Saturday, January 23, 2016

Day 142: Joshua Tree, A Time to Climb

I woke up at 10 to 9. Tyler had told me he wanted to leave at 9am. I was only half into the idea of climbing, being quite out of shape at this point, but decided I should go, mainly on the grounds that I had nothing better to do. Also, once in a lifetime opportunities and all.

I hurried over to Hidden Valley and found Tyler by his red tent. Campsite numbers and tent colors are the address of National Parks, I think. After about an hour, we were off.

Our original plan was to do a 5.6. Climbs are rated on a scale from 5.0 for super easy to 5.teens a, b and c's for super hard. Since I'm out of shape, a 5.6 was doable for me but not too boring for Tyler. Unfortunately, all the 5.6's were taken on Lost Horse. So were the 5.7's and 5.8's. "How do you feel about a 5.9?" he inquired.

the rock face we were about to climb, the two little spots
at the top right are people where we were going to end up as well.

"Well, I guess we'll see," I said, not wanting to waste the trip and effort and also not wanting to disappoint Tyler. I might be his only chance to climb during this trip.

Setting up, there were two men in front of us: A white dude in his 50s and an Asian guy in his early 30s. We figured we'd just follow them, but they were moving slow and just sitting at pitch one (which was only about 60 feet up). Tyler suggested we just leave, but my face apparently showed my disappointment (I was in this now) and he watched them another minute. They had apparently made mistake number three and Tyler got irritated. He decided we were going around them, asked if I could scramble up the wall quick (it looked simple, so I said yes) and then he asked the Asian guy if we could jump in. They said sure and that they would eat lunch at the first pitch, which happened to be a nice little ledge.
the men on the first pitch from the 'ground' belay.

First, I forgot how to tie my knot, so that was embarrassing. Tyler didn't seem too phased though. Then, as a stupid oversight, I clipped my ATC (belay device for his rope) on backwards. He still seemed to trust me. He went on his way. Soon after, he called down that he was finished, but that he forgot his belay device - we were both screwing the pooch. "I think I'll be fine," I called out. Honestly, the climb looked simple.

I scrambled up the rocks pretty quickly; I had to. My muscles were out of shape and clinging too long would have severely fatigued me. I passed the two men eating lunch and soon reached Tyler, who seemed pleased with my performance. That is, until he said, "Okay, time for the next pitch."
"What?!" I said, feeling as though I  barely made it to the first one, which was technically the second pitch (about 150 feet up), "I thought we were done." I don't know why I thought that, he clearly explained earlier that it was a multi-pitch trad climb.

And here is where we have a ten minute conversation, while I'm 'standing' on a 12" wide by 6" deep 'ledge,' in which I express my concern that I don't think I can do the rest and he insists that I am good enough and can totally make it the next 200 feet. (It was more like 250.)

"Thanks, but I don't want to get stuck. What if I get stuck and I have to be rescued?" I inquired, seriously.

"You got this," he said. And that's all it took. Someone believing in me. (And me not wanting to let them down.)

"Okay, let's go."

"Climbing," was his return, as he had spent the whole conversation setting us back up for his lead and my belay from Fort Teeny Ledge.

"Climb on," and he was off. First below me to traverse, then on the other side of a rock where I lost visual contact.

About 30 minutes later, I thought I heard him say something. The Asian guy was now beside me - having taken over my original tiny ledge while I had shifted over on Tyler's teeny ledge - said he couldn't tell. "Well, I'm not climbing without a belay for sure."

I yelled. Nothing. Again, still nothing. I tugged on the rope. It tightened. He was ready to "keep it tight" as I had requested before he left.

I dropped down to my traverse. It was awkward with inch foot holds and clumsy hands. Then it was over to the crack that had disrupted visual contact, of which he said, "this part is awkward, but it's not hard, it's just about balance" when I had noticed the rope pause to figure out how to climb it. I got about halfway up the awkward crack and then I fell.

I got my holds again, tried, and then I fell again. And again. I began to wonder how I was going to do this and also getting really scared. I tried again and fell so hard I lost hold of the crack and since I had requested he hold me "tight," when I swung over to the flat rock in line with the rope (but not the crack), I could no longer reach the crack and the flat rock was completely flat; no holds. In short, I was stuck...hanging.

