Depth through thought

OUCC News 9th July 2008

Volume 18, Number 13

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Editor: Peter Devlin:

Vrinda Manglik writes:

This poem was circulating around the NYC cave club e-mail list. I don't know who Tony Hopkins (the author) is.

Stretching the Limits

As one skims through life from youth to a adulthood and beyond, one grazes against the edges of reason and sanity.
Then wonders whether luck, pure chance or possibly a strange miracle barred their frailness from their not being there at all.

Do we chance our demise with passions that lead the soul onward?
Or strengthen our spirits by the boundless complexity of our decisions.

I stood a moment, with life, and wondered how as a child, idolizing not some pop group or some magnificent structure, I had fortuitously breathed in the passions of Hillary and Tensing on that mountain at that moment had they not reached their peak and not its peak.

Pushing the fringes, like race car drivers, divers, parachutists, bungie jumpers, skiers and astronauts, we as cavers reach for peaks, unattained goals denied and glories seldom told.
We reach for the unreachable.
To want to hold it, just to see how it feels and bask in its glory.

By pushing these limits, we risk the perils of injury or death without compunction and still go on and on.
For there is nothing, nothing that burns the blood and fills the spirit more than attaining ones unreachable goal.

The Rockeater
(Tony Hopkins)

An Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering

Peter Devlin [late June ]

The last week in June saw me in the Swiss Alps to do an introductory course in Alpine mountaineering based in Arolla. Day 1 saw a jaunt up to the Ferpecle glacier to try out crampons for the first time. From our base at 2000m, the altitude of 2700m was noticeable.

The next day we had a leisurely walk up to the Aiguilles Rouge hut at 2800m. A 5am start soon had us on our way to attempt Point de Vouasson (3500m). For me this was ok until we got up onto the glacier a few hundred meters below the peak.

Here I found that I was breaking through the crust of snow, so while almost everybody else was going along the top I was expending significantly more effort: once a fat b*stard always a fat b*stard. I also hadn't yet learned to moderate my pace to keep a steady pace up. I thought my stop/go would drive the others on the rope crazy, but my ropemates later indicated their delight every time I called a halt. Towards the top there was an exposed ridge looking down 1000m to a lake. It occurred to me that my fear of heights might kick in, but I decided I was too knackered to be scared, and just focused on my step counting.

Fortunately I found that unlike caving, the descent is much easier than the ascent (Duh). On the way down we did a crevasse rescue which was fun.

On day 4 we had a rest day in the valley (rock climbing) and prusiking up ropes. Day 5 saw us hike up to the Vignette Hut (3000m) before attempting Pigne d'Arolla (3800m).

A 4.30 start saw us on the hill at 5.30. Having not gone so well on Pointe de Vouasson I was somewhat anxious, but was ruthless on taking as little on the hill as possible (caching the rest at the col). Additionally Marty, the guide on our rope, pointed out repeatedly that the rest of us on the rope should control the pace to be sustainable. Eventually the penny dropped and we settled into a gentle slog. 8am saw us on our way back down from the summit, sadly with no view: all week we had had a clear view of the summit, but on this morning we were in cloud. Midday saw us back in the valley ordering lunch.

For me this had been a week with lots of learning, primarily about pacing myself and packing light. Having said that one of the highlights had been the Alpine flowers which were at their best.