Monday, November 26, 2012

JT Woody Appreciation Weekend or What My Father Taught Me About Life Through Climbing

"Like a drop of water falls from the summit, that's the line I shall take." 
- E. Comici

This weekend was supposed to be pretty straightforward: climbing in Joshua Tree to celebrate what would have been my Father's 71st birthday. Climb routes that he and his friends put up decades before I  even came around. Per usual, my Father ended up teaching me lessons on life.

Photo by T. Stark


The morning view from our campsite. It was an amazing place and there were only a few of us, which made for good stories of zombie climbers rappelling down the rocks and attacking us at night once our fire had died. Thank goodness for Grandma Belle, as her barking would have alerted us of any nocturnal movement, living or otherwise.

The next morning was fueled by hot chocolate and excitement for the day's climbs. Meeting up in the parking lot of Intersection Rock there were others come to join in the festivities. The old-timers and the new together for a common purpose: celebrate and discover. We were a posse several deep so there was no rush and the atmosphere was relaxed, the sun warming the desert rocks in the late morning hours. The plan was to warm up on Double Cross but as there were two parties in front of us we decided to get started with the fun Sexy Grandma sport line. We had what is probably my favorite photo of my Father watching over us, silently critiquing and encouraging us as we climbed.

Photo by T. Stark

Double Cross is probably the most popular of my Father's routes. Ironically enough he always said it was one of his least favorites because it hurt his feet. I first led this route well over a decade ago, a time when it seemed impossible and the top was the most frightening. This time around it seemed casual and fun, a far cry from the mindset of my youth.

We hung around that area for a while as to get everyone on the routes, swapping stories of my Father, allowing those who had not met him to understand why we were brought together that weekend. We even TR'd a line to the right of Sexy Grandma that could have been led but no one felt like leading a route with an X rating, only two bolts and a pin and nothing anywhere near to protect the small roof. It was fun and challenging and was a good warm up for the next route I have wanted to get on for many years: Spiderline. My Father and his pals did the FA back in 1967 and it was freed on TR by Bachar in '78. Short route but looked fun and it was on the list.

And then I started feeling nauseous. Horrible muscle pain and chills also set in and I feared I was getting the flu or some other horrible virus. I was taken back to camp and passed out in the tent covered with two sleeping bags and a few layers of clothes but never getting warm. Intense pain continued to plague me and spread to my joints. Another blanket was added on top of the sleeping bags but still I could not shake the chill I felt. It was later decided that I should not stay at camp and instead Sheila drove my car to her house and she and Grandma Belle took excellent care of me. The next day I was made sure to be rested and fed enough to get home to continue recovering from what we deduced was a pretty intense case of heatstroke.

The others left behind continued to climb that next day and through their climbing and positive thoughts the weekend was still a success. Although I did not get to stay or even speak to all that came out, although Sheila did not stay because she volunteered to take care of me, although we did not climb all that was intended I would say it was a good weekend with valuable lessons recognized.

Lesson 1: Always enjoy nature. Being in our own desert oasis it seemed, far from the city and even other campers made the serenity that much greater. Too often these days we forget the power of the world outside of city walls. My Father had such a love for the outdoors and instilled such a virtue in his children and many others.

Lesson 2: Always be willing to teach. Not just on climbing but on history and nature and art and life. And also appreciate when you are being taught. Teaching is not telling others what to do, it is expressing a way for them to understand and try it for themselves.

Lesson 3: Encourage everyone to push beyond themselves. It is always a good day when everyone has fun and tries hard. Lynn was one of the brightest examples and an inspiration for us young kids as an older woman, a Grandmother even, pushing beyond what she thought possible for herself. It is also gratifying for me to go back and climb routes I did as a small child and see how far I have come in ability, knowledge and confidence.

Lesson 4: Your friends are your life savers. Even though I was not going to die my friends stepped in and took the very best care of me in my time of need. When you climb with someone you are indeed putting your life in each others' hands. That trust and understanding can take years to develop or minutes when the situation arises. Even though most of the people there had never met my Father, they had come out to support me and be introduced in some small way to who he was.

Lesson 5: Be willing to ask for help. It seems simple but too often we are too proud or too worried of inconveniencing others. Do not be afraid and those who can will help where they can.

Lesson 6: Even the smallest actions you do may have a large impact on someone's life. Lynn had never met my Father in person but through something as simple as posting in a climbing forum he had helped her through a very tough time in her life. For me it meant so much that she took the time to join us in celebrating his life. I also remember the forum posts when my Dad died and how fond the memories were of him and the respect people gave. These were many people I had never known and most he had never met in person yet somehow he had touched so many of their lives through humor and the written word.

I have been climbing as long as I can remember but as is true with life (and children) many lessons he taught I was too stubborn to fully appreciate or I could not truly understand until the time was right. My Father was many things in life (cantankerous comes to mind) as well as many things he was not. He taught me so much about life through climbing; to be strong (mentally and physically), to be self reliant but also to rely on others, to be kind and don't judge those who have already been judged by so many, to not fear that which others do not understand but know if they understand you they will not fear for your safety, this and so much more have I learned.

Photo by Mom (?)

"One cannot climb at all unless he has sufficient urge to do so. Danger must be met (indeed it must be used) to an extent beyond that incurred to normal life. That is one reason men climb; for only in response to challenge does one man become his best.
- Ax Nelson

Many thanks again to Sheila, Mike, Steve, Dave, Rita, Todd, Wendell, Lynn, Pauline and everyone else who could not make it in the flesh.

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