For my third birthday, all I wanted was a chocolate cake. My mom promised me one, so I was excited for this grand delivery of layer upon layer of creamy chocolate covered in ribbons of icing. My whole family would be there with presents and kisses, singing “Happy Birthday” amid the streamers and balloons filling the air. I would finally feel like the princess I was destined to be. When the big day came, my mom plopped down a brown loaf with three tiny candles in front of me with a thud. There was no multi-tiered chocolate cake with towers of icing; there were no balloons, no streamers, no piles of gifts, and no one else in my family except my parents. In my three-year-old mind, everything was ruined.
Flash-forward 33 years later, and I’m sitting in my van with tears running down my face while I ice my ankle and lament my situation: It’s two days before my husband, Ben, and I are supposed to leave for a five-week climbing trip to Slovenia. My feet were about six feet off the ground on Change of Heart, a V6 in Bishop’s Buttermilks, when I jumped down and landed perfectly on the pads in a crouched position. A split second later, I lost my balance and tipped forward, my left foot twisting ever so slightly in an awkward direction. I felt a pop on the inside of my ankle and immediately grabbed it in pain. I quickly tried to walk it off only to realize that something was definitely wrong. Shock set in slowly, then mourning, denial, and grave disappointment, a similar process the mind goes through when someone dies. This was happening almost two years to the day after I broke my ankle (also bouldering in the Buttermilks) when my foot struck the ground between the pads, an injury that took me nearly three months to recover from.
To add insult to injury (pun fully intended), this round of ankle problems happened when I wasn’t even supposed to be climbing hard. I was in taper mode following a life-consuming, 6-hours-a-day training regimen. For the past two months, Ben and I had been visiting family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and training at the local gym. Every Monday through Thursday we devoted ourselves to training like it was our job. Wake up, yoga, breakfast, then head to the gym for cardio, weightlifting, climbing, hundreds of pull-ups, campusing, hangboarding, Frenchies, circuits, TRX, leg exercises, 4×4’s—and that’s all in a single session. We were sacrificing prime Southern conditions at the half-dozen world-class crags near Chattanooga to toil away inside. I had even trained through a nasty weeklong flu that had me otherwise bedridden with soup and hot tea.
Our goal to dispatch projects quickly on fantastic Slovenian limestone seemed like it was slipping away. My ankle turned into a large purple onion while my mind filled with doubt. What if it’s broken? Will I be able to push off the notoriously glassy feet of Misja Pec? What would I do with my strongest body ever and a bum ankle? Should I stay in Bishop in our van, just limping along and waiting? Waiting for what exactly, I wasn’t sure.
Two days later I was being escorted via wheelchair through three different airports (surprisingly the smoothest travel experience of my life), and we were on our way. I was nervous for what lay ahead. I wanted to be supportive of Ben because he had put in just as much training effort and was looking really strong, but I was feeling sorry for myself. We arrived to consistent rain, but the thatched-roof villages mixed with pastures of sheep and rolling hills covered in fog were overwhelmingly enchanting. I tried to do some physical therapy and keep busy with yoga, writing, movies, and cooking, but things were moving so slowly that after a week there I was disappointed in everything. I wanted to be climbing, but I could barely walk to the base of the wall.
All those weeks of training, the anticipation, the excitement; it had all been for nothing. I thought about the missed opportunities and the what if’s, digging myself a great dark hole of emptiness and gloom. I crawled in that hole, piled all my grief on top, and sat there, alone. I felt like a fool, like a child, like a brat. I felt like that 3-year-old who denied her mom’s homemade bread.
A chance meeting between Ben and a shoulder surgeon at the crag one day led me to Slovenia’s top physiotherapist, who happened to live right down the street. I was doubtful—what on earth would make him so great, but I would do anything to get out of this hell hole.
A rather large man examined my underwear-clad body while I walked around his office. Yanking on my inflamed ankle, he pressed and poked the most painful places with all of his might, telling me to focus on my breathing, always on my breathing. “Just breathe,” he said. “Look at your breathing, calm your breathing.” Then he sat down in a chair across from me and said, “Tell me, what is it that is causing you stress? I can see it in your eyes when you first came in. Something has you unsatisfied that is beyond this injury.” Taking a deep breath and deciding to trust him not just with my physical body but my emotional one as well I told him about the trials and tribulations of my marriage and the stresses I felt from it. He went on to say that as an athlete my whole being needed to be 100% focused on climbing, that any slight irritation, any emotional trouble, anything that could wobble me is harmful to my climbing and my health. With this kind of trouble a small injury can blow up into a big thing. Taking my hands in his, he told me I could climb as much as I want but warned me it would be painful. “Don’t worry, though,” he said, “because it is only the mind and the mind lives in the past.” As I walked out, he called after me, “Do not live in fear and enjoy your life.”
