Twelve stories up a granite wall is no place to lose one’s composure, but mine was fleeing fast. There was no place I could see to put my hurting feet, and the smallest hand and finger holds seemed equally elusive. To make matters worse, a summer thunderstorm was rolling in from the west and ominous clouds were gathering for an attack. I looked up to see how much farther I had to climb, and saw nothing but lots more of the same difficult nothingness.
I did what any utterly-inadequate-feeling human being might do. I burst into tears.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of heights. Simply speaking, I was in over my head, had not a clue how I would pull out of it, and I let my emotions get the best of me. I HAD to get up to the top of this climb, as descending was no longer an option after that first pitch was completed. That is a lot of pressure.
To be fair, I knew at the start of the day that we were undertaking a route more difficult than yesterday’s pleasant White Whale. My climbing buddy assured me that something rated 5.8+ (plus meaning “more than”) would challenge me, but he was confident I could do it. Ed is a professional climbing and canyoneering guide, and I trust his judgment. Right now, however, it was all I could do to keep from yelling some colorful epithets in his general direction. I was not pleased to be stuck on a crag feeling a sense of desperation and doom, with lightning approaching from behind.
I had already made it through one “crux” (the hardest part of a climb), but everything conspired to make this one feel worse. We had worked on hand techniques before starting, but in the face of meteorological vagaries that could be life-threatening, the ‘jamming’ wasn’t exactly working for me. I was inexperienced enough that I couldn’t punt very well.
Panic was rising in my throat as I struggled to focus on even one single thing I could do to propel myself upward. It was then that I heard words come out of my mouth that I rarely allow myself to say: “I can’t do this.” Up there on the wall, halfway between ground and summit, I said it again: “ED, I CAN’T DO THIS.” I meant it, more than I have meant many things. I was convinced that this was an impossible task.
Ed’s voice had a reassuring steady cadence as he calmly directed me blindly from above. “Use your feet. Don’t get tunnel vision. You can do this, Kathryn. Just one small move at a time.” I took a few deep cleansing breaths, more to stop the tears than to fill my lungs, and found the first move I could make. It was only a few inches up, but as I put that slack into the rope and Ed tightened it up immediately from above, he commended me and re-introduced a tiny ray of hope.
Well. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, which included shameless whimpering, more tears, scraped knees and elbows and back, self-pity, thirst beyond describing, and a desperate longing for three magical wishes. I’m rarely a wimp, but on parts of that climb I was a total wuss. It was not pretty, working my way inch by inch out of the slot of doom.
Ed’s considerable experience guiding all types of people has contributed to his being patient, compassionate, always encouraging. He knows how to empower others to muster the strength to get up and do what needs to be done, even when it looks impossible at the moment. I hope you enjoy the summit photo he took of me as much as I do. It is a reminder of what comes when you push hard at the edges of your ability and refuse to succumb to the “I can’ts” that impinge on your thinking and being. I’d call it a watershed day on the rock.