BD athlete Sam Elias reports on competing in the 2012 Ouray Ice Festival
BD athlete Sam Elias competed last week in the 2012 Ouray Ice Festival competition. In 2010 he finished the finals route, but ended up second when fellow BD athlete Josh Wharton finished in a faster time. In 2011, Sam botched a sequence down low and took a monstrous whipper. In 2012, well… he again tangled with Lady Luck, as he writes below in his report. Sam goes beyond a typical trip report below and lets his writing take him down some interesting, tangential paths that find him examining his motivations, desires and confusions, both in climbing and in life.
Well, another Ouray Ice Festival has come and gone – 2012. It never quite makes sense what specific events imprint in my brain and stand the test of time. As I reflect upon the last few days, I wonder about what will stay with me and what will be forgotten. A lot has happened, and a lot of emotion. Success, failure, happiness, anger, peace, unrest. Let me admit that in the last months, I have been confused, at a loss about how to confront the uncertainty of life. I am impatient and ambitious, and ruthlessly critical of myself. I’m an idealist and a perfectionist. When there is direction, all of these traits serve me well, but when there is change and unpredictability, I struggle.
Last week, I onsighted an M11. I don’t know who has ever done that before me, but I think it’s rare. Maybe it’s my proudest climbing achievement to date. Yet, it was anti-climactic, and I know that I am capable of more. I had it in my mind that I wanted to try, and I thought it possible, and I did it. It was seemingly good timing, as it was just days before the Ouray Ice Festival.
As I had 364 days since last year’s event to think and prepare for the mixed climbing comp, I decided to try a different approach, which would hopefully provide a better result than 2011.
Leading up to, and on the comp day, I was just living life as usual. Nothing special, no preparation. Just treating it like another day out climbing: wake up, dress, eat, drive, walk, warm up, rap down, tie in, climb. I climbed well, swift and strong. Then a little visit from Lady Luck… I placed my left pick back in a deep crack, and it snagged something. I tested it downward, and then side-to-side. I pulled hard on it, but I could not see it. “Ok, go,” I told myself and moved my left foot. As I was moving my right foot, the hold broke, and I was airborne. And… well there’s no “and.” That was simply it…
What games do we choose to play, and what are the rules? How do we react when the unfairness rears up? Life is a game, and there are times when it isn’t fair—either by (insert your own deity’s name) design or through complete randomness. It doesn’t matter; some things no one knows. Like who gets cancer… all that we can do is try and live our best through definitions and priorities that we select… so, who gets cancer?
Bean gets cancer. Bean Bowers. I never met him. I know nothing about him, except he was dear to people that are dear to me. When I was told that there was going to be a memorial for him and others that (Sunday) afternoon at Ouray, I was compelled to attend. I listened intently to the stories told about Bean and the others that were lost in 2011, and before. Their names were all around us as part of the shrine next to the upper bridge above the Ouray ice park. I was soon tearing up and trying to swallow the lump that was rising in my throat. I knew very few people at the memorial, and none of the departed whose lives we were celebrating. Still, I felt so close to them. As I write these words in a coffee shop in Boulder, my eyes are filling with tears
I suspect and hope that long after I forget the day that I onsighted M11 or broke a hold in the 2012 Ouray Ice Comp that I will remember the memorial group and the setting, their faces, and words, that I will remember the feeling, and the love and connection to those that were there in physical form, and those that were not. Climbing is just a vehicle to these moments. It does not matter how you climb, or what you do. I may have lived some life and done some climbing, but I am a novice at both—making the dumbest mistakes, choosing the stupidest priorities, applying the most inappropriate definitions. I was drawn to that memorial gathering, because I needed the reality check that only death and loss can bring, to remember the things that are truly important.
So, here’s me, apologizing for my errors and reconsidering my path. Thanks to the Ouray Ice Festival and everyone there.