The 5 a.m. alarm went off and I was half asleep and jammed wide awake at the same time. My skin literally felt an electricity of excitement, and as Shooter’s warm nose nudged my arm, my eyes fluttered open.
Why was I so excited? Because we were climbing BIRTHDAY PITCHES. I love climbing birthday pitches! But it wasn’t my birthday.
Twenty-nine pitches is a full mileage day. It’s a big wall day. It’s a push yourself to your limits and see what happens kind of day. Think full exhaustion, bloody hands and tips, soul battered kind of climbing.
May 7th would have been Mikey’s twenty-ninth birthday and I couldn’t think of a more apropos way to honor a friend than climbing a few birthday pitches for him. I always thought that celebrating someone’s death was a strange thing, so was celebrating their birthday even stranger? I just knew that I wanted to do something special this year. Mikey wasn’t a climber, but I think he would have excelled at it. He was your typical lanky, tall kid whose body type lent itself to that sort of thing.
We do these kinds of things, not just to celebrate but to remind ourselves how lucky we really are to be alive. Life sometimes can be so black and white and grainy, and with no gray areas in between. It’s hard. It was hard losing Mikey, and I miss his laughter every day. I used to hold onto the pain that comes with a suicide, just climbing through it to avoid dealing. Withdrawing from life and the people I loved wasn’t living, though. It wasn’t commemorating Mikey’s memory or benefiting my life, for that matter.
So what to do? We live on. We live a contemplative life and try to be as present for others as much as possible. I’ve learned that we shouldn’t be shy of expressing our appreciation and love for people because life is too short and anything at all can happen to anyone at any time.
“Climb on!” I heard the words ringing behind me as we started up the first pitch.
Between Chris Spratta, Erick Barros, Evan Raines, Eli Williams, we completed twenty-nine pitches at the Donnelly Wall and Supercrack Buttress that day. It was a pretty fucking kickass day.
Evan and I got on Los Hermanos (5.12), a beautiful “double” crack. The lower half climbs completely differently from the top and takes all little pieces. Before the roof, I placed my last .75 and blasted off. What an incredible roof! Chris and I shared a different opinion. He was somewhere between big cups and fists and tore the tips of his fingertips on a few attempts to the top, while I fought my way through with tighter, more secure fists.
We continued on to the ever-popular Supercrack Buttress. Feeling confident on hero hand jam sizes, I wasn’t as interested in getting on something that required a bajillion reds. Instead, I had my eye on Binge and Purge (5.11b). Staring at the thin bottom made me uneasy, and especially not knowing how the wider section would go, I considered backing out.
Erick flaked the rope and I dug deep inside to gather a little courage. 28 pitches completed, this would be 29 (plus one more for luck). I delicately climbed the first thin section, until I could wiggle my way through the narrow chimney.
Okay, I’ve worked 5s before. Christina showed me hand fist stacks/knee locks in the Boston gym. I could do this.
I’ve never placed three consecutive 6s in a row before.
And somehow, I held out long enough to place the last 6. Staring up at the last eight feet or so of Binge, I was out of my mind exhausted. I’ve been pumped on steep sport climbs before. I’ve been pumped (and scared) on long trad routes, too. This route completely wasted me.
“TAKE, ERICK!” I almost begged him. All of my energy was consumed and I could just feel myself feeling growing weaker and weaker. The ledge out to my right just seemed SO FAR away. And then, I had a sudden burst of energy and change of heart and called out: “No, never mind!”
I went for it, but came off the wall and took a fall on the 6. Something in me swelled and it wasn’t because I was about to purge; it was the utter feeling of defeat. I couldn’t even help it; it was just this chemical reaction that billowed inside of me and I started crying. I caught my breath and finished to the chains.
Two days later, I came back and sent Binge and Purge. I have never been the kind of person who feels strongly about redpoints. If I can at least make it to the top, I’m usually pretty satisfied. I told Erick that I didn’t know why I felt so strongly about this one. I’d already finished it. I’d already fought my way through the part that scared me. Maybe it was just because I knew that I could do it.
There was a large crowd at Supercrack because it was a weekend day. I ignored that fact and started clipping draws to cams. Erick flaked the rope. I shuffled through the thin section, remembering to backstep my way through and trusting my hands in the thin hand slots. I squeezed my way through the chimney, took a rest and punched my way up.
I was at my last 6 before I knew it. I didn’t think twice about the move from the crack to the hold out right, but instead just went for it, trusting that it would be there when I arrived. I threw my left foot back in the crack to the best goddamn knee I’ve ever felt, went to finish moving up and…….my shoelace got stuck.
MY FUCKING SHOELACE GOT STUCK.
I was in absolute horror. I could feel the tension from below and I had to ignore it to keep my head clear. I knew that it wasn’t a good situation. I had left my helmet off for this climb in order to make it through the chimney, and I knew that if I’d taken a fall, it could have been ugly. I down climbed back to the knee locked and tried over and over again to unhook my lace, but the biner that it was caught on the nose. Fucking hell.
Finally, I was able to release my lace, after desperately trying just about everything. I was even considering kicking it off and finishing with only one shoe. I felt so wasted. I felt so, so tired. But I kept moving, inch by inch, to the top.
We climbed just about every day at the Creek until just before sundown and drove back to camp in the dusk to open beers and make dinner by starlight and headlamp. But May 7th wasn’t just any other night—we were in Indian Creek, of all places. Living in the desert for a few weeks made me so happy. I couldn’t have asked for better people to celebrate Mikey’s birthday with, and as much as it hurts to miss him, I know that I love him more.
Memories are pretty infinite and love is forever, but we have to do things to celebrate life in order to keep them that way. Sing, dance, paint, hold hands, blow out candles and make wishes, jump from the sky, rock climb up to it.
My theory about love for the past several years has been: as long as you have love in your life, it doesn’t matter where it comes from or how it’s dispensed—all that matters is that it’s there.