By Kelly Cordes
We shoulda stayed at Indian Creek, I thought, followed quickly by, I hope he’s at the anchors, so we can bail. Midway up Scott DeCapio’s lead—our first pitch of the day—he’d whined down, “Man, I’m getting old and soft…I’m a-scairt!” Then he tapped a column of ice tentacles that promptly snapped and thundered onto the cone at the base of the climb, half of them deflecting my way and sending me into the hot-potato dance in my crampons. Then he rocketed upward.
We’d started the day with grouchiness from our alpine start (leaving at 7 counts as inhumane in my book), and half an hour later we got grumpier when we found two rigs already parked at the trailhead for the Ames Ice Hose, which, according to the Internet and the view from the road, seemed to be in great condition.
“Goddamnit, Cracka,” I said, “whatdya think? Maybe they’ve just left and we should try that stupid footrace-to-the-base thing?”
“Naw, that sucks,” Scotty D replied. “Let’s see if the reports are wrong—maybe Bridal Veil is in now. Where them Twizzlers at?”
It’s too easy to fall into a comfortable routine in a place like Colorado, with so much great weather and so many great climbs. You get spoiled. Before you know it, adventure and all of its often-uncomfortable yet unparalleled rewards becomes secondary to classic, beautiful, overclimbed routes, with follow-the-tape chalked holds, a yellow TCU at the crux (the Internet said so), and drafting in pick holes. Great fun, of course, and great for the ego and the arms guns. I don’t know why that’s not enough, but I know that just a little shift in mentality—like the willingness to hustle and try for more, or to take the tools for a walk (even to classics the Internet says aren’t in yet)—can squeeze the most out of normally overpicked Colorado.
Our quick road trip had begun with two awesome days at Indian Creek—best crag in the ’Rado. Heavenly setting, crowds gone for the season, perfect temps, and perfect rock. Self-toproping all the way, baby. Best of all, none of that camping bullshit in December: We grabbed a hotel in Moab. Maybe, we told ourselves, the key to this whole deal is knowing when to relax and when to go. We caught the liquor store just before it closed, and the hotel had cable—we watched “Cops” and then, Next up on Spike TV!, marveled as a crocodile chomped some dude’s head at a gatorland park.For some reason we left the Creek and traded cams for screws, and on our third morning, when the rope came tight on Bridal Veil, I whimpered and felt scared under a snug toprope. When I reached the anchor and grabbed the rack, though, the strangest thing happened: I forgot about bailing. As I began my pitch, I drifted back to my Montana climbing roots—no sign of other climbers, virgin ice, no hooking. I actually had to swing my tools into cold, brittle ice. Balls! A long way from Montana but still holding on, I clobbered myself when I cocked my tool beneath overhanging mushrooms and, like Wile E Coyote and the anvil, kept knocking daggers onto my head, so many times it left me bloodied and seeing tweety birds. Goddamnit, Cracka, where’s the hooked-out ice? We topped out, rapped, hiked to the car, ate lunch, and tiptoed around the idea of what to do next. It was early afternoon. Marg-thirty yet?
It’s funny how motivations shift, and how some things change but others never do.
“Man, think about how psyched we’d have been on that 10 years ago,” Scotty said, driving the Deadbeat Mobile out of Telluride.
“I know…. shit,” I said, feeling not-yet-satisfied and knowing that Scotty felt the same. “Should we check out the Hose?”
“We’ll feel better about ourselves if we do, I guess,” he said, turning left at the junction. “And then we can fully justify a megaman dinner.”
So we drove to Ames, acting as if we didn’t want to do this, which we didn’t even though we did, and then we went. No one else, just us and perfect, sticky, hooked-out ice to make us feel like hard men. We started up at 3:45 p.m. on the winter solstice, fueled by notions of ambitions perhaps shifted but not yet gone, topped out as the day’s last rays faded below the jagged skyline, turned on our headlamps to descend, and boogied back to the car. We had margs to drink.
Kelly Cordes, senior editor of the American Alpine Journal, lives in Estes Park.