My phone buzzed with an email from a member of the American Alpine Club. It was a woman contacting me through the partner finder looking to climb long moderate trad routes. She was particularly keen on climbing at Tahquitz in Idyllwild. I responded that I was psyched to get on it, but that I had no trad or multi-pitch experience. She assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, that all I needed was an ATC guide. Right…
I went to the climbing gym that night and sprayed to my friends about how I was going to become this trad multi-pitch stud. I already had my ATC guide. I showed them the route and the pictures of Tahquitz on Mountain Project. I was already well on my way to becoming a legend in my own mind.
I arrived at her house early the following Friday and we carpooled to Tahquitz. I had been training my skills on YouTube obsessively that whole week. I even had a 4mm tether for my Nut Tool. The one thing that YouTube did not prepare me for was the size of the formation we were getting ready to climb. And really, I don’t think YouTube prepared me for shit. It just gave me some psychological support–an illusion of control.
YouTube didn’t prepare me for her 50ft. whipper. YouTube didn’t prepare me for the thoughts that occurred on the belay ledge while she was hanging limp on her end of the rope after she bounced out of the Coffin Nail dihedral–her helmet making several sickening hollow smacks as she tumbled down the slab and her head bounced off the granite.
She was pretty jacked up from the fall but still wanted to top out. I wanted to bail off but forced myself to continue. She had a broken finger, sprained wrist, nasty whiplash, likely a concussion, but she was still psyched. Now I wonder if she was pushing onward because she wanted too, or like me, out of some self-imposed obligation to her climbing partner.
When we got back to the car I was going to drive. I didn’t notice that there was a clutch. I couldn’t even start the car…
Before the weeks end I had forgotten what a miserable experience I’d had. My first multi-pitch climb was not fun. I was super uncomfortable and scared. But when the trad rack started arriving in the mail from Backcountry, I assumed the role of a seasoned trad climber. I was an expert at that point–I climbed Tahquitz!
A few weeks later I met this guy at the Peoples Wall in La Jolla and we exchanged info. Soon after, he sent me a text message inviting me to Joshua Tree. I packed up my shiny unused rack, a climbing rope and a harness and went to onsight gear routes with no experience and a belayer I’d never climbed with.
In retrospect my offense was just the same as the lady I climbed with on Tahquitz. Out of desperation we made risky decisions and involved others in those decisions. We were outside of our comfort zones and skill sets, but there aren’t really any rules governing that. I think rather than violating a climbing rule, we offended the golden rule. There is no reason to lie about who you are or what you’ve done, and there is no reason to be ashamed for being new and inexperienced, especially when you know just enough to be dangerous.
I guess if there is anything I learned from the whole experience on Tahquitz it was this: how to drive stick.