“Well, this moment sure seems to have the makings of a blog post” I think, quite distractedly, to myself as I fumble with the rope, trying to get it into the carabiner. “Remember the detail” I think. My upper hand is slowly sliding off, my feet pasted on sandy smears, the orange TCU and carabiner dangling uselessly from the rock. I try to steady the small carabiner with the thumb, manipulating the white and black patterned rope into it with my index and middle fingers but flaming forearms make the simple task not so simple. I let out a grunt, maybe a scream…a classic try hard noise.
I return to Indian Creek for many reasons. All the climbers and the drastically altered camping scene are not among them. Those factors notwithstanding, I feel a sense of belonging when I drive down the hill and pass Newspaper Rock. Nineteen years of memories come flooding back. People, climbs, places, campsites, whippers, sends, lovers, heartache, challenge, success, inspiration, affirmations, so much. The area defined my twenties.
Side note on that last sentence—I am often asked if I have any tattoos. The answer to that question is no, and there is a long story behind it (that could be another blog post on another day—or not.) Today, though, if money were not an object, I have two tattoos that I would feel ok to have on my body. Where as in high school, when I last came closest to getting a tattoo, I was inspired by the then present, now I am more inspired by the past. A simple, standard, green ink line replicating the Bridge Jack skyline would be one of them. I would have it done on one of my pectoral muscles. Looking back now, I was a desert rat during that decade of my life. I continued to love the desert as I got older, and for seven years I called Torrey, the Colorado Plateau, the desert, and Utah home. And even after I started at NOLS full time, the desert and Indian Creek were still my default destinations for off time.†
This time was no different—well, maybe it was shorter. I returned because it is someplace that I know I can go that makes me feel. I returned because time with Anna is valuable, even if we mostly just sit and not talk. I returned because I needed to climb; I needed to get out of Lander, to put distance between my heart and its ache and a climbing trip can do that. I returned because I had gone a winter without climbing. I returned, because when all else fails, it is what I know how to do—and it felt like a winter of failures. Love, work, injuries, low house project motivation all conspired to trend the season downward.
Yet it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t take any whippers or even yell take, but I still felt humbled and pushed. The landscape, the amount of effort I had to put in, Anna’s drive and determination, they combined to make me feel humbled. I forced myself to lead climbs that would challenge me and that I was uncertain about; mostly I didn’t find myself lacking. Yet, I found myself sad. I found myself unable to stop thinking of the things from which the desert is supposed to take my mind. I sometimes found myself unmotivated to climb. I found myself wanting something else. Had I put too much expectation on the place?
Failure was an option; yelling take or letting go would not have put me in perilous danger. I had already passed through (for me) the technical crux, 15 feet of a steep, inch and a half wide crack in a corner. There had been a blessed hand jam at its top that I pushed for, with thoughts of one mountainproject user’s epic whip in my head. I had milked the rest, slowed my breathing and put in some more protection. Higher now, with fingers in the crack, feet pasted on sandy smears, simultaneously pushing and pulling with heavily calculated precision that was free from conscious thought, I was facing the choice of letting go, not because I couldn’t figure the moves out, but because I didn’t have the steam. “Nice work Jared” I hear float up from somewhere far below. I let out my classic try hard noise. I make the move. The chains are right there. Again, I position myself for maximum rest, and wonder how I will reach them. It will be a lieback, strenuous to the end. I reposition a quick draw into my mouth, rest a little longer and wonder if there will be a story in this here rock climb.
Every day there were memories that came back: past lovers, past friendships, current friendships, past adventures, and none of them were sad, none. There were no shortage of conversations I started with “remember when…” Not all centered around the Creek, but twelve years of friendship and countless belays and beers shared at Indian Creek certainly accounted for many stories. And for having not climbed more than a weeks worth of days in the past four months, I climbed well. I met my expectations, maybe even exceeded them. My lead head was on pretty straight, my crack technique didn’t falter in new ways, my strength and endurance even exceeded what I had expected. My emotions however didn’t let me stay present, didn’t let me enjoy the moment. Maybe I just needed more time down there; more time to kick at the darkness.
The take away? It didn’t let me down. When all else failed, I still was able to go climbing. I wasn’t able to get the emotional clarity or healing that I wanted, but the cracks, the desert, the climbing, they all provided the consistency and timelessness that I needed and `allowed me to feel less like a failure.
Or maybe everything comes a little bit easier when there is love in my heart. It is, according to some, the only engine of survival. Whether love from elsewhere, love to others, or love to myself, I feel more motivated and excited when it is present. And maybe that is why I only want to climb with those whom I care about—so many maybes.
Featured Image: The Abajo Mountains from Technicolor Wall, Indian Creek, Utah
† The other tattoo that I would likely get parallels the Bridger Jack tattoo. Much like the Bridger Jack’s represent the desert, which defined my twenties, the Fitz Roy skyline represents Patagonia, which defined my thirties. I would get that same, simple line style, on my other pectoral muscle.