Before New Years- frozen in a small cabin in Mexico- I wrote a list of goals for the next year. I split it up into sections – “climbing” , “professional” and “personal.” Of course, because my priorities can be somewhat perplexing, the “climbing” section came first. On the very top of the list I wrote “Touch To Bolt, ” vowing that I would at least try my dream route. In April, I surprised myself by not only trying it but, after 16 days of work, joyously clipping its anchors. Immediately below to bolt, I wrote my second goal- “Peace.”
Up high on Kings of Rap at Smith Rock State Park. Photo by Micah Humphrey
On my 27th birthday, I woke up buried in my sleeping bag, nestled in my car in the middle of Central Oregon. I poked my head out to see frost building up on every window of my car, yet the sky was clear and the sun was strong. This wasn’t an unfamiliar scene- I had spent many nights this winter and spring in the exact same spot, and I welcomed the cold weather. Cold weather meant more days of climbing. In fact, the forecast for the week looked so good that I organized my work around it at the last minute, driving down from Seattle by myself to capitalize on what would likely be the last week of crisp conditions that would grace this area for months.
“Flow- An optimal mental state of functioning in which our skill matches the challenge, action and awareness merge, and we become so engaged in the activity that we have a loss of self-consciousness and time gets distorted. Full stop”
One year ago today I was embarking on the beginning of what turned out to be one of the best adventures of my life. I traveled from January through mid June finding myself in climbing destinations in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Canada. I then moved to Tuolumne (in Yosemite National Park) and had an incredible summer, working all over Yosemite and spending my days off climbing immaculate granite and exploring the wild places of both the Western and Eastern Sierra. In a quite spur of the moment decision, I ended up climbing in Spain for much of December.
Life was good.
The granite dome dubbed as “The Chief” hides half of its 700m height on a cloudy day in Squamish, BC, Canada.
“Impossible to go on, impossible to descend impossible to stay where he is. […] With cheek and ear pressed against the canyonland bedrock he feels, hears, shares the beating of some massive heart, a heavy murmur buried under mountains old as Mesozoic time. His own heart. A heavy thick remote and subterranean thumping sound. The fear”
The Monkey Wrench Gang
Over the past year I have been pushing aside and ignoring the subtle yet ever-present and stubborn goal of mine to improve at traditional climbing. My excuses were plentiful; I did not have the time to go out to trad crags to improve, I didn’t have the money to gather up a proper rack, what little trad I have done made me good enough (5.8 leader…) for some basic alpine objectives, and crack climbing hurts. In reality, becoming a competent trad leader is a central and essential skill I knew I would have to learn if I were ever to achieve my larger, long-term and more complex goal of becoming a strong and well-versed rock climbing goddess. (Okay, maybe not a goddess.. but just a half decent all-around climber). I want to be able to ascend a feature using a variety of techniques and skills that could only have been garnered by years of experience on different types of rocks and in different styles. My resumé with sport climbing wasn’t so bad, but was seriously lacking with traditional climbing. The fact of the matter is, trad climbing is the TICKET to the alpine, the ticket to some bigger mountains and objectives, and no truly well-rounded rock climber should lack in the ability to utilize a good hand-jam in a splitter crack. I was scared, though. I was scared to fall on gear, scared to take the leap and hesitant to push my trad grade the way I had my sport grade. As the final month of my trip was approaching, though, I knew I would not be able to call it a success if I didn’t spend a concentrated amount of time exploring and growing in this discipline. So, I got my passport and headed to Canada.
I apologize to any non-climbers who have found this blog, because this is a particularly jargon heavy post.
Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) blooming in front of the Monument crags at Smith Rock. By mid April these guys were everywhere.
I really thought I botched it. Instead of smoothly locking off to clip the second bolt, I hesitated, used some different hand holds, pasted my feet onto things I had never used before, and then I clipped it. “Shit” I thought. I was right about to embark on the hardest part of “Darkness at Noon”, Smith Rock’s first 13a, and I was already screwing up. If there was any room for error, that was it. I had to climb the rest of the route flawlessly if I wanted to have a shot at it. The crisp morning had already given way to what would be a warm afternoon, with the temperatures seemingly elevated in the little “solar oven” created by the opposing rock faces on either side of me. “Why the hell am I doing this in the sun?” I thought. Looking up, I saw about 25 more meters of unrelentingly hard technical rock climbing that lay ahead. I shook out on a bad pocket for a moment, refocused and forged onward.
Spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) with Mt. Shasta in the background.
While everyone says that fall is the best time to be climbing, I say that “rock”tober is overrated because during the spring you can climb AND botanize!
Sometimes when I’m caught up in the middle of a sport climbing binge at a very developed crag with minimal approaches and maximum access to conveniences (like redbox DVD rentals and Pho restaurants) I forget that the pursuit of “being outside” is one of those vague yet eternal desires that was one of the initial catalysts that drove me to break from my casual 2 day a week climbing routine at the gym and go outside. That motivation has been much more sharply defined as I’ve progressed as a sport climber and found- joyously- that it offers me pleasures, satisfactions and challenges unlike any other outdoor activity I have ever experienced. A stroll in the woods is one thing, a burn on your project is another.
So, occasionally I get hyper-focused and move about my surroundings like an automaton- going to the same crags and memorizing the beta on my project as well as I possibly can. This process of honing in on micro-details – like the way a feature in the rock is angled and at what temperature you climb your best at- can be very rewarding and also offers a nice break from the “big-picture” emphasis that society seems to throw at us- even in natural areas. Whenever I pick up a brochure it tends to be dominated by photos of vistas or landscapes rather than a unique detail (the Smith Rock state park brochure is a notable exception, it features a stoic Ian Caldwell on one of the area’s hardest routes..) However, sometimes this micro-focus makes me lose that “panoramic” human vision and almost forget that I’m rock climbing outside and not in a gym.
Until I see a blooming flower. Yes! Even in the corners of the parking lot at Smith Rock or behind the Yosemite Valley store flowers bloom , are pollinated and go to seed. That fundamental ecological process is present everywhere I go and I sure do love to geek out about it. So, this post is going to be dedicated to the flowers that grace my travels and whose beauty and intricate complexities that I- as a moving mammal – completely depend on, am intrigued by and will never fully comprehend. I lack the vocabulary and artistic talent of our most famous naturalists and botanists, nor can I draw anything that even resembles a breathtaking image of a flower … but I do own a fancy DSLR that I sometimes aim toward flowers!
So then I , an average human being on this planet, offer what I can; here are some images of flowers that I saw on my drive to Smith Rock and in Central Oregon.
(Yeah yeah birds and animals are also cool-did you know a Golden Eagle nest can be up to 12 feet tall and weigh 2000 lbs?? thanks interpretive Smith Rock sign from the ’90s for that little slice of trivia!)
“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
– Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Since my last blog post my venturings have taken me to a few of St. George’s finest crag, a brief stint in Yosemite, and now to Smith Rock- arguably the birthplace of American sport climbing. Everywhere I go, though, I am trying to maintain my motivation to try as hard as I can, whether that means pushing a new grade, a new type of climbing or just breaking out of my comfort zone to meet new people and explore incredible places. (really , though, I just want to be like all of the crushers I’ve met and “whip off the proj.”) While on the pursuit of this goal, I have neglected my blog a wee bit..