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Spearfish Lake Tales
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by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 22

I don’t want to say we had our fill of climbing for a while, but we also wanted to do some other things while we were out west. Yellowstone was neat, but crowded – it was near the peak of the summer season by then, and while there were some places that would have been neat to climb we gave them a pass. We watched Old Faithful spout and looked at several other thermal features. From there we went on up to Glacier National Park, where there was still a lot of snow on the mountains, so we broke out the crampons and ice axes and let the rangers tell us about a route they thought we could climb. It proved to be easy; they hadn’t believed that we knew what we were doing. We went on west from there, stopping a couple of other times for short climbs just to keep the car kinks from building up in our muscles.

Several days after we left Pat and Dick behind we were going down the Columbia River Gorge after stopping off to see Multnomah Falls – beautiful indeed, but crowded with other summer tourists. We had been seeing Mount Hood off in the distance for a while, and when we got to Hood River we decided to take a closer look, which ended with us driving up to a ski resort that was only slightly open for the summer. After checking things out, we loaded up crampons, a climbing rope and our ice axes, took a chair lift to the top of the run, and went up the huge volcano. It was a relatively easy climb and there was something of a path beaten out to the top, but we were glad to have the crampons as the path was icy and very slippery. It may have been peak bagging, but it was a beautiful peak to bag.

We didn’t do much more climbing for the next few days; we drove down the Oregon coast, which was very beautiful, stopping to camp right on the beach a couple of times – and wear our tiny bikinis, of course. The ocean was not a lot warmer than some of the mountain ponds we’d been in up in the Wind Rivers, but swimming in the ocean and the waves was something new for us. I made up my mind that I was going to try surfing sometime, but we didn’t get the chance on that trip.

After leaving the Oregon coast – which is a tough place to leave – we moved on south until we ran into San Francisco. By this time I’d more or less made up my mind that I didn’t really like big cities; London and Paris, for example, were fine to visit so long as I knew I would be leaving soon. Chicago was just a place to drive through as quickly as possible. But San Francisco – if my life wound up leading me in that direction, I thought I could manage that just fine. The place just seemed to have an attitude that I found attractive.

By this time we were heading toward Yosemite Valley. Actually we had been heading in that direction ever since we left the Wind Rivers, but we were just taking the long way around. We finally pulled into Yosemite the day we left San Francisco, and managed to find some space to set up our tent in Camp 4, which has always been considered to be the climber’s camp.

In one respect, it was like Jackson Hole all over again. We were “those tourist chicks,” and not regarded as real climbers, so we had to go through the whole deal of proving that we were really serious climbers on some of the smaller and easier faces in the area. Once we broke through the reserve of some of the regulars we were invited to do one of the easier routes on the shoulder of El Capitan, which was a big step up in the world for us.

While we were in Yosemite for almost two weeks, we never did any of the really big climbs the place was famous for. As Ed had told us, the exposure on those walls is tremendous and more than a little intimidating, even to some of the high-end regular climbers who all but lived at Camp 4. We came close to pushing ourselves to the limit on some of the easier climbs, though we felt that if we were to stick around we could do even more challenging climbs. But summer was passing and there was still a lot we wanted to do. At least when we left we were grudgingly considered to be real climbers, not just tourist chicks, but in several ways to many of them we were still outsiders.

I think I can say that by that time we liked alpine climbing more than just trying to scramble up steep, blank rock faces. Oh, we could do some tough routes and liked doing them, but it seemed like it was only part of the picture.

Finally we drove out of Yosemite on Tioga Pass Road, and then south down the Owens Valley to Whitney Portal. Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, and it seemed like a peak that we ought to bag, especially to wash some of those Yosemite walls out of our systems. It was a popular climb and an easy one, even though it was still a fourteen thousand-foot mountain. Even in those days there was a permit system in place, but it was easy to get the permit. In truth, it was just a hike on a well-developed trail rather than a true climb, and we didn’t even take any climbing ropes or any hardware, just our backpacks with gear for two nights of camping. On the way up we spotted several places that would make for more challenging climbs, but we decided to not pursue them just then.

