Realization

I went to Potrero Chico with one goal. I told my friends: I want to climb 12a. And I did. Within the first week.

The climb works its way up a beautiful, techy slab. The first time I tried it, I went in with zero expectations. I knew that a fall was likely, but I tried my best anyways. And within the first few technical moves, I was completely absorbed.

The style of that particular climb was perfect for me. It utilized all the things I’d been learning at Smith: just keep working your feet up, take rests before you need them, shake out often and so on.

I hardly noticed the other people climbing around me. I forgot about Carey belaying beneath me, the rope connected to me, the distance between the bolts. It was perfect. It was just me and the climb.

When I fell at the crux, I became extremely frustrated not because I fell from a 12a onsight, but because I fell out of flowstate.

I attempted the climb two more times to see if I could get it clean, but I never did. The second go, I had two falls. The third go, just one.

And my realization, now weeks later, is simple:

I need more in life besides just climbing hard. I didn’t climb 12a because it was a soft 12a (I think it was,) because the temperature was perfect (it was,) because the stoke was high (definitely was.) I clipped the chains on that climb because Carey, my climbing partner, lead me to the base of that climb. I made my way through the moves because Chris taught me the technique. I could rattle off a long list of names of people that have helped me to where I am, but I trust that they know their contribution.

I’m going to continue climbing for the rest of my life. But it’s not to conquer grades, mountains or even myself. It’s for the love of the people that are out there with me. I climb because it’s what I was made to do.

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Carey

After climbing 20 consecutive pitches up Timewave Zero in El Potrero Chico, it became abundantly clear to me that Carey is a very special person.

At first, I wasn’t even going to climb Timewave because I had no desire to feel like I was climbing up the side of a Mexican frying pan. I discovered on this trip that my Pacific Northwestern heritage is not keen on climbing in direct sunlight. Shade is fine, but heat kills.

Anyways, Carey was going to climb Timewave with our friend Jo. Together, they read the route description and prepared for a big day of clipping bolts. Then, nature threw us all a curveball and dumped some rain and chilly temps on Potrero. Just like I was unwilling to climb in the heat, Jo was unwilling to climb in the cold. Carey, however, remained constantly stoked. I was back in the running.

The morning of, we got up around 4am. We ate a quick breakfast, slammed some coffee and listened to Rage Against the Machine. We were stoked and ready.

Carey is a professional rock guide. She’s mindful, practical and likes to plan ahead. In 3 weeks of constant climbing, the only mistake I saw her make on the wall was when she tiredly confused which way to twist the gate of a carabiner to unlock it. Literally, that was it.

With our new Potrero friends, I liked to joke that Carey was Don Quixote and that I was Sancho Panza. While we’re both strong lady climbers, Carey is slightly stronger, slightly braver and slightly more badass than I am.

However, I brought the stoke, tequila and good vibes to motivate us through just about anything. (No tequila on the wall though, don’t worry mom.)

I maneuvered through the short approach on uneven terrain in ski socks and Birkenstocks. When I told Carey that we needed to stop so that I could pluck a cactus spine from my toe, she informed me that I would be bringing proper approach shoes on our next adventure. Carey likes to be prepared. (Goddamn it Quixote, I want to say no, but you’re right.)

Our stoke factor dropped slightly when we got to the base of Timewave and realized that we were the third party on a 23-pitch climb. We’re fast and strong, but we knew that we would be only as fast as the people ahead of us. When the second party took an hour to get through the second pitch, I thought that Carey was going to lose it. It became clear that the people in front of us were going to be the crux of the day, despite the 12a on pitch 21.

As the day carried on, we had a ton of fun. There wasn’t a single pitch that I didn’t enjoy.

Carey climbed 20 pitches without a single fall. I believe that if we wouldn’t have been held up at literally every single belay, we would have cut hours from our climb time. Just in time for golden hour, we reached the 21st crux pitch that goes at 5.12a and had some decisions to make. We could summit, climbing just two more chossy pitches behind the other party… Or we could begin rappelling before we lost daylight.

