Maximal Memories - Remembering Maxim Raykin

The Boston climbing community lost our long-time friend, Maxim Raykin, last month. His friend and climbing partner Mark Thompson wrote a beautiful tribute to their many adventures together over the years. These are Mark's words:

Maxim and I first climbed together on June 27, 1992:  Slip o’ Fools on Cannon.  It would set the pattern for all our mountaineering:  he led the tough pitches;  I, the easy.  I was nearly five years older, but Maxim had had more than a decade more of climbing experience.  He was always, between us, the deferred-to, senior mountaineer.

On August 11, 1996, Maxim and I headed up Vertigo on Cannon.  We got to the belay beneath the Half Moon Crack – an unprotected stretch of sixty feet, which Maxim a few years earlier had led;  shaped like a right-facing crescent moon;  5.9 R, surely close to X, on Mountain Project.  He didn’t feel like leading it this day, nor did I.   We’d driven up to the mountain with Peter Cross and Steve Fitzgerald.  While Maxim and I mulled the HMC, Peter and Steve came up to our ledge.  They both declined to lead the HMC.  Then Maxim said he’d lead it.  He would take only enough gear to anchor to the fixed protection above the crack:  a couple locking biners and slings.

He started up:  walking up the easy lower part, then switching to a layback with his hands gripping the near edge of the crack, his feet walking up the far side of it.  The further he went, the more his feet got above his head, until he was nearly upside down.  I thought I saw him slip, braced to catch a fall, and feared the worst.  It would have been horrible, perhaps 40-percent-likely-lethal.  But I was wrong:  Maxim hadn’t slipped and soon pulled up onto the ledge above the HMC.

My turn.  I laybacked as he had.  It seemed easy.  Hey, I could have led this.  Next time I will.  Then I fell.  Peter and Steve, both stronger climbers than I, came next.  They both fell.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pass on leading this the next time.

Just before two in the morning of August 5, 2002, Maxim and I awoke in our motel overlooking Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado.  At 3:50, we left our rented car in the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead lot and began the four-hour hike that would take us to the base of the Petit Grepon – a thousand-foot rock face that looked on the side we’d be climbing like the Eiffel Tower.  The 5.8 South Face route we would attempt was one of Roper and Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs.  We began well.  We fourth-classed Pitch 1 and most of Pitch 2 – 5.4, before starting to use our ropes.  Two 5.7 pitches brought us to the base of the crux fifth pitch, which I had won a coin flip to lead.  This violated our long-time understanding of who leads the cruxes, but I thought I could handle this one.  Maxim asked me about four times if I really wanted to lead it:  if not, he would be pleased to.  I held firm and the pitch proved not too hard.

After the sixth (5.7) of eight pitches, rain began.  This route had been atop my hit list for over four years.  Cindy had tentatively agreed that it could be our honeymoon climb in 1998.  She had changed her mind when we had got to the base and had looked up.  The next year, I and two friends had done four of the eight pitches, when the two of them decided that it was raining and that we had to retreat.  We retreated.  My view, then and since, was that it wasn’t raining;  that what they took to be rain was just the moisture in the clouds that had closed in around us, cloaking both the base and the summit from sight.

I feared that Maxim, in real rain, would also want to back off.  I asked him.  He let me know that it was not a good question:  of course, we were going to the top.  The seventh pitch – 5.7, which I led, was damp;  the eighth pitch, 5.6 and his, wholly soaked.  But we’d made it.  It was about three and lightning had begun to strike not far from us.  After a couple summit photos, we began the rappel down.

Maxim always tied the two ropes together with a rewoven figure-8 and always rapped down first.  The first rappel went routinely.  After the second, the ropes hung up above us and it took well over an hour of tugging before we could pull them down.  The third rap went well, but not the fourth:  the ropes seemed unbudgeably stuck.  I proposed to ascend the ropes, both ends of which were down.  But, said Maxim, who had led many climbing trips in the former Soviet Union, it was not possible to go up a vertical rope.  The Appalachian Mountain Club, I said, taught its students each year how to do so.  We were both worn out from all the tugging after the second rappel and he soon OKed my ascending.  A cold wind blew, the rain had continued, and it took me longer than it should have to go up nearly 150 feet, to move the knot below the ledge it had stuck on, and to rappel back down to Maxim.  He had been doing calisthenics to ward off hypothermia.

Further rappelling – finding the rap stations in the dark – would be difficult.  About midnight we (mainly he – the only one of us who had rapped at night) decided we’d spend the night in the rappel gully.  Anchored to a couple wired nuts we set in the rock, Maxim sat on a pile of wet rope and I, on a rock of eight by eighteen inches and awaited dawn.  About then, the rain stopped.

