The morning begins like any other weekend day that we somehow have off together. We wake early, me getting out of bed first, Erin getting up 15 minutes later. We make coffee, eat a quick breakfast and pack the car.
We arrive two hours later and begin to ski — Erin out front charging, me in the back hauling the heavy sled full of our climbing gear. We have a 5-mile approach, and my mind wanders to the reasons we do these things.
I hear a familiar “quark, quark” and see a pair of ravens chasing each other overhead. As they pass I wonder, “Why do they do those things?”
We round many bends, crisscross the frozen river, and an hour later arrive at our destination. As we transform from skiers to climbers, I can’t shake the question – “why do we do these things”?
The two of us fall into routine. I rack up and Erin stacks the rope. We both tie- in, we double-check our systems and ensure we are ready to begin. There is no backtracking; there is no stopping after we have begun.
I look over my shoulder and see what, I believe, is the same pair of ravens I spotted earlier. This time they have chased each other to a nearby snow slope and begun to hop up and down in the snow, flapping their wings. One lies on its back and slides down the bank, to what appears to be the excitement of the other. I wonder, “Why do they do those things”?
The pillar, which from far way looked relatively benign, bulges out from beneath. My tools feel natural in my glove-covered hands. I feel good, or I tell myself I do. I look at Erin, and I say, “Climbing.” She responds, “Climb on.” I wonder, “Why do we these things”?
The ground seems to move away from me, even though I am moving away from it. The ice has reattached to the actual cliff face, and the gong-like echo has stopped when I strike it with my tools. I place an ice screw and hear a “quark, quark” from behind me. Maybe the raven is asking its partner, “Why do they do those things”?
The angle of the climb eases off, I hike up some snow, and I am face to face with another, seemingly benign section of ice that is actually steeper in reality. “Why do I do these things”?
I place another screw. I feel for consistency, and I watch the core come out as I drill it into the ice. I know in my head that ice screws are for peace of mind only and are not to be trusted. Rule Number 1 when ice climbing is: Don’t Fall. Looking up at the next section, I see two black birds fly overhead.
I don’t move. In fact, I don’t move for 25 minutes. I step up; I step down. I try to move. I’m paralyzed. My mind flashes to the two ravens flying through the air, playing in the snow. “Why do they do those things? Why do I do these things?” I take a deep breath, I silence my internal doubts, and then I climb. Swing, swing, kick, kick. The routine numbs my mind but heightens my senses. I am nowhere but everywhere all at once. I am the decider of my own fate. I am… present, in the moment, living for now.
I top out and hike the last 10 meters in snow-covered off-angle ice. I hear the familiar “quark, quark.” I look and see the two ravens flying by again, chasing each other. Ravens are playful creatures. They do the things they do because, that’s what ravens do. I assume they do what makes them happy.
I bring Erin up. As she crests the top, she is wild-eyed and exuberant. She flashes me a smile that lets me know. We both know why we do these things.