Too much Cooking and Climbing not enough writing. This story is a little overdue. It took place on January 10th, 2009.
My mind was blown 4 times today.
First time: My friend calls me in the morning before he comes by to pick me up, "we're supposed to meet them at 8:30 so I’ll pick you up at a quarter after.”
“No way!” my head echoes “it’s only 15 minutes from downtown Saint John? That’s crazy. It’s so close.”
We drive out to a household of climbers, where we load packs, overheat, and talk excitedly. Next we’re out the backdoor crossing a prairie of white river ice. Straight across is Minister’s Face, a tiny cliff in the distance. We walk and talk over the crunchy snow. The sun is brighter than any summer day and air is still.
I keep spinning around to get a grasp on scale, we’ve been walking for 20 minutes and nothing seems to be getting closer or farther away. The white river stretches west into the horizons and east it is backed by dark pointy hills. Straight ahead, Minister’s face is now appropriately sized. We crank our necks back to see cobbly rock like a bookend for the river rising to where the cedars look like match sticks. From the opposite shore the Minister's 300 foot frame was squashed under the giant landscape. Our destination, the ice alcove, is now coming into view. What looked like a smear on the cliff is now a blue and white waterfall of ice, towering 120 feet high - and my mind is blown again.
The experienced ice climbers pick their lines and lead up the ice, attaching the rope to large metal screws they place as they go. Anchors and ropes are fixed at the top allowing newbies like me a chance to climb the routes on top-rope.
It's my second time ice climbing and I fumble uncomfortably with big hard boots and sharp bits attached to all fours. I get pointers, on how to stab my points into the ice. Thwack, shatter, thwack. "Flick your wrist more!" I hear from below, the pick sinks in on the third thwack.
I climb a couple routes, gaining confidence and starting to feeling comfortable on this foreign surface. Half way up the ice I set my feet pull out my pick and can feel my weight resting on two narrow crampon points extending from my toes. My mind fizzles and I huff out a surprised breath. It blows my mind that two little claws are holding my body weight. As I climb the rest of the route the warmth retreats from my hands that are clenched over my head while under my jacket I sweat like its a muggy day in July.
As I reach the top of the ice wall, I hear "Graham, turn around and have a look over the river when you get to the top." Focused on the ice I hadn't noticed dusk creeping in. The ice has turned rosy as I stand under the branches of a cedar tree getting ready to rappel down. When I finally turn around to face the wide river, I feel the fizzle at the base of my skull, a shot of endorphins triggered by what I see. A full moon as rich as a pumpkin rising over dark hills on the far shore.
We hike out in the low dusk light, aiming for familiar lights across the ice, watching one by one as the planets and stars appear.
And we're only 15 minutes from the city.