I called over to the two men, both now together on the second pitch, "I think I might be stuck." I tried to swing over to the crack. Nothing. I tried again. Nope. They began to discuss their rescue mission and the white guy said he would come over and switch ropes so that I could repel down and he could continue to collect the cams (the bit of gear shoved into rock cracks to anchor while the lead climbs up, in case he/she falls) Tyler had set for himself and was up to me to retrieve. This added an additional difficulty to my climb as well - and was the first time I had done it to boot!

I heard the white guy coming over. He was on the traverse when I decided to try the crack one more time, despite having four falls under - or rather in - my belt. "Come on, asshole. You can do this," I told myself and I meant it. I have no idea how, but I got over that crack as the white dude came from around the corner of the traverse and began to cheer for me.

I don't remember much of the climb. I just kept telling myself I could do it. And that going down wasn't an option - because it actually wasn't past that crack. The two men behind us weren't around anymore and Tyler couldn't see or hear me. All he knew was the information from his top rope: Is she moving, still, or falling.

I noticed my fingers bleeding. I didn't care. I knew I was 300 feet up. I didn't care. I knew my toes were cramped into my Sportivas for over an hour now. I didn't care. All I cared about was finding the next foot hold; hand hold - getting to that big jug up there or that sexy looking resting spot (which was basically just a piece of rock I could lean into for a moment). All I wanted to do was get to the top! I conquered where I had myself convinced I needed rescued. I wasn't not going to do this.
Soon, I could see the top. "Tyler?!" I called out wondering if he could hear me.

"Hey!" he said, "You're almost there."

"Sorry about your balls," I said with a nervous laugh, referring to the pressure of his harness during my falls.

"You got this!" he said. Clearly, he didn't hear me.

My memory is blank to the individual movements. Someone else was climbing the Dappled Mare. Because I have little to no recollection of climbing aside from knowing I did it, bleeding fingers, and interactions with other humans. Like these things created a lapse in whatever system in my body had taken over when I told myself, "You can do this." Then, about 20-some feet from the top, I met another crack.

I could see Tyler. I could talk to him now. But he couldn't remember how he got up it. It was the last true difficult part standing between me and the sweet release of taking off my climbing shoes and not clinging to a rock face. I looked about four feet to my right, which seemed to offer a better crack to climb. I decided to traverse to it. At first I considered just using Tyler and swinging over but I felt bad about his crotch, so I went with a traverse, which, thanks to a bit of rock jetting out between the crack I was on and the new one some feet to the right, was more of a spider wall hug. I must have looked ridiculous from below, giving a big bear hug to a wall of rock 300 feet in the air.

Just as I arrived at the new crack, with a little ledge (about five inches wide, by three inches deep), my harness double-back came out. (Every climber double checks and their partners check their double-back before climbing - the belt part of your harness - because if your double-back isn't done, your harness can easily slip off.) I knew this because suddenly my harness was very, very loose.

"MY DOUBLE BACK CAME OUT," I exclaimed in a panic.

"You're doing fine. You're almost here," he said. I'm not sure he heard anything I said while climbing.
"NO! My double back came out!" I said louder. Panic washed over his face as he clearly heard me this time and suddenly, an incredible calm washed over me. "Hold on," I called to him, as I went to work putting my loop back through again with one hand, while holding onto a bit of rock 300 feet from the ground - and a garden of boulders below - with the other. I was completely aware that if I fell at this moment, I would likely die because my harness would easily pull off and I would fall the 300 feet onto rocks. In retrospect, I should have been in a full-on panic. 

A few minutes later, I got it looped back (barely) and felt okay with continuing my climb, but also well aware that a fall at this point could prove to be entirely catastrophic, as I wasn't able to do a particularly secure double back with one hand while balancing on an incredibly small ledge.

A few minutes - and no falls - later, I was at the top. Tyler and I high-fived. And I felt great. We admired the view, chatted about life, had some snacks we had put in our packs and rehydrated before our hike back down. 

We also managed to get to his car at 3pm, exactly when he had intended (he had an appointment to keep). He told me to stop by Sunday and meet his son. I told him I'd try. I headed back to my camp and out of nowhere came this overwhelming sense, like I suddenly just realized what I had done; what it means.

I feel changed. I feel like I can do anything. (I feel like J can suck it!) I feel empowered and emboldened and imperfect and recharged. I feel changed. In what way, I don't yet know. But this trip has changed me. I feel amazing in a way I can't quite explain; I feel like I can do anything as long as I believe that I can. I am changed. I wish I could bottle this feeling and smell it again anytime I feel down or self-doubting. I did something I was certain for a moment that I absolutely couldn't do - and its brilliance is indescribable. 

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