A Buddhist scholar I know once explained to me that Westerners mistakenly think that Nirvana is what arrives when all your woe is behind you, and you have only bliss to look forward to. But, he said, that would not be Nirvana, because your bliss in the present would always be shadowed by the joy from the past. Nirvana, he said, is what you arrive at when you only have bliss to look forward to and find in what look like sorrows the seedlings of your joy. — Andrew Solomon.
At the base of All Chalk and No Action in Little Cottonwood canyon I fumbled with getting a line fixed to the route’s anchors to easily feed through my bottom ascender. It was an embarrassing site in front of a crowd of strangers gathering to climb nearby routes. I pushed up my top ascender easily, but the bottom one moved no more than an inch as I tried to encourage it up with my left hand and a raised knee. Damn. It.
The rope twirled as I clumsily pushed up on the devices, a dysfunctional sort of tango, and I made the 360 degree turn around with it in a slow, pathetic struggle. I sighed heartily and took a rest on my daisy chain as I awkwardly dangled 6 inches off the ground.
I tried again and the same thing happened a second time. I began to wonder if I had made a grave mistake in agreeing to climb Moonlight Buttress in a single push with my friend, Dan, in exactly 4 days. I couldn’t even figure out how to jug. I have had crass moments of ambition in the past, but this was beginning to feel like a whole new level of stupid.
A few moments later, to my surprise, I figured it out somehow. I got into a quick rhythm with the aider attached to my bottom ascender and found my way easily up to the anchors, stopping to tie backup knots, without expending too much energy.
A stranger below me yelled up to me.
“You look like a bird!”
“Your ladders! They make it look like you have a long tail! Like a little bird!” And I smiled back down at him and laughed like a loon.
Soon, if the weather held, I would be on my first desert big wall, a goal I added to my bucket list a couple years ago. And out of the blue, after I had nearly forgotten about the possibility, the opportunity presented itself during my lunch break at work last Friday like a winning lottery ticket. Sitting across from the table I said incredulously to Dan, “You realize I have never aid climbed, before right?” and he responded confidently with a smile, “Oh, you’ll learn!”
So, as instructed, I set out to learn in one week. Instead of studying sufficiently for a final exam (forgive me, future self), I poured over Freedom of the Hills, literature on big wall climbing, YouTube videos and various online forums. Finally I had made it out to LCC for my single day of practice.
At the top of All Chalk I hung on my daisy and felt the sun on my face. It was the warmest I had felt in weeks. In the wake of so many recent changes in my life, one bringing about an immeasurable amount of sadness, I dangled at the top of a cliff and looked across to the shaded, snow-dotted, north-facing side of the canyon. I prayed for something, anything. Relief, joy, excitement. I prayed for some sort of sign. I started up another silent plea, and then I sort of gave up mid-sentence. I looked at the towering white and lodge pole pines and cliffs streaked by water marks. I had been in this place so many times before and it still startled me out my thoughts. I took in its severe beauty for several moments, with my tail dangling below me, the shadow of an awkward girl-bird cast on the granite wall to my north.
I spent the rest of the daylight hours slowly (painfully slowly) aid climbing up a route, grumbling about managing the cluster-fuck, while receiving a generous and patient belay from a smiley stranger. Somehow things started to feel like they were coming together as the sun was waning over the mountains to the west.
I felt excited and I felt sad. I felt the weight of the unknowns of a large objective. I was in the middle of planting seeds for what’s to come.