The Head Game of Climbing Again
The Head Game of Climbing
A brief adventure in Indian Creek Utah
A big exploration inside the mind of a returning climber-
I should have been working on the weekend. But my friend and coworker Che Wentz convinced me to join him on his last ever spring break vacation. He was going climb in Indian Creek, Utah. I convinced my wife Randi that she could study and I would bring backcountry skis for a lonely decent of the Abajo/Blue Mountains nearby.
As the March sun sank behind the Bridger Jack Towers above camp, talk turned to climbing; a familiar language from a locked past. In 2003 I ripped a huge rock from its perch on a High Sierra mountainside. The mini-refrigerator sized rock nearly ripped my foot off and tried to take me with it. My brother and climbing partner wrapped me up and escorted me thousands of feet back to safety, but I haven’t really felt safe since.
After that fateful solstice day in California, my climbing has turned mostly into hikes and timid scrambles. The unfair aspect of climbing shattered my nerves. The idea of loose rock, rusty bolts, and frayed climbing anchors plague my perception of climbing. Fear has kept me on easy ground. But easy ground has left my soul just as flat.
Che quietly laid down the gauntlet using a force greater than fear of death, guilt. He didn’t have to say anything. I felt guilt at not wanting to ascend even one pitch of moderate grade 5.8 climb with he and his friends. I reluctantly tied on to the rope after watching the three other relative newbies climb with confidence. I later learned that Rob Eno has been climbing with Sean “Mich” Michelle, a Grand Junction climbing fiend, Jeff Smith is made entirely of muscle, and Jessie, Che’s girlfriend can climb great without even trying.
The route ahead is called Thunderbolt. It goes up a strange curvy crack to an airy step-across and finishes by grunting and belly flopping onto a slope. Unlike my usual first climb of the season, I kept fear from making my legs do the scissor-leg freak out maneuver. But I was scared. I started by stemming then stuffed my body in the crack to hide myself from the air below like a cockroach hides from daylight.
When I reached the airy step over, I looked down. Oops. I froze for a minute. The trick was to let go of a perfectly good hold, reach around a blind corner and almost jump for a flaky but solid hold that’s hidden out of sight. I just had to trust it. Trust is sometimes learned, but this time it was forced by guilt and then by my pride. I couldn’t let the newbies outdo me. However my pride had limits, I debating for minutes about how to top out the final gritty move. After pulling hard and groaning my way up, I was momentarily blasted.
The newbies and I retreated while Christina Moon and Che rallied to ascend the hard 5.10 face climb above to top out Easter Island Tower. The aptly named pinnacle appears like the iconic stone heads from the Polynesian Easter Island, except this one leans over as if watching the fools on the cliffs below. Christina and Che skittered up the lofty tower while we cheered from below.
Though I’m not quite ready for 5.10 towers, I feel the urge to climb again. The exposure becomes something you crave. The feeling of strength and accomplishment from conquering fear and literally surmounting obstacles is a great metaphor for success in life. It gives greater meaning and punctuation to a person’s life. I always tell people I climb for the view; but it’s the effort, the fear, and the risk that make the view even better. I recommend a bit of climbing to all in search of a lift in their life. Go scare yourself. It’s good for you.