Unfortunately, weather delays meant that Lonnie (the visually impaired fellow I mentioned in Thursday’s post) did not make it to Ouray in time for Danika and myself to climb with him today. So we went climbing at the Ouray Ice Park together. I learned a lot from Danika, who still guides part-time; and we also fit in a lot of fun ice and mixed lines.
In particular, I learned some new ice-climbing techniques that help me a lot in getting my feet higher up and thus minimizing the number of swings I need to take. In particular, I am matching and crossing tools a lot more when traversing; stemming off ice with my hands; and choking up high on the tool and “daggering” it. I love climbing mixed-routes on top-rope because I can just play around without fear of falling. In the interest of time, we didn’t do any leading. I would like to do more of that this season, but it seems like I am spending my free time skiing.
The Paradox Sports crew also arrived on Friday evening so I was able to say Hi to a few familiar faces, as well as meet some new ones.
My experience this year was very different to my previous two years as a participant. Danika kindly let me shadow her and help her with all the work the guides were doing. Each morning, we met early and walked into the Ouray Ice Park to set up all the belay and fixed lines, and all the rigging to lower participants without the mobility to walk or lower themselves into the gorge. It was an incredibly informative experience; learning more about rigging, really solid anchor building. At one point I yelled to a guy whose name I did not know, “Hey! Guy in the purple jacket!” to ask him if he could see whether the fixed line I had set up was touching the ground. The guy turned out to be Steve House! And Kitty Calhoun was also helping out, as well as so many experienced alpinists and ice-climbers. It was so great to be in their company, interact and learn from them. Rigging is very hard work, physically, and my body paid for all the lowering and hauling. As well as lowering people, we were also lowering things like propane tanks/canisters, a large canopy, camping chairs and other things to make things more comfortable for participants, especially for those who may have difficulty sensing temperature.
Down in the gorge, my role was also very different from the previous two years. Rather than being a rather passive participant who just waited to climb some routes, I was busy making myself useful: catching people/loads being lowered down, checking in on participants and offering ice-climbing instruction and tips, packing up, and belaying. On Sunday, I belayed a woman with limited use of her lower body up a route for literally two hours. It was tiring work because I had to keep her on a super tight belay, and she was heavy. It is always interesting to assess my feelings as I observe other handicapped people climb/be active. On the one hand, I was psyched for her, that she made it to the anchors. On the other hand, I thought, well, if you took better care of yourself, worked out, was lighter, stronger etc. you would be able to use your upper body more effectively, like I do. I sound like a bit of a dick, but it is sometimes difficult not to make comparisons between myself and someone with lower-body disabilities.
It is also interesting to note my feelings and interactions with people with disabilities that are very different to mine. For example, I interacted with a blind fellow, who had lost all his vision when an IED blew up near him while he was serving in Baghdad. I also spoke with a fellow who was missing most of his fingers and part of his hand, but also had severe burns on his face. I thought it was super cool that all he put down on his form to describe his physical deficits was, “Missing a few fingers”. I wonder how he views himself? Does he look at himself in the mirror? What does he see? I think he is incredibly brave to face a world where appearances are so important and judgments are made upon. I have also wondered whether my interactions change with people with different kinds of handicaps. Do I react differently to people with physical disfigurements? Or people with cognitive issues? And why? Is it due to unfamiliarity on my part?
At one point on Sunday, a volunteer (and part-time guide) remarked to me as I was belaying the heavier person for a long time, that it was quite inspiring to see these participants get on the ice and climb. I nodded in agreement, and also thought, Wow, he doesn’t know anything is wrong with me. As usual, I kept quiet about my own gimpiness. That tends to be my modus operandi: I only let people know if I feel like they need to know. For example, I will offer it as an explanation for why I am walking slowly on an approach, or if I am climbing, where I usually just say, I have a less than conventional climbing style because of a partly paralyzed leg.
Saturday night’s Fundraiser was also a memorial to Mark Miller, a local guide and big supporter and chief rigger of the Paradox event. I did not know Mark at all, having only run into him twice. Yet, I was quite emotional, crying as it was clear what a big part of the Ouray community he was, and what a loss this was to the town and his family. Many famous alpinists were present, including Steve House and Jim Donini.
I wish Ouray was not such a pain in the ass to get to; but I plan on offering my time and skills next year. I am keen to take a Rigging for Rescue course and learn a whole different skill set that will be useful if I want to guide informally in the coming years.