The cold descended on the ridge like an invisible menace, the only evidence of its advance being the shadows cast by the trees, rocks and mountains as the sun sank lower in the February sky.
The day had been bright and warm in the sun, a good day for a brisk hike or — as we had planned — several hours of rock climbing. But the sun’s yellow warmth didn’t last. It was still February after all, and the ambient temperature never peaked much above freezing.
So when the sun sank behind obstacles, you could feel the ice of winter like blades in your bones.
Toadstool, my eldest son, was pacing in the shadow of the rocks, watching me set the anchor and toss the rope down the ledge. It was below freezing in the shadows, so I worked quickly and joined him at the base.
With the late-day cold advancing faster with each minute, I wasn’t going to climb. The day was about him.
I tied him onto the line and secured my belay device, checked his harness and ordered him to wear the helmet for his mother’s sanity. Then I stood for the next 20 minutes and ran rope through the device as Toadstool slowly worked his way up the 20-foot corner crack.
My hands were numb, but I could feel the rope and I’m used to the exposure of winter after so many sub-zero nights. My concentration on him was enough to keep me warm.
He tried to quit only once, saying he could barely feel his hands despite the gloves. I urged him on, just another five feet to the top. He made it. I secured the rope on my end, snapped a photo, and lowered him down.
We packed up as quickly as we could. Toadstool paced, but was having trouble getting warm. I gave him my outer jacket shell and told him to jog in place.
Soon, we were back on the trail, heading down the mountain. Driving home, the sun setting behind some clouds produced an amazing array of oranges, purples and blues. It was a warm ending to an icy, but good day.
When I bought my climbing gear many years ago, I intended not only to get back into the sport myself, but to also teach my children to climb.
I had these grand visions of us strung together on multi-pitch ascents, taking the hard route up mountains that other people just walk to the top of.
Needless to say, we’re not there yet. But Toadstool taking the first step on real rocks was a good thing. Better planning on my part next time, and we’ll be able to spend a full day testing ourselves vertically.
So why am I writing this nearly a year later? Technical difficulties. To start with, the week following our climb, a system upgrade on my son’s cell phone deleted his videos and photos of the trip, including those of that mystical sunset during the car ride home.
It was the worst thing to come of the day, a depressing development for both he and I. But we pressed on, producing the video together, a short of a shivering good day.
Then I had trouble uploading the file to the web. Then work and life took over. It’s just the way these things go. But here we are, at the top of a long climb, more jagged rocks ahead and the warm sun of the future on our faces.
Thanks to Velcro Mary, again, for lending us their music for our videos. They’re a kick-ass rock band. Check out their website here for albums and purchase options.