Monday, October 19, 2009

Beyond Words

Beyond Words

“You ‘ave to ‘old ze undercut like zeez”, he motions his left hand to pinch a hold that began to be soundly familiar.  His arms contorted, his palms faced upward, thumb, forefinger and middle finger on the bottom edge of the invisible piece of rock, elbow pointing up and left, a certain strain, I thought, developed on his left shoulder.

I shot a perplexed glance at the guy as if to hint to cut off his intermittent z’s.  His name’sPierre which was, I thought, such a cliché for a French guy.  He continued on as I shared a glance and rolled my eyes up halfway to his lovely seatmate across the table.  This could go on all night I thought so might as well try comfort our other friends some sort of respite from the monologue by trying to at least push the pause button on Pierre’s turbulent zzzpastic air climbing.  Problem was I didn’t know where.

“And ‘zen move your right foot on ‘zee small hold, push wiz’ it and ‘zen your right hand above like zeez…”, from below the table his right knee crooked up to float on thin air, all whilst his right hand hung way above his head, seemingly holding onto an edge he and I could only imagine to be there.

I took a short glance at the wine bottle sitting just a foot from the table’s edge. The orange firelight bathed us in a warm glow, giving the gathering a medieval feel.  The heavy set, weather beaten wooden tables and chairs could have come from old taverns and inns where many travelers of old huddled in the cold winter months after traversing the dirt roads that once connected the small towns than ran along the borders of the mountains. I shot back immediately to Pierre, I didn’t want to look uninterested with his lengthy mime, he was after all, enthusiastically addressing me with his “beta.” Although I found all his attention flattering that he’s going a great length shoving energy at me on the route that I tried hard to pre-place, it was also quite embarrassing. I was eager too to start conversing with the girl infront of me who I still didn’t know by name. She had an elvish look I thought, fine featured but her eyes of bright hazel shone with deep insight.  She almost looks like to be squinting at the flickering light. Almost as though studying all the words and thoughts flying around our table.  I thought of commenting on the fine wine and the cheese we’ve been chewing on… “This is really good, I love wine and cheese!” or maybe the French translation of which just to spark a different topic.   But then it would really be rude to cut Pierre’s animated explications short like that.   The route he was beta spraying was 35m. long and by what I have gathered we was only halfway.  It could take longer.

Finally as if to hasten the conversation, I raised my arms to synchronize with his. In a flurry of moves I found myself communicating with him with the same gestures.  A sudden comfort swept through, this will be over soon, ran silently in my head.  It was interesting though. We shared a common lingo in spite just meeting beneath the indifferent rock only that afternoon. “From ‘zer, tak, tak, tak,” a vicious left and right hand cross and a leg swing that almost toppled off the gorgeous maiden infront of me from her seat…”phurrrr… easy…”, the guy’s lips parted as he blew through it, ending our tête-à-tête.   In a single wave, I felt the route map knowledge burn into me.  Having prior knowledge of a route isn’t  exactly the purest way to climb but the bold Ariel typeface “8b” on the guide book gave a bit of an apprehension so I guessed it really didn’t matter.  For sure I would be getting huge falls on it despite the inadvertent tip.  I pouted my lower lip out, shrugged my shoulders, raised my palms up to level the table and struck a sparkly stare across the table, “We’ll see if it works tomorrow.” With that we raised our beers, laughed and enjoyed the silent breeze’s failing effort lulling us to restful slumber.

Nights, after a long day of climbing, sounds like ‘zeez…this… when you’re out there amongst the hardy climbers in Europe.  When they said it was there that climbing was “sup-perrr.” (Yes, you have to stress the “p” and then prolong a guttural slurry fading “r”), they weren’t kidding.  In the few weeks that I’ve shared climbing spirits with the numerous Sweds, Brits, Pols, Slovs, Slovaks, Espanyols,   Italianos, Japs (the only Asians on the beaten track), Aussies, Belgians, Americans, Canadians and of course the infallible French, I’ve become awares of the bigger scale of the lifestyle I tried hard and willed to exemplify.   Coming from the east, from one of the struggling nations of the orient, from a country desolate of an enlightened yet trying perspective, coming from the Philippines, I just could not help but be at awe of what I have only begun to wade into.  It was there that I realized, in its enormity, what climbing and being a climber is really like.  Climbers are like a hybrid backpacker, adventurer, the not so hardcore but hardcore mountain man, the solitary but social rat, the druid, the not so touristy tourist.  We share a language understood only amongst us.  A crimp is always a crimp, a sloper is a sloper, a pinch is a pinch, a pocket is a pocket, beer is beer, wine is wine, a 9.2mm is thin, a 10mm is good, an 11mm is so 80’s, the Gri-gri is a belay device, a FiFi is a fifi hook and we all love to be with the mountains regardless of where we come from.

Friday, October 9, 2009


"CUT LOOSE…" core screamed as I heaved air out my labored throat, a guttural cry of anguish and desperation.  “Cut loose…”,  like a whispering ghost echoing heavy in my mind.  Heed the warning else fail…in a fraction of a second the imminent became easier to accept.  Slowly like a warp machine coming out of hyperspace my feet came off.  The air became suffused with a loud thundering crack that almost broke the barriers of time and space.  It was impossible to contain the expansive swell of energy that spewed out my lungs.  A torrential gush of sharp pain pierced the edges of the last remnants of skin that held me hanging in mid-air.  The fragile edge bit deeper in to my consciousness, kept me from falling into the void of despair.  My feet groped for a small hope of relief.  It found its mark only to help me realize a profound empty comfort.

Creases formed hard on my forehead forcing my brows to form one strong crooked line. Sharp arrowhead tips on the edges of my eyes felt like the devil’s horns, intently evil.  My eyes reduced to slits, filtered  the insignificant details wrapped around me.  An invisible glowing orb formed a foot right in front of my eyes as I effortly conjured a focus.  The warm glow radiated, the pain faded away and the standstill shattered like glass to a hammer’s strike.  My face shot forward towards the invisible orb.  It parted, gave way, half resisting, like mercury being pierced by a blunt point.  On the other side, the reflections vanish as a new vision became clear.   My hands pierced through the thin layer of air to reach for the miniscule edge that shouted pain from it’s comfort.  A quick solid transition shuddered through my core. No longer than a sudden thought, the entire length of my arm, from fingers to my chest, to the back of my shoulders, down to my lower back , even down further to my foot solidified into one.  Concrete, no, steel, no, not even steel.  It became one strong, living, breathing connection hardened by a deep longing urge to claw into a renewed  existence.  To fail would mean another seamless struggle, to succeed would mean a temporary victory that would comfort the soul.

My fingers dug deep into the crimp.  A quick sigh of relief filled the empty hollow left by the one swift, guttural, throaty, agonizing plea for reprieve.  As quick as it came, it vanishes.  The crimp suddenly felt like a sharp blade fresh out of a furnace.  “Let it bite…”   It was a soft comforting tone that guided my other hand to match on the precarious  little edge.  I followed willingly, almost a trance, an acceptance that could spell either disaster or success.  Yet, I trusted.  Breath faded fast from my body, depleted it to a shell, hollow and brittle.  My throat became parched, my tongue felt like sandpaper scratching deep for moisture.  All six fingers, three from each hand, met on the edge only millimeters  thick.  Color faded from each knuckle as I felt another swelling brew inside my stomach.  A protest surged inside…but I held on…for dear life…I gnashed my teeth to almost powder them to dust.  Another cycle continues…such is climbing…silence pervades…such is life…