What do you think about when:
You are perched on a narrow shelf of rock a thousand feet or so above Lake Ritter?
The 13,157 ft. summit of Mr. Ritter is untold similar ledges behind and a thousand feet above you?
A cloud has just obscured Frank who is at the far end of a 100 ft. climbing rope searching for the next ledge below?
You left the summit at 11 am and it is now mid-afternoon and starting to rain?
* * * *
It’s a long story which started back in June, 1964 when Sue (then a college freshman) and I read in the Sierra Guide that Ritter was a Class 2 climb (no equipment needed) and, in our innocence, set forth to hike to and climb it. Well, that year we didn’t even get close, and in 1965 we gave up even sooner. Later attempts with son Philip T, with friend Roger, and again with Sue met with equal success. Great hikes, all of them – fantastic scenery, wonderful nights under the stars, but the closest we ever got was the side of the above-mentioned Ritter Lake – where the book said the climb started. Came 1973, Roger and I tried again, and got far enough up the side to decide that the book was wrong and that the philosopher was right when he said, “Man’s goal should exceed his grasp.” I knew then I could not lead up Mr. Ritter, but when friend Dave said he and Frank were thinking of turning their experience to Ritter and would I like to come with them? I said yes.
So it was that at 6 am Sunday, August 4 the three of us started up armed with ropes, crampons, and ice axes. Four and a half hours later my 7th attempt proved the lucky one, and I stood proudly at the summit of Ritter; and somewhat later still I was sitting and thinking:
Thinking I was glad I didn’t have vertigo and could really enjoy the tremendous view;
Thinking that Dave and Frank got me into this, and it was up to them to get me out;
Thinking if I knew at 6 what I knew now, I would never have started, but at the same time knowing that when (and not even deep in my heart did I say “if”) I was safely back at camp I’d be glad I came;
Thinking that for over 30 years I had been responsible for all or part of every decision that affected me (joining the Merchant Marine, getting married, starting children, changing jobs, buying houses, turning back with Mt. Ritter unclimbed), but that now every decision (even to where to put my foot) was made by Frank and Dave;
Thinking what a wonderful time I was having and how much I enjoyed what I was doing and . . . Thinking.
Well, as you may have guessed, we did get down; if you’ll come visit me, I’ll show you some pictures and tell you all the details.
That was the literal high point of the year (I refuse to acknowledge the altitudes reached on a jet plane). A more significant milestone involved Phil and Anne. In Phil’s words –
It’s not easy to stand up, face everyone whose friendship was sought and opinions valued (especially each other) and say: “I’ve made a mistake; I’ve made a serious mistake; I’m sorry.” It’s not easy to start over.
I realize that there is no future for us together, but separately we each stand a chance. It’s not easy, but I feel it’s the only honest thing to do.
At this point, I’m just glad of two things. First, that there are only two of us involved; and second, that not all lessons are this painful to learn.
We fully agree with their decision. They are both nice people but not right for each other. Meanwhile, Phil continues to do all sorts of things for Schererville Steel and is acquiring a bit more awareness of his own worth. Lisa, our youngest, graduated from U. of Minn. and accepted a job offer from Control Data Corp – in part because they’re in Mpls. So, after training her, they sent her to California! Sue and David are each coming down the homestretch of a PhD and are obviously still in love. Sue taught an advanced calculus course this year, worked hard at it, and liked it. Mike is still in Minneapolis in Vet school; we see him frequently and tell each other how wonderful Lisa is. We all spent Christmas together.
I’ve decided to love the Ground Hog for himself alone. After the way past predictions have turned out, I won’t even tell you the silly thing he’s doing today!
Have fun, everyone . . .