I don’t know about you, but sometimes in our marriage Emily and I have—well—tense moments. Tension is a bad thing. Not gonna lie, on this road trip we’ve had our stressful moments, both in our marriage and as a family. Living out of a van and vagabonding can do that, especially with an occasionally intense dad/husband like me.
I want to do something some people think is crazy, like climb El Capitan. To me it seems very normal and reasonable. Ambitious, but reasonable. Emily thinks it's crazy. You may agree with Emily. We can all still be friends. The trick about climbing, especially big walls, is that it takes two to tango. Since I'm not Alex Honnald (the guy who free soloed El Cap) I need a climbing buddy. I’ve always thought Emily would be a great climbing partner. She disagrees. Which brings me to the point.
We’ve had all kinds of tension on this trip: kids losing their shoes in the car, getting to a campsite after dark, spilled soda at Taco Time; the standard stuff of life. But the climbing buddy thing has been looming. As we traveled closer to Yosemite, Emily’s anxiety mounted. As we drove toward Zion National Park last week, I said, “Zion's is gonna be cool. They have big walls there, so we’ll have a chance to practice.”
Emily was silent for a moment. “I thought we weren’t doing big walls until Yosemite,” she replied.
“They’re bigger in Yosemite, but we can start here.” She resumed her silence.
We had been climbing in Northern Utah the day before, and I took a biggish fall. After she caught the fall and we were both safe back on the ground, her stomach dropped and she got dizzy. I was only climbing about 60’ up. Big walls are 1,000-3,000 feet. Her theory was, “It might not be safe for you to climb with me.” Her lack of confidence and my inconsiderate ambition were on a collision course. Emily began earnestly searching for a climbing partner for me. I’d already called a few friends with no one turning into a match, so Emily checked the online forum, Mountain Project. There were a few possibilities, but nobody was getting back to us.
We arrived at Zions and, after situating the kids, headed into the canyon to do a few practice pitches. On our way in, we stopped into the Zion Mountaineering School to pick a few last bits of gear we needed to climb together. Before I could get out of the car, Emily was inside chatting with the gentleman behind the counter. By the time I sauntered in, Emily said smilingly, “Can you believe it? The only big wall climbing school in the country is right here. You could take a class and climb with a guide.” We gathered some information, met the potential instructor, and left. We found a park bench in the shade, ate our Tupperware lunch and talked it over. We decided to do it. Emily would be off the hook, I would have a climbing partner, and all would end happily ever after. Sort of.
In the end, Emily and I decided to take the class together. She took a big risk. I slowed down a bit. And we spent a chunk of money. But in the end, we met in the middle. Two days later, I was leading a 100’ C2+ aid pitch and she had me confidently on belay, the rope under perfect tension.
If you think this might encourage someone (or terrify them) please consider sharing.