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Remembering Others

Submitted by michael on 2006-10-18 | Last Modified on 2006-12-10

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Art and Michael Warming Up A WEEK AGO, two people I barely knew, ripped a chunk of rock off Tahquitz and tumbled several hundred feet to their death. I canít help but think of them as I dislodge another softball and loft it into space. Am I tempting fate? At least I have a place for another piece now. My third in sixty feet, and the other two Iím pretty sure wonít even slow me down, much less hold.

The pump in my arm is telling me to move. My foot skips over the wall, sending a stream of shotgun pellets down. The staccato rhythm of them bouncing off of Tomís helmet at the belay cause me to nervously giggle at the situation.

Will I giggle when I launch?

The pump is getting worse. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat. I wish I was back at the coffeehouse.

Four hours earlier, I was enjoying the sights and sounds of Bishop, and the lazy afterglow that only an evening of Tequila can create. A rowdy night had led to a gorgeous red sunrise with matching eyes. Tom and I had arrived on a mission to free a project that had been open for more than five years. A short hike and within onsight territory, a series of roof cracks lay in a dirty dihedral, waiting for we conquerors to arrive. Cocky and loaded with spray, we told every soul around the fire our intent, and now were faced with living up to our expectations.

The acid from the coffee splashed into my stomach, mixing itself against the soothing comfort of a scone that defied the Geneva Conventionís Code for Human Consumption. My partner was busy in line, flirting with a tourist, giving me a moment to clear the haze and ponder the fate that waited.

I took another sip and scraped the spackling from my eyes, trying to squeeze out the images that haunted me. A couple hundred feet up, first hand accounts reported the snap of rock fall as the leader flipped backwards into the sky. His gear ripped, sending him past a faulty belay ledge, yanking both of them into the unknown. Ten years of climbing experience were snuffed in a matter of seconds.

My thoughts drifted to a moment frozen when I watched a similar event. I had the treat of watching a friend pitch from a failed rappel set-up. Being first in line is not always the best. Holding his head and hearing the last gasp made it impossible to ever wash my hands clean. His was the worst, but not the last.

I opened my eyes, and found myself looking directly at a famous seasoned vet. Climbing friendships being what they are, it had been a while since we last spoke, but there he sat in all his glory. With a deeply lined face and a penchant for Camels, his reputation exceeded the weather of his bones. He stared off towards the Sierras, perhaps lost in his own mental scars. Or maybe scoping a ridge in need of freedom. I donít know what lay hidden in those thoughts, but couldnít help but admire the ease with which he sat and enjoyed the simplicity of his cigarette.

My gaze wandered over the mangled toes, frostbitten to submission from a handful of epics, to the shaky hands pulling another Camel as part of the endless chain. But those eyes. I couldnít pull myself away from trying to untangle the thoughts behind them. Those windows had seen things I could only imagine, and more than once touched the unknown. I looked for something profound, but my explorations were lacking. No answers, just questions. A slap on the back woke me from the reverie. The flirting was done and the mission called.

So here I am, another twenty feet out and my foot slips. Somehow the corn flakes in my hands remained wedged in the crack. Still, my mind whirls as the ground comes crashing upwards, ending in a bone-jarring snap. Premonition? The dream state leaves and my body quivers in the ruins. I canít wash the red from my hands.

Enough of this shit.

Iím awake now and not in the mood to play with my demons. I swallow the fear and press onward, finally concentrating on the task at hand.

Blood seeps from my fingers, allowing them to slither deeper into the thin crack. There is no pain. Iím in that moment where the mind and body meet. Itís not Zen, itís climbing. Pure and simple. A mistake is not an option. I smear my foot onto a bed of dry moss.

Hold, damn it. It does.

Another roof, another set of dismal placements, and the maniac giggles again.

Piss off. He does.

The body flows in conjunction with the mental clarity until the only thing between me and the belay is a sandy block held in place by a bush. I like Tom, better leave this where it is.

I choose a crimp and mantel up. The pump is intense, but I pass on racking the frequent flyer miles and step up to the belay. The relief is pure as the body shakes off the mental breakdown that almost was. A quick belay where Tom proved he needs to lead more often, then a couple raps and weíre on the ground laughing about the epic we scored.

It wasnít pretty, it wasnít news. It was merely a blip in the radar of fascination, but it was ours. Some will say itís risky, others will claim it safe. Regardless, it gave no answers to the questions of death that we all face. At some point it will arrive, but do we really need to hasten the moment? I donít know, but I did find something that day.

There is a moment. It comes late in the game, after a hard dayís work when you are alone in the safety of the belay. If you listen closely, quietly, when the wind caresses your cheek, you can hear the memories of those that passed before, laughing and tipping one back as they wait for us to join them.


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Sweet... you nailed it.

Thanks. And congrats.

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