It may have been 4:30 or 5:00 am when I groggily rolled out of my tent. I found myself amidst the harsh windy terrain of Nevada. It is amazing to me that the landscape is able to support any sort of life or vegetation. If, in the anticipatory light, the cactus and desert shrubbery couldn’t prove me wrong enough, the gnawed holes in the lazily packed bag of crackers from last nights dinner and the crumbs that remain, certainly can. Despite the unforgiving landscape and the less than ideal conditions, this place and this situation is one I crave, and there is nowhere I would rather be.
Before sunrise, we were on the trail, ahead of us we can see the silhouette of the mountain we were to scale. From here, the 1200 foot wall does not look so tall; returning to camp before sunset should not be a problem, though knowledge and experience has taught me that a climb like this never goes fully as planned. At this point, we can only hope our preparation left nothing overlooked, as we will not know until it is far too late.
You can never anticipate what you will find on a day of big wall climbing. It is for this reason that you take not only the necessary gear to keep you safe, but more importantly, the knowledge gained from countless days on rock in the past. Reading the route description multiple times makes me think of those who barged this trail first, the unknown above them. As we reach the base of the climb, the emotions we feel are difficult to express: a combination of respectful anticipation and nervous excitement. Butterflies grow in my stomach.
I have learned many lessons from mornings such as this; there is something unique for me about a lesson learned through climbing; especially big wall climbing when the stakes are high. It is (at least in part) because of this, that lessons learned do not quickly fade. Character is built and tested during days suspended on rock. One of the many lessons I have learned from preparing for a climb is the importance of building relationships. This holds true in my experience as a Fellow at El Pomar Foundation. Whether during a high stakes situation on rock, or in the midst of an important meeting, it is important to know how your partner will react under stress. This could make or in some cases, quite literally, break your day.
Some people struggle to understand why we do this. Why do people put themselves through a day of climbing? Nothing other than that day on the wall can imitate what situation you may face, forcing you to interact with your partner at a level that is rarely achieved. You can get to know a person in a completely different way when you intentionally place yourself in a situation to face adversity, exhaustion, and stress. The friendships, the trust, and the bonds built climbing, not unlike those built in the Fellowship, endure not only in the heat of the moment, but long into the future.