A Challenge to Myself

The perpetual question in climbing is why? Obviously, one could state the various physical benefits, or quip “because it is there”, or evoke some macho impression that it makes one more of a man. None of these answers mean anything…none really answers the question: What motivation could possible justify willingly placing oneself in the line of fire…going to places that are not safe, are not comfortable, and may not let you go home to be with the people you love?

It is hard to imagine anything worth that chance.

My answer is not the best, but it is the truth. I climb because I love it. I feel most alive after airing it out a thousand feet up, or after warming my fingers after a cold cold morning on a crumbling mound of frozen rock high above the treeline, or after a long day of pushing my limits on West Virginia sandstone.

I live –
for the rush of blood and ringing in my ears after a long fall,
for the uncertainty of that tiny foothold,
and for the crunch of glacier ice under my crampons.
To be in a place that most people can’t even dream of,
and to be utterly at the mercy of Mother Nature.
For placing my life and all my trust in the hands of my partner.

Not for the summit! But for that place where the ground is a distant memory and the summit is a far off dream, where a stray dark cloud hangs like a spectre on the horizon, and a clump of grass in a crack is welcomed as a luxurious resting place, and nothing is more friendly than the warmth of the sun.
To know that I am alive, more alive than I have ever been, anywhere or any way.

Climbing isn’t my life, but it is the way I best express myself. I only wish that I could take the intensity that fuels me on rock and bend it towards the rest of my life. If I had not only the courage to dangle from my fingertips on a scary unroped descent with hundreds of feet of shattered rock calling me from below, but to tell the people I care about how I feel. Why is it that I can flip a kayak over in a raging pillow of whitewater, feel the rocks beneath beat me about the head and back, and roll up laughing, but I tremble at the very thought of being totally open and honest about the emotions I have beneath my surface? I pour hours into planning glorious expeditions, but I grudge fifteen minutes of my time to devote to schoolwork. I buy myself the best equipment in the world, but I can’t think of a thoughtful gift for a friend. I can take eight months to explore whatever corner of the world fancies me, but I can’t spare a weekend to go hunting with my dad?

These things need to change. If I am to live the life I want, I need to be more gracious, to be more loving, to be there for the people who need me, and let them know that I need them. To call my old friends, to hold the hand of a girl I care about, have Christmas parties, and pick apples with my grandmother, and polish gems with my grandfather.

I have tossed out the challenge to myself….it only remains to see if I am up to it.

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