Monday, 17 June 2013

Safe in these Surrey Hills

26th April, Idyllwild, California.

Diana is busy working at camp so without a partner i am therefore left to my own devices for the day. Without a doubt it begins with a bucket of hot coffee. Next, i walk a few minutes out of town, to a cluster of trees for some private council on the days potential. The pines groan as their stiff and parched trunks sway softly in the cool morning breeze, their needles floating at will into the perfect blue yonder above.

Looking up to the east, the splendid pinnacle of Tahquitz rock sits silently in its dominion over the valley, it's golden white granite glowing fierce in the bright morning sun. It's less than a week before i return to UK soil so i guess there isn't really any question.  I'm going climbing. 

An hour later, i top out on 'The Trough' a 4 pitch 5.4, a historic route (1936) that requires some scrambling with a few hand jams but one of the first ascents which turned out to be a pleasant warm up. Returning to the base of the west face once more my thoughts turn to the main objective. White Maidens Buttress. The routes on this feature are full of variations but still stay sub 5.6, all 800 ft of it.

Sitting at the base and looking at the route, there's no babble that invades my thoughts, only calm, as if my spirit already knows that i'm going to need a tranquil mind for the ascent. When enough time has passed, the usual check list is sorted. Strap up the rock boots, chalk bag on. Mow down a Mars bar and chug some aqua. Good to go.

Tahquitz Rock, from the trail head. The buttress is the middle feature. (Leaning left)
The initial flakes and cracks are surprisingly vertical but perfect jam after jam keeps the flow strong. After two hundred feet i pass a large pedestal with a couple of guys chilling. Excuse me, mind if i pass? Cheers.
The angle then eases and the cracks still juicy for the next few hundred. Never before had i felt so empowered to be alone and capable in that moment 500 feet up. Then came a moment i hoped would come since August 2011;

At this point in time, i had been trad climbing for 2 months. Feeling good about progress, i felt like a low commitment day and decided to go to the Smoke Bluffs, a crag in Squamish (Canada) with an abundance of single pitch routes. By 4pm i had soloed some very easy '5 star' 5.7's and decided to finish with 'Burger & Fries'. All i can say is a series of very bad decisions shortly ensued.  Firstly, the route is about 80 feet and gets baked by pounding sunlight and at that time of the day sweaty and slimy. Secondly, a lot of easy 'classics' have a tendency to be polished, and oh how it was. I start up anyhow in some kind of arrogant defiance and reach the top of the flake. From here you palm your way up the polished, bulging slab to the top but instead of down climbing like any sensible human being i reach my third and last crescendo.  

Groping a protruding dime with two fingers and stepping off the flake,  my feet are now pasted on squeaky pebbles. The dime is as smooth as marble and i freeze up quick.
Oh No. Saying this out loud only exacerbated the rising tide of terror beginning to consume me to the core. Legs shaking and palms damp and slimy i fear the friction will not last and contemplate my absolute failure. "I'll only break my legs" comes to mind and rouses a last ounce of what felt like survival climbing. I refuse to accept this. With all my might i reach up and slam my palms as hard as possible onto the slab, my feet desperately running in order to create some kind of momentum. In a few frantic moves i am at the top gasping for breath and feeling like an utter fool. My motives that almost led to my potential oblivion was the result of my ego assuming a 5.7 without a rope was a sure thing. I had to be more in touch with me, my essence. I never forgot that, but hoped that some day i would be able to solo again without that crippling image choking me with fear. 

That same day, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish
Back on Tahquitz, two years on,  i reach the end of a friendly crack. At first i halt as the way directly up is out of the question but it seems i must traverse down to the left to reach the final corner cracks that wind their way up the ramp all the way to the summit. Not long now. The moves look OK but a flash of that day at the Smoke Bluffs makes me take a breath. Instantly it dissolves. I am still and clear. Stepping down onto the slab i chalk my fingers and crimp the holds perfectly. One move at a time i go, looking down to focus on my feet with 500ft of silent space below. Still i breathe, the sound of air inflating my lungs is the only thing i register. Nothing else exists in that moment, only nothingness. Three moves in, i am in between the two cracks, completely exposed. One more. I keep going slowly, mindful that i could reverse the moves if necessary. Finally, my fingers curled around the protruding flake and into the crack. Ahh. And then it clicked. At long last, i had found my centre and was free of the fear. The setting sun was beginning to stain the valley in orange and call it a day, as was I.

Sitting on the summit, all i could feel was immense gratitude to be alive. Existing. Every cell inside my body tingling with intense life. Although the climb is rated 5.6, which is not technically very hard, i had a revelation. You are not you from 2011, you are not what you would like to be, you are just you in this moment. It's all relative, that's the whole point. All you can do is be honest with yourself and make the right decision in that moment. This is most important.

Back in town, every sound is crystal clear, every spectrum of colour is visible and the smell of food utterly delectable! I meet up with Diana and listen to her talk about her day. She appears to be glowing. The sound of her voice is so soothing, her scent intoxicating. I recline in my chair and relax. Sublime, so sublime.

Climbing on Tahquitz the next day with Diana 
2 months later i'm sitting in mums garden in a little village called Wonersh. It's located in Surrey, southern England. Many delightful qualities exist here; Twisting country lanes that lead to old pubs that date back to the 15th Century, old friends who possess the bonds of friendship that surpass proximity and time and of course family. The local blackbirds and Robins sing their chorus of song as the bumblebees hunt for pollen across the flower beds of Honeysuckle, Lavender, Buddleia and Lilac. The wind chimes sing peacefully in the background. So much life here. So safe.

2 months. The longest i've gone without climbing for two years. On the contrary, i am the one who is wilting. I feel like i have been cryogenically frozen. It's a hard thing to describe to people that do not live with the mountains in their lives, but this was why i started the blog in the first place i suppose. It's funny how you think back to how amazing it all was or how awesome next month is going to be, but what about now?
As we create our own reality, it's definitely important to put things in perspective, like making enough money to fund that expedition you've always wanted to do or to reconnect with family after all those epic adventures you've had. The legendary British Philosopher Alan Watts once put forward a metaphor that the present is like a sailboat. The wake doesn't drive the boat but are memories and experiences that ripple and melt into the sea of time, just depends on where you want to go. I like that.

Mum (having a snooze) and her house.

My little Buddha in the garden
The flame will never go out, only smoulder from time to time but without passion we are a dead souls.

No comments:

Post a Comment