“There is no god but God.”
There is no such thing as success, no such thing as failure. There is only the path, the effort, the moment. Everything else falls away. Even you.
The forecast is calling for 50 degree days this weekend. I just got back from two weeks on Southern Sandstone. But when Peter texted me Tuesday night about doing a morning drytool session in the Cathedral Cave I didn’t hesitate. “7:15?” I texted back. “Sure,” he responded. Plans were in motion.
I love the Cave. It is, quite literally, my cathedral. I’ve spent years falling my way up longterm projects there, both rock (Sanctuary) and mixed (The Mercy). It is a holy place. On winter mornings the sun streams in past naked trees, transforming the dirty ground into a sanctuary. Ice may be falling all over Cathedral, but the Cave remains a safe haven. It is a place ripe for faith, and it’s where I practice mine.
Six winters ago I started making my pilgrimages. It was then that I belayed my friend Josh, one of the most gifted and visionary climbers I know, on The Mercy. Unsatisfied with the challenge, Josh kept going, linking the M9 Mercy into the finish of Work of the Devil with multiple figure-fours. He dubbed his creation Satanic Verses. I belayed in awe.
At the time, it was all I could do to climb The Devil Made Me Dog It, the first part of Work of the Devil. The Mercy had a stopper move at the beginning that kept me from even considering it. Satanic Verses looked like something from outer space.
Fast forward to Wednesday, 8 a.m. “There is no god but God.” Wearing rock shoes and holding ice tools, I worked my way through the crux moves of The Mercy. “There is no god but God.” I didn’t even think about what the words I was saying meant, but I knew they fit the holy place I was in, fit the feelings of faith, of submission, inside me. “There is no god but God.” I clipped the bolt above the technical climbing. Now it was just about holding on through 20 horizontal feet of roof. “There is no god but God.” I moved upward, shaking out, never fully feeling the rock, the moves I was making, but making them anyway. The words were filling my head, leaving me free to climb, without fear, without ego, without thought. “There is no god but God.” I clipped the chains. For the fourth time this winter, The Mercy allowed me to reach the top.
Or did it?
I didn’t let go of my tools, I didn’t yell “TAKE.” I kept shaking out, and then looked up. Five feet above me was another bolt. Beyond that a crack snaked to the lip of the Cave. Satanic Verses, outer space, was right there. I gazed up at it, and it stared back at me. “There is no god but God,” I thought, and I launched into the opening moves.
Nothing is ever finished. Nothing is ever over. Yesterday’s success is just a step towards tomorrow’s challenge, and today’s failure is a lesson to prepare you for whatever comes next. I did not float through Satanic Versus. I made it to the next bolt only after down climbing to the anchors and taking. I got to the one after that just barely, only after almost dropping a tool. I reached the final anchors by hooking a pick into them. But “success” wasn’t the goal. It doesn’t exist. The point is the challenge, and the challenge is the point. The lessons that come from “failure,” and from “success,” are why we throw ourselves off the ledge in the first place. Can we land on our feet? Do we have what it takes to survive? The point is to stare straight into Satan‘s eyes and scream, “There is no god but God!” What happens next? Can you handle it? Who knows. But that’s why we come to this holy place — to find out.
Epilogue: I got to the chains in one hang on Friday. It is amazing to be on the routes that six years ago looked impossible. Maybe nothing is impossible. I only got here through countless “failures,” and I hope they keep coming.