I started climbing back in 2014. Since the beginning I have always dreamt of the next biggest thing -- eager to learn new skills and take my climbing to new heights (pun definitely intended). From the warm and cozy gym to the wild and exposed alpine; from the straight-forward crags of Shelf Road, to the beautifully convoluted towers of Eldorado Canyon, climbing has taken me to a wide variety of stunning arenas. Yet, unlike many Colorado climbers, I had not yet made the nearly ritualistic shoulder-season pilgrimage to the Utah desert to climb the splitter cracks -- yet here I am.
We drive deeper and deeper into the canyon, the hustle and bustle of a spring-time Moab slowly fading behind us. Ahead of us the deep burnt reds of the sandstone cliffs clash in a beautiful contrast with the deep blue of the sunny desert sky. Eventually we round a corner and our destination seems to shoot right out of the ground -- the Mavericks Buttress.
Now I know when I mention crack climbing, some of the climbers reading are cringing, while others are licking their chops -- that’s because this style of climbing requires a *unique* dance. While the majority of climbing focuses on using your fingers and toes on features on the faces of the walls, these sandstone faces are devoid of features. Except, that is, for their strikingly standalone cracks, which climbers ascend using a technique called jamming. Depending on the width of the crack, jamming involves shoving fingers, hands, feet, toes, hips, arms, and sometimes entire bodies into the cracks to make upward progress. If it sounds strange and painful, that’s because it is, and for the first time in 6 years, I feel like a total beginner.
At the cliffs now, Michael tapes his hands and looks up, analyzing the first route -- he racks his harness with the necessary gear while Arax unpacks the rope and gets ready to belay. They know I’m new to this, so in between their playful banter, they make a point to think out loud -- sharing how they read the route and what specific techniques may come in handy. Finally it’s my turn to throw some jams.
“Did you feel the difference between jamming thumbs-up and thumbs-down?”, Arax asks when I return to the ground. I start to drop the idea that being a “beginner” is a bad thing and get excited about how much I have to learn. About how much I can grow.
The day continues with endless sun and stoke. We take turns cheering each other on, trying more and more challenging routes until the light starts to get golden.
In a world where many of us are taught that it is our accomplishments that define us, it’s not surprising that it can feel kind of weird and vulnerable to be a beginner. But what if instead of judging an experience based on what we achieve, we ask how much the experience has to teach us? When we redefine success to measure growth, when we celebrate the process rather than the end result, being a beginner becomes a beautiful experience.