It’s hard to believe that just one week ago, I said good-bye to you and your mom as you boarded the bus to start your travels home, and I hiked into the mountains. So much has happened since then, and I’m struggling to wrap my head around it.
I’ve had a huge adventure for sure. I wonder if you would have recognized Alex and me staggering back into El Chaltén, with ripped clothes and the fuzzy remains of our rope draped over my shoulder. Alex had to walk close behind me because he was snowblind. We looked and smelled awful. When we got to town we heard the news that Chad Kellogg was dead, killed by rock fall two days earlier. Do you remember him smiling at you from the end of the table at La Senyera? He was a new friend, as experienced a climber as any of us. The news made me nauseous and took my breath away.
I choose to climb where the risks are manageable and tell myself that experience will keep me safe, but this could have happened to anyone on the mountain. I think of you and your mom. She knew who she was marrying, but you had no choice in the matter. I contemplate the last five days: the more than 12,000 vertical feet of climbing and hundred or so rappels we just did. Was it real? I feel inspired in a way that only love and a grand journey can bring about.
While you and your mom were cozy back in Colorado, I was in the middle of a struggle. My partner Alex and I had dreamed like many others of traversing the entire Fitz Roy range. It was an obvious goal, but I didn’t really believe we would succeed. No one had yet. It was just too big. And yet here we were, a third of the way through the traverse and high on Cerro Fitz Roy, the mountain you’re named after.
We had been simulclimbing in blocks; usually 1,000 feet or more. We raced up wet cracks and tiptoed around snow patches. Each secret passage or rappel anchor felt like a little gift. I watched Alex pull out an ice tool and start clearing the crack 150 feet above me. I ducked as a shower of crusty ice filled my chalk bag. Plunging my arms deep in an overhanging crack, I had to orient my hands so that the ice-coated side of the crack cooled the bloody wounds on my knuckles. As we neared the summit of the North Pillar on Cerro Fitz Roy, the sun dropped to the east and a jagged shadow of the massif stretched across the plains to the west. I could gauge our progress by looking at the shadow. Seven incredible summits.
On the big ledge at the top of the North Pillar, we postholed through deep, crunchy ice and rappelled to a notch. Alex handed me the rack. Above was a steep headwall covered in blobs of rime and daggers of ice. A waterfall ran down the route. “You’re going to lead us to the top because you’re a total boss,” Alex told me with a grin. I was intimidated. To me, this seemed like the last place on earth humans should be. Alex seemed chill … maybe it was all in my head. I tightened the closures on my sleeves and pulled the cord on my hood tight. I grabbed my ice tool, hesitated for a moment, and stepped into the waterfall.
The cold shocked me into action. I slotted my ice tool high in the crack and aid-climbed for 50 feet, chipping ice out of the gear placements. Water seeped everywhere and my clothes started to saturate as I levered off my ice tool and managed to cam two lobes of a microcam in a seam outside of the water and pull myself onto dry ground. As the sun set and everything started to freeze, my clothes crinkled and the rope turned into a cable. I slipped off my crampons and started to free climb. The exertion warmed my body, and I finally began to dry out. Fear turned to relief, then excitement, and even though we still had two days to go, the traverse, once unbelievable, seemed within reach.
Sitting safely now in Centro Alpino, I ink my journal with more ramblings of life, love, the pursuit of a dream, pondering the merit of mountain climbing now that I am a father. Risk is selfish. The biggest tragedy I can imagine is not being there to see you take your first steps, fall in love for the first time, or come to realize that you are blessed with the most beautiful, joyful and graceful mom in the world. But for me, climbing makes everything else fit into place. It’s what lights the fire, makes me a dreamer. The need to battle is built into the fabric of who we are. As humans we may fight with the ones we love, poison our bodies with drugs, go to war. For many, the struggle is a desperate attempt to fill a void. But I find my battle on the mountain, despite the risk and the fear that resides there. It breathes life in me. If I can show you one thing, I hope it will be to pursue your own chosen struggle, wherever you may find it, with vigor, optimism and love.
I love you.