Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Gift

As a kid watching
of all things
the Ms America pageant
I knew it was about something deeper

As a kid reading
of Wilbur and Charlotte
sobbing experiencing
E.B. White's gift
I knew it was about something deeper

As a kid sitting
in the high school auditorium
listening to Lisa Borman's soprano
echo through that dingy space
I knew it was about something deeper

As a woman
hiking Longs
the breeze riffling my skin
sagey scents tickling my nose
scenery saturated with mountains and sun
endorphins coursing through my veins
strong legs wanting more, more, higher
I know it is about something deeper

It is about beauty
Seeing it
It is everywhere
Appreciating it
Creating it
Oh, the ache to create it
to give to other human hearts
that throb of something beyond self

Friday, August 02, 2013

Yosemite Day 1: Great White Book

Route goes up the huge flake on the right.
I wrote a story on the Great White Book. It was a story of anxiety, confidence, and relief. After arriving in Yosemite National Park and doing some warm-ups on Sunday night, my climbing partner and I decided to tackle this beauty on Monday. We donned climbing shoes, and I tied a rope backpack so we could scramble up some rather gut-wrenching class 4 to the start of the climb. The four warm-up climbs did not bolster my confidence; all of them were much harder for the grade than the climbing I've done in Colorado. I was still nervous and getting to know Yosemite granite. You have to trust your feet, your fingers, yourself, but it is hard when your gut wrenches. Your gut sees that each step you take is higher, farther away from the ground, and closer to the point at which a misstep, a slip on your shoe lace, could send you sliding down Stately Pleasure Dome's granite face. I warred with my gut, conquered it, and kept going.

At the top of the class 4 approach, my partner built an anchor, placing climbing gear into cracks in the rock -- three to protect an upward force, one to accommodate a downward pull. We then attached to these and yippee; we were protected! We also tied to each other. For the next four pitches, we stayed tethered together, a maximum of 60 meters of rope between us. We did our checks and Victor started up the first pitch. He managed to place protection and reached the next belay station without issue. My turn to climb! My gut clenched, my tummy flipped, and I realized that even though I'd peed no more than 60 minutes ago, I needed to go again. I yelled up to Victor, "I'm gonna pee!"

Laughter erupted from some climbers I couldn't see, but now placed to our left. I was pretty comfie on that ledge because peeing at this point involved taking off my harness, the point of my attachment to Victor, to my anchors -- to any and all things keeping me on this 60-foot high ledge. Except my deft feet in my most excellent Mythos climbing shoes. I shimmied out of the harness, sidled away from the rope, and relieved my bladder, losing some of my anxiety in the process. I am also pretty comfie peeing in front of strangers. As I squatted, I noticed a fisherman and a male tourist in the parking lot looking up the dome. I ignored them, not caring if they turned away to allow me privacy or got out the binoculars. Necessity and mothers and all that.

Looking over my toes at what we've climbed so far.
Tension broken, bladder emptied, I started up the rock. The climbing was pretty easy - especially on a top rope (thank you, Victor!) and I reached the blocks that would comprise the next belay station one step up that slabby slope at a time. I peed before I left that belay station too, but only after Victor and I worked out a clever communication system so that I wasn't responsible for some other climber's belly laugh pulling them off the rock. "Code Yellow!" was my cry and Victor would know not to pull on our umbilical cord until I signaled I was ready. Climbing pitch two was much the same as pitch one; we got higher, but I felt reasonably secure.

Then came pitch three. I realized that everything I thought was gut-wrenching up to that point became null and void. I watched Victor pull farther and farther away from me up a super-wide chimney, in which he could place no gear. In which he could place NO gear. Gah. A climber wants a calm head. My head was Manhattan at rush hour, a steam locomotive crashing into a Boeing 747, the lawn guys at my condo doing the grass with leaf-blowers (heinous things, those). I had every kind of worry there was, a chorus of what-ifs and Jeez, is there really no protection??? I had visions of that chimney purging my partner, sending him plummeting past me. The horror of thinking about watching him fall nauseated me. I tried to bring myself back to the here and now, to keep my mind on the belay and envision myself hauling in rope like a madwoman if he slipped. My mind rocketed wildly from rational movement-anticipation to gut-clenching anxiety.

(Later, when Victor topped out and I began to climb, I acquainted myself with a new body odor -- the stink of my fear sweat. It is different than exertion sweat or the sweat of a hot day at the beach. It is tangier and sourer; it smells like panic.)

Victor stopped to rest at about thirty feet up. I dared to ask how he was doing. "OK," he said. "No place for pro but the climbing's easy." After breathing for bare moments, he moved up again. I was relieved when he finally left the chimney and even more relieved when he turned a corner and was out of sight onto a block with presumably more options. There were. He yelled, "I've got a piece! And it'll hold a freight train!" Shortly thereafter, he built an anchor and it was my turn to climb.

I felt like a kid at fat camp ascending that chimney. You grind your hip against the edge of the chimney and push your feet against the opposing wall. I braced one hand on each opposing edge. There weren't holds, just friction. The low angle allowed for that force to hold me in place and even to move up. But it was strenuous! As I huffed and puffed my way up, I was glad for that freight train piece of pro.

At the next belay station, I congratulated Victor on his strong head. We exchanged pleasantries, shared water, and inspected the anchor system. We also noted the few drops of rain and increasing cloud cover. Victor got moving, pulling a roof right off the belay and then traversing out of my sight. I started to feel a little nervous when he yelled down to me, "I've protected a traverse for you really well. There's a good piece at the start and at the end!" Hmm... when one traverses, one cleans the gear at the start, so a catch really depends on the second piece at the far end of the traverse, which means.... you get to be a human pendulum. To add interest, the sprinkles of rain were increasing. Victor was practically running now, pulling out slack as fast as I could feed it. Within moments, he had me on belay.

I saw the reason for his haste to get off the dome when I pulled the roof. Ahead of me was about 20 feet of seemingly-blank traverse. And it was not getting any grippier with the rain. Victor coached me to take my time and feel my way across. I whimpered a bit and "guhh'ed" and "I'm scared!ed" but I kept moving. We needed to get off of that slab before the rain started in earnest. I made it to him pretty expeditiously (in spite of the emo output). We quickly decided that rapping the route to 4th class slab made no sense in the rain. According to the guidebook, the other descent option required some route-finding but was safer in the rain. We scrambled up to a headwall and found a way over it and... hit cairns! The whole descent was well-cairned and beautiful. We even felt safe enough to welcome the rain for the sake of drought-stricken California.

I ended the day with unequivocal appreciation for my climbing partner. When I finished pitch 4 and we were safely descending, Victor remarked that he wanted to get that thing done so that I could get moving and get it done quickly too. He was worried about me getting it done before the rain moved in; he knew I'd be sketched out. When you're attached to another human being with an umbilical cord of rope on a 450-foot granite dome, you want that human being to say things like that.

Day 1 ended, I felt uncertain about my relationship with climbing. It was too scary to be fun, but too exhilarating and gratifying to be dismissed. This love-hate question would be kicked around for the rest of the week...