Saturday, February 28, 2009

The CLimBer

I'm exhausted and my fingertips hurt, but I can't sleep and want to write. My blood is still up.

I went climbing outdoors for the first time today. I keep replaying it. The holds, the exhilaration, the way it felt to just boss my way up the climb. Then the utter exhaustion and my inability to grasp even the easiest hold. The way my body told me "no," the way my mind could just not persist, did not even want to - the way I hated the rock and wanted off in the worst way.

I never felt unsafe. My belayer is too good for that. But I did feel unsure. It feels like a massive departure from who I used to be. The climbing crowd is part of it. The rock itself is another. Then there's my learning curve - the absolute mental and physical challenge. I could barely follow the conversation on the way to the rock. The terms, the names of (apparently) famous climbs and climbers... My climbing partners threw their jargon around like snow in Wisconsin. I was in a blizzard and just tried to keep my vision clear. More than once, I was snowed-in.

And that was even before we got to the rocks.

Once there, I soon found myself on belay and climbing Shelf's limestone walls. Implicitly trusting my belay partners and going all out, attacking the rock. You look for the weakness in the rock - and it ferrets out every weakness in you. I used every part of my body and every piece of rock that I could think of to devise a hold. To pull myself up those rock faces. I bear the battle scars. Bruised knees, a chunk of skin out of a finger pad, and muscles that I don't want to face tomorrow.

I attempted five climbs. I couldn't make it to the top on my last two. A meager three full ascents drained every ounce of my energy. My third climb was my most fun - but the most technical of them all, the bruise-maker. It was called "Don't mess with my Moves" (each climb has a catchy little moniker) and was "in your face" the whole time, requiring the climber to be creative in finding each hold. I remember being splayed on the rock, spread-eagle style to reach holds, while other moves had my hands and feet hugging an outward bulge of rock. That's where I earned the bruises; determinedly hugging that rock with my thighs and knees, not wanting to give it an inch - wanting to ascend under my own power.

Once that climb was done, I attempted the fourth and fifth climbs but found that I was done. My body was tapped out. My mind was tapped out.

Right now I am a CLimBer; my skills are as jagged as Shelf's burlier faces. I am going to have to work to get good at this. According to my climbing partners, I have a natural aptitude, but even with that, I didn't do a single "clean" climb. I either fell off the wall or had to ask for a "take" - wherein my belayer locked down the rope and let me hang to rest and consider my next move. I am far, far from being able to lead. It is unsettling to be a newbie at this. I am, however, settled on one thing: I will be back. I am in the place where it makes sense to do this.

As exemplified by this final photo. We left as the sun was beginning to sink. But a glance back revealed nine different ropes at work on this one wall. Shelf's hundreds of routes find just as many climbers. This is quite a place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mt. Sherman is Mine, All Mine

I did it! Bagged my fifth 14er on Saturday. I can now notch my belt with Mt. Sherman, 14,036 feet.

The trip was awesome - beginning with the drive to the trailhead. I topped two new passes and the view was stunning. From Denver, highway 285 leads you to the Mosquito Range which hosts Mt. Sherman. It also leads you to incomparable views. The passes opened onto wide valleys framed by the mountains. Little - like teeny, cardboard box - towns were nestled in there. I drove through and couldn't help but dream of purchasing real estate. You wanna be tucked away - that's the place.

After Fairplay (the most populated city in its county, boasting 610 souls), you turn off on a highway that quickly turns into a boulder-strewn gravel road. When that peters out into feet-deep snow (where the plows stop), you park and start hiking.

The hike itself was... incredible. It is a singular experience doing these 14ers. My other hikes are pretty views and tranquilizers; I find so much peace. These 14ers are all hard edges and adrenaline. You start above treeline so there are only the bare faces of the mountains and their individual shapes to study. Some have been uptilted, decorating their faces with horseshoe-shaped bands of minerals. Others are stout little pyramids greeting you. Others, like Sherman, while indistinct in shape, are no less impressive for their sheer mass and power over the landscape.

Though snow is the predominant color, rocks with their coats of lichen also dot the mountainsides. Occasionally, human structures break out of the landscape. Abandoned mine shafts remind you of Colorado's rocky mineral history. Looking down, you see fir trees, standing stark and dark against the white of the snow.

For most of the hike, I followed a well-blazed trail. But by approximately 13,500 feet, I had passed all the other climbers and was left to my own devices to find the trail. Naturally, I lost it (my map had flown into a ravine early in the hike) and I ended up making my own path. I could see the summit ridge so I knew which direction to go, but it was quite tricky picking a path. My choices were to pick my way up steep, slippery scree - or posthole up a nearly vertical wall of snow. And of course you don't realize how vertical things are until you start...