I walked out of his office a little bit looser both in my body and in my mind. He had helped to break up some of the stagnation in my ankle and he helped me to breath deeper, and to take responsibility for my feelings. I was being healed both physically and emotionally, something that you just don’t find with your typical doc in the States. Getting an ok from him also helped me to relax; his reassurance that it wasn’t broken, that it would heal were really all I needed. I was going to be ok, I just needed time, I just needed to let go of the preconceived ideas I had about performance and red-points and onsights. I just needed to relax and enjoy.
Expectations set you up for failure. If you do not achieve the one thing you desire, life can feel like a disaster, and it means you miss a larger piece of the puzzle: the greatness of the unexpected. Expectations make you rigid and closed off to other opportunities. They force you to demand a lot of yourself, of others, and of the universe at large. My expectations for this climbing trip, for all the glorious routes I would climb and prove my fitness to kept me blind to the path I was actually on.
I’ve always heard the saying “there is no success like failure,” and I’ve come to understand that it is in failure that we see ourselves for who we really are and what we’re made of. If I hadn’t hurt my ankle, I never would have gone to see the Slovenian physiotherapist Alan Lilic, I never would have come to understand myself that much more, and I never would have gotten a grasp on the things in my relationship that needed to be ironed out. I learned the difference between having a goal and having an expectation. Goals are things that I strive for, work for, and build myself for and it has always been that with enough preparation and enough will power to keep pushing through the ups and downs they can be met. My expectation was thinking that the goal would be met with ease, that just because I had trained I was guaranteed great victory in my climbing, that I was untouchable by obstacle. Having goals is great—it drives, motivates, and pushes you, but by expecting to always meet or exceed my goals, I’ve set myself up to be unhappy. When our expectations aren’t met, we’re left with a sort of self-imposed suffering called disappointment, and life is too short and too precious for such frivolity. My Technicolor foot barely fits into my climbing shoe now, and the pain of pulling on polished feet is subsiding more and more, but my climbing goals are still there, as well as my relationship that requires care and nurturing. For years I demanded that my mom admit she made a loaf of bread instead of a cake. Eventually she confessed it was a chocolate spice bread. We laughed over the silliness of it all, and she said, “That was probably the best bread I’ve ever made, which is too bad for you because I lost the recipe.” It’s unfortunate for me that I never tasted it, but unlike the fleetingness of a homemade pastry, climbing and life continue to offer up opportunities for new experiences, new goals, new processes and endless lessons. I’m fortunate beyond belief with the opportunities and accomplishments in my life. Some things have come with ease and some things have been a battle, leaving me bruised and scarred and questioning how bad I want it but I keep getting up and going back.
all photos by http://www.bendittophoto.com
a version of this story was published in the May 2016 edition of Climbing Magazine.
Are you interested in improving your climbing, learning new skills, or looking for a Sierra mountain experience? Then, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am offering pre-determined trips as well as custom, please check out my Guiding page: https://katielambert.wordpress.com/guiding/
If you are interested or know someone who is feel free to email me at: email@example.com
This past summer I was happy to make an ascent of one of Tuolumne’s hardest and most striking lines first put up by Ron Kauk some decades ago. Owen Bissell and Ben Ditto did an amazing job capturing the route, give it a gander if you like:
In January 2016 our friends at the Refugio La Roca will be hosting their second annual climbing festival. They welcome all climbers to come and experience the beauty and fun of their home area. I cannot recommend a trip to La Mojarra enough. The three weeks we spent there this past spring were some of the best times traveling and climbing we have had. So, for those of you looking for something a little different I urge you to check it out.
ROCK CLIMBING FESTIVAL COLOMBIA RESISTENCIA GUANE 2016 – Jan 9-10
Only a few months ago, the Bolting team of Refugio la Roca launched a major exploratory adventure in search of a new climbing area to develop. The search was made along the Chicamocha Canyon; a canyon with more than 108,000 hectares, (one of the largest in the world) formed 46 million years ago and covered in ancient times by a huge lake, which allowed the formation of caves and sheltered marine animals whose fossils still remain.
Every year the route-setting team bolt 30 new routes, in order to promote the sport in the department, generate progress in the unexplored areas of the canyon and give the opportunity to the climbing community to commemorate this discipline, meet new climbers, learn and share stories in this friendly Festival.
