Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lessons Learned: Part One

--> Last night, after a delicious meal of basmati rice, bagged vegetable curry and spinach, I poked the fire with my Paleolithic poking tool and asked C to help me recollect the moments and lessons of our desert experience. No adventure should go without a debrief and after a month of constant adventure, I knew we would both have a lot of insight.
For myself, the month of climbing has been paralleled by a sobering research assignment, leafing through the lives of those who have died for their summit dreams. It has forced me to really re examine my own reasons for climbing, for putting myself at the fate of so many incalculable risks.
From 4 fresh logs of ‘hot wood’ down to ash, this is what we came up with:

1)    If you sit too close to the fire… you will get burned, probably without realizing it at first. That one may sound more profound than it really is. 

2)    Listen to that little voice inside your head.
Everyone knows this one. The little angel and devil syndrome, or occasionally the just the voice you want to swallow and continue on whatever path you may be on. Occasionally this ends with trading safety for convenience. In C’s case, this reminder came on the a bolted multi-pitch climb. She was climbing with a new partner on a climb that was feasible for her ability and should have for all purposes been a straightforward day. After pulling her partner up to the first anchor with her, she noticed he was not wearing the daypack with her headlamp and down jacket. She mentioned this and the partner shrugged it off saying “ would you like me to climb back down and get it?” “YES! Of course!” screamed the little voice in C’s head. But like many of us who dislike being the “squeaky wheel”. She too shrugged it off.
Later that evening, as twilight descended, the team had just finished rappelling the top anchor when their ropes got twisted and immobile. They were stuck at a 500’(ish) rappel station and could go no further. After a minor epic that took them 4 hours into darkness, C and her partner used their camera flashes to identify anchors and prussiked up the ropes to separate them. Reaching the ground at 9pm. By 10:30 she was back at camp, grateful for her partners resourcefulness, but having shared had an invaluable experiential learning experience. What would have taken 15 extra minutes for her partner to fix his initial mistake would have saved them 2-3 hours in descending.
Lesson here, is to listen to that little voice, share it, and when in the mountains, do not settle for convenience over safety precautions.  Be it an emergency rappel on a locking biner instead of a non- locker, a call on weather conditions or a retreat for a day pack. It might seem like a big deal at the time, but if you don’t listen it could be less than the buy in.  ( yep… poker reference.)

3)    Manifest
This one may seem lofty but dag nabbit, it worked like a charm. Buddy was busy complaining about his shoes at the fire one night when my friend and car-mate K called him out in her beautiful, hippy fashion. “ DUDE! you gotta manifest that shit… don’t complain, don’t say you need it, just pretend you have it” She said, nodding knowingly. We all nodded and smiled but I don’t think I could have ever taken her word for it. Days later, K and Buddy were walking out of an epic climbing day in Pine Creek when they stumbled across a nearly new pair of Muiras (Expensive and wonderful climbing shoes). Buddy put up signs and messages in online communities and campground message boards but eventually accepted the karmatic gift and tried them on. Cinderella herself couldn’t have fit better.
Later that week I was mid sentence, telling my friends that it was high time I bought a new rope. Mine had seen two core shots now and seemed to be shrinking by the day, although I was accumulating a lovely assortment of skipping ropes. “ I think I am going to go buy a rope tonight, I will sack up and get 70m”. Just then a rental car cruised by, stopped and backed up to our campsite. A gentleman got out and smiled “ Hi! We are from…uh… Switzerland… and we have too much weight for the plane... do anyone want a free 70m rope?? … it was only used for rappels” My jaw dropped. K giggled. The boys around me all ‘ pffffffft’ed. We ended up giving the folks two beers for their rope, to which they exclaimed, delighted, “this is the beer from the commercials! We’ve been dying to try it! ”. I guess everyone is happy.
*** Rope ended up not being 70m. This was learned on the first of 5- 35m rappels off a multipitch with friends, T and M. Perhaps another lesson in ‘trusting the Swiss’ lies in there somewhere, or more rationally a lesson in checking things out for yourself and measuring your rope before you need its length...*** 
*** for the sake of me not feeling like the only one to have suffered or felt stupid... I'm betting Buddy got warts on his toes.  ***
*** I'm sure my manifested karma just fizzled after that last comment, sorry buddy*** 

