3389-1 is the file name of the first photo I took after returning to Talkeetna, Alaska after climbing Denali in 2009.
My friend Pat took one look at this photo, and inadvertently described something that I had not been previously able to identify. He identified the reason that some of us climb, run, cycle, ski, or otherwise push our bodies to the brink of failure and minds to the brink of breakdown. Why we are, ‘here for the hard‘. It doesn’t matter if I’m not climbing the hardest or scariest lines in the world- I do the things that challenge me because they strip away the baggage that prevents me from feeling at peace. I know when I have done something meaningful because the baggage is gone- and consequently, I know when I have cheated myself, when I have failed to do something meaningful, because afterwards the baggage remains. As this blog, and this journey is about letting go of the baggage, this is why I look forward to the physical challenges that lie ahead.
Although the past few weeks have been both fun and challenging- by in large they have failed to strip away some of the baggage I’ve been holding on to. Standing on Castleton Tower last Friday reminded me of this process, and released a touch of the feeling I’m trying to stick. It’s time to look for more.
Shortly after arriving in Bishop, California a few weeks ago I received a text message from a friend in Portland looking for a climbing partner. The Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park has been called ‘the greatest rock climbing route in the world.” It is orders of magnitude more serious than anything I have ever attempted. My partner is aware of my limited abilities with respect to an objective like this and accepts my limitations. It’s an opportunity not to be missed. We’re planning to take the 3,100 vertical foot route between May 10-14. I’m headed to Yosemite Valley tomorrow morning to start getting used to the flaring granite cracks that have shaped the sport of rock climbing for the last 50 years.
Truth be told I’m scared. This might be more than I can chew. This might be beyond what I am looking for. I may not be ready to let go of the baggage that the Salathe will strip away from me. I made a commitment to my partner and friend to support him, and in leaving my comfortable life in Portland, I made a commitment to myself to challenge the notion of what baggage I was willing to let go of. I don’t feel prepared. The climbing I’ve been doing the past few weeks hasn’t been particularly applicable to the climbing I am about to do other than acclimating my body to climbing as the primary activity of my life, rather than say sitting at a desk. I’ve been concerned about my preparation for this, and concerned about the consequences of failure. At this point, I’ve committed to my partner, and committed to myself, even if there are still lingering doubts in my head. At the moment, I’m planning to be solo for the 8 hour drive north tomorrow, which should give me some good time to reflect on what and why I’m going to do this climb. I’ll get back to you all once I hopefully have a little more clarity on the issue.
Often, we climbers get fairly caught up in what grade we are climbing. It’s a number that we use to describe our level of skill (“oh what grade do you onsite?”), judge the difficulty of other’s accomplishments, or use to simply describe a route (it was grade IV, 5.10c, 15 pitches). Today I was able to on-site more pitches of 5.10d and 5.11a in a single session of climbing than ever before in my climbing experience. I had an awesome and fun day of pushing myself with a great partner, and yes, certain baggage was stripped away. I left the crag feeling stronger and more confident in my climbing than I have in a long time. Yet yesterday I did something that was just as meaningful to me. We were climbing in a new single pitch area, and I climbed a route originally put up by John Bachar, which he rated 5.8. The current guidebook says 5.10a. There were no bolts on the route and no anchors at the top, the climb was 100% traditional, and provided a “full value” adventure. When John joined me at the belay, we both agreed it was one of the hardest pitches of 5.10 either of us had ever climbed.
The point is, the grade doesn’t matter, the experience does. I feel as proud of that lead as I do of the many technically “harder” leads I have completed thus far, even though it was a single 100′ pitch on a crag 10 minutes from the road. My experiences on this climbing experience thus far (included my roadtrip, past climbing seasons, and many gym sessions) have all served a single purpose- to strip away that baggage, and to practice doing so on a regular basis. I need this lesson now more than ever. I respect the value in what I have done to date, and I expect that will sustain me as my own horizons broaden. I sincerely appreciate the readership of this blog as it supports my mission.
“Often, the most important thing we can do, is simply ‘recognize that we are all in love with our own suffering’ (Andrew Given)… …We should take care to utilize our own mental suffering to strip away our unnecessary thoughts as well.”
A Picture of My Life – 12.15.2010
To suffer is to allow the unimportant baggage to be stripped away. I expect I will suffer in the coming experience, and it will be invaluable. Thanks for the lesson Mr. Given.