When I woke up in the back of the truck on Sunday morning, the windows were frosted over with condensation so I couldn’t see outside.
“It snowed,” P. said as soon as I opened my eyes. He is often awake before me.
He opened the back window just a crack; I rolled over onto my stomach and peered down at the ground, which was indeed covered in white, fluffy snow.
“Oh,” I said, and snuggled back into my pillow, pulled the blanket back over my shoulders. Good, I thought. Now I don’t have to climb.
Climbing on Saturday had gone much like climbing the weekend before, only this time six of P.’s closest friends got to see how shaky and frustrated and unkind I could be on the rock. Plus, I was tired of being scared.
When we got out of the truck an hour or two later, four inches of snow coated the picnic table, the camp stove and the cooler we’d left outside.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to make you coffee this morning,” P. warned me.
But S&R, some of P’s closest friends and my old neighbors, got a fire going in the fire pit. They boiled water on the stove inside their Sprinter van, and we drank coffee, made jaffles (Australian sandwich pockets) and watched Mica-dog run in happy, crazed circles through the snow.
My feet were cold, but the heat of the fire and the rising sun kept us warm and before long, P. and R. stood at the edge of the campground, examining the cliffs on the other side of the narrow valley. P. came running back across the snow.
“The sun is melting everything out,” he said. “We can climb!”
By this time we were saying good bye to the other climbers in our group, and we all just stood there and stared at him.
“We’re serious,” he said.
In the end, only four of us returned to the cliffs–me, P, and S&R. I agreed because of the way P. had looked so excited, like a kid at Christmas. But I hiked in back, falling behind because my boot came untied four or five times. I followed their muddy footprints along the snowy path and promised myself that I would stay relaxed and not freak out, even if to meant belaying P. all day and never once getting on the wall.
By the time we reached the first climb, we were in shorts and flip flops and the dog was looking for the last patches of snow to roll in. I didn’t stay off the wall, of course, but I did things a little bit differently. When. P. pretty much had to hoist me over an overhang, I focused less on my lack of strength and more on the sequence of holds I’d follow if I did have the strength.
“Well I just don’t have the guns for that,” I said in a southern drawl when I reached the ground.
“Girl, we gotta get you some guns,” R. drawled back, and we all laughed.
When P. took on a route clear beyond my ability, I declined to give it a try and waited instead for an easier route–LaChoya Jackson, which got three stars in the guide book. I’d climbed it once before, in January, and it left me hanging helpless in my harness (I might have actually tried to hit the rock that time…). But this time, I climbed the whole thing without stalling, without getting help from P, and when I rapped back down to the ground I said something I hadn’t said about climbing in a while: that was fun.
“And you think you’re not progressing or getting better,” P shook his head and hugged me.
We did another easier route after that, and again I could see the moves and actually do them. Again, it was fun. So fun that I rushed back to where S&R were climbing to get on a route I knew to be at–or slightly beyond–my limit. As soon as I got on the wall, I was breathing hard and grunting from the effort of getting up it. My finger started bleeding around the cuticle, and I left tiny smears of blood on the rock. The sun had given way to dark rolling clouds and scattered snow flakes, and we were minutes from packing up and hiking out. But I was determined to get to the top of the climb.
“You’re doing it!” P. called from the ground. And while he did help me over the crux, I made it.
More importantly, I relearned a couple of things that might be even more important than giving myself permission to fail: I don’t have to climb everything everyone else does–I only have to climb what I want to climb; and what’s most important is remembering to just have fun.