyched. It's the first firm snow climb of the spring, and the first time we have climbed together as a team of two. I feel a very positive, friendly competition between us. Rick is in excellent form this year, having climbed hard and often all winter. I didn't get out much during the last winter. It was the first time in five years that I wasn't climbing or skiing almost every weekend. It had been a hard winter emotionally, financially, and intellectually. It had been my hardest academic quarter (also my last), my car had died, and my job in an emotionally disturbed junior high class had drained me of excess energy. But the end of the quarter, a new car and job, and the sun of spring had all lifted me out of the winter blahs. I was left with a buoyant sense of well-being and optimism that carried over to my climbing.

All that matters right now is that both Rick and I feel great. The avalanche debris that clogs Tanners Gulch is firm, providing fast going. The gully seems to fall away beneath us as our legs pump up the slope, kicking toe holds in the frozen snow. Our common goal today is pure and simple; to use our bodies, maybe push them a bit, as we push each other, to move swiftly and continuously upward.

The packs are light: some extra clothing, sun cream, a handful of dried fruits and nuts, and some tasty peach juice Rick brought. Our climbing equipment consists of ice axes, mountain boots, and our bodies and brains, working together to form a climbing machine. We are machine-like in the efficiency of forrn and purpose that moves us upwards, yet we are guided by that super-mechanical mechanism: the brain. It's all up there, whatever it was that led us to the mountains. What gets us there is all down below the cranium. The goal, which we are close to today, is to integrate body and mind into an indistinguishable oneness of purpose and drive. It is a day pervaded by this sense of wholeness and unity. Not only within myself, but between the mountain and I. My fine partner is also in tune with these rhythms. We flow up the mountain, enjoying a silent sense of brotherhood on our mutual love of this moment in time, this slope of snow we climb, this bright day in our lives.

After a couple thousand feet of ever steepening snow we come to the rocks of the peak itself. The next few hundred feet are a pure joy. The rock is firm and dry, steep enough in a few steps to require careful climbing with the increasing exposure. Between the rock steps are snow bands and little ridge crests. The ice axe is often pulled out for a patch of snow, then replaced in the pack straps as the rock rears up again.

Pausing briefly on the summit, we have a quick drink and a bite to eat. We are soon descending the steepening snow slopes of the Dromedary-Sunrise col. Our plan is to traverse the two peaks, and the east ridge of Sunrise is the next step.

The snow on Sunrise is deeper, more in keeping with Wasatch powder traditions than the firm neve we climbed in the morning. What it lacks in subtlety is made up in strenousnous. It is still early in the day and we enjoy the challenge, throwing our excess energy into the fray as we plow up the ridge.

Rick's peach juice on the summit is superb. We sit on our packs in the noon sun, talking and taking in the expansive scene. Twenty miles to the west the snow covered Oaker Mountains rise 10,000 feet out of the flat brown Salt Lake valley. To the north we can see the Great Salt Lake and the mountains around Ogden. Little Cottonwood drops offto the south, with Lone Peak standing proud and aloof at the end of the ridge. We can even see the top of massive Timpanogus down Provo way.

A good day to be alive, and a great place to be. We bask in the simple pleasure of being until it seems the aesthetic pleasure receptors will overload. We pack up and leave before this subtle change in tone takes place.

The descent is wild. We jump into a steep little gully we climbed and go for it. Total gonzo, hang it all out, ass bruising, snow flying, speed glissading! Fifteen hundred feet of it and my butt can't take much more of the frozen avalanche debris. On lumpy snow, softening in the noon sun, we skate, run, fall, roll, and finally walk through the trees back to the car.

Rick and I talk briefly about the coming weekends and climbs we want to do. Our parting ritualistic handshake and "good climb, see ya later," is not hearty, as it might be after a hard new free climb, nor mild, as it might be after an evening running up old routes. It's real, like the climb we have just completed; confirming our friendship, our mutual love for climbing and our desire to climb again.

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