Soul Sending

Transcendence. That’s all I really hope for in everything I do: climbing, writing, Life. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s possible, that I can surpass what was previously the best in myself and become something better, however fleeting. To witness such a transformation unwinding before me or within me affirms a faith that there is something deeper to live for. This happened at least twice for me while climbing this last May.

It was a quiet afternoon in Rifle. Wendy, Julie and I were the only people at the Anti-Phil Wall. Wendy was shoeing up for a 5.13b called “Eurotrash” that she’s been trying to redpoint for approximately two seasons. She had the route wired except for a single insecure move from a sloper 30 feet up. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that she has fallen from the sloper a hundred times. I felt like there was something different in the air, though, as Wendy tied in and chalked up that day. I’m still not sure why I felt differently than the other times I belayed her on the route.

Wendy Williams gears up moments before her transcendent moment on "Eurotrash" (5.13b) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Wendy Williams gears up moments before her transcendent moment on “Eurotrash” (5.13b) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Julie and I chatted. Wendy neared her high point and we stopped talking. There was only the flutter of wind in the branches and the sounds of Wendy climbing, breathing. Floating. She committed to the right-hand sloper. I braced to catch her as usual … but her body remained where it was.

“She’s going to do it!” I whispered to Julie.

Wendy stepped left off the sloper – another spot she had fallen the few times she climbed that high.

“She’s going to do it!” I kept whispering.

Wendy stuck a left-hand dyno to a rail. The air seemed to buzz. I rocked back and forth where I stood holding the rope, alive with the energy I crave at the cliff. Sending!

At last, arms wavering from all her previous attempts that day, Wendy stared down the last move on the last crux. She gathered strength. I held my breath. She reached out … and missed.

She didn’t redpoint that day, but since then she has consistently climbed to the high crux of her project. Regardless of the official redpoint status, there is no arguing that it was a glorious moment of defeating personal barriers long fortified by failure and doubt.

The other transcendent moment is harder to explain – I think it’s easier to describe the changes in someone else than to articulate your own. Transcendence occurs in an infinite number of ways having to do with the mind and body, but for me, it is most clearly experienced in climbing. The “Send.” The feeling of a route looming over my dreams – dark, foreboding, beckoning all my desire like a funnel through which I’m called to pass or be severed from my heart, and if I muster the courage I might find myself with the same route unfurling below my feet like a red carpet from heaven.

“Stoned Oven” (V 5.11+) in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison was such a route for me several weeks ago. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was calling my name and yet I couldn’t find anyone to go with me.

“You should call Jack,” my friend said.

Jack Cody sends the last crux pitch on "Stoned Oven" (V 5.11+) in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Derek Franz.

Jack Cody sends the last crux pitch on “Stoned Oven” (V 5.11+) in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Derek Franz.

I’ve only had one or two other partners like Jack, a person that allows me to reach heights I never would otherwise. Before I met Jack, I had only done “The Scenic Cruise” (V 5.10+) and “Escape Artist” (III 5.10-) in the Black Canyon. I’ve longed to do the bigger, harder routes there for years but never seemed to find the ideal partner. Other friends of mine either weren’t experienced enough or they had already climbed everything.

At last the stars aligned. Here was a strong climber about the same age with an equal ability and the same goals. It didn’t take long for us to hit it off.

It was raining when we left the ground at 8 a.m. to climb the 1,800-foot wall but there was no violence in the air. By the afternoon we were smiling on a sunny ledge near the top, enjoying a casual ascent. I felt more relaxed there on one of the bigger free climbs I’ve ever done than I have on much smaller routes with lesser partners. Then I realized, that’s been my dream – not just to do big routes, but to have FUN doing them!

Since “Stoned Oven,” Jack and I returned to the canyon and sent “Trilogy” (V 5.12- R), and as I write this I’m preparing to leave for the south rim of the Black for another route with Jack.

Yet with every new challenge below me, I continue to seek the transcendent moment. I suppose that’s the root of why I climb. With each new goal successfully surpassed, I think back on it with longing. My memory picks apart the experience again and again, searching for the exact point at which I grew into something better. It is ephemeral, however, and the only way to feel it again is to continue growing.

Dreams may be realized, but once that happens they are no longer dreams. That is why I’m packing my bags for the Black once again in spite of a deteriorating forecast; why I’m steeling myself for the possibility of shivering, ledge-bound misery: Transcendence. So long as that is my motive, I believe I’m doing it all for the right reasons.

The author gets a rainy day send on "The Piranha," an impressively small boulder on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Jack Cody.

The author gets a rainy day send on “The Piranha,” an impressively small boulder on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Photo by Jack Cody.

Epilogue: We woke to heavy rain at 4 a.m. last Friday. The canyon was soaked. We got up and ate breakfast anyway in case the weather broke, which it didn’t. I’m just grateful it was an easy decision. Now we’re as hungry as ever for “Astro Dog” (V 5.11+). Can’t send all the time. That’s what makes it special.

Derek Franz writes for the first Monday of every month.

2 Responses to Soul Sending

  1. PS: I’m happy to report that Wendy redpointed “Eurotrash” yesterday! I knew she would.

    Derek June 9, 2014 at 8:53 am
  2. Well done Wendy!

    P.S. Jack is a stud, he taught me a lot!

    Keith June 25, 2014 at 12:17 pm
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