"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for January, 2016

It was the best of Rock, it was the worst of times

Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. Have a love affair with all the beauty of the earth.

-Stewart Udall

 

I imagine nobody, with the possible the exception of my mom, realizes that it’s been a while since I posted; 8 or 9 months by my count.  I’ve been lazy about writing before, but never experienced this.  Some part of me still wanted to pretend that the world outside my little bubble of travel didn’t turn.  The thought of how or what to write was difficult enough let alone actually accepting reality.  My skill in procrastination brought me to great questions like “do I write a separate post or combine all of the events, as disconnected as they are, into one big one?”  I still haven’t figured that out, but upon my return to the US I attempted to accept reality and hoped to find an answer by the time I finish this rambling story. Of course, it was months since I got back, and the words still eluded me.  With constant convenient excuses I have put off any writing, but this is my final desperate attempt to jumble some words together. With the said, I’ll continue into what I had started to write about my time in France.

I walked toward the tiny climbing gym in Millau uncertain if it would be open or if my friend, Layla would still be there two hours after she said she planned on going.  I was lucky on both counts and found her sitting on the mats as soon as I walked in.  I was relieved that after an entire day hitchhiking from Spain things worked out in the end.  For the next few days I climbed in Gorge du Tarn, met a bunch of new people, and had the best nights of sleep I could remember.  Seriously, it’s amazing how good it feels to sleep on a real bed in a dark room without sun baking your tent, bells waking you up, or the bed sagging to the floor.  I felt like I barely got a taste for the climbing in the two days in Tarn, but the rock was really fun with smoothed pockets and edges.  We had a day attempting to climb in Boffi, another local crag, but got rained on and weren’t able to do much.  After a couple days hanging out for the weekend, I headed to the promised land: Ceuse.

Ceuse is amazing.  There’s no other way to put it.  You can spot the cliff line from anywhere around.  The blue, grey, black, white, and gold streaks give it a unique and amazing look that screams to be climbed.  I indulged.

When I arrived at Les Guerins Camping there was only one other person staying there.  It worked nicely that he was a cool Aussi since neither of us spoke much French.  Duncan only arrived a couple days before me so we started climbing and exploring Ceuse, neither knowing much about any of it besides that we wanted to climb it all.  That’s actually a rather poor description, it was much more like we tried a few routes, then I fell in love with Berlin wall and got Duncan hooked on a project too.

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The first two routes I tried on Berlin were Queue de Rat and Makesh Walou.  When I got on each of them it felt like they hadn’t been climbed yet this season.  That is a possibility, or it could just be that the 40mm of rain a few days before had replaced every bit of chalk with dirt on the holds.  Either way, every sloped crimp and pocket was not only the perfectly smooth Ceuse rock, but coated in a friction destroying dust.  A couple attempts and some serious brushing later, both routes had a bit of chalk, I found a nice sequence on Makesh Walou (the route I liked more), and the moves seemed possible.  Despite not having any fitness on steeper rock and wanting to sample the bounty of Ceuse classics, I had managed to find a project on day 2.

Pretty soon things were going nicely and I had a nice routine.  Relax in the morning while the rock was in the sun, have lunch, hike up, climb until I was spent or dark (usually I was trashed well before dark), eat, sleep, repeat.  Hitch into Gap for internet and groceries every other rest day.  The downside to the routine is that the hour hike up never got easier.  I thought it might feel better as time went on, especially since I left every possible thing I could at the crag; even to the point of leaving a water bottle to collect under a drip so I didn’t have to hike up with as much.  It didn’t get easier and when the weather warmed up, it just felt even longer.

After a couple weeks of nearly nobody else around, people started appearing all over the place.  It was awesome to meet up with friends I met in Turkey, the Red, and make some new ones.  Soon we had a fun crew to hang out and climb.

Makesh was amazing climbing: varied enough to never be boring including a variety of difficult moves, a couple powerful moves, a bit of a crux, and potential for nice long whips of you blow some moves (naturally I blew the move several times making for some fun rides). When I realized how much endurance was needed compared to how much I had I spent a few days trying to sprint the climb.  I climbed as quickly as I could, not even bothering to shake at the rests because they didn’t seem to help.  Unfortunately after doing this and falling at the redpoint crux, I knew I needed to use them.  I went through the full cycle of getting close, then farther, getting frustrated, and was elated when I finished off the cycle with a send.

I didn’t have much time after that so I finally turned my attention back to trying to onsight and flash routes, which I did to a couple, but tried just as many that I didn’t send.  To be fair though, The climbing at Ceuse so fun, that I rarely cared that I didn’t send something, usually just being psyched to have been up the route.  A couple favorites were Petite Illusion and Angel Dust.  Both super classics.  Another favorite was the less traveled Casse Noisette, on which I blew my flash going to the clipping hold at the anchor.  The entire climb is fairly desperate feeling slab involving mantling crimps, nonexistent holds, and one leg squats.  My near miss at the top sent me flying for a long whip on the upper slab and I bashed my knees into the wall. I still loved the route.

