Rainier, the second time

The thing about mountains is that they continue to be there, on the horizon. Two years ago I summited Rainier in a scary year with an amazing team. At the end, I was wrecked and exhausted and closer to tendonitis in both Achilles than I realized at the time. Earlier this year I sat next to Peter at dinner after a WAC class and he said, “I’m going back, and you should be on the trip.”  “Ok.”

So I kicked in to action. I reached out to Audrey Sneizek and got a training plan that seemed much more possible before I started to travel for work. Still, I did my best. Sticking to her plan meant I ran at dawn in Sydney and watched the sun rise over the opera house. I took a train out of the city and did a bushwalk to the songs of birds that sounded like children crying. In Brazil, where I didn’t feel comfortable running alone, I skipped team dinners, found the gym, and put the treadmill up to its highest angle. I got very familiar with the stairs at Golden Gardens and I convinced any of my friends that wanted to climb at Exit 38 that we should go all the way up to Bob’s Spot and that I should carry all the gear. When my tendinitis flared up after climbing Kangaroo Temple I set up a PT appointment and worked with the great folks at Go PT to rebalance and strengthen. On Thursday, two days before leaving for Rainier, Andrew said, “You’re good to go, good luck, and if something happens we’ll put you back together.” I counted days and calories and put my food together. I was ready.

***

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We start with two rope teams – 8 climbers in total. Peter, as always, will be in the lead, with Dana, Brandi, and Damon on his rope. Erin, Michael, Stephen and I are on the second team, with Erin in the lead. Out of our party, only Erin, Dana and Brandi haven’t summited. The guys (besides Peter) have all done guided trips up the DC, and everyone is excited to try the Emmons route.  At White River Campground we check group gear and use Brandi’s pack scale to see what we carry, coming in around 50 lbs for most of us. The smoke from the BC fires keeps everything hazy and Peter starts us at a decent pace. We get to the campgrounds at Glacier Basin without incident. Past the campgrounds the trail opens in to sun drenched trails and it already feels different from two years ago. Hot but not sweltering. Completely possible.

As the trail drops down towards Interglacier the scent changes from dusty to floral, with small white streams dropping through verdant ground cover. Spikes of Indian paintbrush and lupine add bright color to the green. We stop at the edge of the snow and switch to boots, some folks stashing their approach shoes. On to the snow and up. I keep trying to place where we were compared to last time. At one point, as we take a break on a patch of rock, Peter looks down and finds a wand with his own name on it. The orange tape is sun bleached and we realize it must have been from two years ago, something we marked to show where to cut back to the trail. (Last time we returned via Mt Ruth and couldn’t come back for the wand). Peter puts the wand with the others in his pack and we keep going.

A little while later Peter asks how we were all doing and I think I must be confused—from what I remember, we are at our first camp. We are all fine, and he laughs. “Good, because we’re here!” he says. It is like I remembered, but not. The first camp at Interglacier is on a tongue of rock, but this year the area of rock is so much smaller. Two streams still run along the rocks, but above us is snow, not the ridge of dirt I remember. We set up camp, fill our water from the stream, and sit around talking and recreating our own version of the Happy People of Mountain House. Peter has cognac like last time, and I brought whiskey.  We pass around both flasks and watch the sun start to set through the smoky haze.  I sleep soundly, with the sound of the stream and Stephen’s light snoring for a soundtrack and the light wind bringing cool air into our tent.

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In the morning we make breakfast and watch climbers descend from the ridge, rating the glissades like Olympic judges. We can see a few crevasses above us and make a note for our own descent a few days from now. Peter turns on one of the radios to see if we can reach some friends we know are on the DC route. “Peter to Rob, come in?” “Rob here!” Rob and his team have successfully summited and are heading back down. The joy in his voice is palpable and Peter keeps the radio on while I whoop in celebration. Rob and his team have also run into Max and Kayla, two other friends on the Emmons route. After their summit Max and Kayla are headed back down and we knew we’ll run in to them along our way. With so many friends on the mountain it feels almost festive. After breaking camp we rope up and put on crampons to head up to Camp Curtis and back down to Camp Schurman. Nearly at the ridge we pass a small patch of rock with camp spots and then climb on to the dirt and rock. Last time, this was all dirt and scree and we had to jump from unstable rock, over a moat and on to a crevasse filled glacier. This year the snow and ice meets the rock firmly. Below us, instead of blue and black ice, it is snow. I feel a little giddy. What a different year, what different conditions. What felt so impossible and scary then is so within reach now.

