Two Picket Fence
A boat load of capri and spray-on sunscreen tourists welcomed us back to the world beyond us. Grudgingly, we stowed our drooling, mile-wide idiot grins, boarded and put ourselves on display,]. Preening wouldn’t be the right word. It was more of an ugly, stinking sprawl. This crisp pontoon cruise ship did not deserve us. It did not deserve ice tools and screws and mud and leaves and more mud and us. It deserved a small, respectable day pack with a rain jacket and the courtesy to not speak in public. This boat had us. One must make do.
I kind of hoped the nice woman reading her vacation soft-focus hardcover didn’t notice the mountain boots strapped to our bags now resting at her hip, but she was too busy modestly staring at us. To call it ‘stealing glances’ would be an insult to thieves. Our fellow passengers were clean, well fed and rested. They were on a floating tour of Redfish lake, though maybe some of them did a bit of hiking, stepped on a few rocks and called it a day. I don’t want to look down my nose here; they were just out for a nice, casual afternoon. As the sunlight began to reflect more concertedly off of the western end of the lake and our trailing wake, Evan and I locked eyes and smiled.
Of course we weren’t on a boat tour of the lake. That would just be too pedestrian for accomplished alpinists such as us. We were there to conquer the useless, trundle boulders, swing steel into snow and savor the sharp end. Let’s never mind that neither of us were very good at it.
Chockstone Couloir, the temporary object of our distractingly enduring desires, looms over Redfish lake. Splitting its peak Grand Mogul cleanly in half, you can scope it drinking a daiquiri on the summer resort’s beach across the lake. You can see the snow as you sweat in your bathing suit. Locals had much to say. ‘Guides skied it two day ago.’ ‘It’s almost melted out, don’t worry. Your biggest worry will be the neck-deep creek crossing.’ ‘Maybe you’ll need those – what are they called – spikes for your feet, but you’ll be fine.’ Our outbound ferry pilot, fresh from his first visit to the orthodontist, had never even been to the dock he left us at. The snow we hoped to climb shields the crumbly kitty litter beneath from view. The crux of the route, a granite suburban starter home wedged midway up the couloir, is best left immersed in snow.
We were told we would be bushwhacking, so the route-finding is easy. Point at the couloir. Do not waver. Or maybe waver for that impassable bush thicket. Maybe just whack it harder. Resting almost above bush line, we have encountered no creeks more than ankle deep, but we may have wandered into a Mosquitoes Anonymous meeting. My sweet, sweet blood is causing a relapse en masse. So much for that creek.
Evan is thankfully absorbing my lesson on snow anchors rather quickly. He has a solid grasp of self-arrest. His practice on the apron of the couloir has been enthusiastic. The sun has started French kissing the long arms of our little cirque as we size up what we can see for the final time this evening. Over mac and beans, we release our findings to the press: it’s steep.
Tonight, I can see galaxies without my glasses. The haze of spiral arms and the twinkling of more distant sons than I ever hope to have hang above our snow globe. The clouds have melted away to remind us that we are a tiny blue dot swimming in an infinite darkness brimming with light. Trite as it is, looking at the sky without the sun or people to bother is its own sort of transcendent, sacred experience.
The alarm goes off and all my watch will tell me is that it is too early. We begin our tromp, punching through a thin crust up towards our home-owning dream, suspended 600 feet above us. Arrived, we assess. Duped by the realtor, our dream home isn’t a mid-century bungalow, but a pile of dirt, granite microwaves and rotting ice. There are supposedly bolts somewhere in there for when the snow is low. The snow is low unequivocally low.
A ferociously mediocre snow anchor is the product of our short labors below the pebbles and mud, one that theoretically could hold the 80m fall that Evan theoretically could take. I am still getting ready to be unhappy when he is up and gone and moving. We are no longer the chicken at breakfast, but the pig. A Pig-cket, if you will.
Looking down and out the couloir I am afforded an inversion of the daiquiri view. The watery mirror below us has begun to reflect the pink tendrils of proto-twilight. The prickly granite horizon glows faintly. Everything is framed by the looming walls of our cave. Evan, rather rudely, continues to interrupt my reverie to grunt or curse or kick some dirt down. We laugh about something inane. If you squint, you can begin to see the contours of the couloir as it drops away below us. Our previous findings are substantiated: it is steep.
The grunts are eventually replaced with the digging Evan learned six hours before. That stops too, and he pauses a beat.
“You better not fall. I buried two pickets, but you better not fall.”
Dawn’s rosy fingers crawl over the lake, racing now to the silent pines on the far shore.
We laugh as I climb, critiquing the protection he placed. Clipped bail webbing, cams in huge, flaring flakes, and a perfectly placed ice screw in a patch of ice I could probably pick up. At the crux of the crux, in view of my blonde friend, I take a moment.
He fixes me, staring through his mom’s sunglasses: “I think you owe me a beer for this.”
“At least a pitcher,” I say, sizing up the move over which I was not to fall. 5.4 climbing is intimidating before dawn, in crampons and on dirt. It’s just a two move sequence. Good holds. I stow my tools, do that breathing thing that Outside told me all the pro’s do after they eat avocados and before they send their mega-proj’s. Hands on a shattered bedroom from our dream home, I hike my left foot up to my hip, get my front-point into a dish and pull.
For a second I move, weight flowing smoothly over my left foot and away from the couloir below me. Then I see a cascade of sparks around me. If I was more metaphorically inclined, I might say that those sparks are a metaphor for something. The sparks just mean that my feet are sliding. If the sparks are some sort of symbol, they might be a symbol I am about to fall. But I’m more of a literalist I think. They meant my feet were free of their relationship with rock and sand for a brief moment. Thankfully, they reconciled.
And then I am standing next to Evan, getting ready to lead the next pitch. I point out our slow motion watercolor. Turns out he was watching our rosé-dark sea too. We laugh about something inane. I do my best to savor this. The pitch below us is intimidating, even in defeat. I mutter “serenity now” to myself. It’s more of an observation than a command, in my opinion.
Once I get that woo-woo, warm and fuzzy bullshit interruption out of the way, I am again climbing, though this time on snow instead of pebbles and dirt. A few too many kick-steps later we top out and unclench. It is now too late for the lake to look beautiful, what with the sun so high in the sky and the Sawtooth’s rugged ridgelines all illuminated and such. Sometimes you just have to settle for what life dishes out.
We work back to the bivy site, barely more graceful than two-legged pigs with inner ear issues. Sunning ourselves on a rock below the couloir, relaxing into the stupor of Having Done It, we sip our concoction of melt water and bean juice. Sleep is but a distant memory as we jabber on the rock. All else be damned, this is the good life. It is endlessly amusing to call our slushy bean water daiquiris, and even more so to throw our daiquiris at each other. We are laughing about something inane. The sun is out and life is treating us kindly. Even though the sun is high and Redfish lake is shiny and choppy below, this is a pretty spot.
We should probably try to catch that ferry.
 No offence meant to Salt Lake City.