This two parter was put together to illustrate the tectonic shift in my perception that was beginning to surface in 2013, the ‘Year of the Snake’ I call it.
3 months in the beckoning silence of winter, a space opened inside that I couldn’t really put my finger on but felt its effects reverberate in the form of love and gratitude. The hardships of feeling alone, the cold, the fear of ice climbing and the few gems I met in town really made me appreciate the good things that come your way, especially when you least expect them. I still identified this feeling of peace, stillness and unity with my climbing community and lifestyle because my mind dominated me on the valley floor but abandoned ship in the vertical heights. But as you’ll read below but there were bouts of insight that came from a place of such joy and complete contentment that can only come from something beyond.
A month later, around the campfire in California, I also speak about the draw to the unknown and the powers that lay there in this pursuit of expansion. Again, related to the subject of climbing yet the notion of this yearning itself coming from a deeper place.
The Divine Within
The bicycle feels heavy and cantankerous as it labours up the final switchbacks to the mountain pass. The front wheel thrashes left and right in a feeble attempt to ease the angle of the incline ahead. It’s occupant gasps for oxygen to help feed the fatigued pistons that drive the vessel ever onward. The gradient eventually recedes as I reach the impressive pass to Spray Lakes (that over looks the town of Canmore in the south), its threshold crowned with the East End of Mt Rundle on the right hand side and the magnificent north face of Ha Ling Peak on the left.
The thumping inside my chest ebbs away slowly as the bicycle rolls to a tired stop and I step off and rest on a nearby snow bank. The funnelled winds blasting through the gap at 50kph shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was, swiftly making me feel cold again, as the sweat on my brow begins to freeze.
Dipping down a few feet into the canyon of Grassi (underneath Ha Ling Peak), the wind abates and I stash the bike into the snow slope. Using its frame as a seat, I sip some tea from my thermos and look down into the Valley below, taking in the magical view. As usual, it doesn’t take long for my gaze to turn again to the soaring wall of Ha Lings north face.
The strong winds heaved clouds of spindrift from their snowy ledges sending them swirling across the dark broken face. It seems to me that this smouldering titan of the ancient world was waking from the long, deep slumber of winter and is calling those that are willing, to enter its vertical domain.
The hypnotic stare lingers, nothing else exists. It only takes a brief moment for imagination to ignite the vision of myself climbing the blunt, broken, exposed face. That’s all I need to be inspired.To simply wonder what it would feel like to be up on those heights was enough to plant the seed of curiosity. The more you meditate on the arduous task, the further the roots of that seed slide down along your veins and spiral around your bones until it consumes you completely in the depths of your heart and your soul.
Memories of previous adventures flooded in and I came to relish and really appreciate those that I had climbed walls with in the past, an experience that forges a bond of trust. Such a connection that can only manifest when you tread the waters of the unknown together.
Later that day, the sun lit up the canyon below and felt warm for March in the Rockies (Only 0’C). After hours of bouldering on dry overhanging rock in my clunky mountaineering boots I was finally knackered and psyched to have had a first legit day of 2013 on the rock! I thought about the legendary crack climber Steve Hong’s quote from some article in Rock & Ice about how important it is to be self motivated. Oh the joy of riding a rusty bicycle from the trailer park for 90 minutes up a savage hill to go bouldering in a snow filled canyon with numb hands! Seriously…
It’s funny how you evolve. In 3 years I’ve ventured into the realm of epic walls of steep rock, huge boulders and now waterfall ice, all of which terrified me upon initiation but are now spectrums of climbing within my comfort zone. (In a general sense of course, it always depends). May it never stop expanding.
For me, the road to enlightenment lies in the surrender to the timeless wisdom out there in the hills. My personal hero, Walter Bonatti wrote about the mountain being a perfect reflection of your spirit. It’s was true then and it always will be. Perhaps the most important thing since that day however, lies in people. Chris McCandless quote “Happiness, only real when shared” rings eternally true when I think of all the genuine beings I have shared exceptional moments with. To the special people within our community, I thank you for all your positive influences, hilarious antics and openness to embrace people for who they are. To me, ones opinion of a place or a journey is purely subjective and based on their experience of that place. Due to this, western Canada is my spiritual home.