At six, Maxim, speaking Russian – which I didn’t, awakened me:  the far rim of the glacial cirque we were in had grown light enough for us to move on.  The remaining rappels were without incident – perhaps because we’d switched from the rewoven figure 8 to the European Death Knot.  Around eight, after about four morning rappels, we were back in the cave at the base, where we had stashed our hiking shoes and extra gear.  We hiked out slowly, stopping often and were passed from behind by tourists of many shapes and ages.  Reaching our car shortly after one, Maxim spoke several sentences to me in urgent Russian, among which were the words “Ensure Plus.”  We’d left a couple cans of it in the car, thinking we might need it and we did.  They tasted great – after more than half a day of nausea in which we couldn’t take in anything but water.  It was the only time with me that he had been so exhausted as to slip into his native tongue.

We returned to the motel and I called Cindy.  She’d called the motel twice in the morning and they’d confirmed that our room looked unslept in.  She’d called the Rocky Mountain National Park rangers.  They had thought she would be reassured by telling her that there had been no rescues in the park in the previous 24 hours.

In the winter of 2002-3, Maxim was separated.  He wouldn’t mind if I could put him in touch with with a classy woman, maybe a climber, maybe especially an ice climber.  Maxim was terrific on ice.  He had given the specs for Ice Queen Nancy Savickas.

They hit it off and agreed that they would do Last Gentleman at Lake Willoughby.  Twice they drove up there and twice they (mainly Maxim, I’d guess) judged the ice too iffy and climbed elsewhere.  Then Nancy did the utterly dismaying and unthinkable:  LG with some other guy.  This, however, brought me into the picture.

Ring.  “Mark, this is Maxim.  How would you like to climb LG with me?”  “Love to, Maxim, but I’m a novice on ice.  It sounds way above my level.”  “You can do it, Mark.  I’ll lead all the pitches.”  “We are on.”  “I need, though, a few more ice screws.  The only thing I ask of you, Mark, is that you buy four nineteen-centimeter screws.”  Done deal.

At four on March 15, 2003, we left my home in Lexington.  Four hours of dicey driving – ice and winds – later, we walked into a McD’s near Willoughby.  Who should be just finishing up there but two of New England’s ice-climbing icons:  Rick Buirkle and Yuki Fujita?  They were going to do Promenade, just right of LG, with the same first belay spot.

By the time Maxim and I had breakfasted, geared up, and trudged up the hill to the climbs, Yuki was completing the first pitch of Promenade.  We had to get up to where Rick was belaying.   Between him and us was forty feet of Grade 2 or 3 ice.  Maxim would solo it.  Would I like him to belay me up?  “Would it make sense for me, Maxim, to solo it?”  “I think you can do it, Mark.”  On went the crampons and Maxim soloed up to Rick.  My turn.  As I was about in the middle of the toughest stretch of ice I’d ever soloed, Yuki shouted, “Ice tool.”  He had dropped what ice novices would call an ice axe.  He climbed with leashless tools and had stuck them in the ice at the end of the pitch as he built an anchor.  Five pounds of metal with two sharp points was on its way down from 80 feet above me.  I kicked in my crampons, hit both tools in solidly and waited to be hit.  My helmet was on.  The tool missed me by eighteen inches.  Yuki belayed Rick down to retrieve it.

Rick and Yuki completed Promenade and rapped down by us as we still had a pitch and a half left of LG.  We finished as the sunlight faded.  Maxim judged the ice not sufficiently solid to rap off it as Rick and Yuki had done.  We would walk off.   The hike began with over an hour of yard-plus-deep postholing before we hit a broken-in trail.   We returned to the car after eleven and were fortunate to find a northern-Vermont nightspot for a decent dinner.  Maxim vetoed my proposal of a motel:  we must return.  After a couple of breaks to revive via sleep by the side of 93, we were back in Lexington around six a.m.

That summer, Yuki emailed me:  would I like to climb ice with him the coming winter in the Canadian Rockies?  I could not.  The next time I saw Rick, I mentioned this to him:  Yuki’s invitation seemed like Tiger Woods proposing that he and I – a twenty-plus handicapper – golf together for a week at Pebble Beach.  I wanted Rick to say something like:  “It’s true, Mark, that your experience on ice is limited, but your skills are clearly solid.”  Instead, he said, “Yes, Yuki wanted to make it up to you for almost killing you.” 

After Petit Grepon, the Casual Route up the Diamond, the vertical east face of Longs Peak became number one on both of our hit lists:  seven pitches, 10a on Mountain Project.

