Sunday, March 22, 2015

Climbing Out

We drove out to Vantage, WA today for a little family climbing time. I commented to my husband during the drive on how much the landscape had changed since we first started climbing in this part of the state. He reminded me that our first visit to this area was over 15 years ago. Our first guidebook to Climbing in Washington State is testament to this truth. There, next to each route, is a date and a little note about the style of the ascent. And yes, indeed, most of those dates fall somewhere in the range of 13-15 years in the past.

Now the landscape is different on the drive out to the basin. Mass amounts of money have been poured into the agricultural industry as farmers (and Big Ag) race to fill the gap that will inevitably be left once California officially runs out of water. The mighty Columbia River runs its course through this shrub and sage covered landscape of broken down volcanic basalt. Natural annual rainfall amounts are pitifully low; yet man-made irrigation is transforming this landscape into one reminiscent of the Central Valley of California. Its hill slopes are being scraped flat and planted with endless aisles of apples, grapes, wheat and hops. The town of Quincy is blossoming with an influx of capital including the ever-growing Microsoft server banks that hold immeasurable amounts of useless data (including this post). There are vacation homes and wineries and B&Bs and parking lots full to the brim with people out for the weekend. What a thing, to witness the urbanization of a landscape and to remember lonely campfires, the call of coyotes and the forced comfort of sleeping in your car.


I am no longer afraid of being tied to the end of a rope. I used to be mildly terrified. I started climbing so that I could take the edge off of my fear of heights. When I was 12 years old, I crawled and clawed my way to the top of a 3 story fire tower on Rib Mountain in Central Wisconsin. I was passed by any number of people who casually climbed the wooden stairs. On my hands and knees, shaking with fright (and nearly back-tracking to the ground) I tried to catch up with my grandparents and my sister; waves of vertigo washing over me as I looked toward the ground.

I started climbing in college almost on a whim. My best friend and I took a weekend class through the outdoor education wing of the University of Minnesota, Duluth. During that 8 hour class, they taught us how to hip belay (does anyone ever actually do this?) and I climbed 2 whole pitches....barely. That was the last time my friend ever went climbing. I was not so easily deterred. I wandered down to the indoor wall a few times before the year was out and surprised everyone by groveling my way up a crack system on my first try.

My husband and I spent the formative  years of our relationship bonding over climbing and snowboarding. We nearly lived climbing for the first 4 years of our marriage....although many times the day for me would end in terror and tears (except at the gym). I was never really comfortable being on the pointy end of the rope and although I managed to work my way up into the low 12s on top rope, my hardest lead remained somewhere around the easy 11s....and that milestone was a massive mental stretch on my end. My husband (at one point) claimed that it is likely what killed my love of rope climbing.

What saved our climbing relationship was bouldering. I was allowed to fall to the ground. In fact, I KNEW that if I fell I was going to hit the ground. For some reason, I found this re-assuring. I never really trusted rope climbing because I never really trusted the rope or the gear or even my partner to save me from free-falling through space and eventually cratering into the earth. So, as much as my husband showed an aptitude and passion for rope climbing he nearly gave it all up to wallow in the boulders with me. But we had a marvelous time. Squamish was our second home for 3 straight summers and we made friends with Canadians from across the continent and looked forward to seeing them again and again.
 I blew out my shoulder on the last weekend of the last year one move away from gaining outdoor V6 status. I worked this problem hard for an entire season; I have never projected anything more. My shoulder has been fucked ever since...although to me it is my souvenir from the happiest of days with the person I love best.

When we moved to Leavenworth, life changed yet again and in some accidental way climbing got shelved in favor of new tethers like building a business, having kids and building a house. Like a noose, these tethers threatened to strangle both myself and my husband and at times I felt like we were drowning together into a slow fade. This town can be cruel. The tethers of adulthood are seen in some ways as failures. Where everyone lives free and the pursuit of personal awesomeness is viewed as the end goal of life, giving up personal ambitions can feel like a crime. I traded in 10 years of muscle and freedom for the eventual payback of  familial stability. At times, it was hard to rationalize the inevitability of this decision and I will not lie and say that there weren't moments where I was not without regret. But I can also say that looking back there is no way around this beautiful treacherous path; only a way through.

But lately, the most amazing thing has been happening. I have found that all of these encumbrances have begun to ease their grip. And in a sense, I now look forward in time and dread the day when my children will pull out their pocket knives and cut away at the webbing that has bound us together for so long. I have found that when I am climbing, I am no longer afraid of heights because I have so many other things that I fear more. I look forward to my time tied to the rope because it allows me to forget these other fears and to simply be; to move across the face of this beautiful world and to dance over the abyss. I have  inadvertently found myself on the other side of my own personal struggle. Now, nearly 40 I am faced with the daunting task of rediscovering my body but not rediscovering myself. I know who I am, which is why I feel so calm.

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