Returning to Red Rocks
by Gabriel Neely
Part II – On Climbing, On Changing
I have always struggled trying to explain rock climbing to non-climbers. The specifics and processes are easy to convey but the “essence of” much harder. It is like trying to explain the reverence of warm sun or Debussy’s Clair de Lune. It just feels right, and you know why. The best of moments, always, are when a zone of comfort melds safely with the ascension of new physical achievements and possibilities on the cliff. The mind then focuses meditatively. It is a place of peace, of calm. It is finding clarity among great friends within wild, divine, transcendent places.
If I walked away from it completely I would also be at peace. I have far from accomplished all that there is to scale. In fact, I have only scratched the surface. I am young but feel a greater sense of responsibility to calculate my risks more acutely than ever before. At times this new reality clouds that very zone of focus and rich enjoyment. The objective instead becomes one of obsessive worry-a biologic quest of survival. My climbing in recent years has drifted more often into this realm, and I sometimes question the purpose.
One short pitch up I again grappled with climbing in the existential. The zone of clarity fleeted to fear and worry. The belay station was less than ideal, the rock quality imperfect, and my own confidence rattled by a tougher section and the possibility of not finding fitting gear later on. This is a common quandary for any climber on lead, but the difference is how the quandary is channeled.
“Goddammit, I don’t know!” I spouted frustrations and repetitively checked the gear I placed. “Yeah, that’ll hold…or will it?” “Fuck!”
This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, right?
“Fuck it dude, let’s get lunch in Vegas.” George was quick to advocate a retreat. I was frustrated.
Isn’t he supposed to be talking me through this thing?
I had a similar experience on Devils Tower over a year ago. The haunting panic had returned. If I was to retreat I had to do it now. After one more move I’d be past the threshold of normal escape. I had a decision.
I can’t hang on this under-cling in this corner forever!
“We got plenty of good climbing in already,” George offered. He was right. Full days of climbing preceded, along with hours of scrambling through canyons to vibrant cliffs and towers.
It’s easy for you to say, you’re not the one being humbled!
Years ago I would have pulled through, and I would have been fine. But life changes, attitudes change, the zone of clarity shifts. I started a family.
I bailed. I was low, but George was right, and understood, and supportive for the right reasons. And I was right. I went down. The balance was off.
I was not low too long, however. We drown Spanish tapas with sangria in Vegas and reflected on the day, past days, the future, culture, food, music, politics, and family. Life is rich. I am not ready to box the climbing gear. I’ll go back, but each trip is a reminder of how much I love the pursuit, and a reminder of how much more I love getting back to the ground.