What Goes Up

Day Two of Thirty Days of Writing

Photo by Shawn McDaniel

Light barges in and scatters about a room. I have the foggiest scent of cobwebs collecting dust.

In the stark city stands a vacant smokestack; a somber silo; a beacon for those who seek ascension.

I want to climb. The grass hands are damp and soft. They weave gently between my toes. They’re growing, latching on to my velocity. A nagging notion tells me to escape from the safety of these glades, that they will only ensnare me, and so I climb the nearest gnarled tree, its knots like footholds. Only a branch high and I am afraid. What if I fall? A friend of mine fell. He trusted a rotten branch and landed hard on the forest floor. He broke his back.

Who doesn’t desire to rise with grace? The youth have grace. I watch through weary eyes as children prance like dancers, like deer in an open field. A blissful smile spreads painfully wide across their pudgy faces. When I look closer their eyes are brown like mine. Their movements are reminiscent of my own. Their blood, is it mine as well? A rueful wonder that I shake from my mind. It’s the smile that I lack. It takes an effort to twist it up. I’m too naïve. Thirty short years flash by. A thirty year hurricane that won’t let up. I close my eyes and hold tight.

I need to climb out of this deep recess, out of this state and this atmosphere and this body that keeps me clinging to a rock. I think this at night but it’s off. I escape through many other means but this is not one of them. I climb to overcome the obstacles of this world. To climb beyond night and day, doubt and worry. To reach a place I’ve never been before.

The glass door swings open and I am met with a light cloud of powder and the smell of sweaty feet. The unblinking eye stands before me with its colored routes snaking up in every direction. Numerous ascenders are testing the fresh rocks. Their hands are white with chalk and wrapped in tape where callouses have opened up.

I crush my toes into my black and green Defy shoes. They’re already deteriorating after four months. It’s only my first set and they’re mostly flat, novice. I begin to stretch — a routine I have established beginning with my arms alternating across my chest and above my head, followed by an arched back and a test of the distance between my fingers and the evasive floor. My legs are then pulled to their peak and I feel flimsy as a sheet of paper.

This process is mostly thoughtless and so I spend the time preparing my mind and watching the other climbers. You can tell an advanced climber by their gear, their demeanor, and their style. By how smoothly they ascend and descend, by how they position their body to approach the next hold, by how they flag and hook, and by how well they manage the various pinches, slabs, slopers, jugs, edges, pockets, and other hand holds the wall throws their way.

When I am ready, I work my way through some easy routes, stretching things out further along the way. In the beginning I powered through everything, all haste and brawn. Now I know to pace myself, to conserve energy, to climb calm and steady, to secure my feet and balance myself appropriately for the next move. I ascend the tan route smoothly, and descend decisively, reversing my steps.

One thing to remember is that every climber is at their own level. The only thing preventing a climber from completing a route, besides the strength and skill that must be developed, is a barrier in the mind. The challenge of overcoming an obstacle is belief. Through study and practice anything is obtainable. Only doubt can hold one back. Doubt in the ability of the self. Fear of the impossibility of the situation. A route may seem impossible until a skilled climber lifts himself up like a feather and reaches the end. It is up to you to see this as a kindly demo or an affront to your ability.

I shake away those thoughts that keep me up at night. I clap my hands and a swirl of chalk erupts into the air and lingers like a cloud of cigarette smoke. It calmly alights on the thick gray mat which encircles the bouldering cyclops like a moat.

The relentless eye and its V4s and V5s calling climbers to taste its overhang. I can’t see my own feet when I’m spread thin across the pupil, but it can see me.

What’s the secret to these orange stalactite holds, I ask the eye

The secret lies in sight and not the mold, replies the unblinking eye


I feel weak today. I am distracted. Life seems to be making a fool out of me. There, did you see that? A pink route is laughing at me, I’m sure of it. I’ve defeated it many times before. The first move is a kind of dino, a leap and grab. I test my footing and go. I’m up. I can see the sloper growing closer, throbbing out of the wall, engorged. My foot loses itself and slips. My hands outstretched are frozen. The pink hold shrinks smaller and smaller. I hit the mat off key and collapse with a snap.