The Reality Bath Redux

A friend recently wrote to me, "Someone told me about a climb you did once called the Reality Bath ... I would love to hear about that one one day."

I hadn't thought about that route or what it meant to me for a long time so I did. And then I wrote something about it.


We were willing to play for more than we could lose.

I was willing to die for it.

True safety would have meant not being there at all. Hell, safety never entered into it when we finally pulled the trigger.

No one else has been willing or gone there since 1988. The route has not been repeated.

It was/ is an incredibly dangerous route. Not technically difficult by modern standards though fairly hard for the era. The big issue was the objective danger and that the climber is exposed to it for a minimum for 4-6 hours.

We climbed halfway up - six pitches - on our first try. A couple of big icefall events happened while we were on the steepest section so the big, man-killing, car-smashing sized blocks missed us. But we heard them. Felt the displaced air as they rushed past. Even saw some shadows go by in the spindrift.

Our courage evaporated. I don't know if it was safer to rappel and retreat or if we'd have been better off continuing up. I do know that we could not talk each other into going up. We were WAY over the line at that point.

Conditions came good three weeks later after a long-ish warm spell followed by a hard refreeze. We did some warm-up routes early in the week: soloed Slipstream on Monday, where my speed record still stands, then Polar Circus on Wednesday and finally we went back to The Reality Bath on the Friday.

Sacking-up to go back up on that route was one of the biggest reference points in my climbing career. Every step closer my feet got heavier. Drive was tested, and courage examined. We focused on the smallest bits of positive feedback: the hard-frozen snow, the craters below the face, which we took to indicate that all of the ice that could cut loose from the face of the serac threatening the route had already done so. I thought it must be like Dresden as we threaded our way through the wasteland of debris. By the time we reached the base of the face, and all had been quiet during the approach, I was transformed. Ready. Willing.

We flew up it.

Once we exited to easier, and much safer terrain the relief was incredible.

At the time I wrote this about it:

I graded "The Reality Bath" 7 because of its length, sustained difficulty and insane objective hazard. Maybe it'll be repeated, gang-soloed, down-rated, dismissed. So what? I respect action and competence. Words and numbers are meaningless to the artist. The number 7 simplifies conversation. It offers a notion of what to expect.

Canadian grades indicate seriousness, so this is a grade 7. We called it The Reality Bath, 2000 feet, 11 pitches.



On the way down we justified and rationalized and hooted with relief. I shouted my thesis, "Today's new  climbs are yesterday's death routes". But Randy didn't answer so I just sang to myself…


  "Hey, hey I listen to you pray as if some help will come

   Hey, hey she will dance on our graves when we are dead and gone

   Hey, hey toward the suicide days the blind man blunders on

   Hey, hey she will dance on our graves when we are dead and gone

   when we are dead and gone..."           New Model Army


And finally:

Steve Demaio described his impression of modern alpine routes in the Rockies:

   "You put a bullet in the chamber and spin it. Place the barrel against

    the roof of your mouth and pull the trigger five times as fast as you can."

I had to agree. But on The Reality Bath the hammer fell with five immensely satisfying clicks. Too much, but never enough.

Mark Twight
Mark Twight