University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jim Garrett
A Walk in Saint Andrews
A Walk in Saint Andrews
A long pier pierces the North Sea.
Turbulent surges and violent waves
Spray and wet the rocks where
University students walk in long
Red robes and Scottish regalia.
The sky is gray and sad today.
The students stay in their flats
And leave the cobble corridors for me.
The puddles on Golf Avenue are dirty
And filled with the same sadness
As the ever-raining Scottish sky.
Nobody is out on a Sunday.
I am alone in this ancient city
And find no reason to leave it.
The sky's glow goes out early afternoon
And the ruined cathedral's statue
Grows long across the beaten beach.
Tide goes down with the sun and reveals
Black rock blades that I couldn't see before.
I walk high above them on West Road
Toward a footpath entrance whose walls
Could shield me from near-Arctic winds.
But I stay exposed and continue
Now down a steep grade that falls
Into a dull green lawn littered with mossy graves,
The only other people in this city.
I see myself in the reflection
Of a window, blacked out from a curtain,
And I walk toward home.
The light blue Argentinian sky that previously encased the entire Patagonian range was now eclipsed by a mass of snow being tossed around by constant alpine wind. The only thing that assured Andre of his father's existence was the blue and yellow rope that hung from a belay on his hips and disappeared into the bright void ahead. Andre wanted to say something to Stefan, his older partner, but he trusted his guidance and kept his lingering hesitations to himself. He couldn't, however, manage to completely convince himself of security, as the seemingly infinite cliffs on either side of his unsteady body reminded him of where he was, and what he was doing. The monotonous drone of the wind blowing by his helmet and the rhythmic crunch of his crampons in the snow created what can only be called a hypnotic mindset in which Andre would often ponder his presence on a feature where man was certainly not meant for. However, whenever he recognized that he had slipped into these moments of self-realization, he quickly snapped out of it, as it was surely better to focus on the alpinism.
For safety reasons.
Andre thought about if Stefan was thinking about similar things, but it was hard to imagine that he was. He was more stoic, older, and harder to read than Andre. What this meant about his character was always a mystery to Andre, but he concluded that it was not compatible with more introspective thinking. He realized that he had fallen into one of his own moments of detachment, and with the plunging of his ice ax into the mountain's snowy blanket, he brought himself back into the present. As he did, he saw his father emerge from the snowy drapes waiting for Andre to come back into eyeshot. It was a wider area, much to the relief of Andre.
"This isn't good," Stefan said.
Andre nodded and waited for Stefan to give orders.
"Get the poles out of your bag."
They both unclipped their bags and swung them around their bodies and onto the snow. After digging through food, gear, and layers, both men retrieved their parts of the tent and easily assembled the shelter.
"What about food?" Andre asked, now within the thin walls shielding him from the storm. They expected to end the day at the bottom of the second pillar, so the next day they could push to the crux, summit, and descend. If they waited out the storm, which could last for days, they would have to climb off the mountain as they would run out of food or risk continuing a possibly suicidal mission. This didn't need to be said, though.
"We either have enough to summit, or we don't." Stefan pulled each of his thick down-jacket's sleeves over his bare hands and crossed his arms. His face was nearly-purple, and his gray and brown beard trapped an enormous amount of snow. As it melted, water dripped from his face and wet the tent's floor.
Andre didn't respond. He hung his head, preparing to wait in silence for a while. He reached for one of his ice axes and began to turn it over and over in his hands. Sometimes, he would glance at his father, who would always be staring deeply at his boots. It looked like he was analyzing each scratch in the plastic.
Andre's father was always like this. Even when they weren't on the mountain, he was a man who seemed to be sealed off. He never showed much emotion around his family and never seemed to care much about Andre's emotions, either. Even when Andre's mother left him behind, Andre didn't remember seeing a single tear fall from his face. Andre tried to react in the same way, but it was impossible for the young boy. He felt bad that he couldn't act in the same unpassionate demeanor as his father, so he avoided him the best he could for the months following.
It was five hours later when the wind that battered on the tent's fabric walls finally eased, leading to Stefan slowly unzipping the door and glancing outside.
"It's good," he said. "Get your clothes on."
Andre couldn't help but smile when he heard the old man say this, but he turned his head away from Stefan as soon as he felt it forming. He grabbed his helmet and crampons from the tent floor and threw them outside. The men took the tent down and equipped themselves with their gear.
"I think the rope should be shorter. I couldn't say anything to you before," Andre told him.
"OK, but you go first," the older man said, rather quickly as he raised his hands ahead.
Andre closed his eyes briefly and lowered his head before walking ahead and tying one end of the rope onto his harness. The skies were still not clear, but they could see farther up the mountains and farther down into the valley. The peak and the other mountains in the Argentinian Patagonia were still hidden, however. When he looked ahead, Andre could see the second pillar, but it was far away and it was already quite late in the day, so they would be forced to continue even when the sun fell below the horizon. The path to their camp was deceiving, as it was not just the wide, snowy face that it seemed. The face was steep enough, so two axes and crampons were essential, but sloped enough so the snow that had just been scattered in the storm stuck. Its beauty was chilling. After a moment, they began.
