I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rock climbing and other pursuits

When I was much younger, I used to climb fourteeners and took up rock climbing. I'm not sure exactly when this picture was taken, but I know it was taken on top of Longs Peak in Colorado. Colorado has more than 50 mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet, hence the nickname "fourteeners" for these peaks. I wrote about how I got started in this activity a while back.

Last week, Norma Jean asked me why I wasn't using this blog to write about the past, as I had done when I began writing here. After all, I designed my other blog to be short and sweet, with lots of current pictures, and she feels that the Eye blog has morphed into something more like DJan-ity. It made me think about why I write here. When she brought it up, I felt a distinct sense of guilt, as if I had somehow been caught out doing something not quite honest. She's right, you know: I realized (after feeling around inside myself) that writing these posts stirs up a whole lot of buried angst. One way I've dealt with the pain and sorrow of my past is to distract myself, and this blog was supposed to be designed to keep me from spending my entire life doing that very thing.

There are a whole lot of stories that are languishing in the dustbin of my memories, and if they don't get exposed to the light of day, they will die when I do. So here goes: some of those past experiences have begun to emerge, and I'm willing to dust 'em off and write 'em down. In the days like the one in the above picture, I was learning how to do things that most women didn't do. In fact, that's what appealed to me about pursuing them. Rock climbing was a big thing in Boulder, so I found some partners and purchased a harness and a rope.

Now you might look at that picture and think it's not that different from what I do today, going out and hiking up mountains, even if they were a lot higher in Colorado than they are here in Washington state. But Longs Peak has many routes to the top, and the woman (whose name is lost to me now and hovers right out of reach) and I, along with one other woman, had climbed up one of the technical routes on Longs Peak. (I don't have a clue who that guy in the white helmet is; he wasn't part of our group.) The third woman took our picture.

We climbed a route known as Kiener's Route. I found this link to Jared Workman's website, and he just happens to live and work in Boulder. I didn't know him but I'll bet we crossed paths more than once. He has a couple of cool pictures on that link showing what Kiener's Route actually looks like and explaining it in detail. We carried ropes and belayed each other as we crossed Lamb's Slide and a very exposed section known as Broadway. Here's Jared's picture of Broadway.
See? It's not actually all that hard to walk on that green area, but it's the fact that you just don't want to slip up. It's called "exposure" and when you see what the consequences of a missed footstep might be, using ropes to save yourself from certain death makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, now that I'm a skydiver, it's sort of like your reserve chute: you probably won't need to use it, but in case you ever do, it's there.

Anyway, we didn't have any problems making it up this rather easy technical route, and as we summited (when that first picture was taken), we saw many dozens of other hikers who had come up the non-technical traditional route, known as the Keyhole. They were amazed at seeing us come up from another route that looks terrifying, looking down from the summit. I've also climbed up the Keyhole route, too. The entire climb is eight miles each way and traverses up 5,000 feet in elevation. Knowing how tired I am after a hike these days of half the height and half the distance, I realize that I probably couldn't do this today. But then again, it was probably thirty years ago that I climbed up Longs Peak.

During my climbing days, I spent many a summer's day out in the wilderness enjoying the views from different peaks. Summiting fourteeners was the first time I realized how rarified the air is at 14,000 feet. In Colorado, it was so clear that it seemed you could see forever. Although at that altitude smokers and people who are not in pretty good shape have a hard time, it was exhilarating to me. I learned to slow down as we gained altitude and the air got thinner and thinner. My heart would pound from the effort and the lack of oxygen; everyone slowed down.

When I was a climber, I would get what is known as "sewing-machine legs," when I would become scared and the adrenaline in my system would cause my legs to tremble so bad that I couldn't continue until I gathered my wits about me and relaxed. It was usually because I was afraid that I would fall, even though the rope would catch me (theoretically, anyway) and I wasn't really in any danger. I saw it happen to many climbers, not just me. Exposure did it to me, my very active imagination allowing me to contemplate falling. The only way around it was to relax and concentrate only on the task at hand. Perhaps overcoming my fear of falling while climbing helped me to learn to skydive, who knows?

It was at the end of 1990 when I made my first skydive, and my interest in climbing mountains and even hiking into the backcountry began to fade. I didn't look back and didn't think I'd ever stop skydiving and return to the mountains, but I'm beginning to realize that no matter how much you love something, it doesn't stay the same. I get as much enjoyment from a brisk walk with my friends as I do when I head down to Snohomish and jump out of airplanes. Smart Guy once said to me, "you can't have a hundred jumps forever," meaning if you keep jumping you gain experience and knowledge... and familiarity. Spending 66 hours in freefall, as I've done, means that it's no longer thrilling. Well, it is, but not in the same way.

Now that I am much older and wiser (I'm smiling here), what are the trials and tribulations that are still out there to be faced? Well, as many who are older and wiser than I have said, "getting old is definitely not for the faint of heart."


Trish said...

