Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yukon Ho!

"You have no rights here!" had just been yelled at me. I gripped the handle of our luggage cart tighter and took a deep breath. I was nervous and very uneasy with the Canadian Customs officer who was holding our customs form and staring me in the eye. The form with all of it's checked boxes, signatures and scribbles in red clearly meant something very bad for us. We had been stopped from going through the security gate and directed into this other room. We had no nuts, fruits, or meats - no drugs, alcohol, bombs or weapons, although there was a Gerber knife in there somewhere and our first aid kit was beefed up with quite a few painkillers - this made me even more nervous. No one was telling us why we were in here.

I scanned the room looking at the others who had been sent to this windowless dungeon looking for clues as to what our fortune might be. Quizzical, concerned looks adorned the faces of the elderly Pakistani couple, the Mexican family the same as well as the other French speaking Canadians. It appeared there was some question of identity with all of these people. In the far back corner was a young guy and four other customs officers; His luggage splayed out on the stainless steel table. He seemed cool and collected despite the fact that these strangers were invading his every personal belonging they could. It didn't look good. 

More questions were spewed our way: had we been to Canada before? Had we ever had trouble at the border before? Had we ever been turned around before? And then it hit me like a crashing wave. Yes! In 2007 while going to Squamish I had been denied entry into Canada. The end result of a circumstance of bad raps and dirty cops the summer of 2006 in Yosemite. An ordeal which included an arrest, a strip search, an orange jump suit, a cold night in jail and multiple days of court resulting in a payoff that ended with no charges. How was I suppose to explain that to a customs officer? It was complicated and the female in control of my entry in 2007 was not pleased with this most unusual circumstance. She printed out 30 pages of material stating I wouldn't be allowed in, I could retry in five years, it would cost me $200 and please sign here. I was devastated. On our way back over to the American side we were informed by a different customs officer that I should retry as what had just gone down wasn't exactly kosher. Determined to continue with our climbing trip we found alternate means of getting across the border that summer and I put the incident behind me. 

But, here it was again! Those 30 pages had been filed and it appeared that they weren't going to let me in again. I pleaded that I must be let in the country, there was a lot riding on this trip - I was part of a team, we were going into the mountains, we were going on an expedition to the Yukon. I stood there thinking of all the possibilities - what if they denied me? would they pay for my return to the States? What would I even do? Go climbing elsewhere? Go back to the Sierra? Rent a car and cross the border in a smaller town? Would I drive all the way to the Yukon? My partner and I were worried. If denied we would have quite a hefty task of divying up all the gear.  Sweat was beading up above my lip.

Sensing the rising tension between us and officer number one a different customs officer interjected. He whisked us away from the angry man with whom I seemed to be having very little success. Two hours after having entered this cement cell of a room we were waiting at our next gate. "Welcome to Canada," the flight attendant said with a cheer. We were relieved to be a let in, I could breath more normally now. We were excited to see what situations we might find ourselves in in the comings weeks of our trip.

Twenty days into our expedition my husband (Ben Ditto) and I stood atop  the 2000 foot tall Mt.Proboscis. We had just made an all free complete ascent of Proboscis via the Original Route Variation (Women at Work - VI 5.12R) A rare and unique experience. It had taken us 17 days and 3 attempts for this to happen. Weather had turned us around prior and we had gotten quite used to the cold, wet climbing as well as the possibility of retreat. As long as we were prepared we would be ok, so in our climbing kit for the day aside from food and water we carried jackets, rain jackets, webbing, pain killers, tape and the gerber knife - because you just never know. 

As we stood on the top of the wall reveling in it's grandeur and the vast expanse of glaciers and peak that stretched on as far as the eye could see we knew that we were only half way. We would have to rappel the entire formation to get back to the ground. Hopefully we could descend the wall with ease as it had taken us 13 hours to climb and it was just about dark now. There would be no room for any serious error. 

The first 13 rappels went surprisingly well aside from small rock fall and some rope trickery to avoid any snags. We were making good time and were feeling a bit at ease as we descended into the first five pitches of the route.  Territory that had come to be quite familiar to us as we had climbed it three times by now.These sections had been running with some of the coldest water on earth and we had jammed hands, arms and legs into these crevices as we ascended the wall. On our way down we tried to avoid the wetness as much as possible, we had had our fair share of it's icy demeanor. There were only three more long rappels to the ground; we were feeling some elation now that the ground was in sight. 

As we huddled together at the anchor pulling our ropes they became snagged. They would not budge. We pulled harder. We flung them around, hoping they would cut loose. Nothing, except a general feeling of devastation. We looked at each other, we looked up above. All around us was darkness; our headlamps only illuminating the immediate space around us - their light disappearing up the wall. We could just make out the blue and green pattern of nylon snaking its way up and around a series of ledgy flakes about 50 feet above and to the right. We had never really had trouble descending here before but now it appeared our ropes were wrapped up in this mess. We were stuck up here in the dark, in the water, our friends asleep at base camp, the rest of the world hundreds of miles away.

We had two options - one of us could re-climb this soaking wet pitch and possibly sort out the stuck bits of rope or we could cut the rope and continue with whatever was left. It was around 1am, we were tired, we were cold and neither one of us could muster the psyche to go back up. We went for option two and out came the Gerber. The sharp metal cut through the rope and we hoped for the best as it sprang upwards and vanished. Down came a pile of cord at our feet consisting of one full 70 meter rope and what turned out to be only about 50 feet worth of tag line. Tying the two together would be useless, we would be better off using the one 70meter rope. 

It wasn't long enough to descend to the remaining three established rappels. Dis-ease came upon us. All we wanted was to get off this wall, to get out of here, to be back in our tents with the promise of going home in our pockets. We had to build intermediate anchors, leaving some gear and webbing behind on the wall. The last 500 feet turned into 5 rappels in 3 hours. At the last rappel, too tired and weary to build and leave yet another intermediate anchor we fixed our 70 meter rope to the existing anchor and used it as a single line all the way to the ground. It's full length stretched thin giving us our final escape to the world below. Around 4am we were finally back on ground. It had taken us six hours to get down. We staggered back to camp with the moon cast shadow of Mt.Probiscis to our backs. 

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