We often plan for things to happen a particular way. We make schedules for and have dreams about the way we want it all to work out. As we all well know the human experience functions on an entirely different premise. There are truly to many variables for any plan to ever go accordingly. The essence of our existence is based upon the practice of adaptation. If nothing else, our most impressive trait as a species is our ability to adapt and over come the ever flowing stream of orchestrated chaos that governs our lives.
For the last 6 months I have existed on a fringe that I feel most civilized citizens of this country can not understand. All in good sport I might add. I chose this path, blame it on my love for Russian philosophers I guess, because I have found that throughout my life my greatest moments have come after long periods of suffering.
My idea was noble in theory. I would ask myself the hard questions about my character and what my future should be during the long night hours by a lonely campfire for one. I would climb day upon day upon day upon day on hard and bold North Carolina lines. Life would be simple and stoic. Hot showers and warm beds would be luxuries. My entire existence would be summed up in the acts of eating, sleeping and climbing.
For three months I couch surfed, camped and crashed my way around my network in Brevard. If it wasn't raining, I was climbing. If it was raining my mind was on the weather and when it would break. The majority of my time was spent in preparation for and execution of a classic North Carolina king line known as "Pawing the Void". It is a nine bolt 5.12b/c face climb that spans 80ft up a seemingly blank wall. To avoid being too dramatic and alluding to acts of valor and Spartan dedication, I will simply say I was in love. While the actual red-point only took 8 attempts, the process was, in my eyes, a long arduous journey to a sense of self realization that I was so close but yet so far from. I knew from the beginning that the version of myself that would stand atop Pawing The Void had not yet arrived. That he would be delayed and sometimes halted, humbled and damn near broken. Like all my favorite lines, this one was not just a feature to be climbed but an allegory to be understood.
Pawing the Void will forever be my most proud ascent. For 80 ft of steep and delicate granite climbing one has to be absolutely calm, composed and engaged. One rushed motion, one moment of haste or panic and you're taking a whip and starting all over. If you are in the least bit forceful and inpatient then you wont make it to the third bolt, 40 ft off the ground. There is no rest, no place to gain composure or settle one's mind. From the moment you leave the ground this route demands your full attention for 20 plus minutes. To add to this technical difficulty, my patience and mental fortitude were tested exponentially more by my environment than the route itself. Rain, snow, and ice were constant saboteurs in my quest for perfection only to be multiplied by the obstacle of finding a climbing partner when you have everyday off. Most people, normal people, work. The entire experience was truly magical. It went in the same fashion all great lines go in, transcendental beauty. It was one of the top 10 most enlightening days of my life. To see something go from impossible to possible is always the most rewarding moment in climbing.
The weeks after this triumph I went into a mild state of depression. That is the burden of passion. It asks everything of you. My great project was over and once again my life was relatively meaningless. And as it often does in this life I lead, my mind went deep down the rabbit hole. See in a "normal life" we have foundation, consistency, and capital. My life revolved around climbing rock faces and when that wasn't being done there was a massive hole in one's daily algorithm. Couple this with the crash from operating on all cylinders, plus some, for days on end culminating in extreme highs and you get a crash that is nothing short of titanic. My 3 month "walk about" had cracked the armor and I was beginning to bleed.
After 3 months of being homeless, cold, hungry and averaging a bank account balance of $100.00 I was damn near, if not far past broken. As any good climber does when his composure has long vanished, panic rattles the chambers of his mind and his heart knows nothing but the worst kind of fear, I started moving and moving fast! Within a few weeks I made a decision to accept an opportunity that would forever change my life. I landed a revolving seasonal job at Stanford Sierra Conference Center in South Lake Tahoe, California as the assistant dining room manager. At the time being I do not know the words I would use to describe how deeply content I am with my current forecast so I'm not going to try. My roommate and I have agreed that we have one the Vagabond lottery
On April 2nd I packed my car with all that I owned and drove 3,551 miles across this beautiful country. I stopped briefly to enjoy the monastery that is the Moab desert before arriving in my new home in South Lake Tahoe. After 2 days of staring at Cathedral Ridge, the ominous mountain that looms behind my house, I decided to have a go at it just before a big snow storm hit, later dumping 4 feet of snow. Alpinism is something I've always respected but never pursued. I don't like the cold, I don't like avalanches, but I do like to suffer. So on a Saturday after work I ran to my apartment and packed the bare essentials I assumed I needed. I put on my hiking boots, synthetic pants, soft shell and hard shell. I duct taped my pants to my boots to, in theory, keep the snow out. I made some matte and walked 300 meters from my porch and started going up my imaginary line to the steep left chute.
