Fear is in the pit of my gut fed by tidbits of “What ifs” that are impossible to repel. What if I lose my footing? My balance? What if the snow slope gives way (the avalanches on Middle Peak crack and rumble across the valley from us and we watch the snow and rock cascade in to the glacier below us) What if I can’t self arrest? How far is it to the valley floor below me that I cannot even see? (Okay, that was not a “what if” but it fuels the fear nonetheless). And then I surprise myself and lift a foot and move it forward with conviction so the crampon bites and off I go towards a lip of snow over which I have no idea what exists.
We traverse, lead rope, belay, set anchors, and learn how to retrieve anchors after abseiling down from them. Two days ago I new nothing about these knots and devices and today my fear is mitigated by these gadgets and skills. More to the point my knowledge if these things is keeping me from dying some awful plunging death. Funny how you get focused on the instruction.
The idea is to not look down since you gaze only into an abyss at a number of points. I try not to think of Gandalf and the Belroc! But as the morning warms up and the snow softens, glancing up is hardly encouraging as my mind tells me this stuff could let go at any second. We took lunch in the spoil of an avalanche flow which slid off yesterday – I was happier there than out on the traverse. It was unlikely to slip any more. At least not today.
We head back to the hut but by now the snow is knee deep soft and arduous and we make heavy work of it. We are heaving and sweating by the time we get to the hut. A quick break then an hour of hard work on a snow cave before an early break mid afternoon. We are up at 0400 tomorrow so we have a reasonable chance of getting down to the Hermitage by late afternoon. I am happy with that plan – I am nervous about one of those knife edges with a fully loaded pack. Slushy on yesterdays return I really had to bite down my fear when I crossed it. Iced up from the overnight cold won’t remove my nervousness but I will be happier walking it when hard rather than soft. Then again, its going to be dark.
14 November 2012
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