During the search, the team discovered an unexplored location, full of wild and exuberant vegetation, with a characteristic rock formation different to all the ones seeing at the canyon. A peculiar limestone with some tufas and a solid gray rock. A Cliff with more than enough rock to have a long period of bolting and fun.
This is the second year of this great festival, which has been given a different theme each year, last year we commemorated the 80s, a time during which the most important ascents were made in the history of climbing, time of spandex, acid colors, mustaches and rock n roll. This year the festival comes loaded with indigenous memory, honoring our roots, patrimony and the first inhabitants of these rocky cliffs, “the Guanes Indians”. The rock climbing festival Resistencia Guane 2016 comes loaded with a great deal of climbing in a spectacular landscape, ending with a closing ceremony full of fire, delicious local food and cold beer.
We invite all our foreign friends and friends of our friends to join us with climbing energy in this second version of our Festival. We wait for you in Colombia, your home…
All the information and the registration is in this link: http://www.refugiolarocacolombia.com/#!campeonato-2016/c1xyo
Escala Colombia, Climbing colombia
Escala Colombia, Climbing colombia
Here is a link to a video of the last event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slOWltYPBCE
Below is a link to a blog post about our trip to Colombia this past May
My phone buzzed with a text message, it roused me out of my slumber and I reached for the device. Typically I would ignore a midnight message but this being Yosemite I was surprised by the sudden onset of service. It read, “I can borrow a homemade #8. What do you think?” It was from Christina, in two days we would be heading up Freerider and the idea of a cam that size seemed…heavy. We would already be carrying a #6, #5 and #4 plus the standard rack. But, she would be leading the Monster Offwidth and word was that it fit like a charm, better than the #6. Maybe she wanted it. I wondered if it fit in the Hollow Flake, if so maybe I wanted it.
The first time I climbed the Hollow Flake was in 2010 with Hayden Kennedy and Ben Ditto. We were trying for a spring ascent of Golden Gate and had a limited amount of time to go for it. The weather prediction didn’t look promising, predicting 40% chance of severe thunderstorms but we decided to go for it anyway. On the morning of day 2 our reality was quickly brought into focus as Hollow Flake ledge flooded within minutes and quarter size hail ricocheted off of us. We bailed in one of the worst storms to hit the Valley that year. The second and third time I climbed the Hollow Flake was earlier this spring with Christina in a couple of our “training runs,” up Freeblast and parts of the Salathe in preparation for an idea I hatched earlier in the winter.
James Lucas and I had been emailing about this and that and the other but mostly his bid for Freerider. He was hoping that his upcoming sport climbing trip to Europe would get him really strong for Valley season so that he could put to rest his long-time dream of free climbing El Cap. I was on a sport climbing trip myself and was feeling strong, motivated and also dreaming of Yosemite. Each year we go to Europe to get our steep endurance and power going with hopes of returning to Yosemite and having things feel like the true slabs they are. This year would be no different and I, too, wanted to climb El Cap. Aside from the debacle of Golden Gate in 2010 I had only climbed one true wall route on the huge monolith. In 2013 Ben and I climbed the Triple Direct and this was the first time I learned, first hand, of the horrors of hauling.
Free climbing El Cap is one of the reasons I have come to Yosemite but I’m a slow learner and like to proceed with caution, so even though this is my 10th year here it is only now that I feel confident enough to go up on the Big Stone on my own accord, with everything I have learned and am capable of and give it a go. So, I hatched the idea of climbing Freerider with Christina Freschl. I came to this choice in partner because she’s tough, positive, a strong climber and loves offwidths. If she would be keen to lead the wide cruxes I would take the other cruxes. I sent her an email late one night from our rental apartment in Chulilla. In the message I said I wanted to go ground up on Freerider, trying our best and hauling everything over 4 days, would she be into it? To my delight she responded the next day with a YES! That was in December, we wouldn’t be climbing together again until April. It could be a pipe dream but I was willing to take the chance.
We returned to the States in February and I spent the end of winter and early spring around Bishop ticking some sport projects and boulder problems in anticipation of our summer plans.
In March Christina and I met in the El Cap parking, it was 6am and we were heading up the Freeblast with a lofty goal of making it to the Alcove. I hadn’t done any multi pitch since the Verdon in November and she and I hadn’t tied in together in several months. We had caffeine jitters and jamming cold toes into the cracks hurt more than I remembered. Pitch after pitch passed by and the sun rounded the Nose, lighting our path with an intensity we planned to avoid in the future. I sorted out the 5.12 down climb into Hollow Flake and she followed with great style and confidence as we employed some rope tricks to ensure a safe belay for her. We found ourselves in a good rhythm with each other by the days end and for a first run up the route our high point was just past the 5.7 Chimney pitch.
