Intemperate Hedonism

Light fast and solo in the Natal Drakensberg

"No sleep, no sleep until I'm done with finding the answer
Won't stop, won't stop before I find the cure for this Cancer"
- The Rasmus

It's been a cesspool of frustration smattered with unrealized dreams and with each day I am sucked further toward an idle, anguished doom. I catch myself staring blankly into the distance, looking out through the window or the windscreen or across the bar where I have ensconced myself amongst birds of a feather – spraying about the past, posturing about the future, all the while trying to maintain the happy façade yet failing I'm sure. Oh of what consequence is it really – the past, the future...just one great big fucking lie: live the present, and climb!! Yet the more I desire the passage of the vertical beneath my digits, the harder it becomes to realize: ailing body, emotive turmoil or "acts of God" have all had their axes ground – I even fooled myself into believing that it was a Divine conspiracy to test my will - yet all the time the pressure cooker cooks and I resign myself to accept the inevitable; that to "pop" the lid, something quite special needs to be done. With each passing week of tranquility the clearly etched memories of sweaty fear are dulled until nothing but grandeur remains. The routes become easier in my head and the well-proven laws of gravity blatantly disbelieved with the passage of time, and in search of redemption the boat goes out. Even further. A simple, desperate, act of DEEP PLAY is called for! Oh for a change of tide, I await it with open mind and unsound body.

"Play for more than you can afford to lose, and you will learn the game." - W. Churchill

In order to be comfortable with the above mindset one needs either a catalyst to spark the willingness to risk all, or one needs to believe that there is nothing left of value to lose. Or both. Having discovered that the depths that inevitably follow an endorphal high are inevitably proportional to the crests in amplitude, it dawns on me that the reason for the trough is one of two things: either my sacrifices are insufficient for the Gods to grant my desires, or my desires are unrealistic. Being stubborn in a desperate sort of way, I refuse to change my order - preferring instead to offer myself as the ultimate sacrifice. My catalyst is wanting something beyond my grasp.

Take me to the Dragon, let me chase its ass – and let the intemperate hedonism begin

I swallowed the first round of Ibuprofen just before landing, and 90minutes later on a secondary road to Giants Castle the first round of therapy unfolds. Me, a destination, a time constraint and a hire car. I am going ice climbing, but needed a chalk-bag next to the steering wheel! Therapeutic indeed. After a brief skirmish with the ranger about my disregard for Park rules (apparently one is not permitted to hike into the mountains after a certain time, for fear of getting lost at night), I was able to take flight. With my pack weighing just 18kg (with rack) I burst onto the hut lawn in under 2hrs to find a Frenchman and his girlfriend cooking on an open fire, apparently not making the connection between the scorched horizon and tinderbox surrounds.

Fucking idiots!

Having donned gaiters and gloves, I forced an energy bar, GU and some Game into my body, turned, and headed for Eastern Gully. "Eet is not dangeroos to go ze at night?" The nonchalant shrug that he got as my reply would have made his cavalier countrymen proud. Not having been in the gully before, I couldn't really answer him anyway. Walking in just tech-longs and a long-sleeved wicking shirt with gaiters and gloves I barely broke a sweat as the temperature plummeted, provided I kept moving, and move I did...well without a moon it was not so much hike as stumble upward. By 8 o'clock I was bivi-ing beneath the waterfall that forms the only obstacle in the gully, trading fatigue as the excuse instead of my personal incompetence on the mixed ground presented, by torch-light, before me. Sleep came easily, as did the summit early the next morning.

Take me to the Dragon, let me chase its ass – and let the intemperate hedonism begin

It was eerily calm on the summit - but it just felt right to be there, peaceful in comparison to life outside the park. As I gazed Southward toward the ice flows it became very apparent that the warming temperatures had taken their toll. The snowy basin, which had played host to our windy epic just 10 days prior, was devoid of all whiteness; "Makhaza" a shadow of its former self as was the "Loteni couloir" when I got there. Very Disappointing. I wanted pitch upon pitch of Styrofoam, damit, a chest freezer was not going to satisfy the hunger. Clarity was going to be short lived. One look at the bottom pitch of the couloir was enough to confirm what the gurgle of free flowing water had hinted at - the ice was more like quasi vertical "slush puppy" than anything worthy of a "WI" prefix. I called it unjustifiably dangerous and headed for the 2nd pitch which was dispatched in 7min and offered little in the way of the technical, sustained climbing needed to get the focus to be one with the surrounds. Large blocks of ice littered the base of the third pitch, testament to the thaw. Tiny chandeliers bounced off my helmet as they plummeted and I climbed. I chose the steeper but longer start, thunk...thunk...kick, kick. Repeat. The climbing was absorbing, the moment real, and life was just peachy. Near the 2/3rds mark I was forced left and onto steeper ground to avoid gargoiled ice formed from the passage of water (which was making itself heard somewhere in the depths), the line of least resistance proving to be the line of greatest uncertainty. Moving freely and solidly I found parity. The next I knew the shelf on which my left foot was stationed cracked, and broke. With one tool in mid strike I weighted my right tool, hyper-extending the leash - which adjusted itself into uselessness.

Instinct took hold and I sunk my left tool again, the force sending shards of shattered ice in all directions, including a half-brick to my jaw. Crimson splotches duly appeared, marking my passage, stark against the pearl ice. Gathering things together and re-sinking my left tool I was able to place a screw and hang from it, allowing urgent but temporary leash repairs. Three meters higher...exactly the same thing happened! Re-clipping my leash a little to enthusiastically I brushed the loop, missed the clip and bumped the tool. It wobbled. Not carrying a spare tool, a dropped tool would have been exciting! The novelty was wearing thin, as was the ice, but I'd found a little of what I was looking for.

"Careful what you wish for".

On top I wondered if my play had appeased nothing but my own futile ambition, and in fact had merely swung the odds the wrong way. If you play this hand often enough, sometime the bluff will be called.


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