Friday, December 16, 2011

Learning to Fall

My crampons aren't ideal for ice climbing and my dad has already lost an axe, martyred to the ice gods below.

He's at the top of the 2nd pitch on the left side of Gibraltar Falls. We communicate through walkie talkies because I can neither see nor hear him.

I'm looking up the steepest pitch of vertical ice I have ever attempted to climb. The crux. I get my axe into a bomber hold at the top when my feet give way and I fall ten feet down the ice, my knees soon to look like some one took a baseball bat to them.

I fell.

And with my ice axe 10 feet above my head I had no choice but to give up.

I failed.

Having grown up with annual father-daughter trips into the mountains I learned at an early age to never fall. Falling while alpine climbing can have deadly results. So I never did.

My dad taught me to ice climb when I was 18 years old and in all that time I have never given up on a pitch, some of these times it was my dad who wouldn't let me give up. He always told me I could do it, and I always did.

But I would rarely ever fall. Some of the toughest times I have experienced while ice climbing have been to trust the rope. To fall and trust that my dad has me on belay. To clip onto a lousy screw in the ice and just hang back. Sitting on the nothing that only being hundreds of feet in the air can give you.

I am finally learning how to fall.

And although it feels a lot like failing, I count this as one of my most successful days of ice climbing so far.

And one more thing: thanks dad. For everything.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Three Things

It always seems to be what people ask.

If your house was on fire what three things would you grab?

It's easy to answer that question when your house isn't on fire. I've heard camera, laptop, pets, photo albums...stuff that's expensive or not easily replaceable. In the past I've answered photo albums and portfolio which morphed into flash drive as life turned digital.

When I woke up to a smoke filled apartment two weeks ago, I wasn't thinking about what I should grab because I wasn't fully aware of what was going on. I put on pants, grabbed a jacket and scarf and as I was calling 911 I reached into my school bag with the intent to grab my flash drive and came out with my wallet. By this time the operator was telling me to get out of the apartment and the smoke was so thick I couldn't even find my shoes.

Outside flames were exploding out of the kitchen window of the apartment next door. The fire continued to eat up the building and initial feelings of panic collapsed into terror.

Every resident made it out.

Hours later and the fire under control they told us everything was gone. The second floor had collapsed into the first. It was unsafe to enter the gutted, skeletal structure that had once been our home.

Everybody tells you that the most important thing is that you survived. But nobody tells you that survival can feel like drowning, treading water to keep your head just barely above water. That even little decisions like choosing a pair of shoes because you no longer have any can feel overwhelming. That sirens in the middle of the night will wake you up in a cold, terrifying sweat. That the last two weeks have felt like two years.

That fear can be an isolating and lonely place.

(But you survived.)

Peeking in the window of my bedroom later that day as my now former landlord literally looted the place for anything that had made it, a twisted, wet ball of fabric caught my eye. It was a vintage dress that I had only worn once. A memory. Something bright to cling to amidst the wreckage. Something strong to hold onto in a space crowded with doubt.

(I am so grateful and touched by the outpouring of support from the London community and the help and support of my classmates and faculty as well UWO. My heart is so full from their generosity that it is sometimes difficult to find words to express my utmost thanks.)