Today, I was humbled. We were just making the transition between snow climbing and rock climbing. We were on a rocky ledge, many hundreds of feet up a snow couloir. Before us was the first pitch of a 5.10 plus aid route. It was a perfect day and we were moving well. At least, I thought we were moving with the efficiency of practiced alpine climbers until they showed up.
The they was a large family group. Yes, I was being humbled by a family on a weekend outing. They quickly climbed the snow couloir. While we had used ice tools and a rope to overcome the steeper, icy sections, they soloed it. Even the kids, the youngest I had ever seen on a technical route, showed an uncanny ease in their movement and seemed not to notice the exposure. And the entire group moved fast! They were at our ledge before the shock of their speed ascent wore off.
The kids played on the snow while the adults came up to us, checking out our climbing gear. I was nervous and embarrassed; I am not used to being so closely examined, especially by such apparent experts. I wanted to get started on the rock climb and get away from this group. I guess my eyes must have betrayed me. Before we could finish racking the gear, one of the adults realized where we were going. He called to the others and off they went, in mass. Several literally ran up the obvious crack-line. Others, including two kids, elected to go up an unprotected, much more difficult slab. Not being able to protect the slab wasn�t important. They didn�t have any gear.
I wasn�t amused. While I could finish preparing for the climb in peace, I knew the entire group was at the first belay ledge � waiting for me. Waiting for me to ascend the crack with all my gear. Waiting to laugh at my clumsy movement. Waiting to show me how to mountain climb. I looked up and saw the kids sitting on the edge of the ledge � just waiting for the show to begin.
I was a climber and they were a family out for a little casual fun. Yet, the ease with which they moved put me to shame. As soon as I reached the belay ledge, they quickly descended, taking care not to disturb my partner. As we readied for the second pitch, they slid down the snow on their butts. They then ran back up the slope, this time to climb up the rock and jump into the snow, sliding down the slope in control. As I started up the second pitch, I was pretty sure I would see them again � at the summit.
They had humbled me, but I was also filled with joy. After all, I was just a visitor to their home. The mountains belonged to this family of mountain goats. I had heard of other climbers having the rare pleasure of watching mountain goats play at a distance. Today, I was in the middle of a playful family. I was within a few feet of them as they demonstrated their remarkable climbing skill. Maybe, just maybe, with lots of practice, I will be able to keep up with a family of goats out for a little fun.