“When you don’t have something to work towards, you become apathetic.” Kurt Ross pointed that out to me a couple of months ago. Was he right? Was I leaning towards apathy, doing everything halfheartedly because I didn’t have an objective to fulfill, a dream to obsess over?
For me, the line between passion and obsession is pretty thin these days. I need passion to feel inspired to tackle a big project, but I need obsession to follow through and finish it. Where does the line get drawn? People greatly admire those with passion, but you start getting weird looks when obsession takes over and you do it a little too much. Ultimately, I needed a little bit of both to get started.
I thought about what Kurt had said to me and when I was finished sulking around in my winter doldrums, I brushed off the dust that had been collecting and got to work.
Two years ago, I said that I was going to end my road trip on a wall. That didn’t happen.
Some plans fall by the wayside, and as I began to settle into my newly made Colorado roots, I began to slowly tick off the reasons why: work, friends, climbing—you know, life stuff. The speed of the world outside of New York is not quite as fast as the city breakneck pace, but it’s no soft shuffle either. Weekends became a game of chronically catching up, and we all know that if we want to accomplish anything, we have to stop and carve the time out to do so, otherwise it won’t happen.
Time moves at an immutable rhythm, neither brisk nor gradual, and remains persistent in stride as it rolls on, taking us with it. And so many of us hold off for “someday”, thinking that the perfect moment will present itself to us, instead of grasping the reins and taking charge. Everybody has the kind of dream that pokes and prods at us, keeping us awake at night.
“But it’s too risky. I’m not ready. It’s selfish of me. I don’t have the time. I don’t have what it takes.”
Excuses like that devalue your dream. They give you a reason to put it at the bottom of your to-do list, and eventually, they become forgotten.
I placed mine on the back burner because truthfully, I’m a little scared. I’m no big wall master. I make mistakes all of the time, especially when I’m high-stress scenarios, and I was afraid of making all of the wrong ones. And then my disastrous big wall trip to Africa made me question whether I would ever have what it takes to become one.
But there will always be a million excuses not to try something, and it only takes one reason to do it.
Big objectives take an abundance of passion and hard work. I couldn’t just show up at the mountain and expect somebody to teach me, and as much as I hated the saying, I knew that it was ultimately true:
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
I started scouring the Internet for information—videos, blogs, anything I could find. I started considering how long I should practice aiding, hauling, and jugging and what I could do to increase stamina (because I was going to need it.) I picked an objective and considered weather windows, self-rescue scenarios, strategy, and tactics. I asked questions—I asked a lot of questions. I’m still asking questions. Originally embarrassed to ask anybody, I set aside those feelings and asked as many dumb questions as I could think of.
When Sarah Malone and I went out to practice aid climbing at Table Mountain, I was amazed at how much easier it felt to aid and jug, and I started feeling a little relieved. Aid climbing is funny because instinctively I want to free climb everything. Grabbing and pulling on gear didn’t come naturally, at first. I spent a lot of time hanging on my fifi hook laughing to myself. How could I be confident enough to take a winger on a piece of gear I placed but sketched out by body weight?
Tim Klein and I went out and fucked around with his Silent Partner, and after several times going up and down and figuring out how to un-clusterfuck the rope, I made my first successful aid solo up a crack. And then another, and another.
I’m pretty psyched on the Silent Partner, now discontinued. It’s a rotating, breakable drum with a feeding clove hitch that pays the rope out for you as you climb. Accompanied by several backup knots, I was quite pleased with the smoothness of leading with one. Unlike the Grigri, it doesn’t require a chest harness but can be more of a debacle with rope management. Luckily, Tim told me that if it wasn’t a massive clusterfuck, then I wasn’t aid climbing.
I still have many things that I need to prepare, many more resources and books to read and brush up on, and less than a few weeks to gather my lady balls and do it. Am I terrified? You bet I’m fucking terrified. On top of being sick with the flu and a brief trip home to New York, I lost a few days, and time is unsympathetic to my life schedule as it tenaciously plods on.
Sometimes, it just takes one single ember to reignite a flame. My failure and fear of failure gave new life to a growing fire. Let that be the thing that fuels future ascents on El Cap, of one day freeing Moonlight, of getting to the top. You won’t always get to the top your first try. Not everything is going to be an onsight. The voice that was already inside of my head, telling me what I couldn’t accomplish, what I’d failed so miserably at, was extinguished the moment that I realized: starting from the beginning is just as important as getting to the top.
What I couldn’t realize before Africa is that strength goes beyond physical capacity. It doesn’t come from winning or sends or summits. Our greatest pains can become our greatest strengths, and while I’d spent so much time wishing I could be fuerte (strong), like the women of São Tomé, I couldn’t see until now that that strength was always within me, constantly growing parallel with my experiences in life.
Cover photograph courtesy of Jason Gebauer