Our friends drove back to Southern California to start their own journeys and we headed out to the Buttermilks. The screams that seemed to puncture the night sky were still ringing in my head. She had been merely walking along and *bam!* broken toe. Now we were planning on putting ourselves in seriously risky positions, high up on sierra granite walls. My nerves were shaken. Is all of this worth the risk? We also recently found out that a former co-worker, friend, and backcountry-skiing hero had lost his life after falling into a crevasse on Mt. Ranier. The news had hit me hard, as if someone had hit me in the stomach with a baseball bat. Not him. He could never fall into a crevasse. He's the one who is supposed to rescue the less-experienced from dangerous situations. But yes, him. No one is safe when we enter into these sports. Climbing glaciers, ice walls, granite faces - it's all incredibly risky and dangerous. But yet, we continue.
It took a few days of sitting at the base of the crag to finally get going again. The memory of that painful night and the image of our friend at the bottom of a crevasse hung on our shoulders like iron weights. We could hardly get off our crashpad when we were in the Buttermilks, and looking up at the routes we so desperately wanted to climb, all we could say to each other was, "It's too windy. Let's go back to camp and read."
Our bodies are so brittle and our lives so fragile. It's truly a puzzle why anyone would venture into such dangerous terrain. Yvonn Chouinard called it "conquering the useless." Is it useless though? What do we find out there on the rock and in the snow? Some part of ourselves that Kmart and Target stripped away. A part that computers and automatic automobiles suppress. We find our bodies; our fingers, our toes, our lungs, and our muscles as they stretch and contort into improbable positions. We find the glorious mountain light and the crisp desert air. The flowering nolina and the singing warbler. We let the setting sun kiss our shoulders as we rappel down for the day. We let the wind blow and howl about our bodies, forcing our concentration and immense attention. In some sense, we find ourselves. In many senses, we find each other.
Well, it took a few days and a lot of reading, but we finally got down to business. We realized we were pretty out of shape after a week of hot springing and college dumpster diving, so we started with some moderates to boost our confidence. We then found two beautiful lines, a 10c and a 10d that begged us to climb them. We both attempted to free climb the 10c, Wild Garlic, and failed. Rob then attempted the 10d, Rubber Gloves and Razor Blades, and also failed. Pumped and a bit frustrated, we slept it off. We came back this morning, however, and Cristina sent the 10c without a problem. The wind got pretty serious and we decided to call it a day after that, since we were completely out of water and badly needed supplies from town. The 10d still awaits Rob's return!
For now, we are planning on heading out to the Owen's River Gorge and checking out what everyone calls the best sport climbing in California. The guidebook is truly mouth-watering, though we've noticed pictures where crack climbs are bolted! sacrilidge!
A few more additions to the Guide to Being a Dirtbag:
#5 - Bring along a living Basil plant, but don't leave it on the ground! The plant will provide you with a sense of home, entertainment, flavor, and if you name it, you will even start to endear the plant like a pet. Water it, leave it in the shade, and don't leave it on the ground where the squirrels and rodents will devour it!!! RIP Basil, the best Basil plant to live in Joshua Tree NP.
#6 - Try to always have a stash of heavy duty pain killers on hand in your first aid kit. These are for EMERGENCY situations and to alleviate EXTREME pain when you are in the back country! Pain killers can be habit forming and should never be used recreationally!! When asked what he would bring if he could only bring 2 items into the back country with him (including clothing), my Wilderness First Responder instructor responded, "Trip wire and Oxycontin!"