May 9, 2007

Building character

My grandpop used to say that things like this "build character" and "will put hair on your chest." Of course, he said the same thing about black coffee and Camel cigarettes, yet despite my "pot of coffee and pack of smokes for breakfast" habit for lo so many years, I've still only got a total of four, maybe five, hairs on my chest. But I do have character, and that's helping at the moment. Sorta.

With an audible sigh, I lean over and peek out from under the rainfly on my tent. My visual inspection confirms that it is STILL raining. I knew this already, of course, as the steady drip drip drip on the tent was either rain or a flashback from years past when I'd alter my consciousness with various pharmaceutical preparations. Now, however, it's just raining. And has been for the past 26 hours.

Lifting the door of the rainfly, I catch the slightest glimpse of my objective amidst the clouds, a rugged peak deep in the San Juans, with a clean, striking ridge that fills the skyline on the northwest side of the mountain. Reconaissance of the route with binoculars gives me hope... it's an easy walk-up, mostly, with perhaps a few moves of sketchy 4th class scrambling. Certainly nothing in the 5th class range, and easily done in a day. If the damn rain will ever stop.

The door of the rain fly is to the leeward side of the weather, so I'm able to open it fully, set up the stove, and boil water for coffee. Once brewed, I reach into the depth of the tent, fingers groping for my flask. Ah, there it is... a short pour of whisky into my coffee, and I light a cigarette. Soon, the wind shifts, and it's back into the tent, back into the sleeping bag, and back to my book: The Fall of Japan by William Craig. Fantastic analysis of the history behind the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire. I'm only 200 pages into it, but General Anami just died, the end of WWII is near, and V-E day is about to be announced. Twilight just ended, and darkness is falling, rapidly. The ever-present rain continues it's rhythmic drumbeat on my tent, and it's enough to drive a man crazy (though I'd suppose an argument could be made that anyone who would willingly hump 40 pounds of gear nearly 20 miles into a remote area above 11,000 feet just to walk up a big hill is already crazy, but only by those who don't understand.) I click on my headlamp, dial my small radio to the national weather service forecast for the area, and you'll never guess what they predict for the night.

Yep. Rain. Shit.

I have another belt of whisky, another cigarette, and grab my shell to keep dry as I walk out to take a leak. There are some mountain goats or sheep on the mountain behind me, I can't tell which, though, since it's dark and my headlamp beam doesn't extend that far. But I can hear them: "Blaaaaah." "Yeah, that's how I feel too, Sheep-goat. Blah." I sleep, fitfully, for I'm not yet tired. How can I be, when I've done little else but roll around in my tent, take the occasional bathroom break, and listen to the rain for the past two days?

Daybreak, sunlight bathes the east facing cliffs in a warm glow, and I stretch. Coffee, oatmeal (again), and a weather check. Clouds to the west, southwest, and northwest. The radio tells me that the barometric pressure is slowly falling, and that more rain is forecast for later this morning/early afternoon. I've got a few hours, I figure, so I take the time to hike around the area, stopping to wash my face in the stream, take a picture or two, and just enjoy a chance to stand upright. Then the rain comes again. Slowly at first, in a drizzle, as if Mother Nature doesn't have her heart in it. But this is the San Juan range, and I know better.

Back to the tent, back to my book, back to that damn irritating drip drip drip of rain. Back to the coffee, cigarettes, and whisky. Back to my book. Back to the never-ending boredom. Drip drip drip. 18 hours later, it's done. Of course it's done.... it's freaking MIDNIGHT, for crying out loud. I can't see squat, and I'm not doing an unclimbed ridge solo in the dark after it just rained. I'm not very bright, but I'm not stupid, either. Cigarette, whisky, bed.

Again, daylight breaks. It's Thursday morning, though, and I've got to leave. The old lady is a worrier, and I left her information of where I'd be and when I expected to be back. If I don't make it home on time or call her to explain why, she'll pick up the phone, and 2 hours later the National Guard, San Juan Forest Service SAR team, local fire department, Colorado State Patrol, USAF Parajumpers, NATO, and Kazhikistan Technical Rope Rescue team will be here, looking for me.

I pack my gear, shoulder my load, and start walking north along the trail, back to the truck. A slow, steady drizzle continues for the duration of my hike, but slows when I get to the truck. I strip down, change into dry clothes, put on some warm socks, and shift from park to reverse.

And the rain stops.

Builds character, right, Gramps?


Ambulance Driver said...

You're lucky *I* have character, or I'd rat you out to Kathy for smoking again.

Good story Jeff, as always. I could picture similar hunting trips.

Gary said...

AD said,

"Good story Jeff, as always. I could picture similar hunting trips."

There's a goat joke in there somewhere, but I'm just going to leave it to your imagination.