Ultimately, we decided that we’d climbed high enough and long enough behind other people. So we opted to rap ahead of everyone and hightail it out of there. Reluctantly, I’m willing to admit that it was the best decision of the day. And ultimately, we had an absolute blast on the way down, groovin’ to some Beastie Boys and laughing at everything we’d had to deal with, including: not-so-fun people, reverse-warp speed, choss, millipedes, rattle snakes, cacti and Mexican heat.

Once we hit the ground, we were greeted with tailgate tequila shots and beers. While we didn’t summit, we had an incredibly safe and fun adventure that I don’t think either of us will forget. Furthermore, we’re told we impressed one of the other parties — a couple of weekend warriors from California. Something about being mercilessly efficient, fast, kickass women…

When I’m with Carey I feel like I can climb harder and higher. On my own, I’m a short and stout little force to be reckoned with. But together, we can accomplish big things.

Love you, lady.

 

Love Letter

Dear Smith,
Hey. It’s me. I’m writing you from El Potrero Chico in Mexico. I just wanted to say that I miss you terribly. My new friends here tell me that I shouldn’t, that the climbing is better here — but don’t worry. I know they’re wrong.
Since coming here, I’ve climbed beautiful textured slabs. Pitch-after-pitch of bolted goodness. I’ve kicked cacti (ouch.) I’ve seen colorful lizards mid-route and disturbingly large millipedes. I’ve lead my first 11c, 11d and 12a (and clipped the chains!)
But it’s no Smith.
The views are great, but I miss the Crooked River. The approaches are so short, but I prefer the hike to the Marsupials. The rock has all kinds of features (read: tufas!) and it’s incredibly fun to climb; but it doesn’t kick my ass and inspire me like you do. I’ve attempted harder grades here and had more readily available success; but there’s something to be said of a hard-earned 11b. There’s something to be said of classic-Smith, god-awful runouts to anchor chains… The spooky distance between bolts… And the triumph you feel at the completion of each new route.
It’s been good here in Mexico, but it ain’t no Smith.
See you soon,
Mal

Better

I came to Smith with the intention of hanging out through October, peak season, when the desert temperature drops and crimpacity (crimp-capacity) rises dramatically. I was told that there would be work for me and that I’d have my hands full.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I chose to stay because of the community that I’ve found here. But I don’t think I’ve said much beyond gushing about how happy I am to be here. Well, let’s fix that.

In each of my endeavors, whether it’s climbing, writing, taking photos or working toward my dream of becoming a mountain guide, I get support from my community. It happens in little ways, like when people tell me “That’s rad!” in passing. And more direct ways, like my friends belaying and cheering me up a challenging line. Or even more importantly, like when people cite my flaws and tell me that they expect more of me. That I can. I can write better, I can climb better, I can dream bigger, I can do better.

Slowly but surely, I’m working toward 10,000 hours in climbing, photography, writing. But it’s no solo endeavor. I’m better off because of the people around me.

Falling

I have this project. It’s haunting me. I think about it most every day.

From the beginning, the climb is committing. I reach around a corner to two thin, downward-angled rails and trust my fingertips alone to hold my entire body weight. Then, I lift my right foot high and hope that the friction between the rubber of my shoe and steep, featureless rock will allow me to stand and reach a high hold for my left hand. In this move, my right knee starts near my ribs and slowly, powerfully extends to improve my reach.

I can confidently pull the moves through the first two bolts. It’s the third bolt that I think about daily.

My left hand latches onto a feature vaguely reminiscent of a mushroom — I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s flat on the top — about the width of two quarters stacked on top of each other — connected to the wall by a short and stout stem as wide as a whiteboard marker, but only protruding about a half-inch from the face. As I’m writing this, I feel adrenaline spill from my forearms, through my wrists and into my fingers. My body knows the move but also knows how it feels to repeatedly fall from this feature. On a good go, I support my entire bodyweight — again — from the fingertips of my left hand, stand on negligible feet and throw for a blind right-hand sidepull.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen here. Each time, my friend Alan cheers me on right when I need it — right when the rational part of my brain starts panting, freaking out, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” — and then dutifully catches me when I fall. He’s patient. Tells me to try it again. Tells me I’ve got this; which we both know I do, it’s just a matter of combining physically challenging moves with mental commitment.

What I’ve learned from this line, project and even partnership is that it’s ok to fall. In whatever you do, commitment is what makes failure more formidable, success sweeter, friendship richer, life worth living.