Sunday, April 14, 2013

Walking Away

I was up until midnight packing and repacking for my first solo big wall in over 9 months. I knew the system as I had done it so many times before. But this time it felt different. I didn't have the excitement of picking the perfect set of cams or of meticulously reviewing the beta to make sure I knew it by heart. I felt like I was just going through the motions. But I tossed those ideas aside and felt like once I was in the Valley and in front of the route that I would get the excitement back.

I drove up to Yosemite with my friend Joven after work and we opened bivied at a random campsite in the pines.

We packed up the next morning before the rangers could bust us and we drove to the trailhead. I packed up my haulbag to the brim with 80+ pounds worth of wall gear and I hobbled off to the base of the route with Joven accompanying me for support. I had forgotten how much work soloing was. We got to the base of the leaning tower and I threw my bag off my shoulders in exhaustion. I sat down and I looked up at the route.

I had climbed leaning tower before with a partner and I had the route dialed. I knew all of the crux moves, the rope beta and the descent. But as I sat staring at the route, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. I wasnt motivated at all to climb it.

Soloing walls takes a lot of motivation and it is a lot of work. It carries extra risk because of the belay systems and the fact that if you get hurt, there is nobody there to help you. You need to be able to get yourself out of any situation that you get into.

For the other two big walls that I had soloed, I had more motivation than you could ever believe. For both climbs, I was sick and coughing, only had three hours of sleep and felt like total shit. But it was willpower that propelled me up the routes climbing at almost the same speed as the partner teams.

But this time was different. I questioned why I was there and what was motivating me to climb. I have always been passionate about climbing and always striving for the next big goal. I can't remember the last time I walked away from a climb for no reason except that I didn't feel like climbing it. This was definitely a first.

But I walked away without regrets. I knew I had made the right decision. And it wasn't difficult to turn around. Sure, it hurt my ego and planted questions in my head as to whether I would ever solo El Capitan. But I think that the decision showed a lot of growth and maturity in my life and in my climbing. It was new for me to have the ability to make big decisions and to walk away instead of pushing through it when something didn't feel right.

I spent the day drinking beer and napping in the meadow with El Capitan looming over me. It was an odd feeling just relaxing in the valley. I was always climbing and I never really took the chance to slow things down and look around. I couldn't believe how much I was missing. I sat motionless and in awe staring at the massive chunk of rock before me.

The next day I took a quick hike up to the top of half dome. As I pulled over the cables a huge smile came across my face. I realized that I still love climbing and being in nature. It was just that I had been so goal oriented before that I had missed the real reason why I climb; freedom and adventure.

Leaning tower had felt more like a chore than a climb. Something that I needed to complete. I lacked the freedom to choose another climb and lacked the adventure because I had already climbed it with a partner.

It finally all made sense. As I sat atop half dome, I looked around at all of the towering walls in the valley that I had climbed and wondered if my climbing career had just started or was coming to an end. Either way, it didn't matter. I was happy. For the first time in a long time, I was free to just sit with an empty mind and admire the beauty of nature.

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