Sam Lightner: Bring On The Cold And Snow As We Endure ‘The Covid Spring’

in Column/Sam Lightner

By Sam Lightner, (author and mountain climber)

Spring. I’ve heard about it. I might have even seen it a few weeks ago. I had to change the clock on the microwave, which requires a post-doctorate degree in button sequencing, and that often has something to do with spring.

There are cute little birds in the yard and bouncing off the windows, and in the past that has had something to do with spring as well. But with a foot of white stuff on the ground and lows in the single digits, spring is merely a myth.

Of course, I often ponder where spring is at this time of year. In Lander we get nearly a quarter of our annual precipitation in April and May, and much of that comes in back-breaking high-density snow. We take showers in August because of the snow in April, and I like showers, so I can’t really complain about the cold, white blanket.

Nope, the problem this spring is not the extension of winter; it’s the Covid Spring.

Now what I am writing here might seem a bit callous, but I don’t intend to make light of Covid 19 or its victims. In fact, I feel terrible for those who have suffered with it and am terrified of the disease.

However, for most of us, either not yet infected or not badly infect, the biggest problem is the forced break in our routines. Normally in spring I’d be out rock climbing as much as possible. My friends and I would generally go to Sinks Canyon, but the warmest days could take us to Sweetwater Rocks, Fremont Canyon, or even Devils Tower. Jaunts to Tensleep Canyon and Vedauwoo are even possible.

This particular Spring, I was going to do a book tour, which I tell everyone was to showcase my new book, Wyoming: A History of the American West. Of course, the real reason was tick a dozen or so of Wyoming’s best rock climbs and write it off. But then came “The Pandy” (as in Pandemic) and it’s call to “social distance,” and with it a quagmire of boredom.

Rock climbing has a reputation for being an individualist’s game, but in many ways, it is the ultimate team sport. The most common form of rock climbing is known as “sport climbing” and it is more closely related to gymnastics than slogging up Mount Everest.

In sport climbing, you push your physical limits to the absolute maximum, crimping your fingers onto thin edges and sliding them into one and two finger pockets, all to scale some 60 to 80-foot stretch of slightly overhanging stone. The goal is to push yourself to the absolute limit of endurance and power just as you reach the top, thus risking a fall for trying something just a little beyond your limit.

You can risk falling because of the safety systems employed in sport climbing. The rope, the harness, and the safety equipment fixed to the wall, all work in combination to save a falling climber when he/she attempts something beyond their limit. The most integral part of the safety system is your climbing partner, the person who holds the rope and maintains the safety system while you climb.

In that sense, rock climbing is the ultimate team sport as your teammate literally keeps you from dying. This helps climbers to form bonds that no NFL quarterback and receiver could ever dream to have.  However, social distancing is forcing climbing partners apart.   

In a non-Covid Spring, not only would I be travelling around the state to scale rock walls, but other climbers would be coming to Wyoming just to climb. Sinks Canyon, for instance, sees hundreds of visiting climbers every spring weekend, and the license plates in the parking areas show visitors from all over the country.

However, this spring the Central Wyoming Climbers Alliance, the organization that hosts the International Climbers Festival every July, has gone to great efforts to let would-be visitors know that they are not wanted in Wyoming right now.

We love them, even the ones from Colorado, but putting us all together along the dolomite walls of Sinks Canyon would not be good for public health. Add to it that the Governor, who happens to be a climber himself and very-much wants to see Wyoming’s recreational opportunities utilized, has asked everyone to stay home. To top it off, the hotels, restaurants, and even camp grounds are closed, giving those visitors few places to hunker down when these spring storms roll in.

There are worse things than boredom. A bad case of Covid-19 is one of them, and I personally don’t want to fight with it or make someone else fight with it simply to satisfy my climbing ambitions.

So, I wait and hope it passes by summer. But I thought you might like to know that The Pandy has not just ended March Madness and put off the Olympics. The smaller sports, some of which help to pay the bills around Wyoming, have also taken a hit in the Covid Spring. So, it might as well snow. That way I can take a shower, or at least wash my hands for 20 seconds, when August comes around. 

Caption:

Sam Lightner holds a copy of his new book, which was scheduled for a book signing tour until “The Covid Spring” postponed it.