The long winters used to be something i somewhat dreaded due to the short hours of day light, cold temps and the beautiful yet deadly environment in the mountains. Yet, the few months of solitude during the winter just spent had me savour the few yet quality friendships encountered in the snowy ranges of the Rockies and appreciate the true rays of light in my life. The energy you create will gravitate those similar to you…an encouraging thought.
The long winters used to be something I somewhat dreaded due to the short hours of day light, cold temps and the beautiful yet deadly environment in the mountains. Yet, the few months of solitude during the winter just spent had me savour the few yet quality friendships encountered in the snowy ranges of the Rockies and appreciate the true rays of light in my life. The energy you create will gravitate those similar to you…an encouraging thought.
Coasting down the switch backs on my return to town, I think about Mark Twight (another climbing legend) and his last chapter of ‘Kiss or Kill’. He talks about his unique friendships and his declaration of utter love for those that he knows will walk willingly with him into the gauntlet of the unknown to create an undeniable bond. I am beginning to understand this.
One month later in Bishop, California…
“Everyone? Let me ask you a question…What’s your favourite thing about climbing?”
Several conversations ease to a halt as we all glance across the flickering fire at our newly arrived camp site guest. Only Groove Armada maintains the beat in the background. A few seconds tick by as we consider our answer to the question we’ve all been asked a million times before. Initially, I refrain from answering, noticing empty beer cans scattered around his recently deployed crate and swaying form. We were after all residing in ‘The Pit’, a camp site located near the bouldering hotspot known as the ‘Happy’s’ just outside of the town of Bishop. Would a gym climber who’s opening conversation was big moves and ticking grades (of difficulty) know what I’m talking about? Is there any point in going there? Well, it’s different for everyone, that’s the whole point. The brief flutter of prejudice is tossed aside. Sharing butt cheek space with Diana on our little blue cooler I stoke the fire, watch it pulsate and smoke. When it’s time to indulge it goes like this;
For two years now, I’ve been on a somewhat cosmic drive down the road of self discovery and that passion is the vehicle. With loving care and attention it intensifies like a swirling vortex in the centre of your being, illuminating the need for more exploration into the deep unknown inside yourself.
What is most inspiring to me, is that we are all together in this search. Although every climber has a different motivation and various ways of expressing that, we are united through our Love for something and consciously create a space were we can air our thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or vindication. Simply, it’s the community. This is what we all had in common with our answers and was the same during the 2012 Indian Creek thanksgiving in Utah. Unification of this kind always opens a sacred space.
As for the deep unknown? Picture your solitary self on a warm summers eve standing in front of a deep cave. Only the trees of the surrounding forest rustle in the gentle breeze. Curious as to what is inside, you take the first few tentative steps to its mouth, crouching to avoid bumping your head and peer inside the darkness. Nothing. Hesitant, you creep forward until the rays of the setting sun gently recede behind you. Lantern in hand, the light slowly kindles the inner walls of the cave as you slowly advance one step at a time. Finally you are able to stand and discover you’re in front of an immense catacomb, the feeble light is no longer able to show you the way ahead. Behind you, is the small white dot of where you came from but it’s distance you cannot decipher. You feel brave to have made it this far but what now? Return to the safety of daylight while it lasts or continue into the yawning chasm ahead?
Of course this metaphor isn’t solely bound to being on the sharp end of a rope but to life in general. It extends to getting on that plane and checking out that place you really want to explore, sticking your thumb out on the highway, going to a social gathering or discovering a new relationship. Something different is something new but we won’t know what it holds in stall for us until we step into that void willingly. In our own way we can be bold every day of our lives if you make that choice to open your mind. For me climbing has provided that ability and has permeated every aspect of my life so far.
To my true friends and the noble mountains, I love you…I really do.