Sunday, May 19, 2013

Aftermath of the Sluicebox

(above) Tyler Rhodes, northeast cirque of Oz behind him in shadow, Saturday, May 4, 2013, 3SA.

     CHICKEN SOUP saturated Andy's brain.  A complication from surgery following a compound fracture of both tib-fibs on both legs, the SOUP leaked out of the long bones into his circulatory system, and the fat cells worked their way up into his brain where they globbed up something awful, impeding all functions but the autonomic.  Now, Andy lay PROPPED up in the ICU at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, staring vacantly like Paul Pritchard in the The Totem Pole.  A group of "coma-hags" gathered around the bedside, including Andy's beatific mom and dad up from the states, Saint Ned, mushers, climbers, and the stricken Sir Apple.
            It had been a week since the Accident in the Sluicebox.   The idea was to awaken Andy with the proper stimulation, but so far nothing had worked.  People crackled Mojo Bar wrappers in his ears, a sound which Ned aptly described as "the soundtrack to trips with Andy," a sound which in times of exhaustion in the mountains had even begun to annoy me, but which now I longed to hear again.  We waved strong coffee under his nose.  Someone placed a rope in Andy's hand which his friends tugged on forlornly.  Jewish jokes were read.  We told blatant lies, hoping the outrage would shock Andy out of his coma.  Finally, Sir Apple grabbed the rope, and took the lead, and did what no one else had thus far had the chutzpah to do, but maybe were thinking about:   he leapt up on the hospital bed, like the troll that he is, and began to pull on Andy's short hairs...  twisting, twisting, until the corners of Andy's lips pulled back in a frightening grimace.  
          But it was only a pain reflex... Nothing.  We slumped back into the corners of the ICU room as the extremely nice nurses at Alaska Regional entered the room for the umpteenth time that day...
(left)  Allapa gives the What-4? in front of the Sluicebox on the return trip.  We logged a fine run for a blue-square skier like me on the blue-square slope behind.

        Upon my return to Sitnasuaq following the trip to Andy, a week of self-imposed gloom-and-doom followed.  I hid alone in my house for two weeks while my family dwelled far away in the Magic Kingdom.  Everyone assured me that Andy is a mature and seasoned alpinist with his own personal Jones for the Kigs, that he knew exactly what he was doing when he undertook the Sluicebox, that we made decisions based on calculated risks such as the kind that all alpinists have to make sooner or later, and that therefore the sense of guilt and responsibility that had propelled me like an infinite battery during the hours of the rescue, and of which eternal residues will always remain in my memory--  just what the hell drew Andy and me to be in that marble dungeon in the first place?--  was invalid.  But I could take no satisfaction from it, and we were all worried to death about Andy.
       Lovers and friends oozed out of the woodwork, all on a pilgrimmage for Andy.  People strange-attracted that hadn't seen each other in years, mushers from Andy's Iditarod years, mysterious women, Alaska's climbing legends, trail-runners, wilderness skiers, pipeline-walkers, a nurse on duty in Andy's unit that had been crushed years ago by a falling Grade IV ice climb, multiple visitors from Fairbanks.  Vast linkages of email strings connected everyone exchanging information and vital signs, plus many people Andy'd never known yet caught up in few degrees of separation.  I never realized the magnitude of the Andy attractor until now.  I never realized how little I knew about him, one of those unsung-hero types out there just doing it, despite all the strings of GLUE all over everything.  Godamned rock.
(above) Big marble tower on North Ridge of Osborn.  Tyler traversed this way, but there was no way to get around this tower.  Remote Northwest Ridge Osborn in background, Pk. 3900 on right.  I have officially lost interest in Kigluaik marble.

      Inside the tubules of his brain, Andy's leukocytes whittled at the CHICKEN SOUP.  I pictured them like little Pac-men gobbling up bone-marrow fat cells, scraping it off the capillary walls.  But so slowly!   As the days of Spring went by, and the snows of May descended upon Alaska, Andy lay in the hospital in Anchorage, his myriad friends and admirers checking in on him.  The doctors had said that if Andy only made steady progress (as the Pac-Men gobbled the SOUP), Andy would have a positive prognosis.   And steady progress is what he showed.  At some point, the coma-hags reached a consensus that there was no more coma, though emergence is more a cusp than any kind of fine line, which proved a paradox for the betting pool of the black-minded, dirtbag climbers.  Andy was back!     
             Fresh Spring powder blanketed the Kigs.  Super Smooth Andy G the .570 Bearcat was parked at the end of the road at the big wide area around Mile 28, waiting for action.  Kristine and Raina were due to return on the jet from the Magic Kingdom.  It was time to come out of hiding, stop moping around, and rescind my resignation from the mountains.  It was time to go skiing in the Kigs with Tyler.
(above)  Sluicebox Couloir on Northeast Face of Mt. Osborn (Pk. 4714), May 4, 2013.  Skinning up the hill for some telly-skiing, I turned and saw this view;  instantly I stopped, and for many minutes leaning on my ski poles became engrossed in a visualization of the epic with Andy two weeks before.  I realized that the big red X I put on the previous blogpost to show the site of the accident had been placed too high.  Does this look more like it, Andy?  This image also shows the anchor points for the four horrendo rappels we made, with Andy scootching and sliding down steep snow in great pain.

