Updated: Apr 24, 2020
One of the most influential and defining trips of my life took place over New Years between 2008 and 2009. 5 twenty somethings from a college town in the Southeast piled in a Pontiac mid-size SUV and headed west to our notion of the bouldering mecca. Problems such as Evilution and the Mandala graced the covers of climbing magazines those days, and as we drank beers in dingy Athens, GA bars, we imagined if we would be strong enough to climb on them. During this road trip, we were cornered by a shadowy and very frightening man during a full moon in hot springs. One climbing shoe was lost on the drive in. One tent blew at least a mile into the bush. A highball was redefined in our book. We learned slopers in Bishop were not real slopers. We learned crimp lines in the South were not real crimp lines. Most importantly, I learned that people out west who loved climbing as much as I did made decisions to live in vans and only climb. That realization planted a a very fertile seed in my head.
Before the trip, my mom bought me a film camera and a “how to” book for Christmas. When the banter had subsided for brief moments on the 40 hour drive, I read. The images I developed after are still some of my favorite I've ever taken. I wrote down my memory from one specific experience not long after. It recounts me not doing an iconic problem. It reminds me of how much more we gain and learn from climbing - not just the ego boost from sending a problem. It reminds me of the people and places that would not be in my life if it were not for falling in love with such a pretty much pointless pursuit. But then again, would it be pointless then?
It was the last day of a nine day bouldering trip from our home in Athens, GA, an adventure by every definition, and we had already climbed 7 of the days. Our stories were piling up as we practiced telling these adventures nightly in anticipation of rehashing them later on to those who did not make the pilgrimage. We scrambled up a slope of scree and sand - foreign to the rubber beneath our shoes used to dirt and leaves - and arrived at the starting hold at dusk. The sun was setting over the Sierra Nevadas, something our clan always managed to pause and watch, being as different as we could ever imagine from the older and seemingly wiser Appalachians. These mountains seemed as if they were young and fearless, like a 16 year old on a joyride the night after they received their license. Being so different, something still felt incredibly comfortable, being so far from home.
We began deciphering the beta, and placing pads haphazardly. Our fingertips screamed for a hiatus from the relentless granite, and begged for the southern sandstone and foliage padded ground they were accustomed to. We were consumed with fatigue but this line sang her siren-like tune all week and we had waited to give in until now. After one unsuccessful attempt, and one successful Clifbar break, I clenched the starting hold of my last problem in Bishop. We would leave later tonight, meeting the now setting sun farther east the next morning, and the next. My feet left the earth, and began to dance across the rock in unison with my hands. I passed my high point three moves in and continued to negotiate a checkerboard of patina. It seemed as the beauty of the moment fueled my desire to extend it. For a brief moment on this linear timeline we call life, I could redefine what gravity is. I was at my limit on a not so well-rested, but well-stoked day. I was one move from the final hold, 15 feet from the ground. I harnessed all the energy I had left and placed my fingertips just over the edge of the final, just far enough away jug. Then I fell. I tried one more time and the same result occurred in the same spot. Any other outcome would have been just another send, but this failure created a memory, a story. This is why I climb, for the possibility to limit what is impossible while constantly searching for the unlimited possibilities.
For those of you who just absolutely need an ending, I went back to Bishop for 3 weeks during my van trip in 2011. I didn't send then - wasn't really even that close. I went back for 3 days in 2014 after a work sales trip - and everything went right - finding myself on top of a boulder I have never been on top of. In 2015, I took my wife to Bishop and she now has a similar story about a different boulder and one day she will have a similar ending.