Sunday, March 22, 2015

And The Wheels Fell Off

"Maybe climbing isn't my path." A burning sadness settled in with my words. Jessica listened and gently tried to help me see a brighter, broader picture. I had felt her eyes on me all week as I thrashed around with little success on Joshua Tree's endless monzonite domes.  A few days earlier she held my rope as I sagged off at the first bolt of a route I wanted to do over and over again.

Lower me. Try again. Fall. Lower me. Try again. Fall. Lower me. Try again. Fall.

By the fifth or sixth time this happened, it was clear to both of us that I wasn't going to get up the rig that day, but Jess let me keep falling and lowering. I needed an outlet for my pain and wearing out my fingers on a sharp boulder problem I wasn't going to succeed on was my version of punching a wall. 

I had come to Joshua Tree on the Eve of Chad's death. I was looking for something. I'm always looking for something these days. "The Monument" was a place that used to make me feel alive and inspired. In my early 20's I spent every winter there, climbing boldly with my best friends. On this trip, every route seemed scary and hard. I shook my way up routes I used to solo with grace and focus. Sure, the sunsets were beautiful and I laughed a lot around campfires with friends, but something was different. I felt tired and worn out. 

The last night we were there, Jess firmly let me know that how I used to do things wasn't going to work anymore. I had to reform myself. I had to become a beginner again. If I wanted to keep climbing, I would have change my outlook.  I needed to give myself space from what I had let define me. If I didn't want to keep climbing, well, that was just fine too. 

Jessica headed to Arizona to visit family and I came back up to Washington to meet my friend Blake Herrington for a trip to climb ice in the Canadian Rockies. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling very inspired, but I had committed to the trip and wasn't going to back out. Plus, I was looking forward to spending time with our friend Steve Swenson, who would be our gracious host us for the week. 

Although I have climbed a fair amount of frozen stuff over the years, I am a relative beginner when it comes to the cold side of climbing. I had never been to Canada to climb ice and was really interested to see the Rockies.

Blake and I had a great trip. The lack of avy danger allowed us to climb whatever we wanted and we knocked off a host of classics. In the past, a great climbing trip could make up for even a large amount of pain, but as I rolled back into Leavenworth I knew something was different. I was and honestly am, feeling so down, so broken, that it's been hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It hurts me to not be able to share passion driven tales on this blog anymore. But this is about sharing the climbing life, right? My climbing life at least.

For now, I've canceled an upcoming trip. I've watched my callouses fall off and felt my muscles getting weak. I stowed away my climbing gear so I wouldn't have to look at it anymore. I didn't capitalize on the best winter conditions I have ever seen in the Cascades. I spent too much money on a new refrigerator instead of funneling every penny into the next climbing mission. I'm not sure what's happening. Despite the darkness, I'm proud of myself in other ways. I'm sober. The grief support group I joined makes me feel like I have a chance at happiness again. I have so many wonderful friends and when the depression becomes overwhelming I always pounce out my door and go find them. They are always happy to see me.

One constant that brings me great hope is my attraction to the beauty of the alpine environment. The road that leads from my cabin to the grocery store has stunning views of the Stuart Range. Every time I make the drive I smile, turn up the music, and know that I have lot's of unfinished business in the world's mountains. I don't know when or how I'll be back at it, but it won't be too long I'm sure. Right now, the birds are chirping and spring is here. I'm going bouldering with my friends and I'm alive. There is much to be thankful for. 




4 comments:

akalpinist said...

Thanks for sharing man. My accident in France last year left me quite shaken. I know how it feels to not be able to not feel that desire anymore and try to replace it with forced motivation. Sometimes able to produce similar results with none of the reward.
You have passion man, and the fearlessness to pursue that which you are passionate about. In this life that is rare and unique. The mountains aren't going anywhere and you can enjoy them for awhile from somewhere besides the sharp end. Take care of yourself. Enjoy your new fridge!

Kelly Cordes said...

thanks for your honesty, jens. i can relate to so much of it, and i think many of us can as well. not everyone is so honest, though. or maybe it's just that people handle things differently. make no mistake: what you went through is hard, and it changes you. of course it does. your honesty and love for beautiful places puts you on the right path, though, wherever that may lead.

Damien Gildea said...

Thanks for your honesty Jens, it's too rare in climbing writing nowadays.

The depth of your grief is a measure of how much Chad meant to you.

Fuck the stoke, take your time.

Rafael Haroutunian said...

Jens, just know that you are the guy, and your positive energy that I have been recalling and channeling when depressed myself! Your motivation and joy will be back because... they are there.

Take care of yourself and yes, the fridge! Let's see if I can put something worthwhile in it :O)