Returning from an ascent of Bear Creek Spire this weekend, Konstantin and I got into the topic of Winter climbing. We’ve been climbing partners for almost two years now, but this conversation, transcribed essentially verbatim, contains pretty diverse perspectives on why we go to the Sierra in Winter:
Ben: Hey you know that song that’s always on the radio, the Sound of Winter? Does it make sense to you? To me the sound of winter is silence. Nobody out there, snow absorbing the noise, Sierra granite looking like the Great Ranges in all the snow…
Konstantin: To me the sound of winter is the howling wind that kept me up all night, and when I finally fell asleep, having a Kim Kardashian dream, I woke up and found the wind blew tons of fucking spindrift in my sleeping bag. What the fuck?
B: Yeah but before the wind picked up, wasn’t it amazing, lying there in our bivy sacks, watching Orion rise, having the whole valley light up because the moon was bouncing off the snow? It was so surreal.
K: You are a hippie. The sound of winter is suffering, whipping wind. That’s what makes it cool.
B: But hardly anybody is willing to suffer so we can have it all to ourselves out there and have an amazing trip in solitude.
K: Don’t tell me you’re gonna post this trip on Pullharder.
B: Bear Creek Spire has gotta be the Sierra’s most famous peak next to Whitney. It almost never sees Winter ascents. It’s a perfect mountain, so beautiful. Why wouldn’t I post about it?
K: It’s not that hard. We are Pullharder, not the pussies.
B: Ok, alpine climbing is both yours and my specialty. And even so it took us 2 full days and completely exhausted us both. We had to hike an extra 12 miles in snow cuz the road was closed. That last storm was big, the snow was punishingly deep, we postholed, shivered the whole time and didn’t eat. You puked like 3 times. What’s not hard about it?
K: It was the fucking coldest Winter ascent of my life. It was like Denali’s West Rib.
B: Right, the granite was so frigid we could barely climb mid-5th in the shade. Pullharder readers know you can’t always do the hardest climb of your life every weekend. It’s not like we can climb 5.11 in those temps.
K: I still wouldn’t write about it even if we did the Bear Creek Spire North Arête in Winter. It’s not hard enough.
B: It’s hard enough in January with the wind and snow, and it’s more than beautiful enough. By the way, if it were in the Appalachians we'd pronounce it "bar·krik·spar."
K: In Russia our president is named after a bear. We have lots of creeks and spires. So what.
B: Remember talking to Mark Westman on Denali? He told us he came to the Sierra last year just to climb Whitney and Bear Creek Spire. Probably the greatest Alaskan climber and he loved them both. Pullharder is not too good for Bear Creek Spire. I’m posting it.
K: You probably just wanna post to impress some girl. How about this, you don’t post the report and instead you tell me who she is. I tell her I saw you pissing and you have a penis down to your knees. That will work better. I know what the American women like.
B: I love being out there in the backcountry. I get encouraged by other people’s posts, and I wanna encourage others to get off the Internet and do one more route. I like to participate in the community, you know?
K: I’m not an Internet guy. I like your posts to Facebook but I don’t read them. They’re long, always some worshiping the nature and mountain church bs quotes by Boukreev.
B: Boukreev’s Russian. You should like him, no? You must really not read my posts, I usually quote Peter Croft.
K: Hey this hot dog is so delicious. You want one? Andre said they are the healthiest shit and he read like 40 diet books or something. Oh, sorry, I forgot you are vegetarian. You hippie.
B: Back to the sound of Winter. Another cool thing is that in Winter, the Sierra is totally different. It's like a fairyland, you can walk across lakes, see all kinds of animal tracks, foxes, badgers.
K: Honey badger don’t care that you care about badgers.
B: Ok. But the point is, it’s even more beautiful in Winter and almost nobody gets to see it. Yes, the price is postholing in 2 feet of fresh pow and freezing all day long to get back in there. But once we’re there, I can feel God.
K: No kidding, I felt Jesus twice myself when puking in the snow yesterday.
B: We mean same thing I guess. Hey now that I think about it, maybe those lyrics could be about alpine climbing. “I watch the storm evaporate. I think of you in starry skies. I keep you so alive…It’s all in your face, I see you break. It’s like the sound of winter”
K: That song should be called the Sound of Wind. Pussy band, it would be cooler that way.
B: Hey what are you doing next weekend?
K: Climbing. Wanna go to the Sierra again?
B: I love the Sierra in Winter. It’s so tranquil.
K: I love the Sierra in Winter. It’s so fucking gnar.
All True. Send it!
BH & KS.
Bear Creek Spire, NE ridge. Jan 28-29, 2012.
Full winter conditions. 8 hours approach. 3 hours on route. 7 hours descent.
Editor’s note: The conversation happened over a much longer period than implied in this post. There was a lot of dead time, silence, and many interspersed comments such as “my shoulder totally hurts. I think my pack was sitting wrong” and “Man I am so fucking tired.”
P.S. “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”- Anatoli Boukreev