It seems to me that "faint of heart" is the last term in the universe I would ever use to describe you! Just looking at the photo of that sheer mountainside is enough to give me vertigo.

Anonymous said...

There is a first time for everything -- including sex. Lol. The first time is always exciting, but once it becomes a habit, it becomes more routine. Same ole t'ing, I say. Boring? Sometimes! When that happens, I take a break from it and do something else. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Jackie said...

I loved this step back in time, Jan. It's refreshing to see how much you love being out and about in (and above) God's wonders.
I always take more away from your blog than when I arrive at it. Thank you for that.
Hugs and big smiles to you, my friend.

Rita said...

You seem to be driven to conquer your fears and push your limits of endurance. It makes perfect sense that you went easily from sheer cliffs to sky diving. Facing those personal and dangerous physical challenges has to feel totally empowering.

It would have to be really difficult to reach that point where you can't or don't think it is wise to continue on with something you love--say the sky diving. You are so smart to be hiking so you will have that after you decide to quite sky diving. And you swim and stay active in other ways, too.

You may not be able to rock climb like you used to--but YOU DID IT!! Most of us have never experienced such amazing feats, looked out over glorious vistas, and have such exciting memories. I admire you so much, dear lady. :):)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for sharing your journey with regard to enjoying nature in all its varied forms. And thank you, also, for sharing with us your coming to grips with telling us about your journey. But I really do think that whatever you write about will be written with grace and wisdom and an insight that connects your story with me, the reader.

As to that line you quoted, Bette Davis is supposed to have said it also, but this way: "Old age ain't for sissies."


SaucyKod said...

"Same Ole, Same Ole" just doesn't suit you. This is a great post and I can feel my adrenline pumping just reading the post. This was so very interesting DJan. I'm thinking about that patch of grass on the side of the mountain and thinking more than my legs would be shaking; however, with an attidude like yours, I'm thinking I would overcome it. I, like you, love being out and playing with the wonders that Nature has bestowed us. Ain't it GREAT.
Thank you so much for sharing - I loved this post.

Gigi said...

You are so inspiring. It seems you have taken hold of life with both hands and are determined to get everything out of it that you can. And I'm glad you take the time to share your experiences with us.

Retired English Teacher said...

I never climbed Long's Peak. I did other 'fourteeners' back in the day, but I have always considered Long's Peak to be for the serious mountain climbers. I've never heard the term "sewing machine legs." but I certainly have felt them while climbing. My last climb was in my mid-40's when I blew my knee and felt like crawling down off the mountain it hurt so bad.

My cousin's husband, in his 50's, was the last causality on Long's Peak. He fell to his death in September of 2010 as he descended. A very experienced climber, his death truly illustrates the dangers of hiking Long's Peak.

Red said...

Your awesome description brings back a lot of good memories. We don't have fourteeners and those over ten thousand are a challenge because of climate here and the snow and ice on those peaks. Exposure was a thrill.

#1Nana said...

You are soooo brave! I also jumped out of an airplane for the first time in October, 1990 to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was my first and only experience. I never even considered rock climbing!

Linda Myers said...

I've got a fear of heights, so I wouldn't have rock climbed even when I was younger.

Eleven years ago I trained for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, a 60-mild walk over three days. We had a heat wave, I got sick the first night, missed the second day and returned the third. Very glad I did it, not much interest in doing it again.

The challenges change. May we always be fascinated by something!

karena said...

wow...I admire your courage to do such scary things....somehow I imagine you could probably still rock climb. I've never climbed anything other than stairs...flat lands here.
I like the step back in time.

Arkansas Patti said...

"Sewing machine legs" kind of tickled me. I have had them in much milder situations. I am so impressed with your desire to stretch your boundries and over come fears.
This admiration comes from a woman who ditched her dream of Marine Biology because of a silly mechanical fish in a movie.

Fun60 said...

It's great to look back and share the adventures you had when you were younger. I am so glad that you too cannot recall names. I loved the phrase about names 'hovering in the distance'.

Friko said...

Golly, have you no fear, woman? Rock-climbing, mountaineering, sky-diving, trekking for miles, swimming and exercising, you must be the fittest woman I know (of).

With all those activities, surely depression never gets a look-in?

Star said...

Phew! that looks extremely difficult to me D-Jan. I don't know how you dared do it. You are so very daring, aren't you. I'm sure you can meet any of the challenges that old age brings (smile).

Mel said...

Well I shouldn't be surprised that a skydiver would have started with rock climbing. You are fearless and amazing and your photos are stunning.
I believe there is nothing you can't do if you choose to, but I agree that age has its limitations. Thank goodness for hiking, as there is so much to be seen, maybe not as exciting as from the air or a cliffside, but you have the ability to see and appreciate so much that I hope it's enough.
Thanks for sharing another facet of your journey with us.

CrazyCris said...

I don't think anyone has ever accused you of being faint of heart DJan! Even being much younger and in better shape climbing those fourteeners took some guts!!! ;o)