Unfamiliar places spark excitement and wonder, but I’ve seen these layers of orange beneath a width of lavender sky, topped with blue fading lightly before. Not just once, I’ve seen this sky again and again spread over years. I distinctly remember, in April 2002, standing on top of the rim facing Picnic Lunch Wall. My dad and I drove past Smith when I was 11 and watched spring snowfall in light flurries on the gorge. I don’t even think I climbed that trip, but I know I learned the names of a few routes… 5 Easy Pieces, Darkness at Noon, and I know I dreamt quiet little dreams of someday being a speck on that sheer wall.
Because I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit in the last few years, I get asked for my favorite place to climb. The answer is Turkey, yes, the whole country. I’d never before seen such a sea, touched such rock. Even after three years of returning to the country, it’s new to me, so unfamiliar, that I’m in awe. I wake up starry-eyed and amazed in a style that familiar space doesn’t incite. I don’t even always like tufa tussling and yet something about the whole context, all the factors combined, has made my time in Turkey some of my best climbing days yet. Stateside, I’ve loved the Fins more than anywhere else I’ve been in the US in the last decade (the trick is, I spent 6 out of the last 10 years outside the US). The Fins has a vast and lonely quality that inspires calm and power inside me, similar to the way I feel in a thunderstorm. These places are new to me; the limestone feels young, thrilling, and playful.
The familiarity of Smith adds such a sweet taste to the climbing for me, like a comforting meal made with care by a close friend after a long day of labor. Having a personal history with a route brings to it a layer of emotion that just adds to and builds on the experience. Not only do I have my own saga with this route, but this is a special route for the climbing community in general, the first of its grade at Smith.
I camped on the rim in high school and as a college student, waking up to the view of the Dihedrals. I’d sit up under my lean-to tarp and fill my weak lungs with the strength of the view. This weekend, with a chest cold and no partner, I hiked into the park alone and sat on my rope beneath Darkness, waiting for an unsuspecting friend or suitable stranger to walk by… “If you want to climb this, you’ll have to belay me first!” Yesterday, I spent 27 minutes sending Darkness, slow, steady, and cautious. At each rest and even while I moved, I could see myself from afar, from eight years ago when it felt like an unlikely potential, from ten years ago when it felt like a clear dream, and from sixteen years ago when it felt like my perfect future.
There’s a special sense of accomplishment that comes with just barely sticking moves,, but to clip the chains and feel like I could keep climbing is another story entirely. Darkness didn’t go just barely, it was within my ability. Not that I’m much stronger than it, but that it’s a technical delicate route and I slowly but surely found my way to dance upwards. Trying to fall asleep the night after, I thought about the moves, about how I could string them together more fluidly, and how I’d love to climb it again. Here’s to dreams come true!