Starting a New Trad(ition)

We are staring up a human sized hole in the rock and Carl is looking at me, holding a piece of trad gear in his outstretched hand. “Do you want to lead this first pitch?” I responded, taking the piece and clipping it to my harness, “Sure, but what do I do? I mean I have literally never placed a piece of pro before in my life.” Carl ran through a couple of tips around where to place the pro and what to do when I reached the anchor. I nodded and shook in my rock shoes slightly. Then I took a deep breath, the rest of the trad rack and tied into my end of the rope.

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I turned around and faced the first pitch of the Becky Route on Liberty Bell. It’s a pretty easy pitch. The majority of it heads straight up an enclosed chimney. I made my way up slowly, trying every piece of pro in every crack within arm reach, still not sure what I was looking for with a placement. By the time I reached the anchor I had placed every piece of pro that I had. I clipped into the slings that climbers before me had placed around a small tree growing bravely out of the cliffside and sighed, elated. I called down to the boys that they could start climbing as I belayed them up.

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Carl admitted when they reached me that not all my placements had been bomber but I wasn’t likely to fall and I had made it. Now all I had to do was follow Carl to the top. Carl lead the next two pitches, which were certainly more challenging than the one I had led. Kyle and I struggled along behind him, crack climbing was completely new to us and so we were just kind of making it up as we went.

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It struck me that at this level of alpine climbing we weren’t really required to be in climbing shape or have good technique, instead we just had to figure out how to move our bodies from point A to point B and instead of using just our legs we had to incorporate our whole bodies. I thought this as I wedged my leg over and in between a big block of granite and pulled myself into a flaring hole in the rock, pressing outwards with my whole body so I wouldn’t go anywhere.

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At the second belay we leaned back over the abyss of a mountain cliff as Carl climbed up above us, leading the most exposed section of the climb on a tricky little slab section. We eased up after him, stemming out on sloping granite as our fingers curled into a small crack. The last bit of the climb is a short scramble to the summit and then gorgeous views of Washington Pass surround you. On the peak next to us friends had been climbing and we could see them now, topping out on their mountain top. It was a world of rock and sky, of basic elements, of joy and pain and firsts.

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The rappels made me more nervous than the climbing. I let myself get in my head and all I could do was imagine the bolts popping out, sending me or Kyle to our deaths below. My harness creaked (is that normal?) as I slid down the rope, my auto-block making things jerky. Two rappels later and a loose rocky scramble and we were back in the world of relative safety – car crashes and freak accidents aside.

What is it like to climb as a worry wart? How do I ever try new things, reach new heights, push myself? Great question. Honestly, when I am in a comfortable safe situation I commit myself to things that I know are going to be scary, but they seem less scary from where I am sitting at that exact moment. And then, because I am not someone who flakes out or doesn’t follow through, I find myself out there, actually doing the thing and I have no choice but to trust myself and trust that I can do it. And I can do it – my comfortable, safe self knows what I am capable of and knows what I can commit to. She does the right thing and she gets me into all sorts of situations. It’s thanks to her that I grow so much every weekend. Comfortable is a great place to take risks from. Make sure you try it some time.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

10 thoughts on “Starting a New Trad(ition)

  1. I definitely had a meltdown at the top of that one rappel where the slab you stand on slopes off to your death. Makes me nervous just thinking about it now!! Glad you guys didn’t die 🙂

    1. YES, that was the part that really scared me. I seriously wanted to rope up to get to the bolts. Something about the angle of the slope you had to walk across and some of the rolley little rocks that were on it… just didn’t feel right. But of course it was fine. Blegh. Scariest part of the climb.

  2. Initially, I was going to comment, I am glad I am not your mother because I would be a nervous wreck. But your last paragraph summed up your confidence so nicely. You are so right. When you have no choice but to trust yourself, you do that. I’ll bet you approach life like that too. Loved the message and the photos are stunning. Trek on…

  3. This is awesome 🙂 I’d say you’re doing the extreme version of taking risks, and that is incredibly inspiring for someone who wants to begin taking risks for what feels like the first time

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