We were starting to feel the pressure of time on us now. After we got back in the Karmann Ghia we drove through Death Valley and Las Vegas, which was glitzy and full of lights even back in those days with no inkling of what was to come. We stopped and looked at the Grand Canyon, then pressed on into western Colorado.

We had heard that there was some great climbing to be had in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, so that was our next stop. We were looking around for a good potential climb or two when who should we run into but Pat and Dick!

The Black Canyon was very little known then as a climbing paradise. It has literally thousands of potential routes, some of them fully as challenging as anything in Yosemite, although not as high. There are places where sunlight only rarely makes it to the bottom of the narrow canyon, and the somberness of it all makes the place a little spooky.

It turned out that Pat and Dick had spent several weeks there already, scoping the place out and trying several of the routes. Of course, they were glad to show us some of the better places they had found, so we joined them for several days. It was like earlier in the summer in the Wind Rivers, and in case you just have to know, that included swapping tent mates at night, too. Both Cat and I knew that we were going to be heading back to Venable College all too soon, and would most likely be facing a long dry spell.

Eventually the guys had to be heading back to Great Falls to get ready to go back to college themselves, and Cat and I knew we couldn’t hold out much longer. Out of the lack of anything better to do, we drove up to Leadville, Colorado, east of Aspen and known as the highest town in the country – in altitude that is, not as the result of pot smoke. It was a rather grubby, run-down mining town that had seen its better days long before, but the view of the mountains, especially to the west, was spectacular.

While we were wandering around we happened to run into a couple of girls who were working summer jobs in the town. It turned out that they lived in a tumbledown house next to an abandoned church, and they offered to let us crash on their living room floor for a few days. While they were both rather religious, they were also friendly, and it turned out they liked hiking in the mountains.

One thing led to another. Since their job was ending and they didn’t have to be back in school for a few days, we worked out a deal to leave their car as far as we could up a narrow mountain trail to the south of Mount Elbert. The four of us crammed ourselves into the Karmann Ghia and drove to a trailhead west of town, which set us up for a few days of mountain walking. The route took us over the top of Mount Massive, which loomed west of Leadville, and also over its slightly higher neighbor to the south, Mount Elbert. Neither of them was much lower than Mount Whitney, but the trails were much less developed so the hiking was much less civilized. At no place was it a technical climb, just good mountain walking, but in many ways it was a real high point of the summer.

It took us four days. We took our time, exploring some side trails and venues, just drinking in the grandeur of the mountains. As I said, the two girls we were with were pretty serious about their religion, and one night, high in the clear air near the top of one of the mountains, with the stars so near we could almost reach out and touch them, we got talking about it. I had never been a very religious person, and neither had my family. I could not tell the two girls and Cat about my past, but even before this there had been at least some suspicion in my mind that a Supreme Being might have been involved in what happened to me. It would have been interesting to hear what they might say about it.

After we got down out of the mountains and back to the Karmann Ghia, Cat and I spent one final night with our new friends, then the next morning got on the road again. We knew we were short on time then, so we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent a couple of days climbing a couple of the more difficult rock climbs on Long’s Peak.

Finally, there was no more denying it. We had to leave; we were cutting the time pretty close already and I was sure Mom would be waiting at the front door with her checkbook in her hand determined to get me a whole new outfit for going back to school. We had kept our parents appraised of where we were and in general what we were doing, but we hadn’t gotten into the details or discussed just how difficult the climbs we made had been.

We had decided to go back a longer route for the sake of taking a different way, so all too soon we were out on Interstate 70 and finding out what the prairie was really like. There really wasn’t much to compare after all the spectacular scenery we had driven through all summer, but somehow the dome of sky overhead was even bigger than we had seen in the high country.

“You know,” Cat said as we left the last dregs of Denver behind us, “in a way I think that was better than last summer.”

“Different, for sure,” I agreed. “For one thing, I think we had a higher degree of difficulty in our climbing than we ever managed in Europe.”