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Max and Kayla are coming down from Camp Schurman as we head up the glacier. They stop briefly to talk to Peter and then continue moving. Kayla is first, followed by Max in a Hawaiian shirt, high fiving each of us as he passes. We get to camp without incident, set up our tents, and start to melt snow. With time to kill, we decide to head up a little way and do a z-pulley refresher. Erin’s team stays close to camp and Peter’s team travels up above Emmons flats.  Afterwards we make dinner and talk about the climb.  Our plan is to get up at 11 pm and leave around midnight. The smoke hangs low in the sky and hazes out much of the view, but it’s still beautiful. We prep our packs, put our headlamps on our helmets and turn in for whatever sleep we can get.

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At 11 we all wake up without prodding. The moon is nearly full and the ice glows with its light. We make breakfast and warm water.  I remember being silent and scared last time—this time I just feel excited. We are going. This is happening. As we get ourselves together two other teams leave camp. We can see their headlamps progressing up and up. We will gain the corridor and stop near the top for our first break, and then every hour or so after that. Peter and his team start out, followed by Erin and our team—with me in the back. I watch our team snake out across the ice, the moonlight on everything. Left foot, right foot. Here we go.

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The first crevasse crossing is between Emmons flats and our camp, followed by a snow bridge that we step over instead of weight. As we pass the Emmons flats two more climbers are getting out of their tents and getting ready. Right past their camp is a large crevasse that takes me by surprise and I have to pause for a second before jumping. Michael, ahead of me, turns back. “Nice job, that was probably kind of far for you, huh?” he says.  “Yup! Short legs!” I reply. But I am across it and it everything is ok and we keep going. The trail is well worn and almost a gully between the edges of snow cups. About an hour and twenty minutes in we take a break and let the team behind us pass. Under the moonlight the mountain looks like something extraterrestrial— peaks of sun cups glinting and seracs in the distance slightly more than a suggestion. It is beautiful. We keep going, the pace slowing down. Then I hear Erin on the radio. “Erin to Peter, when is our next break?” “5 to 10 minutes” “I’m having trouble breathing.” “We’ll stop now.”

When I get up to the group, Erin is sitting in a sun cup, covered in her puffy, completely silent. “Here’s the decision,” Peter says. “Erin needs to go down. We either all turn around or we divide and 5 people go up and two go down with Erin.” I sit for a moment. I feel strong, and I trained and I want to see what this mountain looks like on a decent year so badly. But it isn’t a question. “I summited already,” I say, “I’ll go down.” And after I’ve said it my stomach hurts with sadness but every part of me knows this is the right decision. I can’t imagine being Erin, feeling sick and knowing that instead of leading up the mountain, she’s coming back down with two other people who want to summit, and I want to do anything I can to bring her down safely. Everyone else sits quietly. It gets colder. “We need one more person to go down or we all go,” Peter says. Everyone wants to summit, no one wants to give up their spot. “Let’s pick randomly.” Peter picks a number and everyone except me calls out numbers until Brandi says “5” and that’s it, and she’s coming back down with us. We rearrange ropes. Erin short ropes in front of me and Brandi leads us down. I take the stove from Michael and hand my camera to Damon and we start descending.

Shortly after we start down we see two headlamps pointing our way. They’re moving down faster than us and we let them pass. The woman high fives Erin – they made it halfway up before she got sick and she and Erin are equally nauseous. Team vomit party. Brandi sets a great pace, moving as quickly as we can. We stop regularly so that Erin can dry heave into sun cups as the sun starts to rise. Dawn is beautiful and sad—with each step we are closer to camp Schurman and getting Erin into bed, but each step down is a step away from the summit we wanted. I check in with Peter as we descend—the summit team is doing well. As we get towards Emmons flats we have to jump back over the large crevasse again. In the early dawn light it yawns open and looks much larger. Brandi jumps it successfully and sets a picket to protect us. Erin takes a few starts before jumping and clears it easily. I’m nervous and it takes a few false starts before crossing. I try to high five Erin and she puts out her fist and then we switch and switch again and end up just sort of holding hands, laughing. I radio to Peter when we make it back to camp.  Brandi and I make sure Erin is warm and has water and tea and a blue bag in case she needs to throw up. Brandi and I sit, looking up the mountain, and both cry a little, and then curl up back in our tents to nap. I radio back and forth with Peter a few more times, check in on Erin, and sleep on and off.

