A dance party commenced, and walls surrounded me. The dark sky let stars shine through, and I jived with my ipod, laughing at my interaction with this amazing place. We’d achieved our goal, and now joy and relief were lifting me to higher, lichen-covered platforms to dance on. I probably should have invited Lorna and Emily to the dance party, but aware that this revelatory moment would pass, I couldn’t stop bopping.
Three evenings earlier, I’d attempted to lead the crux pitch of our route. Doubt clouded my mind, yet a familiar stubbornness dictated my actions. When I left our hanging belay, Lorna smiled at me.
“I think you got it,” she said.
“Hmm,” I’d replied.
It was late in the day, and Emily toiled on a rope above me with her camera in hand. The rock was cold. I picked my way deliberately up the broken sections, readjusted my feet as grains of granite crumbled and placed gear with exaction. My feet were numb blocks. I had done little to remedy the pain in my feet except ignore it, the same as I’d done to deal with the bellyache I’d felt throughout day. If I could just get these two pitches over with, I thought, we’d be done with the route. We could stop jugging our 1000 feet of fixed lines.
I stood up into the start of the hollow flake traverse. Emily now dangled on a fixed line 30 feet up to my left. She asked how I was feeling.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m cold.” I stared glumly across the face, then I pressed on for a few moves: I clipped a bolt we’d placed, then got a cam, and one of Royal Robbins’ remaining pins. After the traverse I looked up at the distant bolt – above the crux. I gave up. I asked Emily to clip my rope through the third and final bolt, so I could work out the next 20 feet. With numb feet, I searched for a different way to execute the crux. “Okay, it’s time to go down,” I said.
We began the rappel home: passing knots and managing our stress at sections of worn ropes. At the base I sat with Emily, processing. “It’s not that I don’t trust your judgment,” I said when she asked why no one seemed to listen to her suggestions that day. “I just want to do things my way.”
“Well, then admit where you’re at, and move on,” she offered.
So practical was her advice to my practiced obstinacy. Eventually I agreed I was glad I’d tried leading, even if I hadn’t sent the pitch first try. I now knew what leading the pitch was like and would be more prepared next go.
The following day we chose to rest after some group deliberation. Moments of blue sky through fog tortured my restless mind, yet I had no trouble taking a four-hour nap. Tom and Scotty’s weather forecasts to our sat phone predicted that the following day would also be high pressure. A large system of cold, wet weather, however, was on the way.
I wrote in my journal: ‘Well, tomorrow might be our last good weather for a long time. I can no longer deny that I am challenged by this climb. I thought the crux was going to be easier, and I wanted to be able to do it without a lot of pressure and hooplah. But by not acknowledging the difficulties that I and we are facing, the challenge just becomes harder. So, I’ve come back to the ground with respect gained and doubt cast. My spirit is intact though. And it speaks of patience and songs unsung, openness and courage with whatever outcome tomorrow brings.’
Questions about the next day prodded at my equanimity. I was conscious of acknowledging thoughts and emotions as they arose. I managed them as I might the tantrum of a child, and managed not to get pulled down the rabbit hole of fixation.
The next morning we woke to drizzle and light fog. By mid-morning, we were at the base in the warming sun. Large clouds filled the valley and passed by us. We jugged our lines. The day was beautiful. I racked up for the first difficult pitch following my written instructions of every piece of gear in sequential order. I’d top roped the pitch, but this was my first time leading it. I opened myself to the moment, the rock and all perceived shortcomings: climbing its friable spots with delicacy and trusting myself through the run-outs. The second bolt had been drilled in a good spot and I was protected through the more difficult section above. At the end of the pitch, I missed a foothold and my finger got stuck in a lock when a loose pebble fell down the crack. I wiggled my fingers out of this wedge and shuddered.
After some deliberation, I decided to lead the 5.12 pitch instead of trying to learn more through top roping. Emily hung a double-length sling from the bolt at the crux. Due to rock quality, we had had to place the bolt high, and after the hollow flake traverse, we agreed that without this long draw the climb would be risky (hence the ‘R’ rating we are giving the route). As I began to climb the 40-meter pitch, I knew I had a chance. I traversed and star-fished through the crux. The route kept at me from there, and I responded with as much precision and sustained effort as I could muster. I let out a joyful whoop as the angle eased. We were done. And damn, that was a good pitch!
I am so thankful for the experiences we shared last month. We picked an appropriate objective for ourselves, including the challenges. We worked our butts off jugging 1000 feet of fixed lines many times, doing various manual chores, and figuring out our individual and overlapping roles within the group. We stayed open and communicative with one another through the continual challenges. We didn’t even have much drama on our trip. I’m still enjoying a simple contentment that can come from hard work and the completion of an ambition. Moreover, I’m filled by what only can be surmised as an adventure with good friends.
Thanks women. While we may each include men on a next big trip, I’ve learned so much with you.
Thank you friends and family for your continual support and encouragement. It helps us believe in ourselves through challenges. To our grant and gear sponsors, thank you for the extra motivation to tell our story. I had way too much fun with my helmet cam and now have lots of editing to do.
Check out Emily’s climbing photos!