All of a sudden that was it and May was coming to a close.  I had spent nearly a month in Ceuse and felt like I needed another 6 before I could leave.  There are very few places I’ve ever been that really feel like they fit and become home as well as Ceuse did.  The only other place I could really say that about is Ten Sleep.  The combination of amazing climbing, beautiful views, great people, and complete simplicity made it a truly magical place.

I climbed until nearly dark my last day, then ran up the via-feratta to watch sunset from on top of Ceuse.  I made it to the top just in time to watch the giant red sun sink behind hazy grey-blue spiked mountains while a couple clouds played nearby.  I sat soaking in the last rays of light and thought about how lucky I am to live whatever life I choose.

The next morning I finished packing up my backpack and began to hitch.  My goal was to make it all the way to Sheffield, UK.  No idea how I would do that, but I figured it was worth a try.  The first day was frustrating with lots of rides a couple miles down the road until I was picked up by a kid going up toward Grenoble.  That was the most terrifying ride of my life.  We flew down the road and breakneck speeds, tires squealing around every corner, and came inches from hitting the side of a tunnel under a railroad track.  After that I made sure to tell him that my statement saying the initial driving wasn’t bothering me wasn’t meant as a challenge.  Thankfully he didn’t nearly kill us again.  When he dropped me by the side of the road I was actually a ways past the turn I needed to make so I had to get another two rides just to get back to the highway I needed.  I made it a bit farther, but got stuck at a gas station outside of Lyon.  I spent hours trying to hitch from there without any luck then tried scouring blablacar to find a ride share that might work.  There were several potentials so I stayed up until 1am trying to coordinate a ride and ultimately failing.  Defeated and frustrated I hauled my bags to the darkest spot I could find around the rest stop and went to sleep for a few hours.

Despite being at an absolutely unremarkable rest stop, I don’t think I’ll forget waking up at 4am to check blablacar, sitting on the curved metal stool at the bone white counter, or staring blankly out the window into the still dark morning, trying to convince myself that what I had just read was a joke or somehow wasn’t real; that Tyler Gordon wasn’t really gone. I feel self conscious for taking it as hard as I did.  I wasn’t by any means one of Tyler’s long time friends and certainly not family, I feel like I should be sad but shrug it off as another tragic climbing accident.  I haven’t been able to do that. It was a long time before I could even think about it without the world getting a bit blurry. While I know that I might not have been any significant part of his life, only having known each other for three months in Turkey, that actually put him high on my list of time spent with friends.  Three months was more time than I had spent with all of my immediate family put together in the last year. That is to say, by my standards, I spent a lot of time with Tyler, so whether I affected his life at all, I know he had already influenced mine.

On that particular day, combine with my poor luck hitching and general lack of sleep, it hit me hard.  I spent the day failing to get rides, fighting the inevitable existential crisis, and at one point walking into a corn field and yelling at the top of my lungs in frustration.  It’s common to try to find meaning in death, especially when it hits so close to home (at this point you should just go read what Phil wrote, it was well written, much better than anything here, and something I definitely agree with).  I did just that.  No matter how I reasoned and raged, I couldn’t find any; for what reason is there for someone so young, so loved, and so full of life to have his snuffed out so early? There isn’t one. If the world worked on reason and fairness kids wouldn’t be starving on the streets, there wouldn’t be war, and Tyler Gordon would still be alive. Obviously that’s not how things work; kids starve, wars are abundant, and Tyler is gone.

I had a terrible day that seemed to drag on in a haze of walking with my heavy packs and sitting beside roads.  Eventually I got a ride on blabla car to northern France, but didn’t make it in time for the last train to Calais for the ferry.  I hung out in the train station while it rained, tried to find rides, walked to the edge of town, tried hitch for a couple hours, then returned to find even the train station closed.  Eventually I just slept beside a planter box in front of the train station and hoped that it wouldn’t rain anymore.  The next day I was sick of hitching and navigated the train to the ferry.  After spending the entire ferry ride wandering around with a sign for London/Sheffield, I got a ride as we were debarking; straight to Sheffield.  One thing finally worked out.

 

So many people fade into the background of life, but Tyler stood out vividly; whether it was his mountain-man beard, impish grin, dance moves, insatiable psyche, or constant comedy. It’s not enough to say that he died doing what he loved because a force like Tyler can only be understood through experience. He brightened rooms and lives. Without him the world is a little bit darker. Tyler seemed to be more alive than most people and it’s my hope that he felt it too. He’s on the endless climb now and some day we will both reach the bivy and share cinnamon bun recipes that we never got to.

(More photos here)

Tyler, you will always be missed.