I wake up to hear Brandi and Erin talking with the other team that descended, Pam and Brad. Brandi has traded a burrito for anti-nausea medication and Erin is feeling slightly better. The five of us lounge near the ranger hut, stretching on the flat rocks. It turns out that their teammate fractured his ankle at the summit and a rescue helicopter will be coming in to bring him down. Pam and Brad both work for REI and we all chat easily, trading stories, talking about climbing, tossing sunblock back and forth. Brandi offers to help them break down their tents, Brad offers up his seat and no one takes it. I give Pam one of the chocolate mints I had for the summit. From where we are we watch our teams descend from the summit, checking in on the radio periodically.

Brandi starts melting water for our summit team as we can see them get closer to camp, and as they step off the snow they seem tired but happy. Brandi, Erin and I could be ready to hike out tonight, but it’s quickly obvious that the team that summited needs sleep. With fresh water they slowly disappear in to the tents.  The three of us make dinner and as we’re eating everyone starts to wake back up. It’s getting dark when we go to bed, and we plan on being on the trail around 8 the next morning.

Erin still feels sick in the morning. It’s hot and the snow is already soft. We leave camp roped up and climb back to Camp Curtis where we unrope and prepare for glissading. We plunge step down below the crevasses we saw from our first camp and get ready to take the glissade chutes down. It’s a fast track and we go quickly enough that my watch beeps in warning from the quick change in elevation. At the edge of the glacier Erin tries to throw up again and we take her pack and distribute as much of her gear as we can without letting her stop us. Michael, Erin, Peter and I hang back and take it slowly while the others push ahead. Erin and I talk about the decision to she and Peter made to have her lead the climb on summit day. Given the circumstances, I would have made the same call.  She tells me that the other option they discussed was for her to stay back at camp and to ask me to lead the team. At 11 pm, on summit day, I would have had to switch from sweep to lead. I can’t say with certainty that I would have agreed. While I’m sad about not summiting, I feel that we made the right decision at each point.

When we get to the cars Brandi hands us each a beer and squirrels jump in the cars and it’s hard to know how to celebrate a summit I didn’t actually achieve. Brandi wants to head home and I grab my gear from her car and pack it in to Peter’s with Dana and Erin.  It feels like a road trip as we head to get food – we sing along to Johnny Cash and Beyoncé and Dana reads us facts about snow from Freedom of the Hills.  When we get to Naches Tavern the guys are already there and have pitchers of water and beer waiting for us, with an order of fried pickles and nachos on the way.  They talk about the climb and I pass around my camera for everyone to see how the summit shots turned out. After lunch we all walk across the street to Wapiti Woolies. We are sunburnt and a little giddy. Peter picks out hats for us and I buy postcards and the hat despite the 90 degree day. Everyone gets ice cream. We hug the guys in the other car and head back to Seattle.

Peter has now attempted Rainier 13 times and successfully summited 12 of those attempts. I’m 50/50 for attempt and success, and that’s ok. The work I put in doesn’t go away, and I am walking around this morning without pain in my Achilles or full body ache and exhaustion. Our entire team came down safely. I have a new hat and a secret awkward handshake and I’m curled up with the dogs, writing about a trip some people only get to imagine. I can try again, and I will.

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Woman-monster

“A woman in the shape of a monster

a monster in the shape of a woman

the skies are full of them”

Adrienne Rich, Planetarium

I want to learn the star-stories again. This weekend Orion hung over us as we drove back through the pass. A warm spring with hint of summer in her teeth, dirty snow at the road edge, a garden of ink. I want more mythology and scraped skin and calluses. I want to become a monster.

I tell stories in a scattered way. If it’s a story I know, I throw in names and places without reference points, I assume the audience knows the path and I barge forward. If it’s a story I’ve been told, I forget names almost as a matter of course. Is it Perseus or Theseus? It was Andromeda chained, not Ariadne, right? Ariadne was the princess with the Minotaur, the woman who gave the spool to unravelling, the lover of Icarus, right? Or Theseus? The names jumble and I remember bright slashes instead of the whole tapestry.

I am at a job right now where I feel I’ve become dumber. I push papers and I make sure contracts are signed and I don’t know that I’ve learned anything that’s really that noteworthy.  On Monday I’m changing to a new place, and I hope I get to dig in to technology again, to learn how things piece together. Is it strange to want to learn programming languages because I feel like it helps me write? I don’t really want to program anything. I don’t really care about databases. But I like the syntax, I like the logic.

