I scurry home from work and quickly pull on a sports bra and the shortest shorts that will work with a harness. It’s hot and I have a quick errand to run before heading to the crag. By the time I drop of jewelry with K. my shirt is damp and I’m uncertain we’ll actually get any climbing in. Traffic is heavy and it takes a while to get onto open road. A sweaty, long while. Karis and I have been
climbing a lot this summer, but neither of us feel like we’ve been really working it. We’ve been caught in bad weather, we’ve been teaching friends, we’ve been learning to lead trad, but we haven’t had a real exhausting day together. We chatted about climbing at Nevermind on Sunday, but the group grew from us to a few more, and then a few more, and quickly there were eight of us, with only Karis and I able to lead. Sunday was great—good company and the few climbs we did were fun, but despite showing up early, by the time I jumped in the river with A. and T. in the late afternoon we’d only climbed three easy routes. A. was surprised, but that’s what happens with a large group. Things take a while.
I roll into the lot and find Karis sitting on top of her trunk, eating salad. It’s hot, but not as hot as Seattle. There are only a few other cars in the lot. The sky is hazy. I grab my rope, she has the draws and we head for the rocks.
We hike the few minutes up and take the trail back to Nevermind. It’s shaded and there are two parties already set up. We nod hello, put our packs down and set up. I start. And… I’d like to say I cruise through, but I don’t. It’s a route I’ve done before, but I’m not sure if I led it or not. I pause. I try a move and down climb back to the bolt. I try it again, and again down climb. “I’m being a weenie!” I shout down at Karis, but she shrugs and laughs. “You got this.” So much for Rope Gun. Yesterday may have felt easy, but I’m not that strong. 5.10a. Come on. Do this. I finish, but it feels harder than it should have.
We pull the rope and Karis leads it flawlessly. She cleans, we pull the rope again and move on. 10c. “Want to lead it?” she asks. I hesitate. The start is overhung, but everything here starts like that. “I’ll put the first draw in, how about that?” I agree, and then look up at the second bolt. There’s a slabby hold that looks like disaster for my wrist, and I back down. Looks like it’s going to be a top-rope day for the rest of the evening. When Karis finishes I lace up my shoes and have at it. I don’t even touch the hold that had me worried, I climb it cleanly, and I come to the ground frustrated that I didn’t even try to lead it.
Next up is an 11a. This is the climb I wanted to lead yesterday, but I’m feeling way over my head, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to finish it following. Karis leads it and looks graceful, even if she takes a few rests. Then it’s my turn. “I can do an 11 outside, right?” I ask. “Yeah,” she answers, like it isn’t a real question. Chalk up. Here we go. Good. Lord. I scramble, forget to breathe, forget I have feet. I swear like a demon, and then a sailor. I sweat. And sweat. I fall. I get back on and try, but I’m slapping at holds, I’m frustrated. I can’t calm myself down, I can’t get back into my body. Somehow I eventually thrutch up the thing—it’s balancey and crimpy and should be a climb that I love. I’m pissed, and sore, and tired. Karis smiles, we high five. This was exactly why we came out here.
It’s dark by the time we hike out, and a storm is rolling in. Lightening forks in the distance and I give Karis a hug at our cars and we leave, me back to Seattle, her to Olympia. I hit the highway and in a few minutes sky gives out—too tired of holding in heat. The wind in my car windows smells metallic. The rain pours and the clouds thunder and lightening breaks across everything.
My friend J. says I’m too tough on myself. Maybe I am. As strong as I might have seemed on Sunday, Monday night showed me how much further there still is to go. I just want to be a good partner who is able to carry her own weight. I don’t want to have to depend on someone else to lead something I want to try, and I want my partner to know I can get to the top of something she wants to try. It’s going to take me a long time to get as strong as Karis, if I ever get there. I’m glad she was willing to be patient, despite my swearing. Every time I climb with her I’m thankful that we’re friends. She inspires me with her climbing and she supports me with her confidence. I know that next time, I’ll climb it cleaner. Eventually, I’ll lead it. Last night wasn’t my night, but the rock has been there for years, it will be there for a few more. My body feels bruised and my fingerpads are sore and I couldn’t be happier.