The iceman falleth down

October 12, 2000

The iceman falleth down

Whew, what a trip. People don't realize what hard work it is to monitor elections in volatile nations and Milosevic looked like he was going to be harder to get out of the official palace than Nancy Reagan. Took all my negotiating skills. And that Kostunica is SUCH a pill. Nobody likes a sore winner and really, the Steelers should have won that game against the Browns, but you didn't see Bill Cowher organizing a general strike among 20,000 Western Pennsylvanians, and ... oh wait, that was Madeleine Albright's trip. What was I thinking?

If it's early fall, I must have been in New York, continuing my pointless assault on the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondack mountains seeking membership in the pointless 46er Club. Membership in this club gives you lots of privileges, the main one being the right to purchase decals and patches for your backpack from them, identifying you as one of their own.


Of course, if you tell most people in America that you are a 46er they will look at you with awe and admiration and say things like, "Wow, did you play with Joe Montana?"

If you recall, last year I was in the Peaks the day after Hurricane Floyd, which devastated forests in the park and barricaded many of the trails with 20-foot-high blowdowns of impenetrable, splintered trees that made the Union's entrance into Cold Harbor look like an interstate highway.

This year, I was determined not to repeat that mistake. I kept a keen eye on the weather patterns, to be certain that no storms of any kind were in the area, and that the closest Hurricanes were at the University of Miami. (Sorry about the continued football references, but as a Mail Caller so eloquently put it, "Daunte's going for the ring" and I'm going to be in a Minnesota Vikings state of mind - right up until the first round of the playoffs, if you know what I mean and I think that you do).

Sure enough, the day of the first climb was one of those New England gems, with brilliant foliage and ice blue skies. Sure it was a little cold, but I'd climbed in Switzerland, Alaska and Nepal, why should I worry about cold?

Well, if there wasn't a reason, I wouldn't be writing this.

A weird phenomenon in the Adirondacks is that the higher you climb, the wetter it gets, at least until you break out above the tree line. There are numerous ledges and near-vertical faces to scramble up, and often a sheen of water flows over the rock to join the brilliant, cascading rivers and streams below. Normally, this isn't a problem. It can even be a benefit because it washes away sand and grit that can make these ledges hard to grip.

Did I mention it was cold?

With temperatures in the peaks in the teens, all this wild, cheerful flowing water was now solid blue ice, a fact which made the hike considerably more interesting, especially without ice-clawing crampons.

As you enter the highest regions, the state has placed signs warning that the climber is entering an "Arctic Alpine Zone" that's home to all sorts of rare, fragile plantlife and advising not to step off the rock or otherwise touch or violate any organic substance.

In other words, "Please Stay On the Ice." This required an inventive climbing technique perfected by myself and one other hapless climber I ran into on Mt. Colden that day which I can best describe as "One step forward, 285 feet back."

Tediously, we would spend what seemed like hours chiseling out toeholds in the ice with stones, inching upward over the rocks. Then one misstep, and whosh, down I'd go in a wildly pinwheeling tangle of arms, legs, backpack, cripplebush and profanity that would have made "Funniest Home Videos" look like a lawnmower repair cassette.

I'd clutch frantically for any peace of chance shrubbery that might slow the fall, and if I wiped out 10 or 12 ecosystems that day, I cannot help it.

But I persevered. Thirty down, 16 to go. Milosevic might actually be out of the country by then.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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