Am I free to make decisions? or making decisions help me to feel free?
The destination is about 20 meters ahead of me. Not far by any stretch of the imagination. I can see the protruding metallic loops at the end sparkling in the sun. In the scheme of things, 20 meters is not much. Roughly between 50-60 steps, progressing vertically on an ancient sandstone rock.
Every step is a conscious decision, and has an impact on the next. Too much lingering on the first steps, changes the game moving forward. Moving too quickly and confidently, leaves little time to evaluate the risk.
Am I in control?
But I feel in control by calculating the risk, trusting my belayer, regulating my breath and pumping blood into my muscles. There is no guarantee the rock won’t break or that my next grip won’t disturb the peaceful household of an unsuspecting spider.
Am I responsible?
Regarding technical risk management:
A “quick draw” is a piece of climbing equipment made from a couple of opposing carabiners attached with a sling. It is typically used in sport climbing to secure a climber to pre existing bolted anchor point in the rock.As the climber attempts a route for the first time they need to carry enough quick draws on their harness to match the number of pre existing anchor points on that route. Upon reaching each anchor point, the climber secure themselves by attaching one side of the quick draw to the bolt in the rock, and clip the other side to the rope which is tied to the harness.
There is a risk during those seconds of clipping as the climber needs to pull up slack and use one hand to clip. Falling at those points with a bunch of loose rope in the hand can be a long drop…
The general purpose is to try and climb to the top without losing grip or resting in the harness.
Learning to “clean” a route after climbing is a test of confidence and application of technical knowledge. It means removing the quick draws from the bolt anchors in the rock. This involves self securing to the top anchor point with a sling or a PAS (personal anchoring system) which is pretty much a small rope or several loops of climbing grade fabric and a locking carabiner. Once secured to the top anchor, the climber tells their belayer they are safe. At this point, the climber needs to pull a few meters of rope slack, secure it to the harness and proceed to UNDO the rope knot from the harness. They then need to re-tread the rope through the anchor points in the rock and redo the rope knot to the harness. Once this is done, the belayer takes out the rest of the slack in the system and starts to lower the climber while the climber collects the quick draws on the way down. (Depending on the length of the route and the setters, there can be up to 30 quick draws required to clip to the rock bolts when attempting a sport route).
My first attempt at cleaning was successful, but the time was mostly spent trying not to freak out while I’m up there on my own, without experienced guidance and trusted friend to check my knots and ensure I didn’t forget anything. It was completely up to me to remain calm, attached with a tiny sling to an anchor, 20 meters in the air. I was shaking as I was repeating a technical procedure I’ve practiced on safe ground. Every part of my body asked me why am I choosing to do this. I ignored the questions and made it through the cleaning process.
Reaching the ground safely, after completing the journey without loosing grip, I hug my belayer with joy. The knowledge that I just took about 50 correct decisions that kept me alive and progressed me about 20 meters up a rock to a destination which means nothing at all, while pushing me to the absolute limit of my mental and physical abilities.
The joy of reaching the destination is the joy of taking each of the decisions with full attention and focus. Complete acceptance of my mortality and the insignificance of my 35 year old meat and bones versus the millions of rock solid years.
I descend with full of appreciation of being alive. I eat a sandwich bathing in the sun, I breath the cold air of June, I warm myself by the fire and share food with friends, hypnotised by the stars, I think that the sun just made the same journey in the sky today. The sun’s journey was mundane for her. Stars don’t have feelings anyway, but my day felt so real, it was surreal.
Pictures from Tribute Wall, West Flank and Wave Wall in the northern Grampians and Arachnus at Mt Arapiles. Various climbing grades between 9 and 22