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This weekend, hiding away from the strong climbers, I chatted with another new boulderer about poetry. “It just doesn’t feel active enough” I heard myself say as I tried to figure out the first move on a V0, and it felt like I was reading a script. Why aren’t I writing? I say that it feels to dull on the page, that it’s not motion and I want motion. And yet, when given the chance, I spent most of the day standing still, watching other people move. He was excited to find out more about the poetry scene in Seattle, but I feel like what I told him was all old news, the world as it existed three years ago. So much has changed. And I say it’s because I’m climbing, but here I am, working on something a child just tried. I’m no climber. (And my ego rears her head, and she stomps me down into small pieces, and I am nothing, this is a farce, girl what are you doing here you foolish not-even-woman.)

And yet. And yet, when I read in January, I looked out and saw the friends I’m used to seeing in the gym. And I stood and I shook and I stumbled and I loved it. How is that not active? It was more exposing than a heel hook with torn pants would have been. And stop yelling at yourself. Breathe. Put your hand on the rock and just fall when you have to fall – no one is judging.

It’s so frightening for me to give voice to want. To say, out loud- This. World, I want This Thing. But I feel a yawning opening toothy want inside me, and it’s crawling out of my throat whether I feel ok with it or not. Want. I want. I want to become a monster. A star woman. (I am shrouding this all in metaphor, I know. I am still evading. I am still refusing to claim anything as mine.) The problem with wanting is that you risk undoing. You risk losing. A goal is something I can fall shy of. A goal is something I can miss, I can fail.

All I thought I wanted was a book of my own. Something that I created, put in this world, in other people’s hands. That feels less important now. But I can become a monster who is not a book, and this is not failing.  I am not writing a book. I am hanging up that piece of me for now, and that’s ok.

My goal—to fall. To fall and fall and fall and fall.

Anxiety Cave

Photo Credit: Justin Treadway

Photo Credit: Justin Treadway

Last night I went to a film festival. The movies were fun, the crowd was full of familiar faces, and I’m horribly sorry to anyone I talked to.

No one seems to believe me when I say I’m shy. They tell me I’m social, that I could talk to a brick wall, that I’m an organizer and a connector. Combine awkwardness with my stubbornness and I guess, sure, I’m social. I waved at friends, I did the dance over knees and bags to get to the middle of a row for a hug and a quick chat. The whole time thinking  I want to go home I want to go home I want to go home. Give me my couch, my bad scifi dramas, a glass of wine and the man I’ve been seeing, his dogs curled beside us.  I want to go home.

I was so jittery by the end of the night that everything I said felt like a blunt object on my tongue. A sandbag, a brick. We’re headed to get food, come join us! No no no no no.

I love my friends. I love how excited they are about the things I love, how friendly they are to everyone. I have found an incredible community and I am always honored to turn around and find someone smiling at me, including me. I want to go home I want to go home.

There’s a reason I feel more comfortable on a rope in the climbing gym. A rope means a partner is coming to meet me. I’ve never been good with solo adventure. For a while I tried to be, I went to a bar by myself, I did a hike by myself. Yes, singular. I went to ONE BAR alone. I went on ONE SOLO HIKE. I brought a book to the bar, I sat in the sun, I kept looking over my shoulder like someone should be there with me. I am a social creature, but in twos, threes. I can’t focus on multiple conversations, I’m bad at jumping from one to the other. I’m the girl at the party having a very intense conversation in the corner. I’ll talk to a wall, so long as it’s just one wall.

In grad school my friends joked that I was the cruise director. I orchestrated nights out to the local bar, I threw parties, I wanted everyone to be in the same place and getting along. The nights were successful and I hated them until after, when everyone left having enjoyed themselves. At one of them, someone leaned over, you don’t look like you’re having a good time.  I shook my head, I hate this. He looked confused. So why do it? And why? Because someone has too, because everyone else is having a good time. It’s ok. It’s just too loud for me to hear anything.

She Rocks is, essentially, a group made to introduce strangers to each other. This concept is my own personal hell, and yet there I am, every night that I run, waving at strangers in purple. And I love it, as much as it makes me anxious and uncomfortable. It’s funny to think that I would never go to a night that I run and ask people to come to. That is to say, I would never go by myself. Because of this, I love the women who show up, the women braver than me.  They are funny and strong and some have become very dear friends to me. I am lucky.  And still, before every evening, I feel sick to my stomach if I’m headed there alone. I mitigate this by meeting a friend early, by having someone by my side. There are still moments where I feel like the clunkiest robot type woman, trying to talk to a stranger and coming up with gems about the weather, but having a friend there makes everything ok. I don’t know that these women know this—but Devi and Carissa and Elaine and Katie and Karis have saved me more times than I can count.

