Reflections on the Grand Central Couloir

Credit Jimmy Voorhis

A slow morning at Beauty Creek Hostel… lots of coffee, eggs, juice, reading, and good chatter with Jimmy. Feeling a bit more energized today, after a full day for recovery yesterday. On Saturday, May 12, we climbed the Grand Central Couloir on Mount Kitchener. What a day it was. We hiked into the base of the route the night before (~3 hours), slept a few hours, woke at 1 AM, summitted around 1 PM, and were back at the car around 11:30 pm. Without a doubt the biggest alpine route of its kind that I’ve climbed thus far. It feels like a long time coming, the realization of a style, a goal, a purpose that has been brewing for quite some time. The significance of the accomplishment doesn’t detract from the intensity of the experience, though. The hazards were real, danger and the odds of destructive palpable.

We started early, making solid decisions about whether or not to continue. Moved fast, transitioned well, flowed in a single-push mentality. But the giant cathedral which is the North Face of Kitchener has a song of its own. It sings with the sounds of rock, snow and ice. Glaciers flowing, avalanches running, rocks falling, and snow mushrooms collapsing.

We choose to participate, to join in its melody, and to a certain extent can only hope that we are able to sing in tune. This time we were, for the most part, with a few loose notes. Jimmy on the snow bridge. WHOOMF. A snow mushroom, breaking off, swooping down into the couloir that I had exited 20 minutes prior. Explosion into a million pieces. A vast wall of glacier and cornice blocking the summit. A tunnel through to the light. So much experienced. So much learned. Many important conversations have followed.

But what a beautiful foreboding place it was. A perfect ice runnel snaking its way up through the broken limestone walls, a weakness through the gut and into the heart of it all. Two pitches of delicate mixed climbing up a skinny streak of ice and overhanging stemming on rock. So many moments, so many moves merge into one.

We prepare, we experience, and we reflect. The process repeats itself, and we cycle through to the next. For what else is there to do, but sip coffee, sit and think, talk deep with a good friend, and continue on to the next chapter? For the book is just in its opening stages, with no clear ending in sight.

Credit Jimmy Voorhis

“I admire people

Whose life is a peaceful plain.

Vast fertile fields of wheat,

Only now and then waving lightly in the wind…

For my own life is like a wild river

Pushing madly against the primordial rock

Of utter despair!

But long days on my fingertips

Teach me how to live with my feet on the ground.

When I become a true master of dancing on vertical walls

I will also know

How to walk on firm ground.”

-from Pot by Nejc Zaplotnik (translation and quote from Alpine Warriors by Bernadette McDonald).

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