Every morning and afternoon I drive through the massive and awn-inspiring Big Cottonwood Canyon here in Salt Lake. This beautiful, orange quartzite cut canyon is home to some of the best climbing in the Salt Lake area, aside from it’s twin Little Cottonwood.
This morning on my drive to work, through this beastly crevasse, I was listening to the radio when the host shared that sadly a climber had taken a fall in the Big last night and didn’t live to tell the tale. I looked up as a wound the corners of rock and remembered how just utterly massive nature is, gravity is, and I couldn’t even think. My mind was blown.
I grew up climbing-wise in the Midwest, home of the flat land, rolling hills and not all that many rocks. We have a few good crags here and there but for the most part, our climbs are pretty short in comparison to what I live with nowadays. A lot of the climbers I grew up with are the kinds of crushers that take it to the limit, pushing hard on rough routes, taking the whipper and maybe even weighting their placed gear. I respect this. But it also seems to me that they don’t respect the reality and the breadth of what they do.
I love to climb hard. I want to get better everyday and put up that route that’s harder than the last I did. And when I’m climbing indoors, I am so trusting of the ropes and walls and plastic I climb on. But when I get outside, something comes over me, where I remember how small I really am on Earth. And I do my best to respect that nature is gonna have its way with me outside. I can do everything I can to be careful, but in the end, that rock will crumble if it wants to. The weather will turn if it damn well pleases and if that hold that I’m pulling so hard on wants to give in that particular instance, it will.
I fear sometimes that we forget who is in control when it comes to how hard we can climb, though. And I think we ignore that what we are climbing is part of this greater massive force.
It hurts my heart to think about the day when people might get tired of climbing the rocks that God has given us and people might start bolting holds to the beautiful stone faces that I am used to. I think most of us climbers feel this way, though, and we don’t want to see our wonderful nature destroyed. But in order to preserve the natural beauty, we need to acknowledge the power that nature has and is. It demands respect.
And I’m not saying that the climber who died yesterday didn’t respect the wild. That situation just reiterated to me how big and real nature is. And how small I am at the mercy of God’s creation. It seems scary, but I look at it with a catechismic fear. A respect. An awe. What it damn well deserves.