4)    Awesomeness can transpire without any expectation
These are C’s words, but as she spoke them I stared into the fire and understood exactly what she meant. C's trip in particular had started much different than it was unfolding. After breaking ties with the climbing partner she had come down to Las Vegas with, she had been sitting alone at a campsite across the grounds. “ Hey K, we should invite her over… cheaper camping and we need a 4th!” C joined us, and we soon realized we had similar objectives. The climbing has been great ever since, we have been to J-Tree, we have learned to climb crack and we have managed to keep a steady diet of crushing rock and eating pretzels. “ I am so happy” is a sentence spoken as often as water is consumed. Life is good without planning.

This is a fridge magnet at the Dakota tavern in Toronto that I saw 2 years ago when I returned there. It is also the unspoken mantra of every car-dwelling climber and vagabond out there. Simple as it seems, It speaks to what brought both myself and C and Tate and Doug to the road. I feel it is so often underestimated by those who impose gravity on themselves; to be where they are unhappy and not really mentally being there at all. The quote gives you a choice; get into it, or get out of it.  This is something that no human being should ever forget. Once I was no longer there, I came here. Once I am no longer here, I will go elsewhere. If you can’t leave, you must figure out how to find interest or passion or projects where you are, for your own sake.
We have each taken on a somewhat bandito impersonation here in the desert, reliving the origins of sin city. Folklore states that vagabonds and bandits would run away to hide in the rocks of Nevada to escape the laws from where they came. Naturally gambling and gluttony transpired. Gluttony: yes. in the form of pretzels. Gambling: only a bit, but I won 100 bucks and haven't been back. I consider it a gift from the climbing gods.

6)    Trust your gut… This one needs sub- bullets.
a.     Don’t learn fist cracks on lead, on multi-pitch.
There is only one mention although there is an article in the Alpinist that will be released this spring that covers my own account of this lesson involving guts and trusting them when you don't feel good about a climb and of course, retreat when necessary. 
I think the statement goes something like this “ I got myself into this, and now I’m going to die”. I don’t know if we have all had this moment, where we have bitten off more than we can chew, but I know that when she said this I burst out laughing (in empathy). These are C’s thoughts as she jams a slippery fist into her first ever fist crack. She is somewhere in the middle of the rainbow buttress, in the middle of a lead, with her last cam well below her and her stance is insecure, there is a technically foreign move above. This is when she made the right choice. She called down to her trusted belayer and asked him how he felt about leading the climb. He, being a great partner, agreed and picked up where she left off. This also plays into swallowing the ego in favor of common sense. Something I need to learn more about.
b.     One man’s Frank and Fina’s Cocina Experience.
Questions which one must ask themselves when consuming Mexican feasts:
-       did you have to reposition yourself before you finished that dinner?
-       Where you in physical pain before you ordered dessert?
-       …Did it still seem like a good idea?? 

I only wish I had a photo documentary of the aftermath of this delicious meal with our South Dakotan friends. Here are the main stages though:
1) Our friend is smiling a big one, teeth and all, but his eyes are glazed as he stands behind the fire. He doesn’t seem to be able to participate in conversation
2) Our friend is lying horizontally on the bench with a water bottle as his cuddling item.
3) Our friend is kneeing behind the bench, hunched over it with his head down.
4) Our friend is leaning against his van-home (named Bushka), waterbottle still in hand, eyes closed. Smile remains.
“ Go to bed dude, go to Bushka” Someone calls to him. Out friend mumbles the name of his beloved home and stumbles into the van.

 I have never seen someone so in pain from food consumption. But there is a first for everything. Welcome to Las Vegas… More to come. 

Things to look forward to: 7) Double Check: Complacency is real. 8) Take rests, know how to use them 9) Don’t forget your headlamp! But if you do make sure that Las Vegas is in view, or it’s a full moon. 10) The explosive properties of Jack Rabbits: explored.

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