The First Step Is The Hardest
I would say I have been through some big transitions in my life. From beginning new relationships, breaking up with partners, moving, living in a tent, graduating, living with my partner and currently building our home together. And all have been and continue to be pretty impactful. Although recently I experienced something that will forever stick with me as my Rite Of Passage into adulthood. A few weeks ago on a warm and sunny day in Boulder, Colorado my partner and I decided to go for a short little stroll through Chautauqua Park which also is home to the Flatirons. The FlatIrons being five large rock formations ranging from north to south with an elevation of 8,148 ft and extremely steep grade ranging from 5.0-5.14. I had always admired them in their greatness and stature. In awe of their sharp tip top and jagged slabs. We started walking up the Bluebell Baird Trail towards the bottom of the first FlatIron to admire its beauty and prestige. After about an hour we reached the first iron, and I looked up. The midday sun shone down and kissed the surface of the rocks making them glow and appear almost iridescent. I could see bolts from other rock climbers that had previously climbed, and the light dusting of chalk holds all the way up the base of the massive rock. Meanwhile, my partner had started to climb on the base and mentioned that not far up there was a trail that we could take and it would retake us down.
She looked at me with a bold look, and I hesitated. I had not even brought my climbing shoes or chalk for that matter. Thinking she was joking, I giggled and said: “come on let’s head back down.” But my partner had already playfully wedged herself up a crack and smiled back at me. After about five serious minutes of hesitation, I took a breath and started to test the waters slowly and climbed behind her. She gleefully continued to climb on excited that I was now in tow. I had climbed cracks and crags before so this wasn’t all that difficult, and for the most part, we were pretty slanted and could turn around at any point and make it down safely.
After about 30 min we got to a crack and on the other side of it was the trail head. My partner got off. I looked at the path and then looked at the giant Flatiron above and without knowing it made a choice to choose adventure over safety. I continued climbing. My partner tickled by my adventurous spirit climbed on with me. I remember hearing nothing but the wind and the sound of my breath as I slowly made my way up the face. I became acutely aware of every muscle in my body and how I was using it. I looked down and quickly looked back forward. I was about midway up the face and the highest I had ever been on a rock without being strapped into a harness. I calmed my breath and felt the beating of my heart escalate. No longer did I feel the option to turn around. I couldn’t. There was no way down.
As we climbed on I quickly went from smiling, laughing and cracking jokes to an eerie quiet. My partner noticing my shift encouraged me with words and support as I rapidly declined mentally. Here I was on the face of a giant rock with no safety and nowhere to go but up. I looked at her and was calmed by the sound her voice. I put a hand and then my foot and then a hand and then my foot and slowly made my way up through the cracks. I can do this I thought I just have to keep moving and definitely not look down. So I charged ahead at a pretty good pace until I met yet another problem on the rock and couldn’t see any solutions.
I had come up with a very exposed piece of rock that had little to no holds. I could feel my legs shaking in exhaustion. My partner kindly called me ahead and like vomit the words came out “ I can’t move. I can’t do this. I want to go home” followed by whimpering cry’s and tears. I was paralyzed. Paralyzed by fear and couldn’t move a muscle. It was at that moment about a million negative thoughts ran through my head: “what are you crazy!” “you can’t do this!” “this is unsafe!” “You’re going to fall!” “get down!” and then I closed my eyes and got still. I knew if I could just dig deep I’d be able to find something to help me at that moment.
And just like that, I called on God, my ancestors, and my mom to help me to take away these unhelpful thoughts and help me get through. I opened my eyes and looked up. With blind faith, I hoisted myself up onto the small slab or rock with the tips of my fingers and the tops of my toes holding me on. I slid a little grabbing a very tiny shrub that was wedged between the rocks to help me up. Whew. I had made it. My partner celebrated my victory and told me how proud she was. I looked up at her and told her I could not have done that without her. Then I looked up and realized we still had another half of the face to climb and my enthusiasm sank. My partner pointed out that it was all cake from here and as much as I wanted to believe her I could feel something coming. Sure enough we began climbing along at a pretty good pace and I got ahead of her purely to be done and reach the top. Because I was going so fast I failed to realize I had missed some chalk marks and went off the route a bit.
I ended up in a very tiny corner of exposed rock with no room to move. I was hugging the rock harder than I had hugged anyone in my life. And then the fear monsters crept in and this time telling me “this is it. You are going to die!” “ now look what you have gotten yourself into!” “You got to confident to quick!” I started to break down and cry and shake. I was literally between a rock and a hard place. I lost it. I closed my eyes but this time not having anything to pull from. And then as I started to have an anxiety attack and leave my body I heard the distant voice of my partner “Amanda you are okay. Just stay calm. You have plenty of room. You have to trust your body. It knows what to do”
Then it hit me. When had I stopped trusting my body? When had I stopped trusting myself? How could I not trust the most intimate and closest relationship I will ever have. Myself. And it was then I realized that I needed a giant heaping scoop of faith in myself. I was not my body, but I was a spirit occupying it. My body was only going to do what my brain thought mentally I was capable of. I knew that my spirit was capable of anything I told my mind to do. So I stopped crying and fully tapped into the greatness that my partner saw in me in that moment. I can’t even tell you how I managed that problem as it was very much a blur to me. I can say the power that kicked in me was something that far exceeded what I thought I was capable of.
After that it was smiles and the face went from straight up and down to a slant again. Enough of a slant that for the first time in hours we could stand upright without worrying about falling backward off the rock. We reached the top and celebrated for a moment and then quickly realized we did not know how we’re going to get down. We looked down and knew we couldn’t go down and looked up knowing we weren’t sure how to climb down the back. We both tried to problem solve but were very tired and ready to get down.
Suddenly during our brainstorming two young men came jaunting up and offered to help us down. They admired our skills of getting up and were in awe that we had made it to the top in only 4 hours. With no other plan than to camp out on the edge of the cliff we happily said yes to the offer. Hours later after descending down the back and sharing stories, laughing and helping each other we made it back down to solid ground. We thanked the men and made our way down the trail to towards the car with smiles plastered on our faces. I could feel my whole body shake as we made it back to the car and sat down.
I had no idea that I would have free solo climbed the first Flatiron and that I would go from being someone who didn’t know how much she really needed others to needing others more than she thought. Realizing Not realizing how much fear that would come up and yet how much faith would emerge. This experience brought with it the vulnerability of truly being seen at my weakest and being loved for it. The gifts I received that day as a woman, daughter, partner and human being I will never forget. I will never look at these Irons the same. Even now when I pass by I think “yea I climbed that and it was hard. But who I was at the beginning was not who I came to be in the end.”