October 10th, Little Cottonwood Canyon: I had spent the morning having fun climbing with friends and was feeling good. So good I thought would try my mettle on Fallen Arches, a stout crack climb in the canyon. I managed to get about fifteen feet up the crack with my fingers locked in place and my rope secured, but that was where the fun stopped. I couldn’t seem to climb past that point. The only movement I mustered was down. I twisted my face. I paddled my left foot and grunted. I squeezed every muscle in my body. I hoped it might help, but… NO! My body drooped, I fell onto the rope and looked to my belayer for some direction. She had nothing. I rested briefly and repeated this again and again. Grimace, paddle, grunt and fall. I was dead weight. By the time it was over I had stunk it up so much my belayer’s nose was crinkled by the reek. How could I have been so foolish? I had set a goal of free climbing Fallen Arches this fall, but after my performance I had serious doubts.
That night I had to decide if I was willing to take the time and expend the energy necessary to learn how to climb it. Was I willing to sacrifice time with the family? How many soccer games and sour-jack breakfasts would be lost? I was willing to give up a few hours a day from the family, but not much more. Also, could I pass up beer and get up early? Sure, but I might get a little grumpy. If I got grumpy I would be able to keep it checked and not unload on the family? Maybe. Having only weekends free, less one for a trip to the Adirondacks, that left two in October and maybe one in November before the snow. Three weekends if I was lucky. Was that enough time? I didn’t know. Another question I had to ask was could I keep my obsession in check with these limits or would I blow it by staying out longer, getting irritated and thinking of no one other than me?
October 16th, Little Cottonwood Canyon: Earlier that week I had sent emails and left pathetic phone messages to several people. The responses were either they had some rare infection or had to stay home to wash their cat. By Thursday I was ready to throw in towel when I bumped into Andrew. My timing was perfect. He had just run the St. George Marathon and was now content to focus on things other than running. Having a wife and two kids Andrew was sympathetic to my schedule and immediately agreed to join in my obsession. We met in the morning and warmed up by climbing some easier routes in the dark. We swapped stories and laughed at each other as the sun rose in the canyon. Leaves that were green last week had now given way to shades of yellow, orange and red. Andrew repeated a few of his favorite routes and I set up some top ropes on some he had never done. Despite his focus on running he seemed to be climbing better than ever. He worked out a few of the cruxes and then told me it was time to get to work.
I had envisioned a possible sequence to get through my crux and now put it to the test. I climbed up near the section and rested on the rope. I studied the crack and chose a place where my last piece of protection would go before I committed to my sequence. Andrew gave out slack as I pulled my reluctant body back to the rock. I grabbed a cam from my harness and placed it high. Slowly, as if I were actually going in reverse, I clipped the rope. My heart raced while my body moved, sloth-like, up the crack. I was certain every finger I placed in the crack was going to slip out, but with every centimeter gained I was still hanging on. In what must have seemed like eternity to Andrew, I finally made my way past the high point from the previous week and was staring at Salvation, an actual hold that would allow me to stop and put in a cam. I wound up, squeezed with all my might and stabbed my left arm upward. My finger tips grazed Salvation while I let out a high pitched scream. I dangled, once again, from the rope. Soon I was back on and stuck the move to Salvation and fell once higher up. I had gained new ground and built up some much needed confidence. We returned to the parking lot before 1pm leaving us plenty of time to take care of the stuff that guys take care of when they are home. Mow the lawn, fart, scratch, lift things and put in valuable face time with the family.
October 17, Little Cottonwood Canyon: Another early morning and this time I have some how convinced my wife to right off sleep in exchange for belay duty. In spite of my purely selfish motives, Jacki managed to lead her hardest climb in Little. Seeing her float gracefully up the rock I am inspired. I moved slightly faster than Saturday, but only slightly. I placed the cam in its new high spot and committed to the new sequence. Without really knowing how I got there my next move was to Salvation. I squeezed and stabbed only to fall onto the rope. There must be something else. After resting and getting encouragement from Jacki I am at it again. I concentrated on my body and added a touch of my left hand on its way to Salvation. It almost felt easy. This time I worked on the upper difficulties. I felt confidant that I would soon be victorious. I added a beer to that list of stuff guys do when they get home.