We rapped the route, resorted our gear and made plans to meet again soon. But, life gets in the way sometimes and one or the other of us had obligations and it wasn’t until late May that we were able to meet up again. This time our plan was to jug to the Heart and climb to the Alcove and if we were feeling good we would go further. Through the years many of my friends have freed the Freerider and a common thing I have heard from the shorter ones is that getting into the Monster from the Ear is one of the cruxes for them. I had also heard that there is a lower traverse which takes you direct into the Monster via a route called the Bermuda Dunes. There are no reachy moves here but does involve climbing the entire crack which is the Monster Offwidth, thus adding about 60 more feet of wide to the already 200 feet of wide. With Christina being the offwidth wiz she is it didn’t take much convincing from me for us to take this route. Our rack that day included 1 #6 and 1 old #5. We jugged to Heart, climbed the 5.11c slab pitch, the Hollow Flake, the 5.7 chimney pitch and the other 3 nondescript pitches to bring us to the Bermuda Dunes below the Monster.
She led up the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster with fierce determination and skill like I have seen in very few others. The gapping maw greeted us with overhanging steepness before delivering us into it’s more vertical 8″. It become evident pretty early on the the old 5 was too small for the Monster and was nothing more than dead weight. I wish I had video of her as she struggled with our one 6 as it became stuck in the crack. Holding herself in with sheer power she tagged up the nut tool so she could fiddle the #6 out of the crack. After about 15 minuets of this she freed it from it’s confines and continued to press her way up the monster. About 40 minutes later she was at the Alcove belaying me up. The first 60 feet of the Bermuda Dunes into the Monster were steep and hard and passed over bushes and loose blocks. I was tired before I even got into the real meat of the Monster but I kept thinking about Christina powering her way inch by inch and it gave me the mental fortitude to keep going. About an hour later I joined her in the Alcove.
Once again we rapped the route and made a plan for our next meeting. Christina is a 5th grade school teacher and May and June had her quite busy. I’m a full-time climber and found myself with plenty of time to spare. I went out with other female partners in preparation for our big outing. I climbed long moderates and slowly ramped up to long harder routes. I also did two trips up to Lung Ledge with 7 gallons of water to stage for our pre-hauling day. I jugged with the water in a bag hanging below me on my harness, and while this tactic is a bit faster than hauling it is hideous and painful. On June 18th we met once again and packed our haul bags for the 4 day event. Sleeping bags, food, rain jackets, extra chalk, jetboil, rain fly for shade, etc. We hauled this to Lung Ledge where we rendezvoused with the water I had stashed. This was the first time either of us had hauled in a couple of years and the process was slow and laborious. Neither of us are very big people and our combined weight is no more than 230. For either of us to haul alone we needed to employ a 3:1 and big wall maestro Mark Hudon has an improved and nifty jigger system that we adopted for the task. From Lung Ledge I once again led off on the Hollow Flake, climbing it this time in the blazing sun – confronting my worst nightmare and fearing the loathsome heat of the midday sun of June. We left a bivy kit there and then we climbed two more pitches and hauled the rest to there then we rapped the route once again.
On June 23rd at 5am we left the ground and headed up the Freeblast. With us we had the homemade #8. We free climbed to Hollow Flake ledge that day and arrived at our first nights bivy in the early afternoon. The sun was hideous and we quickly set to work on setting up our rain fly to shade us from the heat. We took naps, ate food, drank water. We rose early the next day, broke down camp and headed up towards the Alcove. This was to be a fairly “easy” day but it would involve 4 hauls. This took time and we got caught in the sun. Wanting to save time and make up for a blunder I had gotten us into a bit lower we decided to take the Ear and do the normal traverse into the Monster. The Ear was quite adventurous and I was met with a really reach 5.10 move getting out of the initial crack and into the Ear. Mark Hudon had actually told me about this and had mentioned that he couldn’t make the move. I tried with the obvious beta and I was met with a weird press into a corner with a hold that was 8 inches out of reach. I climbed back down and tried again, I still couldn’t make it. I tried using a very small crimp next to a pin but from here couldn’t use the big left foot ledge and still came up short of the next hold. I fell, then used the pin to gain the next hold and finally made my way into the Ear. I hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. She had an interesting time traversing into the Monster but eventually managed to get herself into it. The homemade #8 was used for the second time that day and proved to be a valuable and useful addition.
