Article by Courtney Ley
It is when one season weakens and surrenders to the growing strength of another that we can most clearly see the movement of time changing space. The leaves brown, crumble and fall at our feet. The water slowly comes to a halt and freezes. It is quiet and I’m alone. As if I’m in the middle of nature’s own time lapse, I peer around the same corner but I find my surroundings are different. The air is warm but the ground is cold. I am winding my way around a dark, shaded place but I have a clear objective. I am climbing up towards the top where the light begins. Before I reach it, I am confronted with unknowns despite being in a place I’ve travelled many times before. During this time, everything is unpredictable, and often one day is strikingly different from the next. I am confident I can handle anything I encounter but my movements must be thought out. I place my ice tools delicately in the newly formed ice and my crampons on a thin shelf of rock. Upwards, slowly, as if not to disturb the passage of time that I find myself enveloped in.
Before I had set off, I didn’t know what the condition of the ice was going to be, if there would be any ice at all. For in that time before the heart of winter takes a hold, just a few degrees up or down has a drastic effect. Winter just doesn’t arrive full strength right away. It comes and goes until the warm air of autumn finally gives in. Ice may appear and disappear within hours. Despite this, I am able to find peace in the battle of the seasons. Autumn has allowed winter to take a hold of this place, for now. I sink the first couple of teeth on my pick into the ice. At times, I’m putting a tool away and grabbing a hold of the rock. A kick with my crampons proved too hard and some ice has fell away. I find another place for my feet.
In early season, I find adventure in the mountains I’ve visited time and time again. It is necessary to keep constant watch on the weather, to plan and strategize when and where to go, because the ice is never guaranteed. I travel light, unburdened by ropes or gear. I start early because the approach is long and the place is high. I want to reach the top, but I linger. Finding ice to climb during this time is worthy of a little savoring.
My mind is so focused at the task at hand that I don’t see anything else beyond this place. But every once and awhile I will pause and watch the surrounding mountains grow smaller and more plentiful. On this day as I reach the top, I’m greeted by warm sun. Wind sculpted rime ice covers the rocky landscape. I have climbed up a ravine I had before in a gully I had before, but the climb was different. Soon winter will move in and the ice will grow and the snow will arrive and people will begin heading into this place. Tool and crampon placements will be easier to find, the ice will be more reliable and conditions predictable. The three dimensional world of rock, thin ice, running water and vegetation will relent into world of white snow and white ice. For now, I have this place to myself. I walk in the frosted alpine terrain satisfied and content that I had climbed ice that only few knew existed. And ice that would most likely melt away before it returns.
There is depth and variety to early season. The trees in the valleys still hold on to their last leaves as they flicker in the wind. Higher up the branches are encased in ice. As I make my way up and down the mountain, I experience the two seasons as separate entities above and below. During my climb, they are melded into one. When I descend, I start to hear the crunch of autumn under my feet. Whites fade away as pale greens and yellows return to the woods.
It is now that this early season, this season within a season, is beginning to fade. I watch the snow fall, the ice build and number of people grow quickly and fill in the gullies, slots, corners and clefts of the mountains. I thought it only appropriate to bid a farewell to this time and place as I now seek out more remote places to experience that sense of adventure I am always thirsting for.