Not falling and dying

You’re inching your way up the glassy slab, moving on fingertips and toes from smear to edge to smear — clinging to bits of rock barely millimetres wide. The only thing keeping you on the wall most of the time is the fact your centre of gravity is above your feet because the slab slants very slightly positive. The rope drags hard against the harness, running down the face, through the draw pegged on your last bolt, ten or eleven metres below you, down and down and down and around the headwall and through a couple other bolts and down and through your (hopefully) alert belayer’s ATC and finally pooling in coils at her feet as she pays attention to the slack in the line and not the osprey wheeling around looking for fish in the ocean.

I hope you realise that if you fall here — best case — you’re going to sandpaper down the face for about twenty-five meters before coming to a rough stop at the end of the rope. More likely you’ll tumble some or all of that distance. Maybe some of the gear will pull and you’ll fall even further. Worst case, your belayer is chatting with Rocco and the full length of the rope will run through her panicked grasping hands before the other end, tied to her, finally catches you. Not even your heavy arse can pull a belay-device, plus double figure-eight tied to a harness with attached climber through a two-inch wide carabiner. Some of the gear should hold, right? If not, all three of you, lashed together by two sixty-metre lines, are headed for the rocks and the waves two hundred metres down.

Left hand quests upwards and the tips of the pads on your fingers catch on the edges of a tiny pin scar. Right hand flaps up the wall and slaps onto a slight bulge in the rock. Slopers are the absolute worst, but you’ll take it. One foot stays glued to something (you hope — you can’t see any edge or gradiation in the rock that it appears to be somehow gripping) as the other creeps up and up and finally onto the tiny crimper your left hand was on only seconds ago. There is absolutely nowhere for you to place any gear. Maybe if you had some micro-wires, you could finagle one into this pin scar. Too bad. You can see the next bolt a couple of body-lengths above you. You don’t want to die anymore.

You creep, move by slow move, up the granite, until finally you can reach the dull silver metal drilled into the rock. Slowly, slowly, left hand takes a quickdraw off a gear loop and up to the bolt, clipping it into the fixed-hanger there. Don’t fall. Legs slightly bent. Toes killing you. You breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, as that hand snakes down to your crotch, grabs the knot, slides out from that along the rope, brings it up slowly to the draw. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Don’t fall. Don’t slip, stupid feet. Absolutely don’t move your hips. Do not. In through the nose. Middle finger rests on the metal of the carabiner, thumb and pointer, pinching the rope, click it in through the gate. Out through the mouth, just as measured as before. You’re so happy to hear that sound. Still, don’t fall. This is the most balance-y, sketchy, run-out, fucking terrifying absolute best climb ever. Maybe twenty metres to go.

Yesterday arvo, before the drive down, you kinda thought about ending it. Not really though. Just, kinda maybe. You don’t do anything, you’re going nowhere, you’re falling behind everyone you know in everything you do. The last really good thing that happened to you was getting married a couple years ago. Life becomes absolutely, unequivocally crushing; completely untenable. Doing anything about it should be easy but is somehow too hard. Your days off (from a shitty go nowhere job you used to enjoy but you’re increasingly starting to hate) you get up, drop your wife in at work, today will be different, it’s early morning, beautiful outside. You make a coffee. You have breakfast. You’ll apply for some new jobs. You’ll work through your business plan again, take some concrete steps to getting that going.

You watch shit on YouTube all day. You hate yourself. You rush to clean the dishes, chuck some washing in the machine, vacuum the house as the sunlight fades to warm gold and then you go to pick your wife up. You lie about what you did that day. You vacuumed! washed! cleaned! and even applied for some jobs and chatted with a business lender (you hope she doesn’t notice the change in inflection). You seem like you’re being productive. Every fucking day you hate yourself a bit more. The smallest things throw you off balance. It’d be easy enough to just swim out into the ocean. Keep swimming and swimming until you slip under the water. You might not even be found.

Now, a couple metres further up — fifteen metres and maybe ten minutes until you make the anchor, you can’t imagine anything better. You’re in perfect balance. Your fingers twinge. Your toes are protesting at being made to support you, somehow, on a magazine’s width of stone. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Shoulder cracks as your fingers caterpillar onto the next crimper and you shake out your free hand and dive back into the chalk bag. You could go like this for days. You’ve never climbed anything this hard or exposed before. Life is good. It’ll get better. You’ll see. Don’t kill yourself. And absolutely don’t fall. Goddamn, wouldn’t that be ironic.

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