Strange days

"Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys"

-The Doors, "Strange Days"

It was the middle of March. I had a weekday free. After a long spell of touchy avalanche conditions, when the hazard had oscillated between Considerable and High, snow stability was finally improving. With the time having just switched to Daylight Saving and equinox almost upon us, it was staying light until eight. It was time to start going bigger.

The evening before, a friend and I exchanged the usual flurry of texts. Where should we go? Stanley? Storm? Some more obscure cliff? But then came second thoughts, and none related to climbing. Should we drive out separately and meet at the trailhead, to avoid sitting next to each another in the car? And even though avalanche hazard was low and going to Stanley or Storm isn't alpine climbing, were we absolutely certain nothing would happen that would have us pressing the SOS button on an inReach?

Like a discordant note, the coronavirus outbreak, which just days earlier had been declared a pandemic, intruded upon our enthusiastic plans. Suddenly going climbing no longer held the same appeal, no longer seemed that innocent. There's too much uncertainty just now, we decided in the end. We'd try again in a few days when things become clearer.

And clearer they did become. Only a couple of days later, the idea of going climbing, risking both spreading the virus and increasing the strain on the people dealing with it, had become downright indecent. Like many climbers, I'm selfish, but not that selfish.

Instead, I went scrambling. Slogging through crusted snow lacked the intensity of tiptoeing up thin ice, but emerging from the trees onto windswept scree, with the sun sinking towards a jagged cutout of familiar peaks, I felt some of the same release.

However, back down at the car, parked on a snowy shoulder next to several others, and one vehicle after another flying past, returning home after a not-so-solitary day in the hills, I wondered. I might've driven out on my own and risked no more than a twisted ankle. But weren't the hundreds of people out here, including me, missing the point? How was a crowded trailhead creating social distancing?

A few days later the national parks closed to visitors, and shortly afterwards the provincial ones too. I grumbled as I read the news but also knew silly my angst was. I couldn't go climbing where and when I wanted to, was that it? I was reminded of going to the Himalaya a few years ago, only to have my climbing ambitions thwarted when an earthquake struck. Then too I had moped, until I realized how obscene it was to sulk over climbing plans gone awry when thousand of people were dead.

These days I'm staying home, talking with people by video link and hanging from a fingerboard in the basement. I hope that by doing so I'm helping to keep others and myself safe. I like to think, too, that by staying put and hardly venturing outside I'm helping to put these strange days behind us that little bit more quickly, so we can all go back to our casual joys.

PS: Staying home has also given me the time to cobble together some footage from earlier this winter, when our biggest worries were if it was going to be too windy or too cold to go climbing.


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