31 Aug 2007

The Campanile Basso

I also wrote this trip report at Summitpost.

p1 - michael lead up the intial ramp IV
p2 - micahel continue up the intial ramp to a little ledge IV
p3 - michael off right around corning into chimney/corner exiting 
     on slabs on left to a big ledge IV+
p4 - Aidan short IV+ over chock stone to start of big corner.
p5 - Michael long lead up corner V-
p6 - Aidan lead up under roofs to the right zig zagging in and 
     out of corner and slab on right. IV+
p7 - Michael runout lead on slab to the right. Lead to a small 
     awkward belay in a corner
p8 - Aidan lead up discontinuos corner exit the corner on left
     and then finishing on a vertical block to a small ledge belay
p9 - Michael lead up right on slab bypassing another roof, bad
     orange cam finishing up a cool chimmney to a big ledge.
p10 -M lead up black corner to under wet slab
P11 -A lead up wet slabs to below traverse (V)
p12 -M lead to ledge
           - From Aidan's notes on the climb, September, 2007.

Last August, despite a long spell of bad weather, I had the pleasure of climbing on the Campanile Basso with my friend Aidan. It was our first visit to the Brenta Range. Starting the hike in late afternoon, we had to laugh at the extended friendly hordes of Italians coming down the trail. It was a hot day and my pack felt heavy. I lazed along, somewhere behind Aidan, but I finally perked up when we saw the massive Crozzon di Brenta in front of us. Actually that’s what we wanted to climb, but a big pile of fresh snow covered the top, and the hut warden thought we were crazy to even think about it. We chickened out, but were well rewarded with the Basso.

At a belay in the Fehrmann Dihedral

In the morning we started early, passing by the somber memorial to fallen climbers. Aidan was feeling bleak. “I don’t know if climbing is really the thing for me…” he said with a thousand-yard stare. His mood was catching, and soon I was walking with heavy tread too, wondering what it all means. Sighing deeply, we ascended cones of scree to reach the base of the climb: a collection of corners leading up and right, entering the Fehrmann Diehedral proper after a couple of entry pitches.

“On belay?” I queried.

“Whatever” said Aidan, missing his girlfriend and pining for a normal life. He spent months in Africa, and after visiting me and his parents he’d go back to study Arabic for 6 more months.

7 or 8 pitches up, loving it.

“Young fella, meaninglessness is a luxury. Be like me and focus on the next hold. After that, the next climb. After that, whats fer dinner? Pretty soon you’ll fergit about the hollow void, stretching away into meaningless yet tedious years!”

My attempts to rouse him from existentialism got nowhere. “Yeah. Sigh. I can see how you’d see it that way…”

I felt bad for him. Whatever you have at age 20 is not enough. It represents sameness, sterility, nothing exciting. Even if what you have is something a bunch of old weekend warriors like me would give their eyetooth for: lots of free time and good health. I remembered myself at that age, easily sleeping all day and playing Zelda all night. I look back and think what a waste of time! But I was figuring things out in some kind of dim way. One things for sure, Aidan is doing a better job than I did.

The “Preuss Wall” is vertical for four amazing pitches

In a way, I think we couldn’t be further apart in our goals and values than right now. When we met, he was 15 years old, and psyched out of his mind just to go climbing. Now, he’s old enough to have seen the limitations of my world. Over the course of my thirties, I’ve “settled” with life. I know enough about what makes me happy, and I know what I can expect and what I can’t. I spend less time railing against a crazy world and more time observing it’s peculiarities without judgement. What a bland and frustrating outlook for someone with the chance to change the world! And my knowledge that Aidan can do great things is a given for me, like gravity.

The notion of a “fixed” or “crystalized” personality is abhorrent to the young. I tried to explain that I was always ready to go climbing, and was incapable of tiring of it. “Sometimes you scare me, Michael,” was the commentary on that. I wanted to laugh, but I realized how much that sounds like a machine, how inhuman. I saw a vision of myself, Gollum-like, scratching across the rocks, personality hardened into bone. Bone that hinders and limits even as it supports.

But I love life, and am a relatively happy-go-lucky fellow. If these are the signs of aging in me, I imagine it is a natural thing. And holding a fixed attitude about this or that is undoubtedly productive, just as a taut sail will bring speed and surety. Is this then, ultimately, why our grandfathers keep old newspapers, or only change the oil on the other side of town?

“No one gets out of here alive.” The act of living, or thinking about living, year after year causes changes. Mowing along in my head at night, thinking that’s cool and this is fucked and he’s stupid and I loved that book. I finally look up and see what I’ve wrought: character. Not a great one, but it’s mine and I know it well. I conclude it’s inevitable, this “death-through-hardening.” The impetus to decide, to divide comes from youth, never comfortable with shades of gray.

As I considered these thoughts I reflected on something else that bothered me. I had been wondering what was wrong with me because I still went technical climbing after my boys were born. Some friends said they had to climb down, shaking, the magnitude of evil possibility too much to bear. Was I just being selfish? Or was I missing an essential piece of human feeling? But after thinking about this topic I reached an understanding that made sense to me: I had already “fixed” that part of my life. When I first learned about Fred Beckey, I was so impressed that I began the process of imprinting attitudes and repeated actions designed to sustain an excitement for mountains for the rest of life.

I look down at myself from a height, seeing a small bundle of energy, fussing over quixotic pursuits. I admit the silliness of it all. Yet I cling to these useless pursuits anyway. Am I completely insane or just completely human?

Recounting every pitch of the climb no longer seems necessary. There were moments of near magic on the Preuss headwall, a vertical dance of apprehension and wonder. I will let those moments acquire the fuzzy glow they deserve. I sat down to write about the great experience, but ended up reflecting on the great friendship. And in reflecting, learning.