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“I can see it in your eyes”, he told me.

It was the kind of day where you could so easily slip into the weather, let it take you by the hand and guide your mood.

“No…”, I managed to mutter.

My breath quivered and hung in the air, a sliver of silver. I watched it rise, coalesce and crash into itself, tumble outward and grow until it vanished, a slim shadow thickening into the gray sky.

He was right. I was frustrated and doing a poor job of hiding it. I had tried a route, “Third Millennium” that I deliberately sought out because I hoped it would be challenging. The most difficult series of movement on the route is the very first dozen or so moves. On my first attempt I tried the sequences repeatedly, but did not even come close to doing any of them. I pulled on the rope, slumped deep in my harness and looked up. I saw seven quickdraws, slapping and shuddering in the wind. This is when I felt my mind split into two.

One part of me was highly motivated by the challenge. This level of physical difficulty in climbing is what I had been looking for over the past few months. I wanted to clench the route and crack it open, light it up, examine it deeply from all angles until I found a way. I felt unfrightened, curious, driven, and eager. I wanted to continue up the climb.

The other part of me was angry and sullen. It told me I was weak, a bad rock climber, not cut out for routes of this difficulty. I felt stressed, inadequate, disappointed, sad. I felt like I was expected to give up.

I had to make a decision to keep climbing or to stop.

I lowered.

I belayed two other climbers who made easy work of the route. I was speeding down the mental pathway I chose, a bottomless flood rising behind me with no way to get back once crossed.

I was not always like this. Sometime in the past few years, I have forgotten how to ignore this insidious blackout. Now I run into it, arms wide open.

I did return to the route the following day, and thanks to considerate, careful, and kind support from my partner, managed to figure out the moves. A dozen or so working attempts later, I finished the route. Despite my consistent progress, I was still chained up, a prisoner living inside myself.

In the hour after I sent, I was struck by a memory, sweeping and strong in its clarity. In 2015, I signed up to run a half-marathon a mere two weeks before the race. I had just gone through a tumultuous break up with someone I loved and who loved me. I had not ran that distance in a long time, but somehow, I felt the race would help me heal.

I remember my foot jolting against the pavement on my first stride. I saw his face, stricken and cold. I saw the dull glow of my bedroom light. I felt the blades of grass tickling my cheek as I leaned in, charged and warm with desire. I heard the clicking of my bicycle chain, the wind blunt against me.

The air smashed into my ribs and my legs screamed, but it did not hurt. Nothing could hurt. I got second place in that race, beating some semi-professional runners and blew past my own personal record.

I knew then that I have a unique energy. It can transform me, send a shock of electricity that leaves me crackling and glowing. I am capable of more than I think, physically, mentally, emotionally, if I just let myself try.

Of course, I am entirely aggrandizing certain chronic habits and ideas. I’ve always liked to write, but lately I have been indulging on an almost gluttonous level.

As with everything else, I wonder why.

 

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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.

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“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”

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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.

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” Already- although she was standing right there- she began to miss this place, she knew she would miss it for the rest of her days ”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of all things 

The full moon broke through just in time. Its light pierced through the seemingly impenetrable ceiling of darkness, like a beacon on a lighthouse.  When descending in the dark during a storm, speed is of the utmost importance. Still, I couldn’t help but pause and admire its courage as it shone through the clouds and suddenly illuminated the still waters of a distant lake. A symbol of serenity in an otherwise chaotic situation, my nerves eased.  Hours later, after a demanding, thrilling and downright frightening day on Merriam peak, my partner and I collapsed into our sleeping bags, legs sore but minds content.

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Photos of the Chief near Squamish, British Columbia Canada taken in May 2016.

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”

-Edward Abbey

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.

 

 

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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.

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“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..

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