My first day back climbing in Zion ended with my utter humiliation on a climb that I came into town expecting to send without incident. Now, after several weeks of adapting to the austerity of this style of climbing I find my time here drawing to a close as we must move on to the next step in the project. The abysmal lows have given way to dizzying highs as I have been able to send my first big wall, as well as defeating a long standing single pitch of 5.12 climbing that has become my hardest climb done to date. What follows is a brief account of the successful ascent of this route and some thoughts for my upcoming departure from Zion for the eastern desert of Moab.
As I search for context into which to put the events that have taken place here in Zion–both the pleasant and the unpleasant, the climbing and the flat-landing–I realize that while climbing is the “yardstick” by which I am measuring my “progress”, the climbing is not the true progress itself–nor is it the essence of the experience that I have had here.
Having the ability, no, the necessity to make choices that matter is one of the most basic components of the human experience. The more I climb, the more I love the climbing, though it is a harsh mistress and rarely is an easy sell–but at the end of the day what stands out to me is that I am exercising my ability to choose and refusing to defer that choice to a medical condition. I am actively claiming my slice of the “pie” of human experience and the good news is that there is plenty more out there for everyone else who is willing to step up and accept the risk of falling on their face from time to time.
When Stefanie and I arrived in Zion we agreed that it might be beneficial for me to partner with different people besides her, in order to push me out of my comfort zone and to simply add a different dynamic that would not be present if I simply climbed with the same person constantly. The results of this “experiment” have been predictably outstanding. Comfort zones are a signal of stagnation–and if you are not pushing, getting better at something then you will ultimately only be getting worse at everything.
I want to share a little bit about my partnership with Rob, who has been on the other end of the rope with me during nearly every climb that I have done here and who has made the outright annihilation of my comfort zone into his own personal quest. Moonlight Buttress was a scary prospect for me even from the outset, made more scary once I got on it and had uncooperative blood sugar. As we stopped at each belay, I updated Rob about what was going on. Not once did he flinch or suggest “maybe we should turn back”. There was no discussion of cutting slack for me at the top of pitch 7 with night falling and my muscles cramping. He simply handed me the rack and said, “Topping out a climb like this is a beautiful experience. It’s yours. Go get it.” When I faltered partway to the top due to low blood sugar and had to hang out for a minute and recover, he assured me that there was no rush. “Dude, what is better than being up here in the dark! It’s amazing!”
Where others might coddle and give self esteem boosters to mask the shame of retreat in the face of a half hearted effort, Rob is the guy who will accept nothing less than your full 100%. I bought into his view of my 100% effort and put my own “feelings” to the side and trusted my partner to see in me what I lacked perspective to see for myself and that allowed me to push through boundaries in a massive way.
Sure, it’s not easy to put this trust in another person–but knowing that if you push yourself too far that your partner can carry your sorry ass off of whatever route you are on–and that he will enjoy the “training weight” and be ready for a 20 mile warm down bike ride after getting down from the biggest epic of your life…what can I say. It’s not normal. I often tell Rob that he is “not right”. No one person should have that much energy, or enjoy suffering that much. But Rob does.
Rather than try to explain it, I admire it and I’d like to think a bit of his “devil-may-care” attitude has freed up some of my potential to push myself. There is a lot of unknown out there and we tend to associate unknown with unsafe–when this is not the case, necessarily. Consequences sharpen us and crystalize the moments of choice that we have in our lives and I have been learning to accept and thrive in those moments, in no small part to the influences of colorful characters like Rob. It is through the refinement of our choices that we can accept and even pursue the unknown, despite the looming consequences.
I am thankful to have shared two major milestones in my climbing career with Rob and as Stefanie and I head east into the Moab area from here, and towards a desert full of terrain that is unknown, austere and shamelessly unforgiving, I am ready to approach the unknown with the attitude that while I don’t have a preview of all the choices that will arise–there are no scripts–that I am strong enough to make the right choices and survive a few blunders along the way too!
Special thanks to Rob and Bill for graciously hosting us in their apartment and dealing with our nocturnal habits. Thank you to Jon and Catrine Zambella, Calvin Laatsch, Hank Moon and Rick Praetzel for your hospitality, kindness in feeding a couple of vagrants and support for Project 365.