I can’t slow my breathing. My hands are shaking as I rest my palm on the weathered granite slope. My feet shuffle for position as I try to find an area to launch to. Ten feet is all that separates me from where and my path down. My friend and companion waits on the other side, two more are watching from the bottom. I only have one shot at this, there is no room for error. Under jump and I tumble down, and if I’m lucky a sharp thorn bush breaks my fall. Over jump and risk hitting a boulder and having a similar ending. The small landing zone is right there I can see it, but I don’t think I can do this. I take a step and instantly freeze in terror. Fear grips me like a long lost lover and I realize that I have finally lost.
I waken to the sound of a zipper opening up a sleeping bag and the rustling of my friend getting up. Light is beginning to fill the tent. I know it’s later than usual because today is the winter solstice, and a quick look at my phone confirms my belief. As I exit the tent and make my way to the nearby picnic table to get a drink of water I admire the view in front of me. Indian Cove in Joshua Tree is remarkable. The way the morning light hits the rock and fills the small valley, it’s like the mountains are singing to you. I can’t wait to get going, because today I go bouldering on the nearby rock. The greatest thing about this campsite is that there are places to boulder right next to your tent.
After a quick bite, and packing up camp, we set out to a tall outcrop. The nearest face is sheer and tall. There are climbers at the base gearing up for a climb. I mentioned that I don’t know how to climb, and that I always wanted to try it. My friend then exclaims how fun it was and that we should check out Hangar 18, a local rock climbing gym. I agree, and tell him that I almost went a month ago on my own, but something came up and I hadn’t attempted to go since. We then decide to try walking to the other side of the outcrop to see if there was a better place to try and climb up.
On the other side we found a great place to head on up. Two of my friends stayed at the bottom where a couple of small boulders lay, and by small I mean about as high as a one story house. My other friend and I begin our ascent. I head right he goes left. I end up on top of one rock not to far from the bottom but with no way to advance further up, while my friend is getting closer to the top. When I see where my friend is I decide to head that way. Now one thing about bouldering that I have noticed is this, it’s always easy going up. Going down is a whole other story. You look down at how you got up and think to yourself, where did I put my feet? So after heading down a tricky slope I start heading to the top.
I’m almost to the top when I spot my friend on a ledge about ten feet above me. I asked him how he got up and he pointed at a sloping rock and said “You see that rock that is sloping up on your left?” I look to my left and reply “This one?”
“Yeah, that one. Just take that and it will go around the corner” He says.
“Alright.” I say still confused on what he was explaining.
I don’t think he and I were looking at the same rock. This looked kind of sketchy but oh well. I thought to myself if you don’t risk anything, you won’t gain anything, so up I went. The first few feet where not bad, but then it narrowed significantly. It seemed to narrow at the worst part too. This is where it curves around and there is only an inch of ledge to place your toes on to support yourself. Luckily the boulder above me had a grove to provide a hand hold. I faced the cliff, held on with my right hand and stretched with my left hand until it found the other side where I couldn’t grip but palm enough to give me something to sort of hold onto.I then proceeded to shimmy across until I was on the other side. I felt a sigh of relief as I reached the other side and then started to hike up to the top.
Sitting on the top of this large formation of rock overlooking the valley in the morning was spectacular. My friend and I gave each other the obligatory high five and began making fun of our other friend who decided not to go as high as we did. It really didn’t matter to either one of us that he didn’t, but we just wanted to give him crap for it anyways, and so we did. After several moments and a couple of jokes later we decided to head back down, and join the others.
On the way down we passed where I had to shimmy across to get around the rock and my friend said “Dude I wasn’t talking about that! That is way to dangerous! I meant this path.” He points.
I look and several feet below that is a nice flat rock that goes around the corner. I must have worn a shocked look on my face because my friend started laughing.
“You went the hard way.” He laughed.
“Oh well, if you don’t challenge yourself you’ll never exceed your limits.” I replied.
We continued down and at some point we ended up going down a different path. We ended up coming to a point where the only way down would be to jump down ten feet. We thought about attempting it but after thinking about it, and knowing there is another way we headed back.
I went over another rock and saw what looked like an easier way down. We started climbing down and we came to another ledge. Our friend who was spotting us from the bottom said if we go to our left we could make our way down. I recognized the rock from earlier and I knew we could go back. My friend was closer to the part on the left and I watched him make his approach and leap to the other side. He made it look easy. I tried to follow in his footsteps. I stood where he stood, I crouched and ready myself to pounce to the other side. Then something happened I started thinking about what if I don’t stick my landing. I imagined myself slipping and falling back, cracking my head open on the rock and falling to my doom. Once that thought crept into my mind, I couldn’t shake it. I lost my confidence and with it the will to try.
I turned and headed back up to find a new path. Leaving my friends behind. I went to another part where I found another place to drop down to was. I wanted to move closer to the edge to take a look, and that is where I slipped. I lost my footing and began to slide towards the edge. I reached out in desperation and caught a crack in the rock just before my feet went over the ledge. My heart was racing like never before and I thanked my lucky stars that I caught myself. I found my feet and climbed back up. Where I found my friend, he had come back for me. I didn’t want to tell him what just happened, so I didn’t mention it. We found an easy path after reuniting and made our way to our friends. Where I proceeded to hugged each and every one of them like never before. I was happy to be there with them. I was happy to be alive.
While I may be disappointed in myself for not being able to overcome my fear. For not trying to make that jump, that I know I could have made. I’m a little happy at what came out of this experience. You see it wasn’t long ago that I lost my will to live. Where I wanted to die, and it seemed like there was nothing anyone could say or do to make me think otherwise. Luckily I found my strength, my inner light to illuminate the darkness around me and I overcame it. Since then I wondered if I still had a slight death wish with some of the things I do. I think me not being able to attempt a jump for fear of death, leads me to believe that I don’t. I can truly say that I am happy to be alive.