Monday morning and I’m fortunate enough to be sitting on a rock next to the Tuolumne River and not at work someplace. It’s been 10 months since I’ve sat here in this very spot. I’ve been coming here for five summers now and it’s become a familiar place to me – it feels very much like home. One of the last memories I have here is being with Ron, Susan and Beth enjoying a breakfast of fruit that the ladies brought over. We sat together sharing in the company, the place and the food. That’s what this river means to me, sharing.
Sidney and I use to come out here in the mornings. Ron was always up and enjoying his riverside coffee before me. Sid would come running over here, so eager and happy to tell him hello after a night’s sleep. We would sit here, sipping steaming coffee from warm mugs; enjoying conversation or simply just being with the flow of the water. Occasionally Sid would get too warm from the sun and venture back to the campsite, waiting for me to join her so that she and I could continue to share time and space. It’s been almost a year that she has passed away – her final resting spot here in Tuolumne. And so this morning I’m at the river alone but with me these memories and emotions and these rocks that are consistent companions.
As I sit here this morning listening to the water as it finds its way down stream it’s telling me many things. A little over a month ago I had my too close to death experience that left me unable to climb for many weeks. For the majority of those days I was in much pain and my focus had shifted to just getting well and strong again. At times it felt like an uphill struggle and fear would creep in. I feared that I would never climb again, that I would be riddled with this pain and lack of movement for the rest of my days here. When I took the slip down the East Ledges slabs I told myself, I told the universe that dying up there was not an option for me at that time. I made a very clear decision to not let that happen. And so I find myself returning beck to that determination in my recovery process. I will get better, I will climb again has been my mantra.
Last week I went climbing for the first time since the accident. It felt ok. My endurance was a little less and the strength of my left leg was less than the right. I had only recently started riding a bike to rehab myself and build my range of motion. I was growing eager to see how climbing would feel. I still had some pain and discomfort and I knew it wasn’t ready yet. I felt that within a week or so it would be even better. So, I continued to take care of my knee – biking and some PT as well as acupuncture. Things were getting better.
Yesterday I came back to Tuolumne and went bouldering. I was amazed at how much stronger and better my knee was feeling. I could do things that only a week ago I could not. I marveled at the resiliency of the body and the power of the mind. I had plans to meet two of my girlfriends back behind Pywiak Dome to do this climb, “Electric Africa.” Both of them are working on this route, it is their project. I was thrilled to go there with them and offer my support. I was also curious as to how I might feel on it myself.
To me “Electric Africa” is the epitome of what Tuolumne rock climbing is about – technical, balancy and beautiful. The backside of Pywiak is one of the most spectacular places in the world. Tenaya Peak lies to the west; to the east are undulating domes that continue to give definition to Tuolumne; directly behind the dome are these granite, water streaked slabs that rise up to meet with a view of Cathedral Peak.
Sitting there with my friends I thought about the recent news of an accident on Cathedral Peak. A young woman had fallen 400 feet to her death. I was struck sick by this information. I recalled all the thoughts and feelings that went through me as I was sliding down those East Ledges. I could only imagine how she must have had similar things racing through her as she was free-falling, only she didn’t walk away. As I lingered on this thought my name was being called. It was my turn to climb.
My friend handed me the rope and as I tied myself in looking to my belayer for insurance that she had me I felt so fortunate to be able to put on my climbing shoes and climb again. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pull all the moves or to even make it to the anchor. I was simply there to enjoy the place, share the company and get my body reacquainted with the rock. As I reached up to grab onto the first holds everything seemed to come back to me – the focus, the movement, the technique. I moved up the rock freely, flowing like the river. I had pulled all the moves, I had reached the anchors. I was surprised, actually, at how easy the climb had felt. In all my times there it had just felt the easiest. I lowered to the ground, untied and sat down. I placed my hand on my knee – it felt good. I was so grateful to be able to move like that again. A few minutes later I did another lap on the climb – once again reaching the anchors without compromise. I was filled with joy.
But, the joy wasn’t from making the climb exactly. The joy was from just having the opportunity to climb – regardless of outcome. And it dawned on me how deeply personal rock climbing is for me. It’s a pure expression of who I am – fully engaged in nature, sharing.