Friday, February 13, 2015

The Land of Sharp Edges: The Four Inch Ledge (Part 7 of 9)

As I worked our way slowly up the mossy, brushy, upper portion of the Jumpoff, I didn’t exactly visualize my own death, but I did wonder how much a NPS search and rescue mission costs. I guess I’m just not cut out for off-trail hiking in unknown territory by myself. Greg Harrell has a death wish gene. Apparently I have a sissy gene. Although, in my defense, one of my fears did materialize. I found myself hemmed in by the cascade on my left and a rocky cliff above me and to my right. So I began to backtrack, not knowing exactly what I’d do if I came to a point that would allow me to move right again. I had climbed through that territory a few minutes earlier and had ended up stuck. What could I do differently? (My sissy gene was definitely exerting its control over me.)

It was then that I noticed that the other side of the cascade looked a bit more manageable, a smoother slope and maybe fewer rocky walls to maneuver around. So I worked my way down the edge of the cascade, clinging to spruce roots and sand myrtle when available but settling for other shrubs and moss when necessary, until I found a narrow ledge across the cascade. Stepping along this wet ledge wasn’t my preferred option, but I was down to Plan D or E by now, so I worked my way across the flowing water, making sure I always had two hands and two feet firmly planted on the rock. The slope here was only about 45 or 50 degrees, so it was manageable, the main drawbacks being that my ledge was about four inches wide, and wet, and the long, fast, bumpy slide that I’d have to endure if I slipped. If my feet slipped off the narrow ledge, my only hope was to grab that ledge with my hands as I began my slide. If that didn’t work… well, my grandchildren would one day hear stories about their Grampy, without ever actually knowing him. I decided that my best option was: just don’t slip. Period. That’s why this was Plan D or E, not A or B.

As I crossed the cascade, I wondered how Charlie, Keith, and Greg were faring. Earlier I had looked across the slope and seen one or two of them stuck in the shrubs of a nearly vertical slope. From where I sat I pitied them because there seemed to be no alternative for them other than backtracking downslope and trying again. At the end of the day, I was amazed when they told me that they had found their way across and up because from my vantage point it had seemed impossible. As Greg succinctly put it about some of his predicaments, “I was in a few spots that I didn’t want to be in.” He didn’t elaborate further. He didn’t have to. We all knew exactly what he meant. At this moment, as I crossed the cascade, I was in one of those spots.

As I shuffled my way across on my little ledge, I used that tactics that I’ve developed from other, drier rock-scrambling trips: focus on those four points of contact (two hands, two feet), move only one part at a time so there are always three points of contact, and your whole world at that moment consists of that 8’ by 6’ piece of rock directly in front of you. Oh yes, one more: don’t have an emergency, don’t slip, because if you slip that’s your last alternative. Oh, and another: don’t lean too far in toward the rock. That’s a really, really hard one to obey, but it’s good advice. If you’ll stand mostly straight up, the soles of your boots get better traction on the rock than if you lean in. Leaning in too far tends to push your feet out from under you. In situations like this, you just repeat that list of instructions over and over, and before you know it, you’re across and breathing a sigh of relief.

As I sat on the other side, breathing and sighing, I noticed that this side of my cascade was not as smooth and easy as it had appeared, a “grass is greener on the other side” kind of thing, I suppose. As I looked up along this edge of the cascade, it looked exactly like the side I had just left. It took only about two seconds to decide to stay on this side rather than shuffle back across. So I resumed my upward crawl.

[Note: If you’ve ever done a trip like this, you’ll understand why there are no pictures of this part of the trip. I was a bit preoccupied. ]