I’m always scared of the fall. Without enough light, each year I feel myself gently falling into a bit of a depression. I hate bundling up to go out into the cold, I hate coming home from work in the dark, and it’s so hard for me to wake up shivering and get dressed for work.
Since I’ve started climbing, the shift from summer to fall comes with a shift in lifestyle. I no longer work short Fridays to accommodate weekend warrior climbing plans. I no longer rush home from work mid-week to start shopping for freeze dried meals and electrolytes solutions, and to start methodically packing in the little time I have after work and before bed, a process that will take multiple work week evenings to prepare for a weekend climb.
I am faced with returning home to a stagnant evening with rare short-term plans for adrenaline, rare last minute texts “are you up for Forbidden Peak this weekend? We can do it car to car in less than 20 hours!”
This fall, I was making use of a mostly rainy weekend by salvaging the one decent weather window climbing trad in Index. It was raining off and on, and it was hot and humid. I top-roped Godzilla, a climb I’ve led before to see how it felt. I led a the first pitch of Japanese Gardens, a 10A. I felt warmed up and went back to see if I could lead Godzilla clean. The first few feet require the lead climber to be off-belay — there are no cracks or features that accept trad gear to safely protect the climb. I requested an additional spotter, so that I had two people prepared to direct my body away from the scattered boulders, should I take an unexpected fall. About 10 feet up, as I was about to reach the hold that would allow me to place a piece of gear and clip the rope into my protection, my foot slipped.
I fell down about 10 feet to the ground, and with help of my spotters landed directly below where I lost grip, cleanly onto the ground, with my left foot taking all of the impact. In that moment, I was sure I had done major damage to the foot, and I was right.
The weeks that followed were what one would expect after an injury. Salvaging a work trip to North Carolina, resting as much as I could, using crutches to avoid any weight bearing on my foot, and awaiting the Orthopedist appointment that would confirm my suspicions — I had a serious lisfranc injury in my midfoot joint complex and required immediate surgery upon return from my work travel.
Anticipating 3 months without walking, and several more before even beginning to think about climbing, was heart-breaking. At first I tried to make the injury seem less serious, so as not to startle my friends, who in Seattle were almost all newer friends I’d made through climbing and the climbing community since I’d moved from Philadelphia to the PNW almost exactly 2 years ago. I couldn’t imagine letting my friends know, my friends who I met at the gym, in the mountains, at the crag, in my alpine climbing course; who I impressed when I showed up from Philly with my trad rack and “roped-gunned” up climbs in Washington Pass, who I challenged to try roofs on lead at the gym, who I discussed climbing beta with for hours and hours in long car rides to climb serious peaks in the cascades, and laughed over niche climbing jokes and stories over dinner and while falling asleep in Indian Creek; my friends who learned my aunt had cancer as we hiked into Smith Rock, who I confessed my struggle with anxiety to while setting up a tent at a remote site in the Sawtooth range and again while crumpling at the belay stance during a cragging session at Squamish, who celebrated my mom’s birthday with me, 10 years after her death, at sunset after climbing all day.
I didn’t know who I was in Seattle without climbing. I’d been climbing just a couple years in Philadelphia before moving, but climbing had become my home after I uprooted and moved across the country. I didn’t know if anyone in Seattle knew who I was without my harness on.
I went to stay with good friend, Crystal, from college, and her fiancee Morhaf immediately after surgery. Her fiancee quietly got us all Thai carryout and we ate together, with their two dogs. After dinner, I laid on the couch reading while Morhaf worked at the computer and Crystal worked on her laptop. Occasionally we discussed what we were working on, or thoughts on what we were reading. They brought me tea. In the morning, Crystal went to work and Morhaf worked from home while I read the book he’d just authored. I remembered this comfortable feeling from reading at home with my mom, or at Christmas time among my family at my aunt’s house, but it seemed so distant.
It seemed like another lifetime where I’d read with family or friends in my pajamas, the dogs snuggling near us. Morhaf, who had struggled with cancer had published a book to open up the experiences of other cancer patients, and reading it along side him provided the opportunity to discuss the book, the stories, and our own experiences and I went home with some new perspectives.
The next day I returned a text to my uncle, who lives nearby but who I hadn’t seen since moving to Seattle. He stopped by around lunch time and we spent hours catching up, discussing his work in public health and how much we both loved Washington State. I couldn’t believe I had blood relations so close, who I had so much in common with.
Eventually I informed my climbing community with my status. Along with the update, I asked for support and advice. It was hard for me to allow a break in my “image,” to show the side of me that isn’t crushing climbs but that has instead crushed … my foot. But I received genuine suggestions, sympathy from those who have also been injured, and empathy from those who care.
I’ve been thinking about what climbing means to me. I’ve spent so many incredible nights and mornings under sunsets and sunrises, with people I’d barely known before we took our first steps into an alpine start. I’ve had experiences I never could have dreamed up before moving here. But climbing has also filled a void that I otherwise didn’t know how to acknowledge, let alone satisfy. I’m starting to realize that without climbing into an unknown adventure, I am essentially facing many of my fears straight on.
I am a whole person, and I have so much to give, even when I can’t be the first person to agree to a last minute climb with an 8 hour approach. I am a complex, motivated person and there are so many aspects of life that I have neglected (or at least neglected to foster) and I have been given an opportunity to explore those pieces of myself. And I am a badass for doing that, with or without onsighting a new climb. I look forward to climbing again, after what will be a long recovery period, but I also look forward to the shifts and where this new light will take me.