So, I have this journal. OK, it’s more like a diary, containing all the things that a little girl’s diary might have: romances and crushes, heartaches, and the occasional “I hate that bitch!” I’ve filled it with days of shopping for shoes and the latest fashion trends. I’ve described dream vacations I wanted to take to places like France and Argentina. Heck, I even described my first time, and how beautiful it was.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a woman. I’m a thirty-five-year-old guy who loves to climb. I started writing it, like any starry-eyed gumby, after my first day at the Gunks. On my way home that night, I stopped at the drugstore to pick up a grade-school composition book. I put everything in there. Is this something everyone does? Or is it reserved for the truly pathetic?
The entry for my first climb reads something like this: “I tried awkwardly to jam the right side of my body into the wide crack while telling myself to relax and breathe.” Now it may sound like I was trying to free the Stove Legs pitch on the Nose, but in fact, I toproped a forty-foot 5.4 called Boston. But man it was cool!
The bitch I hated was a route named Jean. She was 5.9 and testy. She let me climb her the first time I ever tried, but has shot me down ever since.
Some climbs have one sentence. Something like, “climbed Modern Times today with Franz and I still managed to crap myself…again.” Others have four pages of detailed gear, crux sequences, and emotional states. The first time Jung Taek and I did an ice line called Neurosis in the Adirondacks the thin ice and little gear evoked a writing frenzy: “One look at the line from the road and we were both scared, but psyched to try it. Two guys packed the trail through 18 inches of fresh snow for us, and we found them examining the first pitch, with skeptical frowns. We racked up and stepped in the moment they decided to bail. The aerated and thin ice was as bad as they assumed it was, but I found myself sighing with relief as I tied off to that beautiful cluster of dead shrubbery at the top of the pitch. Jung Taek looked up at the second pitch with a dread that could only mean he was asking for his Mommy to make it all better.”
The west face of Churup in the Cordillera Blanca was my first attempt at an alpine face. Herein the result: “I yelled down to Jung Taek and asked him how much rope I had left. He answered back with an energetic go for it, so I did. Gingerly I placed my tools, stabbing them down into the sugary ice instead of swinging them high. Halfway there I started to dry heave again. All I wanted was an anchor, and I kept mumbling that word while gagging and stabbing. I reached the alcove and no sooner did I clip off to my hammer did I proceed to vomit into the snow. Two minutes worth of gagging and vomiting left me with that curiously cozy feeling just after you hurl chunks. I found two bomber nuts in the rock, equalized my tools, and was happy.”
When I moved to the Gunks from New York City, I stopped recording every single climb in there. I was just climbing too much and had no time to write. But still, every few months I’ll jot down the notable climbs I’ve done since last time. It’s a project of love, and I feel guilty if I neglect it. I now have almost two full composition books. Every year or so I’ll open a beer, sit on the couch, and read for two hours. I can see my progression from gumby, to fanatic ethic nazi, to who cares what anyone else thinks climber. The best part is that whenever I read my dia…err..journal, I get psyched to go climb something. It reminds me why I do this, to have good fun with good friends. In real life I may not be Dean Potter or Steve House, but in my book, I’m the shit.