Five days short of five years ago, my life intersected unexpectedly with Christopher Williams. Christopher, along with his partner, were the first people to reach me when I fell (200 ft according to Chris!) and were part of the rescue effort with a handful of other climbers. No words were exchanged and Chris later said he had no idea how I was going to live beyond our first meeting.
This past weekend, we finally had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. I felt so grateful to finally be able to thank Chris in person and to give him a very long and very emotional hug. We were both crying. Not only were we able to meet officially, but we got to rope up and climb together. We decided to climb in Tuolumne to escape the heat of the Valley. As we waited for temperatures to warm up, we picked American Wet Dream as our first climb together, due to the all-day sun exposure it receives.
This was a poignant choice for a climb as this had been the last Tuolumne route I had climbed before my accident.
I still feel a bit bad that our choice of climbs was limited by the length/kind of approaches. So what do two climbers – one who dislikes slab climbing and one who used to like slab but can’t trust one of her feet/legs now – do? Find some runout slab climbing. We headed to Pywiak Dome, where both of us (especially me) were pushed out of our comfort zone.
It was interesting to see what kinds of techniques I employed to compensate for my left foot. Aside from the usual crimping on tiny flakes and crystals (there were not many at all), I found myself palming up a lot with my hands to create space to move my right leg, and just be on my palms momentarily while I moved my right leg up. Being on just your palms on near vertical, featureless, steep slab is pretty spicy (i.e. scary). As Chris says, [my] climbing is really bold!
I was not at all pleased when I saw how far the anchors were away from the last bolt on this pitch. They were a good 20+ ft above the bolt. Well, what could I do except keep my concentration and focus and make my slowly and deliberately to the anchors?
After a dicey first half of that section, the last ten feet or so eased up. I found myself right at the anchors, but not clipped into them yet. Suddenly my left foot blew and I found myself tumbling 40+ feet, scraping down the sharp rock, inverted and not really knowing what to do except wait for Chris’ catch. Fortunately, because it was very cold and we were climbing in the shade, my long pants, baselayers and jacket protected me a bit and prevented me from looking like an even bigger piece of scar tissue than I already do. My hands were pretty trashed though, and one week later, they are still healing. Typing and using a mouse have been a bit painful.
I was quite proud that even after such a long and disorienting fall, I decided I wanted to finish off the pitch, despite Chris’ offers to do so. I knew I would not be happy if I did not. I hung out at that bolt for a bit, gingerly tested out my feet and still not feeling like I could trust them. But I went for it anyway, and once I got within reach of the anchor chains, I grabbed them immediately! I/we were safe.
While NIAD did not happen on this trip, I think in some way, I got to do some even more rewarding things. As many climbers, especially trad climbers I believe, will tell you, one of the most valuable and rewarding things a climber gets out of climbing are the inter-personal relationships formed. Meeting and climbing with Chris was such a wonderful and unexpected gift, and I know I can always call him a friend. Life isn’t a fairy-tale, and we move in and out of different trials throughout our life. I am thankful that I was able to meet Chris on the other side of a particularly traumatic episode of my life. He insists that things will only get better. I hope so.