Am I an Addict?

2017-08-05 14.09.47.jpg
2017-08-05 19.15.46.jpg
2017-08-05 19.15.43.jpg
2017-08-05 17.32.23.jpg
2017-08-05 19.38.39.jpg
2017-08-05 19.38.08.jpg

For the first time this summer I wore shorts to work, exposing my not so good looking chicken legs to the world.  As I was walking from the coffee machine back to my desk, a coworker stopped and asked what the hell happened to me?  I looked at him and saw he was gazing down at my legs. They were battered, cut, scrapped and bruised all over. I could see by the concern in his face that he was under the impression I had been in a serious accident of sorts. I just smiled at him and said, “Oh, that?  That’s just from a great weekend of climbing” and continued along my way.  When I got back to my desk, I sat for a while staring at my legs.  “They are ugly”, I thought to myself.  “Will they ever look normal”?  I suppose as long as I’m a climber, I’m going to have to face the fact that this will be the norm.  Do I even care?  Then I started to wonder why I do this to myself? Why is my passion for climbing so strong that I seem willing to endure any amount of pain and suffering to get to the top of that rock?  I mean, what the hell’s up there anyway?  
People often ask me why I climb and I usually just throw out some generic response like, ‘because I love it’ or ‘because it’s there’.  I mean, of course I love it or I wouldn’t be doing it, right?  Well, that’s not always the case, like when I’m actually doing it.  When I’m really pushing my limits and scaring the crap out of myself, my head can get filled with irrepressible thoughts of imminent peril.  “WTF am I doing up here?  Who thought this was a good idea? I’m in way over my head! Please don’t fall, please don’t fall, pleeeeeease don’t fall.”  
So why do I do it?  Adrenaline? To prove to myself that I can? I guess I have a need for constant progression, for something tangible like routes that I can tick off on in a guidebook, and monitor my progress as a climber.  As long as I’m improving my skills and conquering harder routes I seem to be happy.  And it’s not just harder routes I’m after, I just want to climb everything I physically can.  
I recently read an article about how climbing can be an addiction for some, like drugs or alcohol.  Is that me?  The definition of Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. {Wiki}  The last line really rings true, ‘despite adverse consequences’, like bodily injury, pain, suffering and possibly even death. 
A couple weekends ago my buddy and I drove out to WA pass to climb the West Face of the North Early Winter Spire.  We left Friday night and slept across the street from the trailhead to get an early start. I woke up around 5:45 am, got up, saw my buddy was still sleeping in the car, so I went across the road to see what was happening in the parking lot.  There were more parties than I anticipated already geared up and heading towards the trailhead.  Since so many parties were already going to be ahead of us, I decided I’d go lay down a little longer assuming my buddy would wake me up once he was up.  (We’ll just call him ‘Joe’). Well, he never did.  I woke back up at 10:30 and Joe had already eaten breakfast and had his coffee and was just waiting in the car for me to eventually get up.  Wtf?  Can’t wake me up?  Anyway, now we’re really behind schedule.  I should have set a second alarm for myself.  I looked up and the air was thick with smoke from the wildfires that had been burning in British Columbia.  There had
been warnings on the news to stay inside and not exert any energy if you had to be outside.  We did not heed these warnings. Depending on the guidebook, the approach will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.  I ate breakfast and made myself some coffee then geared up for the hike. The sun was now high in the sky and the temps were rising fast.   Within the first grueling hour of our approach, I was seriously feeling the effects of the smoke.  I was having a really hard time catching my breath and my energy level was considerably lower than usual.  By the time we were approaching the base of the Spire, we were moving at about 5ft increments, rest, then move again.  It took us 2.5 hours for the approach alone.  I found myself repeating over and over that I’ve never hiked so slow in my life.  By the time we arrived at the base of the N.E.W.S, my voice was harsh and sounded like I had laryngitis.  We took a long break, a lot longer than usual, before we even started to get ready to climb.  Joe wanted the 1st two pitches, which was fine with me.  We got geared up, checked each other’s knots and I sent him on his way.  He made it up about 6ft before becoming overwhelmed.  The start of the climb was about 10ft off the ground and required a scramble to get to the route. This played in his mind as he tried to proceed.  The first place for good pro was probably 12ft up so if something went wrong, he’d be looking at over a 20ft ground fall to boulders.  He went up, then down, then up again before reluctantly throwing in the towel.  The approach had kicked our butts and really got into our heads… “Do we even have the energy to do this?” I took over the reigns and lead all (6?) pitches.  It was the slowest I had ever climbed.  I would move up a couple feet and stop, gasping for air, hugging the rock like it was my pillow and wishing I was anywhere but there.  Every inch was grueling.  Joe seemed to forget everything about multi-pitch climbing.  