We are nearing the end of summer. It is dark when we start our morning runs, and it is dark when I ride my bike to the pool. When summer was so late in coming this year, I thought the snow would never melt from the high country. It has…and it looks like it will hold through this weekend. It is time for me to head to Nick Peak. Jim’s final request for ash distribution was Nick Peak. I will save just a bit of ash for the PCEI groover.
Jim and I climbed Nick Peak for the first time in the summer of 1986. He had been up there before on training runs, but he wanted to share it with me. It was at the edge of my abilities at that time. A 5 mile trail ride, a creek crossing to an unmarked trail for about 2 miles, and then a scramble up a scree slope to the saddle. The final bit, 3 pitches of class 4 climbing. I did it…and we celebrated with sandwiches and snuggles on the flat summit rock, underneath brilliant sunshine.
In 1987, Jim was adamant that we climb it again. The day dawned cloudy, and I questioned his judgement for heading up into the high country that day. I acquiesced because Jim was always ultra-prepared. We summited just as a hail storm blew in, descended quickly into a sheltered cirque….where he asked me to marry him and I said yes. My ultra-prepared husband-to-be had brought a bottle of wine, a tape player, and some emeralds wrapped up in parchment paper. He did not have extra hats and gloves, no long underwear, and I had only a windbreaker to ward off the rain. He did have peanut butter sandwiches. Lots of very thick peanut butter sandwiches. Jim force-fed me peanut butter sandwiches for the entire descent. We did not get hypothermic, but it was a long time before I could look at a peanut butter sandwich again.
Jim and I vowed to climb Nick Peak once a year until we couldn’t anymore. The next year we attempted to summit from the Buckhorn side. Did not work. We hiked until dark, lost our way for a while, and finally, exhausted, ended up at the car…and at, ahhh, Buckhorn Hot Springs. Life, and children got in the way of our vow. The year that Emerald was 2, and Jasper had just been conceived, Jim climbed Nick Peak with his brother. I had to wait until he got home to break the news of imminent double parenthood. Then…for years, we did not even try.
Summer of 2009, Jim and I had the biggest argument of our married lives. It was the first time he had ever hung up the phone on me, and the first time I truly contemplated not coming home. In the ensuing discussion, I accused him of forgetting how to play. In hind sight, it was probably the tumor already wreaking havoc with his brain, but I did not know that then. I just knew that something was horribly “off”. He asked what I wanted. I told him to plan a trip to Nick Peak….for just the 2 of us. He did. We went. The weekend before school started. It was not as difficult as I had remembered. Jim struggled with the summit block (tumor again?), and I promised myself that in years to come, we would skip the climbing part as a concession to age. 2 weeks later, Jim was having surgery to remove a racquetball sized tumor from his brain. There would be no more “years to come.”
I need to go to Nick Peak. I need to honor Jim’s wish to scatter his ashes there. And…I need to do this one alone. Jim’s ski buddies helped me in the Wallowas, Emerald and I had New Year’s Eve on Moscow Mountain. She helped his main river man dump ashes in the Lochsa Grotto. Jasper and I did Burgdorf Hot Springs, his parents helped with the OR coast. Nick Peak is mine, I want to do it alone. This makes my mom nervous, one of my wives is not too fond of the idea either. They would prefer that I have a partner. Well…now that’s a loaded statement. I don’t exactly have partners climbing over each other as they stand in line. I need to do this one alone. I do not have a death wish, but nor do I fear it. Still, I will be careful. I will skip the summit block. I will eat peanut butter sandwiches. But, I need to stand in the nick and scream at the universe a bit. I need to go to Nick Peak, alone.