Boulders, tossed like die across a table and left to rest, lay in the thousands around us. An alpine lake, nestled between fields of rock, shimmers blue in the afternoon sun. My friends and I climb the boulders’ steep faces and laugh under the bright mountain sky. The air is thin and sweet. Three days off work are just beginning, but we clearly expel more energy on the weekends; scrambling over talus fields, climbing steep faces, and fighting to catch our breaths at elevations far above sea level. If weekends are for rest, we rest our souls more than our bodies.
After a day of climbing and hiking, we move back down into the valley for the evening. Friday night we all sit around a campfire, drinking beers, sharing stories, more laughter. The flame flickers between us all, lighting up the faces of each new and old friend that has joined me for the summer.
In the morning I wake up early, not due to any alarm or immediate obligation, but my internal clock no longer allows me to sleep past seven; there is work to be done, or there are rocks to be climbed, mountains to explore. We all laugh at each others pain in the morning as some complain of headaches, others of sore muscles.
While everyone is still making plans for the day I walk out and get in my car, the crew is fun, but an old roommate and best friend of mine is waiting for me to meet him at the cliff to help him with his project. My hair is gnarled and stiff, to the point that I can feel it move at the roots when I try to run my fingers through it. I put my hat on, yawn and drive to a gas station for a burrito and coffee.
The canyon is not dark and deep that I am driving through, but rather tall and quite bright, my sunglasses shade my weak east coast eyes as I try to dig up memories from two summers ago, regarding where the hell I am in this granite maze. That cliff looks familiar, but maybe it’s this one. I pass it on accident and have to turn around. In the parking lot I open my door, prop my feet up between it and the car, try to avoid losing feeling in my legs, and eat my breakfast while staring at the white rolling water that rushes in front of me. The river gurgles and spits, the sun burns my arm, I smile and wait.
Brandon shows up and after a little bit of catching up, “How are you?” “How’s the girl?” “I got a job for the fall.” We head up to the cliff and do some warming up before going down the street to his project. At the cliff we only run into one group of people and they’re on the route that we want, so we wait.
Chuck Pratt had once said that climbing would be a lot more fun if it wasn’t for all of the climbing. As I sit and catch up with Brandon I feel overwhelmingly content. To sit on the edge of the cliff, hear little human noise, and just chat with a good friend is about all that I really needed that day. Climbing brought us to where we are, but I don’t feel the need to hop right on the wall, I just sit and talk and enjoy the company.
I recall a Kurt Vonnegut line where he says that the problem with the world is that we don’t tell each other anymore when we are happy, only when we’re upset. That people complain a lot to each other, but never stop and say, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So I look to Brandon and I tell him that I love this place. This morning I woke up in a tent and the sun opened my eyes. I was surrounded by good people, had some laughs before ever leaving my sleeping bag, I haven’t showered or changed my clothes in two days, but it doesn’t even matter. I drove alone this morning through a gorgeous canyon while sipping a Styrofoam cup of gas station coffee, enjoying the views and worrying about absolutely nothing. Yesterday I climbed, today I’m climbing, earlier this week I helped replace the roof on a historic building in the national park. I know that at this moment we are not climbing, we are waiting, but sitting on a rock and having a conversation is often one of the best parts of climbing. Brandon agrees that life is good here in the mountains. We watch the birds circle the cliff and relax before it’s my turn to head up and figure out the moves on this seemingly useless piece of rock.
On Sunday I’m feeling sore, a day of working boulder problems and a day of working sport routes, combined with little sleep, have left my forearms drained and begging for a break. When I rest them on the edge of the table in the coffee shop, they sting from overexertion. An hour later I am climbing.
Dave leads up the second pitch of one of my favorite moderate routes. Again I am on granite and I love every crystal that binds me to its surface. At the crux of the pitch I smile and begin toe jamming up a shallow crack, I don’t use my hands, only my feet keep me moving on the low angle rock. The dance I do with what features the rock offers, cannot be practiced on any wooden floor.
Although I am tired, we practice what John Bachar called active recovery. You are still climbing on your rest day, but well under your limit. Bachar often did his rest day routes as free solos, but our nerves are floppy nylon cord compared to his of steel. We keep a rope between ourselves.
At the top I stare out again at the mountains in the distance and kick back into a reclined position against a tree. I proclaim how much I love this route. My two friends agree and we enjoy the sunshine a little bit longer. It’s not always about climbing hard, sometimes its just about climbing because it’s fun. I organize some cams and take the moment in. I feel fortunate to know exactly what makes me happy, and to have the wisdom to share it, weekend after weekend.
Find more of Dominic’s stories and photos on www.pacmountaineering.com.