His rope management went out the window, he wasn’t racking gear or slings as he cleaned, he just left everything clipped to the rope until he got to the anchor. Upon arriving each time, he was so spent that he couldn’t do anything but hang, gasping for air and left me to clean up the rats’ nest.  I wanted to yell at him but I knew neither one of us were in a good headspace.  We couldn’t breathe. There was no escaping the smoke.  There was no way to get it out of our minds, it was there in our faces, everywhere we looked.  I swear just the sight of it made it worse. I grunted and groaned my whole way up. I reached the top of the West Face route just in time to catch the sun setting behind the mountains.  At this point I was ready to vomit.  This climb took every ounce of energy I could muster and was just about out of water.  We still had our descent ahead of us and Joe hadn’t even started the last pitch.  This pitch was my favorite.  Maybe because I knew the torture was almost over but the climbing was superb.  It was challenging but protected well and I cruised right through it. Joe struggled the entire climb but I knew he would enjoy this last pitch, so I thought. It turned out to be the hardest pitch for him and took him the longest to complete.  He was wailing like I’ve never heard before.  If I’m not mistaken, I think he may have been crying.  Someone from the valley floor kept yelling what sounded like my name, maybe to see if we were ok but I never responded.  I don’t know that they would have heard me over Joe’s cries of agony anyway.  By the time he reached the anchor, we were well into dusk.  Before I even asked him, he told me he left his headlamp at the bottom of the climb in his pack.  I often joke with him because he prides himself as an Eagle Scout, which, if you’re unaware, has the motto ‘BE PREPARED’. Unfortunately I poke fun at him more often than not because he tends to be the least prepared person I know. Ok, deep breath Josh; everything will be okay.  It’s getting dark and it’s time to bounce.  By the time we
finished our first rap, I had to turn on my headlamp.  I had to make the decision whether to let him go first so I could shine the light for him to see while setting up his rappel or I go first with the headlamp so I could find the anchors and not rap past them.  I decided to go first and I’m glad I did.  Our 60m rope barely reached the third anchor.  I was at the knots and had to reach down to clip myself into the chains.  This could have proven difficult in the pitch black.  Four or five raps later we were on the ground.  My head hurt, my lungs felt like I smoked two packs of cigarettes and my feet were killing me. I just wanted to submerge them in warm pudding.  Every little pain seemed to be exaggerated ten fold.  Was this all mental?  Or was this smoke really having this much effect on me?  As I sit and write this, I’m still suffering from congestion in my lungs and struggle to take a full breath. 
The hike down sucked just about as bad as the hike up.  When scrambling over scree and slab, it’s easy to loose the trail, especially at night.  Joe was ahead and I was just following along, staring down at the ground with the occasional glance up.  At one point I looked around and noticed we were nowhere near the trail.  We had walked right up to a cliff band. We had to practically slide down a chute to get down and I’m like, where the hell are we Joe?  Joe’s response, “I don’t know, I’m making my own trail”.  This was another time when I felt the sudden urge to yell at him but I didn’t.  I merely said I don’t think this is a good time for one of your adventures; I just want to get the eff off this mountain. At this point I stopped following and started paying attention to where we were actually going.  He went one way and I stayed high and went in the correct direction, because I’m good like that.  Once I found the trail, I hollered down to him and told him to come my way.  We still had a long way to go and I was thoroughly over it.  We finally reached the car around midnight and all I wanted was to jump into my tent face down and pass out.  I didn’t even care if I took my shoes off at that point.  But guess what?  Guess who decided that we should drive back to Seattle right then and there?  Well it sure wasn’t me.  I didn’t drive so I had no say in the matter.  I bet you could just imagine how happy I was to trudge into the woods just to pack everything up and break down my tent. I was tired, hungry and beat up.  I was upset with the smoke and vowed to never climb again until the air cleared up. Actually, I was on the verge of vowing to never climb again at all, at that point!   
After a white-knuckle drive home where Joe passed out every 6 seconds and played Pong with his car between the centerline and the shoulder, I was safely back at my car.  I threw all my gear in the back, crawled in and passed out right there at the park and ride. 
As days turn to weeks, I think back on that climb and don’t think about the misery we subjected ourselves to.  All I can think about is what an awesome route that was.  The climbing was stellar with a great variety on every pitch.  There was crack climbing, face climbing, lay back flakes, under cling traverses on slab, a paper thin finger crack with exposure… the more I think about it, the more I can’t wait to go back and do it again.  What is wrong with me?  I guess I truly am an addict.   
Thanks to La Sportiva, Deuter and Darn Tough socks for always getting me into the mountains in comfort and style!