“Oh, there’s no doubt about that. I somehow wonder what Ned and Betty would have thought to have to look up some of those walls in Yosemite. There still is a part of me that would like to have gone back to Europe this summer, since we never got to see anything like as much as we wanted to while there.”

“I think the same thing can be said for this summer,” I smiled. “I mean, even without Pat and Dick involved, I think I could have spent lots more time in the Wind Rivers or half a dozen other places we went. There’s just too much to see, and there’s no way we could ever see all we want to.”

“So what do you think for next summer? Europe again, or back out here?”

“Probably Europe,” I said. “At least assuming that junior year abroad program at Université de Lancy-Paquis comes through. We’ll be in Europe anyway, so we might as well do a good job of it.”

“Do you think it’s actually going to come through?”

“I’ll believe it when I see it. They apparently do things differently there, and how they want to do those things may not make sense to us naive little Americans. But that will mean climbing, and at least some of it at Chamonix. But maybe we ought to move around a little, too. I don’t know if they have any rules about students having cars, but I doubt it. Maybe we ought to get a cheap little thing, a VW Bug or something, so we don’t have to be so tied to the buses and railroads.”

“Could be, but they did a pretty good job of getting us where we wanted to go last summer.”

“Well, it’s not anything we have to make up our minds about right now, and maybe not even until after we’ve been there for a while. But if we’re spending over a year there I think we need to make a note about seeing what’s involved in getting an international driving license.”

“Yeah, and I think there may be a few other things we need to check out. Maybe we ought to start a list. I don’t think we want to try to remember everything with all the other things we’re going to have to do when we get back.”

“It’s going to be a busy time, and there’s no doubt about it,” I agreed. “In a way, I hate to have to go back there after the freedom we’ve enjoyed this summer. I’m not really looking forward to having to dress every day like we’re going to church, and I especially won’t miss having to go hide out when the bell rings for chapel on Wednesday mornings.”

“Yeah, you’re right on that. It makes me wish we were just a little bit older, so we wouldn’t have to live on campus at all. I’m getting tired of housemothers and curfews, I’m getting tired of our not being able to have boy friends over, and I’m tired of not being able to have an occasional beer. At least we’ll be twenty-one next spring, so we won’t absolutely have to live like that the year after next.”

“We wouldn’t have to do it then anyway if we’re in Europe. From what I remember from talking to kids in various hostels, the schools there don’t try to run your life the way they do here.”

“Yeah, it would be really tough to have to go back to the closed-down concentration camp life at Venable after we’ve spent more than a year on our own in Europe. From what I understand we’ll be able to have our own place at this Université de Lancy-Paquis, since apparently they don’t have any dorms at all.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” I nodded. “Well, I guess I can put up with another year without a boyfriend, since there would be no keeping one if we take off to Europe for a year or more. Assuming we can take off right after school next spring and don’t make it back until classes start the year after, that’s fifteen or sixteen months in Geneva where we don’t have to worry about our reputations or the college administration.”

“You enjoyed the time you spent with Pat, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did, and I hate to have it taken away from me. Like I said several times, that could get to be habit forming real fast. I don’t know that I’d actually want to end up with him for the long term, but I could do a lot worse. He’s a climber, after all, so he’s not going to get too upset if I want to go out and go up some hill. He’d probably be right there with me, and that’s something that might not be easy to find in the future.”

“I sort of feel the same way about Dick,” she sighed. “But I wish that I had shopped around a little more this summer, just because I could.”

“Do you ever have any thoughts about getting back together with Mark?”

“No, not really. Mark is a nice enough guy, but, well, I don’t think he’s the one. I may hang out with him a bit this winter, since he is a friend and all, but I think if we take off for all that time in Europe I’m pretty sure I’d be leaving him behind anyway. He’d be graduating by the time we get back, and that will probably be the end of him around Venable. I don’t think I’m going to miss him.”

In spite of the longer distance, we made the crossing in only two days, partly because we were getting to be in something of a hurry, and partly because the speed limits on the Interstate were higher back then and most people ignored them, anyway. The Karmann Ghia could keep up with the traffic, which it probably would not have been able to do if it still had the Volkswagen engine it had been built with. We drove right by Simsville since I wanted to drop Cat off before I went home.

