Castle Rock, New Zealand.
The bulk of my body weight rests on my left foot, which is wedged into a pocket in the rock up to the ball of the foot. Bent at the waist, my right hand presses against the rough rock providing enough friction to keep it in place. There is a slight outcrop against which the palm of my hand rests. Just below my waist, my right foot has found a hole in the rock just big enough to wedge my toes. My foot is at the upper extremes of what my flexibility will allow. It is too high to raise my body against. Searching the rock, my right middle finger finds what it’s looking for. A hole in rock about the diameter of a US quarter, deep enough to get a solitary finger in to the first knuckle. My left hand comes away from the rock as I slowly bend to the right to straighten my body and begin shifting my weight to my left foot. I’ll have to pull up on my right middle finger until my right foot can take the weight.
The sequence goes off without difficulty. It should. This is the third time I’ve done this route. The first two times were with the rope above me. Now, it is below me. A fall now would only stop once I reached the bolt below me. It’s not terribly far, but it is disconcerting. Which it shouldn’t be. But this trip is the second time I’ve been on actual rock in a year. It’s the first time since I’ve been to the South Pole. The physical isn’t difficult. The physical feels good. We are climbing outside in the sun.
The mental is crushing. I should be able to run this sequence without terrible difficulty. I can do each move. Committing to not-quite-hanging on one finger is the hold up. The crux of the route is committing to getting off the ground. Once I start, I have to finish it. There are big, burly climbs coming up in the next 18 months. I have to get my head sorted out. This is the first step. My ability to commit, my confidence on the rock has been hampered by my year on the ice.
Joe flew down to New Zealand to meet me. We decided months ago that this was not going to be a “climbing trip” but a “New Zealand trip” with some climbing. Our home is a campervan. There is a stove, a fridge, a table and two beds. We have everything we need. It’s not exactly roughing it, but it isn’t exactly luxury. Where we sleep or start the day revolves around where we can find a bathroom. By this point, we’ve been in the van for a few days. We started climbing up in the northwest of New Zealand’s south island. The last few days were spent climbing cliffs that overlook the Tasman Sea. The sun becomes so overpowering about midday that we usually knock off and retire to the van for sandwiches. Even Joe was bested by the glare.
“Is this what it’s like to be Irish?!?!” he asks incredulously. Unintentionally, he has a beer in one hand and a bottle of sunscreen, SPF 50, in the other. While bitching about a sunburn.
“Yes. Yes it is.”
Unaccustomed to the ways of the pasty, he had failed to properly sunscreen up and had been burned. I, however, being entirely accustomed to the ways of the pasty, had properly lathered up.
And still burned. Not being exposed to the sunlight for a year will do that.
Despite our burns, we would not shy away from the sun. But I would go kayaking in a long sleeve shirt. But Joe would not learn. Kayaking got cut a wee bit short because he was turning lobster red. Fortunately, we could always hide in the van.