Yesterday I cut out of work for an extended lunch to meet my friend Majka for a two hour session at Humphrey’s Ledge. We got four pitches in, and it was so nice I got sunburned. When we finished I went back to work, but when 5 p.m. came I found myself driving back across the Saco River, this time aimed for Cathedral. I coud see from the parking lot much of the cliff was wet, but not everything. I changed back into my climbing clothes, pulled on flip-flops (perfect for Cathedral approaches), and scurried to the base of Funhouse, the classic 5.7. Dry.
As I’ve said before, I do not have much experience soloing. Before this winter I’d never climbed anything harder than Pinnacle Gully without a rope. On rock my only solo was Pinnacle Buttress, which I have always felt has enough ledges to mitigate the risk. Yesterday, however, I chose once again to lean into the discomfort of being ropeless. I wanted to clear my mind and move upward deliberately, something clouded by a harness, belay and gear. I got to the base of Funhouse, tied my rock shoes, opened my chalk bag and sat. I closed my eyes, rested my hands on my knees and breathed deep. With every exhale I pushed the thoughts from my mind, clearing myself, searching for the moment I was living, that moment, the one that lasts for eternity and yet we are so seldom aware of. As I sat my heart rate slowed, by breath became calm. I opened my eyes, stood and began climbing.
I didn’t move fast. I was methodical, taking my time, letting the movement flow naturally, letting the moment carry me. More than once when I felt my mind speeding up, my thoughts racing, I stopped, closed my eyes and went back inside, searching for myself, my trust, my strength and my conviction. I was going up. Everything was OK. This was life — LIFE. Death wouldn’t disappear if I chose to stay on the ground, chose to ignore risk. If that was the path I chose death would still find me, it would just find me withered, spent. That is not for me. I choose to meet it ALIVE. I kept going up.
I was alone when I reached the top, an experience I’ve never had on Cathedral. I smiled, turned around so I was facing the valley below and sat down. I softened my eyes and took a breath. The moment was there, sitting next to me, caressing me. I was ALIVE, and I knew it. It wasn’t alive in a “I just braved death” sort of way, but in an “O Capitan, My Capitan” sort of way, in a moment of presence sort of way. I stared out, breathing even and deep, the heat of my exertion washing over me. Alive, and free. Alive and free.