Cat’s mother was happy to see us back all safe and sound. I had the impression that she hadn’t worried as much about her daughter as she had the year before, mostly because we were in the States rather than on the far side of the Atlantic. Although I wanted to get on home, I spent a couple of hours there helping Cat unload her gear from the car, and just talking about our trip with her mother. There were things we didn’t mention, of course, mostly Pat and Dick, and details of the climbs we had made.

To look back on it now, I guess Cat and I looked like the couple of climbing bums that we were. Our clothes were worn, dirty, and beat up, we had faces and skin that had been exposed to a lot of high-altitude sun, our hair was unkempt despite occasional efforts to keep it under control, and we had a lot of references to places her mother had never heard of. Oh, we could clean up, but it was going to be tough to go back to a normal life and be good little Venable College girls.

Finally I had to get in the car and head for home. It felt strange to be on the road and not have Cat with me; we’d rarely been very far apart for the last four months, and on the few times that it had been any distance we’d usually had Pat or Dick with us. In thinking about it as I drove back toward Simsville, I realized that we were now even farther from being normal college girls than we had been at the end of our Europe trip last summer. There, at least, we’d been doing something more or less normal, something that a lot of kids did – but this summer, well, we’d been climbing bums, and that would have been something very strange to the American kids we’d met in Europe the year before.

Even so, it was good to pull in the driveway, good to see Mom and Dad again. We had sent regular letters and postcards to keep them up on our travels, and we’d called home once in a while, usually about every other week. Like with Cat’s parents, I gave them more about our trip but left out a few little details. I sometimes wonder if they had any idea of what I was leaving out.

They filled me in on what they had heard from Joey, which is to say, not much. He still sent letters or cards home every couple weeks or so, but they really didn’t say much about what he was doing. Of course, I knew more than I could tell the folks, but I couldn’t say that I knew he was mostly lonely and bored, but about as safe as a person could be in Vietnam. He was a little past halfway through his tour there, and I knew he was counting the days until it was over with. After all, I had counted them, too.

Over the next two or three days I worked hard at re-converting myself from climbing bum into a college student again. I had my hair professionally washed and trimmed, although I left it long; I had my nails done and some facial treatments to make me look a little less haggard. Yes, Mom took me by the hand down to J.C. Penney’s and bought more clothes than I knew I needed.

Dad went through the Karmann Ghia thoroughly, with my help; I could have done it by myself but wanted to let him feel like he was contributing something. In addition to making sure it was still mechanically sound, we cleaned it out, vacuuming up the dust of many trails and campgrounds, throwing out trash that had gotten under the seats. Then we gave it a wax job that would help to cover all the sun damage it had under the western skies. It didn’t look like the same car when we were through.

Cat and I really had been getting close on time; Dad and I were barely done with the car when I was loading up things to take to school with me. Once again, I wanted to keep the load to a minimum, while Mom would have made me take the sink if Dad would unbolt it from the kitchen. I won, at least mostly.

After a few days it was time to head back to Venable College. Once again I waited until Mom and Dad left for work, left some of the things Mom had packed for me to take but that I knew I didn’t need, got in the car, and got on the road.

It was getting to be a familiar drive by now, and I had planned to get there early to avoid the traffic jam of everyone unloading at the same time. It turned out that Cat and I were on the second floor again, but in a different room than the one before and in my opinion a slightly better one. I was still not very happy about being on the second floor, and as I hauled load after load I found that a little ironic. I’d climbed some of the highest mountains in the lower forty-eight, some of the harder walls, and I really resented having to climb a flight of stairs.

I had the car unloaded and back at the familiar gas station when Cat and her parents showed up. She too had undergone a thorough scrubbing and trimming, and looked almost like a college girl again, rather than a mad climber with mountains in her eyes. We unloaded the car, including the little refrigerator that had been so handy the year before, then settled down to try to be college girls again.

It was not a happy prospect for either of us.

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To be continued . . .

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