One thousand twenty-seven.
One thousand twenty-eight.
One thousand twenty-nine.
My head is lost in some sort of vortex. I’m not sure if I was I counting the steps from the parking lot to the base of this ocean of a wall…maybe it was the rhythm of my pulse. Blood leaving. Blood returning.
by Michelle Dedischew
This piece is published in The Climbing Zine, Volume 10. Art by Rhiannon Williams.
Coming to, I look up. It’s endless. Ethereal almost. With these thoughts circulating in my head, I am wrapped in an analytic blanket. Finding myself where I am at, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a weighty presence. Whatever is here is as old as this rock is tall. Reminiscent of the heavens. Spiritual in a way that forces pause. Though I would not describe myself as particularly religious, I would say I am intrigued by faith.
Where I stand now is undeniably celestial. I can see the feminine etchings that can only be explained by some powerful female force. A goddess, perhaps. Scanning further, her strength is met with masculine gashes…my mind wanders to manufacture some mythological explanation as to why this rock exists as it does. And, why I am so called to experience whatever encounter these deities lived.
There is rock everywhere. Under my feet, against my hands, towering above me. And, I’m so very tiny.
There have been moments in the past—ones void of inspiration—where I’ve asked the climbing gods, or the universe, or whoever is out there, to inch something gripping into my path. Something worth losing sleep over. Something worth fighting for.
Like a dear, dear friend in a dark moment asking for an ear to listen to her story.
Here was that inspiration. Pulling out my harness and rack, my adventuring soul turns, coming to terms with the possibilities towering hundreds, thousands of feet above me. With a chance at expansion. Because sometimes, all we need is one chance. And here, standing below waves of newness, I exhale silently. Dizzied, deciding to jump in fully or step back.
I’m racking up. No one is speaking. I feel the sun pruning and peeling away thin layers of skin on the back of my neck. Down the ridges of my shoulders.
The rope is contorting its way around the hard points of my harness. I keep counting, though I still don’t know what. This time, maybe the small beads of sweat patterning my temples.
First piece in. God, I feel small. Granite walls might as well be the Greek Goddess Hecate in material form. She is evanescent. Full of magic and ghosts, she represents crossroads. I watch her fingers wind their way up thousands of feet. They’re long, splitting fissures. Some suddenly end; others snake back for what seems like miles, to her home.
Second piece. Well, that one’s shitty, and I feel uncomfortable. Double it up…better. I’m greeted by one of Hekate’s fingers. My hands slot somewhere between her knuckles, and we shake hands for what feels like hours.
Upward movement sets in. The drum of my hands scraping and flexing along the granite’s coarse lines resonates in the hollow parts of my body. Hekate and I, for a moment, move together. We embrace for just a second. She reminds me, though, there is a chill about her, and she seems to consider letting me go every movement.
Third, fourth, fifth pieces. I quickly survey what’s ahead. I listen to my belayer shift her stance, reposition the rope.
I come to a place where Hekate’s fingers are splayed wide above me. I have no hope of continuing to learn the curves defining her hands. She trails off horizontally, vanishes in some places, leaving space for my mind to connect her dots to when I see her reappear many feet away from me.
And, once again, I realize how small I am. For a moment, I consider how alone I might be.
Above me, where Hekate departs, I find Janus, God of new beginnings, endings, passage, and time seated, smiling. He is a gaping adjustment to Hekate’s slender sea of hand cracks. Janus sits; he is empty space. Larger than Hekate’s delicate lines but still too small for any option other than stacked hand jams or barred elbows.
“Dammit,” I exhale. I’m not ready for this. It was not a consideration, in the many thoughts I had walking up to this wall, that I would come across a moment in which I had to completely surrender. The granite did not seem to boast anything outside of my comfort zone. Now, seeing it here, I have to let go. My mind writhes back and fourth, do I decide to jump in fully and fight or step back?
I lean in to the notion that Janus is never truly concerned with your willingness to embrace newness as a number 4 inches itself to the back of Hekate’s uppermost reach. I watch every centimeter it walks along her.
Janus disregards me. Though I demand acknowledgement, he refuses. His space is truly only a few feet, though it feels expansive. More presence than he should have.
Grunting, swearing, I press my feet against the essence of the granite’s lack of concern, and I pray.
For a moment that last number 4 crosses my mind.
Never down. Always up.
A flood of unspoken thoughts crosses my mind. The ones that make up climbing and the larger ones that have no reason to even exist in a moment like this. I seize, considering everything from falling, to my daughter, to the pain in my joints, to wondering why I do this to myself in the first place.
I shut them down. Vulnerability is more dangerous at this point.
Twelve feet. Fifteen feet. Seventeen feet.
The number 4 walks away. Janus heckles as I negotiate his offerings.
I’m shaking. Shivering? No, it’s eighty out…my lips are slightly open, pursed and forcing a slow stream of air out. Get out.
Pro for a .5 appears. All of those thoughts return—the climbing ones, the existential ones, the ones with no space to truly exist. My lips pry apart for more air. Maybe it will carry me up. Closer to wherever Hekate disappeared to.
My .5 feels cool against my marred hands. It joins a trinity of protection. I press my cheek against the wall. So many scores of feet up, Artemis, Goddess of the hunt, of the wilderness, holds me here. She gives me space to rest. A moment to tie off my fight to unpeel my shoes. To turn around and see where I actually ended up.
Somewhere in her world. In a space between familiarity and newness. A moment between fear and loss. Considering the risk associated with committing fully and being willing to surrender to the possibilities, I am surprised. Why do I put myself in these situations? Ask for them? Seek out conflict? Perhaps, because it is an indirect compliment for resolution. I wonder.
Between thoughts, I catch, “That’s me.” My belayer’s words bounce away on the echoes of Janus’s chuckle. Returning to the cerebral expanse, I wonder if the emotional climate exists in the same way for her as it does for me.
Likely so, I want to tell myself. But, I’d never ask. Somewhere in the back of my mind it seems inappropriate to go there. Though, I’m sure some sort of gods, or the universe, would tell me otherwise.
The expanse lends itself well to silence. The absence of noise. Finally, the absence of thought. This is a sanctuary. Whatever story mythology actually played out here remains incarnated, petrified. Though, climbing reveals hints, I know to respect it. To let Hekate, Janus, and Artemis keep their secrets. And I, mine. Granite somehow knows how to be so welcoming and so very cold at the same time.
Getting lost in the mountains has made up a large portion of Michelle’s life for the last 13 years. When she can’t sneak away to get schooled on big walls, she enjoys sport climbing and working on her business and blog: The Climbing Connection and www.climbingparents.com. Michelle currently lives in California with her partner and two-year old daughter.
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