On August 5, 2003, we (I) awoke twenty minutes after midnight and Maxim and I were in the Longs Peak Trailhead parking lot for the Diamond by 1:46 a.m.  A 5.5-mile, five-hour – the last hour over a hellacious talus field – hike brought us to the base of the Diamond.  We climbed in the dawn up to Broadway, a horizontal ledge that crosses the lower half of the Diamond.  We traversed left to the base of CR.  I led the first pitch:  rated 5.4 on Mountain Project;  5.7, elsewhere.  Maxim came up to me.  “Did you see it?  It was amazing.”  I reflected:  I had, I thought, heard a gunshot but hadn’t turned and looked.  A base jumper, Maxim said, had taken off from Chasm View – the right point of the Diamond.  The jumper had, to Maxim’s amazement, landed in about the only flat spot in the talus field.  What I’d thought a shot had been the parachute opening.

Then, Maxim said, we had to back off.  He had not been able to sleep that night for one minute and now felt that we could not continue the route.  At 9:40 p.m., we were back at the car.

 Three years after that, we had determined that we would finally knock off CR.  This time, we would bivy at Chasm View.  We did two acclimatization hikes:  one to the summit;  another to Chasm View, from which we rappelled down to Broadway.  We felt ready.

On D-Day-Minus 1, July 23, 2006, we hiked to Chasm View, dined early and crawled into our sleeping bags.  At three the next morning, we were up:  it was time to breakfast, to get to the base of CR, which we would have a long day of sunlight to complete.  How had we slept?  Neither of us had, hardly at all.  Still, said prospective-tough-pitch-leader Maxim, he thought we could do it.  I, however, exercised my climber’s right to veto:  it seemed, on hardly any sleep between the two of us, too much.

We had hoped to complete CR no later than six, before hiking out.

We had heard that Dean Potter had once run to the base, soloed CR, and run back:  car to car in four hours.

The next day, Maxim climbed in Lumpy Ridge with Cindy, while I entertained our four-year-old daughter Sara – whom Maxim was always sweet to.   Cindy had climbed many times with Maxim – we once had done Moby Grape on Cannon together – and always was amazed at how rapidly he climbed and with how little protection.

How strong a climber was Maxim?  Not a particularly good question, since, to me, his many other virtues dwarfed his excellence on the rocks.

A few times, I put a top rope on Recluse on the north edge of Cathedral Ledge, a Henry Barber 5.9 in the old books, 10d now on Mountain Project.  Doing so put my popularity among 5.12 leaders I knew at a zenith:  “Hey, Mark, how have you been?  Good to see you.  Would it be OK if I took a turn on your rope?”  Four 5.12ers, and many others, could not on my TR get up Recluse.  Maxim is the only one I ever saw send it.

 Maxim, brilliant as he was, never completely lost his Russian accent – even though he could read literature and science at the highest level in English.  Most of the other Russian climbers in New England have come to sound more articulate in our language than I and most Americans.  Not Maxim.  At first, Cindy could not understand much of what he said, but tried to agree with whatever he was saying, so that he would not feel bad.

Even after fifteen years here – he came in 1989 – though his vocabulary had become exceptional, he still committed grammatical errors.  I told him that his most common was second person, present tense.  Uncountable times, I recall him saying, “Mark, you was wrong” – more times, I fear, than “Mark, you was right.”

Once I asked him who were the greatest phycisists of all time.  He turned it around and asked me my list.  I named a top ten or so.  He said that it was a good list, but that I should have had Hallily in my top five.  “Hallily,” I said, “who was Hallily?  I never heard of him.  Wait a minute, though, I just thought of another, Galileo.”  “That’s him,” said Maxim, “that’s Hallily.  Isn’t that how you pronounce him?”  “No,” I said, “We pronounce it Galileo.  How do you pronounce it in Russian?”  “Galileo, but I thought it was pronounced Hallily in English.”

 For our multi-day, backpack undertakings, Maxim requested that he obtain all the food – to which this indolent omnivore acquiesced.  We ate well.  Most memorable, though, was the first time he handed me a slab of pork fat, about the size of a stick of butter.  As I looked dubiously at it, he said that it had been the wonder-food of the Germans in the winters of the Second World War.  (I thought he said it was Hallah, but haven’t been able to Google it.)  To my obvious observation, he replied that they would have lost much sooner without it.  Another time, he handed me about a third of a quarter-pound stick of butter to eat.

In the spring of 2015, Maxim invited me to climb with him in a gym in Nashua – our first time climbing together in nearly a decade.  It was fun for me, less so for Maxim.  He still climbed better than I, but not so well as when we were younger – which dismayed him.  We went to his home where he prepared dinner for me – for the first time not in the context of camping.

He was content in his pleasant and spacious new home and his life.  He showed me his extensive library, mostly Russian literature.  Pushkin was his favorite – whose writings he had often extolled to me.

Most of his time – as it had for several years – went into his personal project in mathematical physics.  I gathered that he was deriving a new mode of describing and calculating quantum reality.  He climbed regularly at the gym with his friends Katya and Sergey Vorotnikov(a) and hiked much – especially with Katya.  I was happy for him.