Andre does get bored during the several-hour hikes on the mountain ridges when the movement is not technical and does not require any sort of precision, but there is an attractiveness about the boredom. Instead of a lack of substance, it is a simplification. These moments are a reduction. It feels, to Andre, like he is elevated above his struggles, transcended above the ordinary. What matters is what he is doing, and everything else falls away. Despite his love for this feeling, he was also drawn to the steeper, highly technical, and more dangerous movements in alpinism. The attractiveness of this was far easier to understand — it was thrilling. The adrenaline heightened Andre's sensations, making him intimately familiar with every aspect of the world that was presented to him. He could feel the pull that each frozen eyelash had on his skin. He could feel his toes pool with blood. He could feel the friction his scaly and dry skin made when rubbing against his clothes. On the middle of the snow face below the second pillar, Andre was experiencing the thrill of alpinism to the highest degree he ever had previously. He was exposed against a wall of ice and snow to the sharp and stinging wind that passed over his face and made his cheeks rosy. The sky had dimmed by this time, and the decade-old headlight wrapped around Andre's helmet worked as well as a candle in a pitch-dark cathedral. He had no idea how much longer he would be forced to survive in this condition, so he decided to dig out an area in the snow where he could rest for a moment. Stefan was next to Andre in a few seconds and deeply exhaled when he saw what Andre was making. Andre continued to dig until the area was finished.
"After we are ready again, we will disconnect," Stefan said. His voice was lower and raspier than before, and it took a moment for him to catch his breath after he was done speaking. "It's getting too steep for it."
Andre agreed, and when he finished his dig, connected his harness to the ice screw and took a seat. His father didn't do the same.
Before Andre was fully able to catch his breath, he got up and glanced toward Stefan, who was staring directly up the face, toward the peak. Now unclipped to his partner, Andre started again. Each step toward the peak was a great effort now, as his legs were heavier, and the thin air barely filled his lungs.
Without any way to anticipate, Andre felt the ground shift and sweep him onto his side. Within milliseconds, he was falling down the face surrounded by loose snow and some sharp chunks of ice which flew into his eyes. The flying snow tried to pull him deeper into the avalanche, but Andre resisted. His headlight was either not working or had fallen off because everything was dark now. The constant drone of wind combined with the sound of hundreds of pounds of snow plummeting down the mountain created a deafening noise that was occasionally interrupted by the piercing sound of ice cracking from the stone. Andre could hear each vessel in his head contract as they pumped blood through his brain. Each contraction of his heart echoed like a drum throughout his whole body.
His arm was snagged by an opposing force and twisted behind his back while the rest of him continued moving down. He felt the pull in his shoulder; it seemed like enough to tear the muscles and ligaments and rip his arm off, leaving it forever lost to the mountains. It became even harder for Andre to stay high in the wave of snow as he was getting more and more fatigued. But as soon as Andre was certain that he would lose his arm, that he would go deaf from the mountain's noise, and that he would remain in that wave of snow until his body decomposed, he stopped moving.
He was still and his head was above the snow, but much of his body was still underneath. He could breathe, but every inhale singed the inside walls of his nostrils. He had no more tools, so digging the snow around his body to free himself took many tiresome minutes. When he was free, he didn't dare to move, as the dark night made the danger of glacial crevasses far more perilous. He couldn't see, so he moved his wrist around and waved his fingers to make sure they were still there. His entire arm felt stiff and immobile, and waves of warm pain would occasionally wash over the damaged limb.
Andre looked down at the snow and immediately all concern for his arm left. He needed a source light, but his backpack and headlamp were lost. He screamed his partner's name into the valley, but the only reply was the echo of his own voice. The mountains taunted him. He screamed out again but didn't wait for a reply before he began to use his gloved hands to claw at the ice and snow in a pathetic attempt to find anything. His right arm proved to be useless at pulling snow off the mountain and his left arm was weakening quickly. Andre couldn't ignore the pain, but he wouldn't stop digging until it was many hours since the avalanche occurred. By then, each attempt to dig away the snow ended up only scraping away a few flakes.
Andre gave up.
The night was getting too cold, and the old climber had certainly died already, buried beneath the snow. Andre was shivering and bruised, his face was scratched from ice and his toes could not feel anymore. His arm still hung like the useless weight it was. Andre thought of the old man being thrown around by the avalanche, his jacket filling with snow, his breathing becoming more difficult as his death marched closer and closer. He thought of Stefan being buried under snow as hard as concrete, hoping that Andre would find him. He thought of Stefan realizing that he would die, that Andre had forgotten him, that Andre had given up on him.
That Andre had let him die.
The sun rose above the jagged mountains' silhouette nine hours later. The light shone on Andre — shivering and crying. Salt was caked on the man's blushed cheeks and the whites of his eyes were laced with blood.
He chose to walk down after a bit after the sun rose. It was quite short and easy, as the only thing Andre carried was his body and the clothes he was wearing. His pace was very slow. When he made it below the treeline, he lowered himself onto the dry, dusty ground and leaned against a boulder. The boulder was rough and sharp on Andre's back, but he didn't move. It was significantly hotter at these lower altitudes and the leaves shielded Andre from some of the heat. He looked at the trees that surrounded him, the trees that hid the view of the valley. Andre thought it was ugly down here. The trees stared at Andre's useless and beaten body. They made Andre insecure and claustrophobic. The shadows that the twigs and leaves made lay like pretty lace over Andre's face. Andre ran his hands through his sweaty and dirty hair and lowered his head to his knees.
After a long time of sitting like this, when Andre's lower back started to become sore, he decisively moved to reach for his backpack. When he remembered that it was lost, he let out a deafening shriek that echoed off the trees and was sustained by reverberation for many seconds. When the sound died, he did it again. Andre took off his shirt and ripped it from the seam that ran along the shoulders. He continued to tear the blue shirt until it was a thin, messy strip of fabric, about five feet in length. He took it in both hands and pulled it apart. The synthetic material stretched, and the blue color faded. Andre stared deeply at his creation and leaned his now bare back against the sandpaper boulder once again. He ran it in between his fingers, looping it over his wrists, scratching it with his fingernails.
It was strong.