So if I talked to you last night, I’m sorry for whatever awkwardness came out of my mouth. The chains of, Hi how are you? How are you? I’m good how are you? Maybe you’ll believe me when I say I’m shy. Maybe you’ll come just give me a hug next time. The films were fun though, weren’t they? It was a good night. I just had to go home.

The Inconvenient Body

I am still surprised by details of living, by things that never cross your mind to question until you find yourself facing it.  The things I want to call administrative, though that isn’t really the right term for it.  How, in a goodbye, there is never the swelling moment of music, the fade to black.  How you can find yourself sitting on the floor with your sister, shocked at the amount of ashes your father became. The weight of them. The ridiculous polka-dot box you have in front of you to send him home to your house across the country because, while it’s legal to fly with someone, it’s illegal to fly with their remains.

Let me backtrack. Life is full of moments that are ridiculous.  After my dad’s memorial my sister and I had a box and had to do something with the substance that used to be my dad. I’m not trying to be cold in this—the body laid out that memorial wasn’t my father—it was just what was left behind.  No smile, no gesture, no laughter.  But you still have to do something with it, and so he was cremated. I remember when we scattered my grandmother’s ashes, so it shouldn’t have surprised me just how much substance there was.  My dad was a large man, and even through sickness he was still tall, even if he’d lost a lot of weight.  We opened the box; the funeral home had put ash in bags for us, but even so, there was more than we knew what to do with. We thought, ok, we don’t want urns, but maybe we can find nice wooden boxes, like something my dad would have made. Maybe there’s something nice at a place to buy tea—a nice wooden box that’s not meant for a body but feels more true to our father.

We found ourselves at the Short Hills mall, walking into Tevanna, looking at the shelves in despair. Everything nice was so small, and everything large was made of china and, well, looked like an urn.  A guy came up to us to see if he could help, and stutteringly we explained that we were looking for something like a tea container, but larger. “Well, how much tea are you keeping?” And, instead of doing the kind thing, where we kept to our story, we spilled out that, in fact, we were looking for something to put ashes into, because our dad had just died, and we thought maybe…

The guy blinked, and then rolled with it. He laughed to join in with our awkward stumbling laughter and looked down at the box in his hand. “Yeah, this is pretty small.” He looked around the store and pointed at a shelf with elaborate white china with blue willow type patterns dancing across their shape. “I’m sure you saw those but… too urn-like, right?” We nodded.  He checked a few more places, but kept returning with things too small or made of too much delicate china. “Maybe try Williams Sonoma? Kitchen N Things?”

We walked out and stood for a moment.  My dad liked cooking—Williams Sonoma was a frequent stop on our holiday shopping lists.  Perhaps it’s fitting that we walked from kitchen store to kitchen store, looking for one last present for him, settling on double walled stainless steel container from Crate & Barrel and a story that involved less detail to the hapless staff trying to assist two grieving and laughing sisters.

Would my dad have been upset? I don’t think so. I think he would have laughed and retold the story in his quiet way, sitting a little back from the crowd at a family party.  There are lately so many things I would have liked to ask him, there are so many stories I want to share.  I still find myself wanting those cinematic stops—his body lifting lightly in the wind off of Rainier when we scatter him.  In all actuality I suspect that when I eventually reach the summit the wind will tear him from me.  I know that I won’t be able to bring the whole container of ashes—each ounce matters and I think he’d rather I take water than a coffee container.  I’ll get back to my apartment after all is said and done and there most of him will be, still waiting on my book shelf.  I’ll be tired and sore.  It might be my first attempt, it might be a later attempt—weather cares little for what your plans are, what ceremony is intended.

There are no nice bows to wrap things up, there are no good endings.  He died years ago now, and still I am angry that I can’t tell him about the first 5.12 I climbed in the gym, about the multi-pitches I did in Mexico. I can’t call him from Oregon this Thanksgiving or send him pictures of my friends, our hands chalky, our skin sunburnt. I’m angry I can’t talk to him about when he met my mom, I can’t tell him shyly about a man I like or tell him, after it’s all gone to hell, about how I’m still trying to figure my life out.  I don’t know if my friends know what the silver container on my shelf is, but it’s my dad.  Because bodies suck and his betrayed him and now, because his gave out, I have to be stronger than I was then. And I am, I’m getting there.

