Published in Vertical Life, June 2014.
Vertical Life magazine asked several Australian climbers to write a "Letter to My Younger Self." Looking back, what would you say to yourself?
The moments you will experience in the high places as the world drops away beneath your feet will always be hard fought. There will be times deep in that fight when exhaustion will take over, when sleep will keep calling you, and when it seems like there is no way to keep going up.
And then something will change. You will turn the corner and release yourself to the mountain, and it will feel like nothing can crush you, nothing will stop you, and that you can keep climbing forever. This is the difference between what you think you can do and what you can really do.
The older you get and the more you climb the more you will understand this.
You won’t ever really know why you climb, to stay in the fight, to be on that precipice where the kings live. But what you will feel is freedom, and it will be the gift that keeps on giving, so long as you are prepared to suffer for it, to get repeatedly beaten down and humbled. Like the great Walter Bonatti once wrote, “I felt all the beauty and wonder of existence. At last I had reached truth, the only possible truth beyond questioning: the truth of the heart.”
Here is a glimpse forward for you at age 15: it is 1986 and you sleep on the ground with a rope under your head at the Pines, and at the same time the winds rips over El Capitan, an avalanche cracks the silence in Nepal, the faded anchor slings sway at the top of Dispatched, a lone rock rips down the south face of Mt. Hicks like a bullet, the top corner of Nicaragua sits aloft, and the fresh powder on the slopes of Mt. Hood lies white and cold, and the thing they have in common is that they are waiting.
So line your sights on what will matter the most and organize yourself around that, damn the consequences. You will hear all the reasons to take the path most traveled. But listen closely to the mountains and the pillars of stone, because the drumbeat of adventure will be the one that’s loudest.
It will be easy to sit in the sun, but the real fun will be in the long corridors of uncertainty and fear where you will feel completely alive. And in those moments of anxiety, the intractable bond of friendship will guide you forward, the compass bearing through the storm.
Years will pass and one day your son will be climbing atop a tree, lurching in the wind, bending with Nature. His laughter calls his sister, barefoot and looking up where the fun is. And you will realize thatchy are searching for the very same thing: the joy and love of being up high with friends and feeling like they are masters of their destinies.