Now that I’m here, my story falls apart, the words jumbled in my mind like the fragile piling of rocks that is the Matterhorn. “Rock!” I want to cry as my stumbling hands pull out yet another detail from my memory and drop it. I watch it fall down, all the way to the far-off ground, and I know there is no one there to warn. No one else is climbing the mountain today. We’re alone, Cliff and I, tied together in his green rope.
After the first pitch there was no way to go but up. Retreating required leaving gear, and anyways, we were both of us expecting the climbing to get easy any moment now. Cliff kept the pitches short, wanting to stay within calling-out distance from me. I sat on one ledge and then another. Belaying him and avoiding mouse droppings as much as I could, I tried to attribute the tremblings in my body to the coolness in the shade.
On one ledge ice stalactites grew in a cave. On another ledge I watched Cliff trying to climb first one side and then another of a large, column-shaped boulder. Often he disappeared behind rock formations, pulling the rope behind him off to the side and only then above. “Is it getting easier?” I kept asking. “Is it getting easier now?”
|Cliff tackling the column|
On one pitch, as he climbed, Cliff told me: “You won’t be climbing the way I did.” He had raised his long, 6-foot-frame legs to the left of a crack way above his head, stretched for a hold and pulled himself up. “Ok,” I shivered below, keeping my mind on the belay, refusing to think about what I’ll do when it’s my turn next. All too soon, Cliff called, “Sigal, you’re on belay,” and it was me who had to struggle with the slippery face of the rock, me who had to scramble up the overhang, and then, in shock, me crying on the ledge above as Cliff tied me in to the anchor.
|Stalactites in the cave|
And then, “Sigal, you’re on belay.” Cliff’s voice came from directly above me, so close I could swear he was just behind the sheer rock that climbed up over my perch. “I won’t lie to you,” Cliff continued, “it’s really exposed. But after the first move it gets easier.” I peeked behind the arete where the rope stretched, tight, waiting for me. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered. There was nowhere to go. The rock dropped down behind the arete in a straight line all the way to the ground. I was sitting on a thin sliver of a boulder on the razor-sharp nose of the arete, and Cliff expected me to leave even that farfetched feeling of safety behind, to hang off of my hands over nothing, stretch my right leg somehow to reach a hold too far for my short body, promising no hold for my left.
I swallowed, ignoring his shouted directions. I sent a prayer that the anchor is safe, and without thinking, for thinking in this case would have been too much even for my over-active brain, I swung myself across the abyss and stretched out, as far as it would go, my right leg.
To be continued….