Thursday, August 6, 2009
James Cratered, JB's Gone, and I Still Climb Cordless...What Gives?
James Lucas making use of the gift of life: North Overhang (5.9), 4 years out from the fall that almost killed him
"James was climbing in joshau tree on friday (I think it was friday maybe saturday) and fell. He fell about 70 feet hit a ledge and fell another 30 to the ground. Not sure as to why he fell and or the general nature of the climb (if he was free climbing or not). He was climbing by himself. He was airlifted out of the park and to a hospital here in palm springs. He has shattered several vertebrae, his shattered bones in his left ankle, shattered his left elbow, broke his clavicle and sustained a head injury. He's alive, he has feeling/movement in his legs and sh#t. Which is good. He has several cuts and buises as well as a decent amount of swelling. He hit his head on the way down and got a concussion which caused some bleeding in the brain and a blood clot."
The moment I read these words my world forever changed. Gone was the innocence of life without limitations. I was human. I could fall. I could die. James didn't, but he could have, should have. A few weeks after the accident I visited him in a Palm Springs hospital. I was at a loss for words, my ability to think shut down by the intensity of seeing one of my best friends broken in front of me. A few mornings later, after arriving in J-tree for another winter, I sipped coffee with my monkey brethren. The air held an awkward silence. No one was moving for their shoes and chalk, each one of us dealing with the fear instilled by James' dive off the North Overhang. I toed a meaningless pattern into the sand at my feet unsure of what to do or say. When I couldn't stand it any longer I slunk off into the desert. I felt I needed to make peace with this issue. Little did I know it would be a life long process.
Old favorites...Givler's Crack (5.8) and Catapult (5.8)
Although I have climbed for a few decades, It was eight years ago that my mind was opened to the world of bold granite free climbing. I immediately felt I had found my position in the sport. Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Index, Leavenworth. The stories, the legends, the inspiration. I climbed into these iconic tales through soloing and connected with my heroes and the stone. For a few years this lifestyle flowed free of tragedy and provided me with many beautiful moments. My breathing echoing off lonely canyon walls as I shook out on a jug, the soothing cadence of a rope less morning in J-tree; the intense thrill of jamming up Yosemite's cracks without a safety net. After James fell I couldn't even manage the easiest pitches without thinking about decking. Instead of the freedom that solo climbing usually brought me, I was now a prisoner of my own fear.
La Cucaracha (5.10d)
For years I did not push myself without a rope. It was not that I didn't want to, I just couldn't. When I solo at a high level I feel confident and 100% clear in my head. No hesitation, only action. In those moments I am on it as they say, locked into a concentration that cannot be broken. Every time I laced my shoes in front of a pitch hoping to regain my feel for soloing I felt distracted and scared. Frustrated, I drifted further from rope less climbing. Maybe it wasn't worth it.
Living the monkey lifestyle...cordless on Castle Rock
The next few years saw me climbing more and more in the alpine realm. All of the sudden I started to salivate about solo climbing again. If I could regain my confidence then I could run around the world's mountains making quick, simple ascents of big lines. One morning, I found myself charging towards Dragontail Peak in the Washington's central cascades. The wheels were turning, my mind and heart locked into the solo groove. That day I on sight soloed a 2000 foot 5.8 route. It felt wonderful, but I wasn't officially back in the game. I continued to solo very little compared to my earlier days, but I had re instilled a bit of confidence.
High on Midway Direct Direct (5.9)
As time marched on, I started to want to be high above the ground, hanging from a jug, the contraction of muscle and the relaxing of mind my only saving graces. I found myself climbing alone more and it felt good. My love for solo climbing began to out weigh the fear that James' fall had instilled.
John Bachar was an icon in climbing, especially the solo variety. He inspired and awed with every move he made. With the confidence of a true master he soloed climbs most couldn't dream of tr'ing clean. He started up Acopa and all of the sudden every climbing mag had ads showcasing a fit JB still on top of his game. Little did I know that his charmed career would end a few year later on a small cliff above Mammoth Lakes, California.
JB living life to the full...cordless on Spiderline (5.11c)
So that brings me to today. I dealt with James' fall and now I am dealing with JB's. I am climbing rope less on a fairly regular basis, but with a knew maturity that only age and living bring. JB's passing has affected me differently than James' fall. I am at a different point in life. I realize that soloing is dangerous. James taught me that. I also realize that we have to follow our hearts and instinct even if they put us high on a rock face without a rope. So for now, I listen to my heart each day. Some times I soar above the pines alone, the wind whipping at my hair, the mountains slicing the sky behind. Other days I pull on the hang board or go running instead and even though soloing will always be a roll of the dice, I feel confident about my decisions to live and climb the way I do.