Solo

Must be the end of my day, the sun has made its way to the top and was beating down so hot I could not touch the rock. So I took one last rappel and sat in the shade for a spell resting my head and my swell and soon started to sleep for well until the day grew cooler and appeared more lunar. 
As my eyes flickered shut I laid my head on a stump under the shade of a juniper tree. I glimpsed the last trail of my own shadow disappear as if passed behind a mirror reflecting the juniper's shadow off the red sandy stone floor. No I couldn't ask for more, it was peaceful and restful laying on that rock no shoes no sock and no talk. Just quiet. Time passes. After I stirred I observed how the juniper's shadow had swerved when the sun grew lower stretching out all the shadows below her. But where was mine? I held up my hand and sat up to stand and my shadow was gone. I looked all about and counted everything out: harness, rope, draws and shoes, cams and nuts, runners and carabiners, even my helmet but no shadow was cast by my body now up like a mast. Quite a problem I've never had, though I don't know if it's actually bad to be missing a shadow, did it go back home to Colorado?

I heave a sigh and looked up and to my surprise I was struck. It was there all along climbing the wall this whole time while I had sleep on my mind. Weighing no weight at all it moved with such skill, climbing backwards and upside down I would have been ill. But as I saw it descend one more time to the end of our favorite pitch it appeared unhappy, I'd say it even frowned and looked down. What could be so wrong you've been so free to climb with no troubles it seems. Then my shadow came closer  until we stood feet to feet and I realized something. To climb without inhibition, with full freedom and skill, to climb the extent of your will with no danger is still little thrill unless you're there with another who can give you some cover and share in your ware and care for your ...hair. Climbing is best when shared with another. So next time you think it, take the time to invite, with others you'll have a much better hike and climbs will be sweeter, when you descend and she's there for you to greet her.

Starting

Starting is always the hardest part. It's OK to start really really small. I'm talking small, like try just standing up at first, then take 10 steps toward that bike or treadmill, then step on and give it 3 minutes, just 3. And after that you might finally feel like you can keep going so give it 3 more then 3 more then go pick up some weights and do only 3 reps. By now you're probably feeling a little better and if you can keep moving, pretty soon an hour will have gone by and you'll feel amazing. And someday you might be like this guy who rides a monster unicycle up a mountain and passes me during a bike race.

Keeping it Clean

What does the rock care if it is broken or chiseled or drilled, or painted or marked or scarred - it's just a rock. When you look at a cliff face or mountain what do you see? Just a pile of rocks? Let me tell you what I see, because I can hear you all so earnestly asking...

I see a landscape that has been meticulously crafted and constructed by a passionate and devoted artist. An artist who masterfully works in oils, water, sand, wind and colors and angles so precisely to reflect light and create shadows perfectly at any angle. More valuable than the greatest oil paintings, ornate silk Persian rugs or magnificent tapestries. To me a landscape of cliffs, rocks and mountains is a priceless work of art. But unlike the paintings, sculptures, and silk rugs that are forbidden to be touched, felt or walked on this, the ultimate work of art, is made to be experienced by every possible sense.

I feel a simple peace in natural landscapes. A peace that otherwise only comes in the most special of man made structures. I feel drawn to live outside and feel the raw earth in my hands. It is a search for balance and priorities that must be skewed that keeps me indoors so often. Why do I have a desk job?

For me climbing is one of the activities that allows me to feel closest to that beautiful work of art. Probably since it is literally inches from my face most of the time. While climbing there is a focus where everything else seems to naturally fade away, like in silent meditation but it isn't forced, my mind is just... clear. When else in life do you get to experience that?

Sometimes, especially when leading a climb I am not so aware of the rope or gear being placed in the cracks, but all my senses are trying to pour through my hands and feel every surface of rock, every break, every smooth varnish, until I find a hold and begin the search again. Ok, sometimes I am very aware that I am really high up and the ground is really hard and far away.

I realize that this probably sounds like a hyper romanticized expression of what rock climbing actually is, and that it might be just hindsight that provides this sense of expression. The point is that I have a strong love for this Earth and its landscapes and feel that these are gifts given to us, and that we are obligated to use them to help us explore ourselves. Since I hold nature in such high regard, I have strong feelings about how we are charged to care for this work of art.

Royal Robbins, one of the early pioneers of rock climbing, especially the big walls of Yosemite has also spoken poetically of this experience, "We’re at the base of a three-hundred-foot arch. We must pass it. That means surmounting an overhang beetling with convolutions and jutting corners. In other words, a crag. And we are cragsmen! Much better to be a cragsman than a mere rockclimber. A crag still has an air of adventure about it. A rockclimb is mostly technique nowadays. So we go crag climbing. First it’s back and foot, then bridging in a shallow groove. Loose rock is treated gingerly and the key is a slotted nut at the lip of the overhang. The door opens and it’s a new world—firm rock, cracks, hollows, spikes, and knobs. Joy comes in a rush as the muscles work swinging upward in balance past an occasional runner. The easy going is interspersed with bits of questioning calling for quirky answers. A hand jammed and the opposite foot set high in a hole and move up in one fluid motion pivoting and changing the jam to a lieback and reaching for the next spike above. When you do it right, it feels right."

Royal is also known for his advocacy of 'clean climbing' meaning to climb in a way that leaves no trace, a way that does not require drilling the rock or defacing it in any way. What does the rock care? Well, the rock doesn't but I sure do. After all for me, this is not just rock, it's an experience. I would want everyone to have the same natural experience that I have had. Do nothing that might detract from the work of art, keep it clean. As serious as this all might sound, you've also got to have fun. If challenging myself is the first reason to climb, having fun is a very close second.

Mostly I think this post is a reminder to me that I need to get outside more. Hopefully you can also get something out of it, if not, lets go climbing and maybe I can show you what I mean.