The recent spate of employee departures from the Tower has signaled the beginning of my usual late summer musings about the upcoming winter. Of course I have lots of schemes but nothing planned concretely. The original plan was to join my brother in some tiny mountain town in Colorado featuring a ski resort and lots of snow. This still may happen, but he has received a job offer not to be turned down in Patagonia, Chile. Those pesky visa requirements stand in the way though, and preclude him and thus me from making any concrete plans in the near future. There is also the opportunity to go back to Bend, OR. I would enjoy that, but I am also lusting after some dry Rocky Mountain snow. And finally, there are of course NPS jobs for the winter season. There is much pondering, fretting, and nail biting to be done in the next few weeks.
On another note, I finally summited the Tower via the Durrance route. Its quite a climb. Considering my infantile crack climbing skills my success was due more to brute force and a lot of heavy breathing than to efficient technique. The reality of the climb struck me most on a move called the "jump traverse." The traverse requires a horizontal move across a gap that descends through three hundred feet of air to the ground. The trick is there are not good foot holds, so one has to rely on rather small hand holds. The move is not that physically hard, but the mental aspect is a whole different matter. Nonetheless, standing on the top of the Tower was satisfying if rather anti-climatic. You see, the summit is about the size of a football field, slightly dome shaped featuring a prairie landscape. If you sit in the middle of the summit, it is impossible to tell that you are in fact on top of a tower. It looks more like you are on the top of a gently sloping hill. Sitting on the very edge, dangling your feet over and gazing down at waving tourists 700 feet below is more exhilarating.
I had the chance to climb the Durrance route a second time as well. But this time I was paid for it. On two successive nights, I observed the Tower get pounded by lightning. The day after the second storm, a local climbing guide reported that a large boulder had been blasted apart and a refrigerator sized rock was in danger of falling. This was quite significant since a boulder has not fallen off of the tower in recorded history. Despite or efforts to coax it off during a "rock falling" party, the boulder remained perched two thirds of the way up the tower. So I was recruited, along with one of the climbing rangers, to climb to the boulder, inspect it and take pictures. My technique proved more efficient this time and we accomplished our goal. Much to our dread though, a large thunderstorm approached rapidly and we made a narrow escape to terra firma under lightning and hard rain.