Vantage, WA

Cello and the German Forest*

What have I done, into the darkness? Into the place of fear and terror? Into that place of uncertainty where you aren’t quite sure you’ll make it out alive?

There is a reason I give my watercolors away. They are dances, they are whimsy.  There is no danger in my collage work, pierced with thread as it may be.  There is nothing scary about an insect drawn in ink and watercolor, captured by tissue overlay.  There is peace, perhaps. There is beauty.

Art should be dangerous. I don’t mean that the result should be terrifying or risk actual injury— and maybe this is where I’ve been going about it wrong.  But something in the process should scare the creator. You should find yourself in a dark room, unsure if the oxygen is leaking out. You need to risk.

I remember writing the phrase risk everything in my notebook on the first day of graduate school. I wrote recklessly, I used anything that was part of my life to thread through text.  Everything was fair game.  We risked, yes, but we risked safely, to an audience that was with us, telling us, this risk is something I am doing too. I am with you. I wrote recklessly, and I published, and in the time it took for a collection to take hold and for it to be in my hand, I’d left a man I loved, but there was still love. Until he called me and said how could you?

I’m only now re-emerging from that question, trying to step away from the guilt.  Writing is exposure.  To write, you burrow down into your body and flay it open.  The problem is—fair game.  To love me means to risk that knife at your skin.

What is my terror? My fear is to be forgotten, to be nothing.  That’s every writer’s fear—that we have nothing of us left behind.  That we go gentle into that good night. We want to rage, we want that fire to be seen.  What happens when we’re also afraid of fire, when we sit with buckets to douse, in fear of the flame overcoming? In fear of the flame immolating not just our own bodies, but those of the ones closest to us?  We go a little quieter. I go a little quieter. A friend told me you are like a fishbowl without the glass.  A friend told me you crave too much attention. A friend told me you finally found your voice, I want to read it all.  The problem with a fishbowl is that it’s supposed to be made of glass, it’s supposed to keep some things inside.

Tonight I tried to tell my aunt about exhaustion, about the performance of exhaustion. I’ve been sleeping a lot, I’ve been moving slowly.  I’ve been so tired.  And so, then Exhaustion Performancewhat? There needs to be something generative from this place, this thinness, this transparency.  I keep thinking about a performance in college, where the audience was with me, against me, and then with me again as my body flushed and shook, as my muscles gave out. The problem, I said tonight, was that I was too strong. I didn’t see the performance through to the point where I had no choice.  That night, the recording ended and I dropped my arms, the dictionaries clapped to the ground and the performance slammed shut as I buckled my knees and slumped to the floor.  I fell because I chose to, not because I had no choice.  After the smattering of applause I stood up, I cleared the stage.  I could still move, I was not yet exhausted, I was performing at exhaustion, I was performing at surrender.

I don’t know that I have the strength to surrender choice.  This is why I am scared to lead climb—I am scared to fall.  I push to the edge and then back down to safety.  Down climb to where the rope will hold me instead of surrendering to the air.  Maybe this is why climbing has become my poem—I can physically approach that terror. I can touch the edge before backing down.

I am trying to trust my body more. I am trying to trust words more.  A friend asked me if I considered myself a good writer. Sure, I guess, I shrugged. Would you say you’ve mastered writing? he asked.  Not at all! And he ran through numbers until, cornered by science, I admitted slowly, in stages, that I’m good at this thing. A man came up to me at a bar and said How was the gym tonight? and when I was confused said, I know you, you’re one of the strong women who climbs at Stone Gardens. No, I’m not. Those are the other people, the ones I learn from, the ones I am nowhere near touching.

That internal editor. That little censor.  That voice telling me you don’t know enough, you aren’t strong enough, you should edit again, the line is shaky, the composition off.

This fall feels like a good time to head into the scary forest, to see what I’m capable of. It’s a dangerous place, and it’s scary and there will be tears and there will be terror and there will be a hell of a lot of you can’t do this, retreat to safety.

What have I risked of myself lately for art? Not enough.

*The German Forest is what the folks at Radiolab call the terrifying place when a story is lost.  The phrase comes from an experience during an investigation into Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Thanks to Jad Abumrad and Zoe Keating for “Embracing the Gut Churn” at Benaroya Hall (9/30/14).

Flailing and failing gloriously

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

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

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.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.