As I finally collapsed to solid ground, millions of thoughts toyed with my ego. Ridiculed by doubts: we could’ve made it… stupid choice… you coward… totally unprepared… a wasted day… what kind of sandbag was that… better conditions… reliable protection; and everything would’ve been fine. And on and on and on and on. The bottom line was, I failed.
Sweat poured down my forehead stinging the corner of my eyes. Obsessively, I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. Inner dialogue spewed like an estate auction, “Don’t pop, don’t fall, don’t die, don’t, don’t, donnnn…. [BANG!!!] Well I’m flying.” There goes one piece, another and the third… HOLDS! Tension cinched tightly on my hips as the rope jerked at my harness. I had plummeted 30 feet til a tiny piece of brass wedged in a thin seam disrupted gravity’s design. This would be it, I knew I had already thrown the towel in, as I continued to climb towards the belay. Passing my previous high point, I did everything in my power to block out the helplessness of being airborne minutes prior. Finally, I arrived at a three foot ledge, mentally frazzled and physically exhausted. I squinted towards the sky, the mountain relentlessly glared back. The next pitch was dizzying and the summit seemed an unattainable, vertical mile away. My legs dangled off the wall, feeling comfort in the security of a solid anchor and my rappel device.
Failure. How does one cope with life when personal limits are reached? Odds are against them? Or discernment casts aspirations in alternate directions? Where must we draw the line between risk and reward? Boldness and stupidity? Worth and consequence? And how does one maintain his [or her] confidence after retreating in the face of the world’s confines.
Casey and I were ending our second week in Yosemite, and our third failure at a planned objective. Weather conditions, fear, water, misplanning and over-estimated abilities were some of the culprits. And today, we backed off on what I thought would be fairly easy proving ground in the aid climbing realm. A tenuous fall, a blank section of rock missing it’s fixed gear and free climbing over copperheads and micro cams sent me in a full on retreat. And now I was furious, or rather deflated. Partly in disbelief, I exclaimed, “We backed off. Who backs off?” Up until recently, I had rarely backed off any sort of risky challenge but now the stakes seemed higher. There’s a lot of trouble to get into in the Sierras. And all the while amazing feats to notch on your belt. The old saying ‘you don’t know if you can til you try it’ doesn’t always work around here. Leading off with that in mind can put you in a world of hurt or worse, dead. But it could also place you in a realm of the unknown. Between what’s been done and what’s humanly possible. So, where do we find the balance to tame the beast inside. The beast inside us. The beast inside these grand statues of earth. The beast inside what’s possible.
Bailing, the simple word brings a slew of emotions to the surface. Acceptance, inadequacy, apprehension and understanding are just a few connotations myself and others may relate to. However necessary to climbing and pushing life’s limits, bailing is not fun for anybody. Therefore when does one acknowledge the moment to make this crucial decision? When is the risk worth the reward? Or pushing forward just place too much on the ‘line’. These are the crossroads I, among others, are constantly forced to face. The beginner boulderer, professional alpinist and everyone in between, willfully ventures into the psychic of what is personally acceptable.
A mountain does not concern itself with your spouse, two kids or dog you left behind for a day outing. The frostbitten nose you’ve endured due to it’s frigid northern exposure. Or the new, now torn and bloody, shirt you bought just to wear on ‘send’ day. It demands respect equally from the meek and the mighty. Stern, merciless, blunt, yet worthwhile all along. Like a wild creature that lives beyond the rules of this life or the next. Standing tall, broad in posture, eyes gleaming of anarchy and disobedience. And if we do this long enough, we will all come face to face with this barbaric beast. Some of us more than others. Some when they catch a glance of their own self in the mirror. And some may loose their lives chasing dreams on higher ground. Nevertheless, we are given a choice. It is through this conscious decision we can even the playing field and constantly place the odds in our favor. Or uproot ourselves, risk everything, potentially leave our stain on the pages of history. Or crash and burn in our efforts.
One of the more notable accounts of exploration into the unknown, were the early struggles on Mt Everest. Only a figment in time to most, George Mallory decided to make a dream, a reality and left his mark forever. In 1922, he led the very first expedition to conquer the highest mountain in the world. Unsuccessful after two attempts, he was recorded by the New York Times a year later, “Why do you want to climb Everest [George]?” This prompted an immediate reply, “Because it’s there.” Is this the explanation onlookers and we, as participants, are looking for when asked why we do what we do? Is it this elementary? Could this possibly be the complete motivator for putting our lives on the line for our own personal glory? Two years later, Mallory [along with his partner Andrew Irvine] lost their lives 800 feet from the summit. It is still argued to this day, if the two took the first steps atop this colossal peak. Nevertheless, Mallory’s bold efforts bestowed an idea on mankind, that one may push his [or her] limits of what’s humanly possible for an eternal existence.
So…. “Why take the risk?
Maybe it’s for the moment when the impossible is conquered and there’s the satisfied joy that connects the present with someone long forgotten…a familiar face. Meet your inner child. He’s a great kid, but not exactly the person your boss hired.” – Dana Brown from Step Into Liquid
Completely immersed in a lifestyle of adventure and exploration, spending the past few years totally committed to the outdoors, sacrificing society’s goals for the touch of stone, Ramen noodles, benighted epics, sublime landscapes, body odor, psychedelic sunrises, the shelter of a vehicle and gratification of a summit, he continues to weigh the separate lives of limitless boundaries and engrossed fear. Both are present in this world we occupy, but each with it’s own journey and outcome. Free to choose our own paths and leave a legacy behind, our consequences are ultimately determined by a greater being.
Joseph Hobby 7/2/15
Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.