|True mountain warrior|
We weren’t technically running, but I was moving as fast as my legs would carry me up the switchbacks. Leaving the main trail and starting up the steep climbers trail, sweat soaks my shirt and drips from my brow.
“How you guys doing? Not moving too slow for you, am I?” I call back to Zachary and Joe. They are sucking wind, but matching my quick low strides. Zachary chatting about big days fighting wild fires; Joe right on his heels bouncing up the scree slope in flip flops.
Zachary planted the idea of spending the night on top of a mountain, where we could bath in the monochrome fireworks of the Perseid meteor shower. Eyes shining behind rectangular wire-frame glasses, he enlisted me as the rope gun. To keep it sporting, I had upped the ante with a bigger, harder route. In his happy-go-lucky way, Joe joined the team a half hour before the end of the workday.
As the three of us not-quite-run toward the South Early Winters Spire, my mind wanders through the what-ifs and strategies to pull this mission off. I mention the need to get above the crux of the climb before the sun completely disappears. They only have a vague idea of what they signed up for.
We reach the base of the Southwest Rib at 7pm. I chew on a bar, and assemble my climbing equipment. Shouldering my overnight pack and looking up at the first pitch, the thrill of adventure adds a renewed spring to my step. I tie into the rope and take off.
“Put me on belay eventually.”
They are still sorting gear, eating, and swatting mosquitoes. It may appear reckless, but alpinism is not folly. My movement is sure and intentional; climbing fast pulls you close to the margins, where confidence is safety. It’s 40 feet before I can stop and get some decent protection. Before that, the boys can hydrate and repack their bags. No need for a belay. Warm golden light paints the 900 ft granite stump above as the sun settles between distant mountaintops.
|We shared the route with a few other climbers|
My thoughts have been occupied with the concept of being a warrior. I have been reflecting on how to be more intentional. Being a warrior against the challenges of love, work, friends and family is more complicated than climbing, but there are some common truths. We celebrate instant gratification in our culture, and are led to believe that there is an easier path. Divorce, desk jobs, and social media allow us to lower our guard. When I look closely at why my life gets complicated, I find places I am leaking energy and recoiling from the hard parts. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. Instability, change, and suffering are unavoidable. Rather than looking forward to peace and quiet, I must lean against the jagged edge and fight with the expectation that it will only get harder.
On the side of the South Early Winters Spire, in the fading alpenglow, Zachary is holding onto a different kind of jagged edge, 300 feet above the ground. “I think this is above my pay grade, Calvin!” He grunts and puffs like a bear, as he wrestles the “zig zag crack” and his backpack. He is having type 2 fun, he just doesn’t realize it, yet.
This is our first time roping up together, and I enjoy his careful and stubborn nature. He’s built for these mountains, and continues upwards even as he mutters about the “plus rating”.
30 feet below, Joe climbs with effortless grace. He has the long legged spider style that I will never have. My style is closer to that of an orangutan, swinging and dancing up the cracks and ledges. As I start up the “Bear Hug Pitch” the sun has dipped below the horizon.
Nobody does this.
Halfway up the pitch I have a moment. I am overcome with gratitude and love. It is a superlative moment. The best way I could possibly spend my night. I reach a ledge and build an anchor as the light finally gives out. The moment is perfect because I had to be uncomfortable to get here. I have trained myself to associate the suffering on climbs with fun. Embracing the warrior’s quest means welcoming each test, and pushing myself further than I thought possible. In climbing the struggle is something I have learned to welcome. The climbs that push me are the most satisfying. How can I shift my thinking in the rest of my life?
Anyone watching our headlamps on the side of the mountain would have thought we were having an epic, but the adventure continued on into the night as planned. We reach the summit at 11pm. Traversing across the summit ridge, we are like astronauts walking through space. After locating a few bivy spots scattered near the summit, we wolf down a dinner of left over French toast and cheese. The darkness belies our precarious position on the spire, and before long we settle into the comfort of our sleeping bags to watch for shooting stars.
|My bivy on the ridge atop the South Early Winters Spire|
A blazing streak across the night sky, reminds me to make a wish. I consider love, review my dreams, and think about what I want to be better.
I wish I were braver. I wish I were more durable. I wish I were more intentional. I wish for more superlative moments.
I wish for love.
I’m not superstitious, and the exercise reminds me that my wishes can come true, but only if I put in the work to make them come true. It can’t all be easy. When I accept that I will always suffer, and lean into the jagged edge, my wishes might come true; they might not.
Tonight happened because Zachary dreamed of doing something special to see the Perseid Meteor Shower. I refused him at first, thinking I couldn’t pull it off on a “school night”, but back at home, I kept thinking about not limiting myself and making the most of each day.
While I drank coffee the next morning, I pulled out all my climbing and overnight gear, and threw it in the car. Once I made the decision to go for it, there was no stopping me.
Being a climbing warrior, gives me the inspiration to patch leaky energy in other parts of life. I set the intention again and again to confront addictive behavior, comfort, sloth, self-pity, jealousy, greed, and fear. Forgive each failure, and love courageously. I’d like to say, “I’ll figure it all out one day,” but what fun would that be.