Monday, August 23, 2010


Sometimes I love this feeling, right now I'm terrified. There's no way to stop the impact. I am falling, I will land defenseless and prone, on my back, but this thought hasn't registered yet. Right now I'm trying to locate the crashing noise, trying to understand why I am falling, and I'm terrified.

It was a great day of climbing that started on a boat at 7am with the fog rising off the warm water. The plethora of rocks overhanging blue water looked smooth, soft and doughy in the morning light.

We came to the heart of West Virginia to climb those rocks, and that's what we did, all day. Climbing high above the water is scary. Hit right and it's like a big pillow, hit wrong and it hurts. The water can produce pains like needles, stings like wasps, bruises, soreness, headaches. But it's a risk worth taking. Climbing over water is amazingly pure, simple and fun. This kind of climbing strips everything else away until there is only your action and the immediate consequence of that action.

You come to a blank spot in the rock, a sheer wall with a big hold above and nothing positive in between, no holds, except the one up there. You get your feet high and that hold becomes all you can see. Everything disappears except focus, blank, like the wall rushing past. For a moment you touch nothing, you are just reaching for that hold with every ounce of your being. Your fingers wrap the hold.
The fingers slip off. The rocks are rushing in reverse, it's an enjoyable feeling, the falling. You push your stomach out of your throat and suck down a last deep breath before impact. The smack is a shock to the system and it hurts for a second before it is enveloped, as you are, by the smooth, cool refreshment of the water around you. Right now it feels spectacular. You are floating in this anti-gravity world, you can move effortlessly in any direction. You choose up, and swim for the sun. Or...

Your fingers grip that hold and your focus remains singular. The momentum of your body changes from upward to outward. Your body is stretching away from the wall. You try to keep your core tight, to fight the forces ripping you from the wall, the gravity is stretching your shoulders, your elbows to their extension, wrist elongate, even your fingers begin to unwrap. But the fingers hold, they did what you told them and everything else follows suit. Wrist, arms, elbows, shoulders, core, even your feet snap back and can now press against the blank section of rock below. You did it! The feeling courses back up from the toes, through your veins and out of your mouth in the form of a joyous yell. Wow, what a sport! A couple more moves high over the water bring you to a ledge and you turn to face the view. It's beautiful. You take a look and a breath, and jump.

We swam a lot. We climbed a lot. We tied a rope to the boat and tried to surf a piece of driftwood but it didn't work. Instead we watched the light reflected off the ripples as it danced on the underside of a large overhanging rock. It was a great day and we followed it up with a huge meal before deciding where to camp.
In the morning we would be meeting another friend for the day, but not till 10 so we decided to back-country camp, try to catch the sunset, and get a climb in at first light.

Maybe we were tired or maybe the hike was just longer than we expected but we missed the sunset. Sans headlamp and in the last dimming light of the day I threw up the hammock in the one good spot where we had chosen to camp. Camp was level and my climbing partner Bryan would be sleeping on the ground but the only spot for the hammock was right next to the cliff. Not the kind of cliff with nothing but air till the bottom, like we had been climbing earlier, but the kind with lots of loose jagged rocks on extremely steep hillside where the only thing to stop a bouncing tumbling fall through the daggers would be the trees. The trees a body might end up wrapped around, the trees looked healthy, they would hold you. I was concerned about the fall potential but I have to say, I'm pretty good at setting up and sleeping in a hammock. It's something I've safely done off a cliff numerous times (including the nuttin but air till the bottom kind). Not to mention the fact that of the past 30 nights, probably 25 of those I have slept in a hammock. The job was done and I collapsed exhausted into the anticipated hammock bliss. And then I was terrified.

In milliseconds I realized I was falling and within several more I had located the source of the horrible cracking, splintering sound. The sound was a tree, and it was falling directly towards me. In the waning light I had tied off to a widow-maker. I had mistakenly tied off to the dead tree and I would now die as the Old Rag community pastor had. An eight inch wide tree was rushing, falling, towards my head. So there I was, with the jagged talus cliff to my side, posed to relax in my hammock, pursued by a large tree, falling to my death. Not, the kind of falling I like.

I tried to midair hover to the non-cliff side and never noticed the impact with the ground. It must have been some sort of butt-walk-crab-walk combo which narrowly saved my life. The tree crashed down to my side. Rolling off the hammock with my face in the dirt I said "thank you Jesus" and proceeded with the strange reaction I sometimes have to these situations. I laughed uncontrollably.

I hope you never have to employ the the butt-crab-walk combo but I guess it takes a little experiential learning to get these type of things right. Bryan and I had another hardy laugh, a super climb in the morning, and a great weekend to follow!

The view from the cliff top the following morning.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"They Just Want to Have Fun"

-Cyndi Lauper

Here's a couple quick shots of last week before we take to the trail again.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Last Week in Pictures

"Your imagination is your preview of life's coming attractions" -Albert Einstein

The four above pics are from a quick trip to the New River WV (dog off leash is a no go in Shen, sandstone, etc...)I just had to put them up.

Now for the good times in the 'Doah

Yes, that is a deer standing on its hind legs eating wild apples... Only in Shenandoah!

Out the door and looking forward to another great week.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Happy Birthday BSA

Today marks the Centennial birthday of the Boy Scouts of America! My little bro is at the national scout jamboree and I have to admit I'm a little jealous. Yes, in the last several days I have been rock-climbing in several states, cliff jumping, swimming, swimming, swimming and getting paid for it. And I guess in the next couple days I will be doing the same with the addition of zip-lining from the top of one high peak to another, watching the sun rise and set from Shenandoah's highest points and in general loving life. But scouts gave me my start! Where else can a bunch of boys with abnormal tics in their heads (such as myself) start out with awkward unproportionate feet and dubious intentions and come away strong men with their heads screwed on straight. It's a great organization with which we are very proud to have run many high adventure trips.

It's been a decade since I received my Eagle but the Scout Oath, Law, and Motto are still as fresh as the memories of those great trips. So congrats to the BSA, now one hundred years strong! I can't wait to see my bro get Eagle, and I'm out the door for another week long trip.
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