      "I'm skinning up the drag marks!" commented Tyler as we zig-zagged up the slopes below the big marble face of Osborn.  We did indeed find a sizable pile of gear at the top of the hill, at the base of the wall, at the lefthand base of the Sluicebox snow fan, right where the angle had finally leveled off and we abandoned the ropes and commenced true dragging.   Tyler probably noticed me cowering like a scared child, I couldn't wait to get out of there, out from under that permanent shadow and back into the sunshine, that big ugly wall of marble was going to shoot a projectile at me any moment,  I couldn't conduct a proper search, there's probably gear up there still.   It was kind of Tyler to put up so patiently with my bumbling.

(above)  East facing slopes of the North Ridge of Oz:  Tyler skied another badass line at the center of the photo;  I side-slipped and skied the firm snow from a saddle at the extreme right of photo.  Notice hideous marble tower on North Ridge.

       Absorbed in meditation on the Sluicebox from up on the sunny slopes pictured above, I realized all I knew about the accident two weeks before was a theory, pieced together from clues:  the two-hundred pound rock lying directly on top of the rope above highly compacted snow;  the feeling of the rock (the "Dementor") passing close by my position at the base of the 4th pitch, followed by the avalanche a predictable number of seconds later;  the incoherent bights of slack stacked between Andy on me on the running belay, an unfortunate consequence of simul-climbing on easy alpine ground;  Andy theorizing in between gasps of pain during our night of bodily PROPPING in the tent that he had not felt pain in his legs until he hit the bottom of the rope, and that he had never actually seen the rock come down;  plus, was the rope clipped into the Arrow or not when I downclimbed to Andy, and was it the Arrow at all?    
         But my mind was unreliable.  Things I had pounded out as sure truth in the blogpost immediately following the incident were, I saw now, not how it must have been.  The waters of Lethe wash over my position constantly like Zodiac Falls stalking climbers on the third pitch. The Pac-Men need to gobble the remainder of the SOUP from Andy's faculties so he can help me piece together the mystery so's I can escape from this OCD paradox continuum of the Sluicebox.
(above) View from North Ridge Oz looking east over Grand Central, Saturday, May 4, 2013.

    It did not help my already pitiful skiing that I had two right skis and only three edges between them.  Tyler, on the other hand, set off horizontally to the south on the ridge, seeking to drop into one of the steep chutes that I personally would have viewed as an ice climb.  We might have wanted the snow a little softer.  I threw sickening, wobbling turns down the fall line, bringing the skis desperately around to a horrible, chattering, side-slipping position.  Down came Tyler out of the icy afternoon shadows carving the beautiful mountainside with a few mighty sinusoidals.  The GLUE OF TOWN exerted its gravitational influence even at that distance and began to easily suck us back into town.  We mounted our HOGS and flew out of there, back to the trucks,  back down the highway to the fleshpots of Nome. 

(left)  Ian and Andy in the wet, Tog 3, Crater Creek, 2011.

      As of this writing, Andy is recovering as fast as Lieutenant Uhura does after the Communication Officer's mind is "wiped" clean by Nomad, aka Tonru.  Andy's motha has been stalwart.  The CHICKEN SOUP continues to resolve in the tangled wiring of Andy's brain via the blessed leukocytes.  The SPINNING BEACH BALL OF DEATH that is becometh the cursor of his mind is starting to flicker off, indicating systems are being restored to functionality.  The whole living blob of cooperating protoplasmic systems that constitutes Andy Sterns is back to being merely a man in painful rehab from two busted legs.  
        So so looking forward to meeting up with you again;  I'm still like we were in the tent, not yet fully believing we're out, out of a strange eddy in the sea of consciousness where the sound of voices are heard on the other side of temporal walls, the dopamine has gone completely out of the basal ganglia, time only comes in a series of flashes from a door opening and closing, the pain in the leg is like a fire burning away in the cabin through the night, the ineluctable modality of the audible minus the sequencing is all I can remember, it's all perfectly casual, in the place beyond fear.