What You Can Learn From My Suffering 😄 - Adventures in Yosemite Rock ClimbingOct 17, 2023
by ERIK ORTON
I just got back from Yosemite National Park, where I put up a new 800’ rock climbing route with my climbing partner, Josh. In many ways it was a blast. In many ways it was a slog. But I surprised myself with what stood out most to me.
AN OPTIMISTIC START
Josh and I looked up at the cliff, identified a few crack lines that had potential and started hiking up. To get to the base of the cliff, we left the Mist Trail where it intersected with the John Muir Trail. The intersection was marked but a stoutly built two stall wooden outhouse. From there we bushwhacked uphill through thick trees, bushes and boulders. We arrived at the base of the cliff and went to work getting the first pitch (section) climbed and bolted with anchors. Done for the day, we left our gear stashed at the base of the cliff and hiked down the 3 steep miles back to camp.
On our rest day, I injured my ankle climbing something small, so I took several days off to rest and recover. A few days later, I was feeling up for it, so we came back to work on our new route. We wanted to do it from the ground up in a one day push. I woke up at 4:30am for our start. Because of my ankle injury, Josh led almost all the pitches. We made steady progress through the day and into the afternoon. As sunset closed in, we had a few hundred feet to go to reach the top. We pressed on, upward and into dusk.
The climbing got more difficult and our progress slowed. We made about 150’ of progress over four hours. Josh climbed like a genius and the summit came closer. At 12:30am, still hanging on the side of the cliff, we paused and took stock. We were both strung out and exhausted. Although only 75’ from the top, we decided to rappel down. Arriving back at the ground at 1:30am, we found ourselves back in the thick tangle of bushes, trees and prickles. But now, my ankle hurt badly, it was well past dark and our ability to think clearly was shutting down. We’d been moving non-stop for 21 hours.
We couldn’t see anything beyond our headlamps. Tall, tight branches knit together to hem us in in every direction. And I was limping badly. We probed in one direction, realized it dropped off 30’ feet, turned probed in another direction and then another until we could find a way to descend even just a little back toward the main trail. We only had to cover about 500’ to get back to the main trail. This probing, bushwhacking and limping (now carrying our gear on our backs) continued for almost another hour and a half. We zig zagged back and forth in the dark in the tangle, frustrated, discouraged, exhausted and in pain. What happened next is what surprised me.
We’d used the stars and silhouetted ridgelines to try and stay oriented in the dark. The bushes and trees were so tall we ultimately reverted to maps on our phones. We made our best guesses to head in the right direction and pick the path downward that made the most sense. But the whole time I had almost no idea where I actually was or how much further I had to go. I was genuinely shocked when I tumbled through yet another barricade of branches and found myself directly facing the two doors of the outhouse on the main trail. I’d gone from complete confusion and despair to knowing exactly where I was, having arrived at my precise destination. I could not have been more accurate in my final arrival. It was total confusion and frustration and then total clarity and understanding. I still had 3 hours of hiking to get back to camp, but I knew where I was and the trail was clear all the way home.
WHEN WILL THIS EVER END?
How many times do you feel lost? You’re fighting through interminable obstacles. You’re confused, disoriented, frustrated and exhausted. You’re wondering ‘When will this ever end?’ You just keep moving, trying, probing, and fighting your way forward. You trust the destination is there. You just don’t know how or when you’re going to get there. Sometimes your arrival is like a gradual sunrise. Sometimes you just pop out of the woods into a clearing.
I walked down the rest of the trail through the night. I told Josh to go ahead and get some sleep. With my ankle I’d be slow. I reached the Valley floor as the sky started to lighten. Hikers passed me with their hot coffee in hand and greeted me with “good morning.” Was it really the next day? I arrived in camp at 6:30am, 26 hours after starting the whole ordeal. I could barely stand. I dropped my pack, sat at our picnic bench and breathed long, slow, steady breathes. I’d made it back.
WHAT I BROUGHT HOME
Josh returned to our route the next day and rappelled in from the top to connect the last 75’.
I learned I had a fractured ankle.
For those that are interested, the new route is called Crack in the Nebula and rated 5.11/A2.
Josh and I did some epic climbing, enjoyed stunning views and enjoyed the thrill of exploring the unknown. But the one thing I’ll never forget was popping out right in front of that outhouse. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I didn’t lay down and die. I didn't give up. It’s that’s simple. Whatever you’re going through, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, you’ll make it through.
I believe in you!
Family first doesn't mean Mom + Dad last.
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