The Beauty of Ice

It wasn’t an easy transition, returning to Colby after 4 months of travel in South America.  The freedom of the road, living under an open sky, an endlessly changing horizon, and an insecure future, all lost in the rigid structure of American society, not to mention the narrow walls of Colby College.

I had a terrible case of reverse culture shock that left me feeling more depressed than I had ever felt before.  My adventurous spirit, the basic core of who I am, was crushed.  My energy and motivation hit rock bottom.  I felt so out of place, like I had forgotten who I was.  It was a terrible feeling.  All I could do was daydream about the day I return to Patagonia, and remember the times we once shared together.  There was only one thing in this world that could lift me out of a funk that deep, and that was cold, hard ice.

People often wonder why anyone would want to climb ice at all.  It’s so cold, miserable and scary.  Your life literally balancing on the few millimeters of metal you’ve managed to smash into a hanging curtain of unstable ice. Your hands almost always freeze solid, leading to what climbers call the “screaming-barfies” when they begin to thaw out.  This self-explanatory effect is caused by the built up toxins in the frozen tissue overwhelming the body when they begin flowing back to the core, causing extreme pain, and in some cases, nausea to the point of vomiting.

It is hard for many people to understand why we put ourselves through so much misery for something as useless as trying to climb up a giant icicle until they have experienced it themselves.  The sensation I get from climbing ice, I can’t find it from anything else.  It’s hard for me to put into words.  Climbing fills me with energy and excitement, thrill and happiness.  It is awesome fun spiced with a little fear and uncertainty in an exhilarating mixture.  It makes me feel alive.

Climbing is a terrible addiction that pulls me from a warm, safe environment, to the frozen uncertainty of an icy world.  Climbers truly are a strange breed; the “unlucky ones” in the eyes of Jon Krakauer, who drew this card in life and are forever tied to its fate.  But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

I can be in the worst possible mood, but as soon as I get out into the wild, frozen world, it instantly begins to dissolve.  I’ve never found a better way to burn off energy than swinging axes and kicking as hard as I can into a hard, frozen tower.  The constructive destruction, the incredible physical effort along with the fun and excitement floods my body with enough endorphins and dopamine to keep any adrenaline junky satisfied.  After a good day climbing, I come home singing, completely oblivious to my previous mood.

Through climbing, I become lost in the moment, my senses in tune to nature and to my being.  With a clear head, I notice the world in a different light.  The sound of my breath; the beating of my heart; the feeling of the icy grip I have on my ice axes from which I delicately balance on a vertical curtain of ice.  I become completely aware of my limits, relying entirely on my own strength and skills to keep myself alive.  I feel empowered, healthy, happy.  Alive.

And that, is the beauty of ice.

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2 Responses to The Beauty of Ice

  1. Flipper says:

    Awesome post, Hayden! You just did justice to something that words generally fall short of explaining. At face value, climbing has no purpose. You go up, you go down, you go home. But as you know it’s so much more than that. It’s a puzzle where the face is your board, your gear the pawns, and gravity your only opponent. Life is simplified to one purpose – go up. You quite literally leave the world below you to exist in the present of your mind and body. Nothing compares. You are truly made for it Hayden!

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