Doubt gnaws at my uncertain mind. Like some carnivorous beast it eats at my insecurities and dignities alike, clean and efficient. I'm simply reading a book but the conversation in my mind prevents me from anymore than the appearance of attention.
"You're going to die."
"It's 5.7, you've already climbed it, you know what to expect."
"Something will break and you'll be splattered on the talus. You're friends and family will have to pick up the pieces...all of them."
"Without confidence and competence you are weak. You can do this. You have done this, it's already done." I put the book down and go to the garage. My hands are sweating profusely. I'd called someone last night to go climbing but they hadn't called back. I start packing the necessary accoutrements of my trade. Rope, harness, rack, slings, chalk, shoes. I'm giving myself time, like a prisoner on death row filing useless appeals. I call someone else, they don't answer. The bags in the car. I grab a letter to my parents with my paycheck in it. Have to pay the bills. "Where ya headed" asks my boss and current roomate. "East face of Kindergarden, probably climb New Era." He asks if I plan to rope solo it and I point my face at the ground. "I was actually thinking of free soloing it." The previous look of mild interest changes to one of surprise as he exclaims, "Well shit...whatever you want to do, it's your decision."
That's what it comes down to. Despite all the squabbling in my head when I walked up to the rock I would either go up or turn around and walk back to the car. It wasn't lack of climbing partners, I can choose not to climb. It wasn't some need to prove myself to anyone, I hate posturing and since I already have a job that I want I have nothing to prove. Nevertheless, I left hoping someone would call and we would all go do something a little more sane.
I dropped off the letter and picked up some stamps with white hot adrenaline in my veins, my breathing slightly laboured. The post office clerk didn't seem to notice. As I drove closer the voice in my head, perhaps the rarely heard voice of reason was screaming, "TURN AROUND, FINISH THE BOOK, ANYTHING, DON'T DO THIS." But I was going to do it. My mind was made up and I didn't even know it. As I drove the Juniper loop to the South Parking Lot my breathing became even more laboured. I was soaked in sweat. Never was the phrase, "Why am I doing this?" more prevalent.
Upon parking the car I pulled out the shoes and chalkbag. I sat in the car debating on what else to take. I decided to bring water, harness, regular shoes, and of course a camera. As I made my way towards the approach trail I had no thoughts, just sensation, the wind and the heat, the sound of the leaves and the occasional car or cyclist. Making my way up the approach trail I concentrated on being flawless. To make a mistake is to fail, to fail is to die. I wanted a sign, a raven cawing, tripping over my own shoelaces (in sandals), something that would give me an excuse to walk back down the hill. I reached the base and sat under the shade of a boulder contemplating my task. I was the essence of calm now. There would be no mistakes.
New Era is an aesthetic climb that follows the crack line from bottom to top of the South Summit on Kindergarten Rock. Usually done in two pitches it can be done in three or not pitched out at all if you're out to solo it as I was. This is one of my favorite climbs in the Garden. The rock is better than anywhere else and the climbing is varied. While I've done the first pitch many times I have only done the entire climb once. Not hard, lots of rests
At this point I have donned my harness and opened my chalkbag. My shoes are on and I'm off the ground. It doesn't take me long before I am at the first pitch belay but I don't stop and clip in. I rest and take in my surroundings. The climbing is not hard but it has more of my attention than I've ever given to anything. After a brief rest I start towards the crux which features a lieback for about ten feet on less than helpful footholds. Once above it I crawl into the second pitch belay and sit down inside the cave. I cough/heave and reach for the water. I slowly calm down as the lactic acid drains from my arms like water after a refreshing shower. The crux is passed but the climb is not over. I still have the last pitch an easy and exposed arete to the summit. I was surprised to realize that I had not taken any pictures up to this point except at the base so I took a few more. Feeling like a high voltage line, full of energy and immense tension I begin climbing again and summit after fifty feet of easy climbing and the feeling of explosive energy fades. As I sit at the summit I contemplate the folly of my actions. I think back to when I climbed trees as a kid. The difference is minimal. A fifty foot tall tree and a two hundred foot tall cliff. Wood and stone. The climb was easy for me like so many trees but the knowledge of the consequences makes it serious in my mind.
Why do I do this. A question I often ask myself. Like many climbers I put forth cliche answers. I want to push myself or have fun, to experience new places. Inadequate answers, I have pushed myself...a lot. I've pushed myself physically to climb all the time and to push my capabilities. I've pushed myself mentally through scary runouts and free solos. The experience of new places is a bit more subtle. Of course I've climbed all over the country but some of the new places I've experienced cannot be visited by others. No one can go into my mind to see the exertion, the exhaustion. Sometimes the fear creeps in, more often than not when there is nothing to fear. Other times there is a place where mind and body are stripped so bare that the only thing left is will. Will to be flawless, will to endure and continue. Will is the antidote to negative inner thoughts. When body touches stone there is nothing left to say or doubt because all that is left is that will. On these days I am without fear or notion of failure and the world trembles at my fingertips. New Era follows the line in green. If you look near the bottom you can see a leader halfway up the first pitch of three with the belayer at the bottom. It took about thirty minutes to climb although it seemed like an eternity. When I first climbed it I did so in three pitches and it took more than an hour.