The first 400 meters felt as if I were crossing the rive Styx. I had to brake trail through head high bushes covered in snow on 30 degree slopes. It was as if I were swimming up stream, all the while getting poked in the eye by branches and snowed on. Finally I broke through what I now call the demon bushes and looked up at a steep rock chimney covered in ice. I climbed 30 feet up this icy bastard until my "No" alarm went off inside my head. This particular alarm is the only one I never ignore. It's the alarm in my subconscious that tells me that if I proceed with my current plan of ill advised action that I will most likely....die. So I down climbed and traversed to a large scree field that would deliver me to the base of my glorious gully.
After 30 minutes of tiptoeing up ever shifting rock fields I made it to the first snow field. For the next 900 ft I kicked steps up an ever increasingly steep and narrow chute. 200 meters from the top a storm popped of the top of my now not so little mountain. I had a moment of clarity looking 1200 ft back down the steep snow to my warmly lit home on the lake. It was dumping snow and I was 2 hours from my aforementioned home. I was so close to my goal, 10 minutes of step kicking away max but it was getting dark and I had no idea where the walk off summit trail was. I thought it best if I called my friends and AMGA rock guides and asked them what the signs of AVI conditions are.
I quickly learned that I was the current poster child for an avalanche victim. I hung up the phone and asked myself one question, "Up or Down?". As I thought about this question I took a look around.... I looked to my summit and I looked back down to home. Home was very very far away and invisible behind the wall of snow that was falling down on this "little" mountain. I realized that my awesome end of the day work out had quickly become a really fucking serious situation. I began to bound down the snow slope as fast I as I could, occasionally sinking waste deep into the snow, headed for tea and a sauna.
Long story short I made it home with sore knees, numb digits and soaked clothing and stumbled the last 500 yards down steep and woven "devil bushes". But since my employer provides me with a full kitchen and spa I recovered very quickly and was instantly proud of my chosen line as I drank beer with my 40 co workers, in a sauna. When I woke up the next morning the gravity of my choice to solo an improvised line up an unfamiliar mountain in terrain I had never seen before dawned on me. I was proud of myself and nothing less. I went into the unknown and made all the right calls while still putting everything on the line.
It was on the windy, dark and cold descent that I realized that my "walk about" had just started. That all the trials before this were just in preparation for what I think my be my finest hour. I am 3 hours from the Valley, the High Sierras are at my finger tips, and there is rock littered about every square inch of my quaint little California town. I have the opportunity to truly step outside of all that I have ever known and test myself on some of the greatest mountains that exist on this small planet. With these challenges and unknowns comes a depth of fear I have not felt in my life. Very soon, when this work season is over, I will go to the big mountains and I plan to test myself against them. So for the time being Fallen Leaf Lake is my own personal training camp. I run from my work shifts to my car and go do 21 boulder problems into the dark sans pad or I run free solo laps on the 300ft Hogsback. When I can find a partner, which isn't hard because everyone I've met is very open and friendly, I go plug gear on the 500ft granite ridge line that is Lovers Leap. Mix in some improv alpine, weekends in the Valley and a few stand up paddle board sessions and you've got a recipe for success in the High Sierras this July.
To all those back home,
I miss you dearly, I'm having the time of my life. In case I don't see ya....
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night! :)
To see pics of all this nonsense you can stalk me on FaceBook or follow me on Instagram @ esingleton_se