It’s almost 1,100 miles from Slade, Kentucky, to North Conway. After two weeks in the Red River Gorge I made the drive back this weekend, alone. I stopped at my friend Ben’s house just outside of Philadelphia to spend Friday night, but otherwise it was two nine hour days, uninterrupted except by tolls. The cities and the scenery flew past. The road felt the way it always has — comforting.
I had a great trip. It was cold, but I was with an awesome group of people. I laughed and climbed, ate well and smiled. I couldn’t have imagined much better. Now I’m back where it’s halfway between winter and spring, where the routes rise significantly more than 90 or 100 feet. I’m back in the mountains. I’m back home.
I got in last night, rested from my time behind the wheel, and right away started sussing out climbing plans for today. My friend Peter, with a week left before he heads to Alaska, was free. We decided to spend a few hours playing on the South Buttress of Whitehorse.
I have to say, after two weeks of sport climbing, I love multipitch climbing. I love launching above gear in terrain where falling isn’t an option. I love looking down and down and down, past my feet, past my gear, past my belayer, to the trees and rocks far below. I love flowing upward, floating pitch after pitch. I love everything about it. My two weeks on Kentucky sandstone was meant to revive me after a long winter, and it did, but one day on Conway granite may have done more. Today I was reminded of how much I love the simple movement of climbing. It wasn’t hard, but each motion was beautifully choreographed. It was the kind of experience that first lured me into climbing — flowing upward among mountains.
The two experiences — the RRG and today — remind me of why I love climbing. It is exactly because of the differences and the same-ness. They were both climbing, but in one I faced my deepest fears while in the other I got to swim in the soothing presence of the rock. I spent two weeks screaming back into the darkness that threatened to overhelm me in the RRG, if only to prove that I was strong enough to find my voice. Today I abandoned that primal version of climbing and instead danced, coaxing the rock to permit me skyward. It was a different moment, a different experience, and yet the same. Today the rock became like the road — comforting. It rock shepherded me through the darkness rather than forced me to face it. It led the way home. It was home.
I’m not sure how people live without the mountains. They are my shepherd. They keep the compass pointing north. Without them I’d be a lost soul. Instead, I dance, and my dance brings me home.