I chose the snowy path, kicking my boots into the snow for toeholds and grasping with my fingers for handholds. It all went pretty well until I reached the very last ledge. And it was a doozy of a ledge - with snow stacked up to my chest. And it was hard-packed. Kicking to test the snow and finding it unyielding, I considered Down. But Down looked more treacherous than Up.

Up it would be. I kicked several times before I could begin to consider putting my weight on the toeholds. I threw my mittens up on the ledge and dug handholds with my fingernails. With two good footholds, I heaved myself up and crawled on hands and knees once on the ledge itself. Tricky, tricky. Meanwhile, all the other yaks were gaping at me - and mostly going a different route. I got lotso props on that move on my way down. But mostly I just loved it for me. It's a bit ineffable, this feeling I have while climbing, but I'll give it a whirl...

I realized that day on Sherman that I am no longer just somewhat driven; I am summit driven. It feels like purity, like all of life's ambiguities are no more. There you find yourself at 13,500 feet, buffeted by winds and facing steep rock and frozen snow. I love being at 13,500 - much more than the 14,038. Thirteen-five is where the adventure is. The self-reliance, the test of strength and stamina. The choice between Down and Up, while daunting, is a clear one. And you write the ending all yourself. I revel in my body's strength and - dare I say? - developing skillz.

The top? Oh yes, I reached it. It took me 3 hours and 15 minutes. It was super windy so I spent very little time stopped anywhere - not even the summit. I snapped a few photos, signed the 14ers ledger, and began the descent.

When I reached the downhill of the less steep snowfields, I remembered an episode of Man Vs. Wild in which Bear Grylls saved mucho energy by glissading down an embankment. I promptly plopped myself in the snow and slid down, steering myself by slightly digging my heels into the snow or pushing down with the heels of my hands. It was a ball! That 3:15 it took me to get up turned into 1:59 for the way down.

Once finished, I was a zombie, tucking myself into my car, not even changing out of my wet socks and boots but rather doing all that needed to be done with automaticity. I listened to no music on the way home; rather I was accompanied by my own thoughts and the sensations of 14.

Mt. Sherman? Feels like mine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Rocks Were There... I climbed them.

Path finding mid-stream. Better now than never.

Goal met: I reached my chair and sat for a spell.

Eldorado Canyon Hike 2/16/09


They come into my office one-by-one
these struggling readers
referred to me by teachers
who have related their
battle stories


They come into my office
and they perform
No, they transform
for those 20 minutes
they become students again
slicked-up and straight-backed
doing their darndest to answer my questions

Some can't sit still to save their lives
some can't answer my comprehension questions to save their lives
but they try
they have new hope
for that 20 minutes they see
a new teacher
a new opportunity
and to a one
their egos respond
the best in them shines
they have hope
they give it their all

That resiliency
that capacity for hope
is inspiring ...
yet sad

Because when my 20 minutes is up
they leave
Over my head in my office hangs
their hope
their inspiration
their assiduity
Over my head hang
the question marks

Can we?
Will we?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Mountain Top

I am another person on the mountain top.
I'm the person who knows how to live.
Who knows how to give.
Who wants nothing for herself.
Who has everything she needs.
Who doesn't crave
or claw
or demand
But rather
and hears
and is soothing

I see far on the mountain top.

Photo - Pike's Peak Ascent, 9/12/08
Sentiments - Eldorado Canyon Hike, 2/16/09

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Did you see that streak?

It was me on my bike! It was AMAZING here in Denver today.

It was the kind of day that makes happiness leak out of you & everyone else you meet on the bike path, resulting in a culture of grinning that seems almost cultish. It was 67 degrees with sun, sun, sun that flooded the bike paths and baked the concrete. It was the kind of day where you yell (OK, I yelled), "Go, shirtless guy!" to the biker in the oncoming lane. It was the kind of day where you started out a little fearful, because - well, you think about things differently when you've been hit by a car - but then find yourself fearless because you have a mightily beneficent tailwind and every time you look down to check the gauge it's whispering sweet nothings to you... 19, 20, 24, 26 MPH...

You find yourself fearless because the sun emboldens you. You find yourself fearless because the downhills feel so sweet and rounding the curves feels tight and fast. You find yourself fearless because your bike feels like an extension of you and you are lithe and strong and healed and - best of all - on the road again. Riding out the thoughts of the day, obsessing over the kids, the colleagues, the lesson plans, the problem solving until you've ridden them all out. And all that's left is you and the motion and the pure mounting joy...

Today: 21.4 miles, 19.4 MPH Av.