October 19, Little Cottonwood Canyon: Late in the afternoon Tuesday, Jacki and I have returned. We were flying out of town Friday and we both wanted me to finish this so that I wouldn’t obsess the entire trip. Jacki was certain it was the day. I put on my best face, but deep inside I worried that it wasn’t. I moved smoothly up to the crux. I felt solid locking my fingers in the crack. I was staring at Salvation and was actually thinking, “this is it. I’m going to do it”. I set up and my mind raced ahead. I imagined how good that victory bottle of wine would taste. I licked my lips and with that… I fell. There was not enough light left in the day for me to try again. I did my best not to obsess in New York.
October 30 & November 1: 6am Saturday Andrew had decided to join me once again despite my lack of progress. It was overcast and cool. We climbed more routes in the dark and joked about scratching and farting. Today it was Andrew’s turn to be certain that I was going to do it. I smiled as best I could, but it had been over a week since my last visit and I was worried that I may have lost something. I slipped in the first ten feet. I tried again but failed to get to my crux before I grabbed a cam. Andrew gave me the “keep at it” speech after my botched third attempt. I felt the doubt well inside. Once again we wrapped it up by midday. I didn’t add beer to the list.
Monday morning I pulled out all the stops. If I was going to succeed I needed something special. I had a really big bowl of cheerios and then I meditated. I envisioned myself naked. I saw myself naked, weightless and floating in space. Then I was naked, weightless and floating up to and past the crux, eventually reaching the anchor. That was something special. At ten I joined Chye for what I hoped would be my final attempt. He told me that he normally wouldn’t climb in Little, but today he was there for me. I spent twenty more minutes meditating at the base of the climb. This time I wasn’t naked. I tried to clear my mind but thoughts of Jacki, Andrew, Chye and others kept forcing their way into my head. It was good that I wasn’t naked. All of these people believed that I was going to succeed. How did that happen? How could they all be so sure of my ability. My ability to persist to the point of obsession? My ability to focus so much on myself? I was astounded. All of them had given me hours of their time in hopes that I would succeed. What had I given them? The pressure was too much. I waffled, stuttered and grunted my way off the climb. I could smell that familiar scent in the air. Me stinking up the whole place. I managed to relax some on my third attempt and fell only once at the lower crux. I took care on the upper section, nailing it. It was progress, but pathetically slow. That afternoon I could practically hear the clock ticking. Time was running out. I needed something else. I knew that my problem was in my head, but what could I do?
November 6th, Little Cottonwood Canyon: Earlier in the week I received news that a dear friend’s mother had suddenly passed away. Instead of obsessing about climbing I spent time sending energy her way and energy to other people in my life. It felt refreshing to be focused on something other than me. I did not meditate on the climb. Saturday I had no expectations. It was another perfect day in the canyon. Mike was my partner and we warmed up slowly. When it was his time to get on route he had been eyeing he tried to convince me that he was just here to belay me and that he really wasn’t feeling up to it. I countered that I had hoped we could share the day and not just focus on me. He shrugged. Having not climbed in Little for a while he was a bit shaky. He ended up hanging a few times, but he did all the moves. While he rested we chatted about an old friend who had died the previous spring. The stories we shared reminded me of his energy. Mike tried again and this time he turned on the flow. His movements were deliberate and precise. Nothing looked forced as he glided through the crux. With only a few heavy breaths, Mike had his hardest send in Little!
There was no naked floating that day. I fell on my first try above my crux, but I wasn’t concerned. I thought about all the people in my life, living and beyond. I joked with Mike and I took in the fresh air and saw the beauty surrounding us. I thought of my friend who’s mother had just past. I thought of Jacki, Andrew and Chye. I recalled all of their warm energy. I felt no pressure from them. I only felt them. When I succeeded I talked to Mike continuously. I talked to him while I passed my crux, I talked while setting up for the upper crux and I gave him the play by play before I arrived at the anchors. That day there was no doubt. It was just the two of us having fun while climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
November 13, North Salt Lake: I sat in the bleachers at Ultimate Indoor and watched Fynn score four goals in his soccer game. Josie sat on my lap and Jacki was beside us. That morning I had woke up with all of them and made sour-jacks for breakfast. That afternoon we would spend more time together while I did some of that stuff that guys do which included a beer or two.