Once we were both in the Alcove we unpacked our bags discovered that mice had gotten into out prehauled bag and eaten an entire days worth of food from our oatmeal to our candy bars. What ensued was a re-rationing of days and the best we came up with was about 1200 calories each per day. If we weren’t suffering yet we surely would be soon. That evening we climbed the next pitch and fixed our line. Day 3 we jugged to our high point, hauled our bags and climbed to our next nights bivy on the Block. Between where we were and the Block involved the first real crux of the route, the Teflon Corner or the Boulder Problem. I had been urged to take the Corner. So I did and I got pretty properly shut down. My 5 foot frame could span to the chalked up features but I was too spread out to make use of them. I literally could not move upwards. There is a nice right hand chalked sloper and big foot just to the right of this. Both things were useless to me. On the left wall were palm prints and tiny ticked feet, these were also useless to me. Unable to use the obvious I resorted to my usual tactic of making my own way and this worked for about four moves as I pressed my hands closer into the corner and smeared my feet on nothing at all. Then the tension in my body would give and my shoulders would fail I was back where I started. I attempted this a few times before giving up and pulling through on the hanging tat. I climbed to the belay, hauled the bags and belayed Christina up. Once she was at the belay I lowered into the Boulder Problem. I climbed the boulder problem all the way to its crux end of the left foot kick. It really was quite far and I fell. I tried a couple more times and sorted out the ticky tacky feet and then climbed to the belay. I marveled at the idea that people walk right up that Teflon Corner and decided that I would need to come back and check out the Boulder Problem again. We arrived at the Block around noon and once again set to work establishing our shade. We were hungry and the toll of hauling was starting to show. We ate what little we had for the day, took delirious naps and waited for the shade.
Later that evening I climbed to Sous la Toit and I was greeted with one of the most spectacular positions on the wall. The exposure was grand and finally we could get a view out to the east. The climbing was pure glory climbing. It was also really exciting to finally see the Enduro Corners. I fixed our line to Sous la Toit and rapped back down. We ate our dinner, shared a candy bar, and let the Milky Way lullaby us to sleep.
Day 4 and I was hungry and felt just generally fatigued! This would be our last day but it would also be a hard day of a lot of climbing and a lot of hauling. We had 7 pitches to the top. We jugged up to our high point and I set off on the first Enduro pitch. I climbed really well until what is the crux of the route a few feet from the anchor. It was 5am and I was already covered in sweat and was experiencing a lack of umf like I have never quite experienced before. I fell, rested then climbed to the anchor. I belayed Christina up, she hauled and I set off on pitch 2 of the corner. By this point I was pretty spent and I did not send this pitch what-so-ever. I hauled the bag and belayed her up. She was also showing signs of being pretty spent and our tactics of each of us climbing every pitch changed. It was now about getting off the mountain.
I set off on the traverse to Round Table. What an incredible pitch! The exposure is pretty full on and the style of climbing is true sport climbing. I reached the ledge, fixed the lead line, and hauled the bag while she cleaned the pitch. We were getting closer, I was feeling more warmed up, still quite hungry and had summit fever. I led off on the next steep 5.11 pitch. I walked our single #3 about 60 feet before finally getting a #4. I was trying really hard, it felt very scrappy and physical and I decided to take the #3 with me. I established myself under this intimidating stemming, smearing roof and pulled around into a techy and thin 5.10 fingers section to the anchor. I fixed the rope and hauled the bags while she cleaned. Then a “Cawcaw” came from above and there was Ben, rapping in to check us out. It had been 4 days since we had seen anyone else and it seemed a little weird to see him there hanging above. He mentioned that he had some food for us up top and my summit fever really set in. Christina came up and racked up for the Scotty Burke. She climbed through the steeper 5.11 part and established herself in the offwidth. Everyone had told us that there is a point at which you must lie it back but she stayed in right side the entire time. It didn’t even seem too hard. She fixed my line and hauled the bags. I joined her and Ben and the next ledge and we quickly ascended to the summit. Bringing the bags up the final 5.6 slab was heinous and once we were on top it seemed so unreal that we had just climbed El Cap.
I took off my harness for the first time in four days, the chaffing on my hips was so raw and red. The heat was so horrendous and I felt like I had just worked the hardest I ever had my entire life. We did not free the Freerider this time but we did climb El Cap. We pushed each other to work hard, we dug deep to keep going, we starved up there but we did our best. It was a great way to experience the route from the ground, checking the pitches and coming to a better understanding of what it’s going to take. We were self-supported, we hauled our own shit (literally) and we made the summit! The walk down nearly broke us and thanks so much to Ben for the food on top. It’s now a week later and I’ve grown more excited about our time up there together. It was awesome to see Christina dig so deep, it inspired me to do the same.