Obligatory Final Post
Leaving work last Friday I had a thought, ‘the other shoe is going to drop sooner or later, I wonder when…’ See, I was nearly ecstatic to be done with the work week and to be going climbing and to have a solid partner lined up for the weekend, and what I’ve learned is that the joy of those anticipatory moments far outweighs any that follows. Soon enough the dread sets in and I started conniving how to get out of it all. Which pitches do I offer to lead so that I won’t have to do the ones that follow and how can I phrase it so that I maintain my dignity? This is how it goes – I want to go climbing in a distant sense but when it really comes down to it, I’m a fearful little shit. There are a great many climbs I’d like to have done, but very few that, when presented with the opportunity, I’d actually like to do. This is not a state of affairs I am pleased with, or proud of, or that I consider remotely acceptable. It demands not that I just go climbing more, push myself more, try harder to conquer my fear, but that I critically re-think my entire life. Thankfully, for the few of you committing to reading these posts in their entirety, this is not going to be a serious attempt in that direction.
When I got into climbing what I was looking for was distinction – some way I could set myself apart, be someone special, have significance, matter. I’ve always struggled in this regard. I don’t really understand why. I don’t really understand why everyone else doesn’t. My attempts to explain my conviction of my own worthlessness, of most everyone’s worthlessness, have historically, and without fail, been unsuccessful and so I’ll not try again here. Suffice it to say that, for me, the possibility of recognition and distinction, even in as fringe and esoteric an activity as alpinism, was a major, if not the major, draw. I have known this type of motivation to be unhealthy for some time. That knowledge has not been of any great help.
We downgraded our plans. It wasn’t even my idea but I was happy to hear it. I led one sopping wet free pitch and my partner led another. With great difficulty we hauled the pig, and set up the ledge, and got ourselves settled in, and then it rained all night and we bailed. There was no terribly good reason for this and it wasn’t by my suggestion, but I was glad to hear it and thereby be excused without humiliation from a climb I have been telling myself for years that I want to do. The other shoe had been dropping all morning and on the drive back to my parent’s house I had a epiphany: I don’t have to do this.
Now that I’m warm and comfortable and full of quesadillas and mildly inebriated it all starts to sound good again, but I know that what I really want is not the climb, but the swell of pride that follows it. The climb is just fear. I’ll go into it wincing, gritting my teeth, telling myself it will be over soon, and hoping I don’t get badly injured again. Mostly hoping whatever injures I get won’t be permanent. And if we fail I’ll be depressed and feel worthless for awhile until things even out and if we succeed I’ll feel awesome for about thirty six hours and then be depressed and feel worthless for awhile until things even out. I would like to blame this on last year, 2014 – the year of all injuries, when, in five separate accidents, I broke seven ribs, punctured a lung, dislocated an ankle, fractures two vertebrae, broke two metatarsals, a good friend of mine shattered his collarbone, and another good friend of mine fractured his skull, several vertebrae, his collarbone, and several bones in his finger. It would be nice if I could just gesture at all of that I say, ‘look, if that wouldn’t give you ptsd what would?’ but I can’t. None of it helped, but there has been something broken about all of this for years.
In the winter of 2012 I made a series of solo attempts on the main peak of Mount Index via the Hourglass Gully route and never really got close. On one attempt I literally sat down at my high point, started crying, took out the photo of Mount Saint Elias I’d been carrying around in my wallet, on the back of which I’d transcribed part of a love poem for a girl I never even dated, balled it up and threw it over the cliff. It was the first time I’d really come to the end of myself and in a lot of ways I haven’t pushed it like that since. This was before I ever led a fifth class rock pitch or climbed water ice. It was over before it even began.
I don’t want to quit climbing. I want to be like the men I’ve read about: strong, driven, and bold. Courageous to the point of death. Willing to give it all for glory, to spit in the face of everyone who thinks normal life is meaningful. I want to blitz up the Emperor Face and explore unclimbed spires in Patagonia and finish that goddamn aid seam at Index. I want to be well, but I’ve been fighting this for too long and everything I’ve been trying has sort of stopped working all at once. I can’t climb in a team and I can’t follow and I can’t lead and I can’t solo. I don’t know how to make this work anymore. Thus my epiphany.
I don’t know if this is the end. I hope it’s not. I hope that I can go off into the desert and come back a different person, that I can find something out there that changes everything. Some healing maybe, some peace. Something that will let me live like everyone else, content with who I am. I don’t think I will though. I don’t honestly believe that there is an answer waiting for me. What is wrong here is what has been wrong my entire life: there’s me, and then there’s all this other stuff, and the two don’t seem to mesh very well. It’s worth a shot though, and the other option abounds.
On a more practical note, I do intend this to be the end of this little art project of mine. It’s been fun for sure, but I hate it when things drag on past their inevitable demise. Just because it was good doesn’t mean it needs to go on until it becomes bad (looking at you, makers of every American TV show ever, except Breaking Bad of course, because seriously, wow). Special thanks to Chris Kalman, for encouraging me in this direction, Blake Herrington, whose blog (that for the record, I admire) was the model for my parody, and all my dedicated readers, both of you.