The rest of your life percolates through your climbing. Your strange sense of humour, your fears, your insecurities, your pride, your hopes, your weirdness, your love.
Nick and I generally vacillate between having loud and snarky domestic disputes, making out, being unequivocally encouraging, shameless shit-talking, and lots of excited giggling over fun climbs. Nick likes to lower me in really quickly from climbs, make me scream, and then laugh at me.
We are totally that overly-energetic, bouncy crag couple who argue and make inappropriate jokes and probably annoy other climbers. Dalton, our friend and the group’s Master Snowboarder, frequently accompanies us and tries to not pick sides during our frequent heated discussions.
Nick cracked a rib on Thursday when he did an accidental front flip on a rail whilst snowboarding with Dalton. On Saturday morning–as he and I were in the middle of binge-watching Altered Carbon–he said, ‘I will love you forever if you make me a sandwich.’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll take you climbing.’
I was up and almost out the doorway, but then I paused. ‘Wait. What about your rib?’
‘It’s better than falling on it again snowboarding.’
It was a fair point. I got his sandwich. (This is feminism, people.)
We ended up climbing both Saturday and Sunday and, for the first time ever, we got some cool pictures, thanks to the photography of Evan Blose.
If I had to describe Nick’s climbing style, it’s ‘excellent rigging skills, mediocre footwork, tremendous strength, sloper witchcraft.’ His hand smacks a slick, lichen-covered sloper (sloped handhold for non-climbers) and it stays.
If he has to do fifteen pull-ups on shitty handholds because his feet blow out over and over again, he will. He’s also a stupidly bold climber, the kind that will not climb for months and then lead a hard, sketchy, run-out 5.11d as his second climb for the day. Because why not.
He’ll look over at me, wild-eyed and grinning, and tell me he totally has it and not to bitch at him. I’ll say something snarky back–until he’s on the wall. And then something switches. His focus and calm are punctuated by a few Pittsburgh-accent ‘OH FAHCK, SPIDDERSSS’ or ‘WOOOOO’ or ‘So that was skEEtchy.’
There’s bravado, there’s machismo, there’s excited little kid.
I’ll nag him to not get his feet caught up in the rope, but then I’ll switch to, ‘You have this. Just breathe. Check out that foothold. Your right foot. You got it.’
He smacks a hand on a hard sloper, yanks his whole body up, confident as fuck.
I don’t understand it. Like I said, witchcraft and sorcery.
I climb more slowly, relying on long-and-strong legs and my ability to do splits. I prefer tiny crimps and two-finger pockets to slopers, and if I can jam a foot or a leg into a crack and lever myself up, I’m going to excitedly do just that. I like shifting from side to side and occasionally putting my feet above my head because it feels weird and fun.
When I do something particularly weird, Nick gives me this half-catcall, half-encouragement coaching from the ground. ‘Yeah baby,’ he says. ‘Get your foot up there–or, yeah, I guess way up there also works. Jesus.’
Last year, I got really, really scared after a ground fall from a second bolt. For non-climbers: I hit the ground after a sixteen-foot fall, maybe a little more. I was fine, but if I’d done that on the next climb over, I would have totally decked on some sharp rocks. It took me months to get over an intense fear of leading, and this weekend I finally did it.
I totally felt like I had to shit myself before I headed up for my first lead of the day.
‘You’re fine. You got this. I know you got this. Beyond a shadow of a doubt,’ Nick said.
So I breathed, focused, and told myself feeling like I had to simultaneously shit, pee, puke, and cry was totally normal but that I had to save it for after the climb. I let myself feel afraid, but I let the intoxicating focus of lead climbing take over. When I was above a bolt, I let myself feel the pull of the possible fall. Here it is, I thought. Just this moment, just this move, just the rock.
There’s a poetry to climbing, to the movement itself, that becomes heightened and inescapable when there’s an actual fall factor. The slight element of danger isn’t the climb: it’s only a side effect of the style of movement.
As I climbed, this felt extremely clear to me.
Nick spouted his encouragement the whole time, but it was gentler than it normally was, patient, letting me know I could do it but that I didn’t have to. I talked to myself a lot on that first lead climb, saying, ‘Emily, you can do this. You’re allowed to be scared, but you’re going to do this.‘
My final move was an almost-full split, because it felt fun. I reached the shuts and felt calm. That fear was quiet. It was just the moves that were left me with. That anxiety that had covered me like a heavy blanket for months just wasn’t there any more.
I got to the ground and Nick was there, smiling. ‘I’m so fucking proud of you.’ I started crying. I could lead again.
After months of top roping and seconding climbs and bouldering, I was doing what I loved most again. ‘I’m so happy,’ I said, my sides heaving.
Nick laughed gently, then winced at his cracked rib.
I belayed him and Dalton up the climb, then lead again.
These adventures. These moments. They are everything.
I’m just proud we keep showing up on the mountain and at the crag for these adventures, for these moments, for each other, and for ourselves.
It’s a fucking privilege and an honour.