Making a Commitment
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Steve paused on a ledge, two thousand feet above the roaring Gunnison River.
He flicked and twirled the ropes into the air and they descended into the abyss below.
“You know, you could climb back to the anchor and we could go bouldering today,” I nervously exclaimed.
I recognized the next step on the rappel would cast him into an irreversible position.
It was the moment of commitment.
He could easily ascend the rope and return to the anchor and we could take on a lesser challenge for the day; a shorter route, some bouldering, or maybe just drink some beers around camp.
Instead, the ropes cascaded down the ledges below him and into the unseen. With a few steps he was gone, over the edge and committed to the route.
We were climbing a route called Astro Dog on the South Rim of the Black Canyon and on every rappel needed to approach the start of the route, I reflected on the committing nature of each step.
The rappel route shares many of the same anchors on the climbing route, particularly low on the route, and it would have been easy to stop a few rappels short and lessen our commitment.
Commitment is something we do a lot in climbing and in life.
In climbing, we commit to routes, partners and movement above precarious gear.
On the day we climbed Astro Dog, Steve stopped at an airy, exposed belay near the top of the climb, convinced he was off route.
“I think the route goes out left,” he said.
I peered left but what I saw didn’t look particularly appealing.
After craning my neck in the direction of Steve’s proposed route and looking over the topo I became convinced that straight up was the way to go.
Steve’s primary doubt about the straight up path focused on his insistence that there was no way that was moderate terrain, as the pitch should have been.
He noted that there was no crack in the corner and only a few well-spaced pods to offer something for your fingers to grasp at.
I insisted that I would just “check it out” and turn back if it was too hard or lacking opportunities for protection from big falls.
And so, I committed to the corner and it revealed a delicate sequence of face holds and stemming moves with adequate protection.
It turned out to be a fantastic pitch of climbing and a pitch that is memorable in the way many Black Canyon pitches can be.
Not memorable because it was the hardest pitch but memorable because of the faith and trust in yourself, your belayer, and your gear that it takes to commit to a pitch of climbing that has an unsure outcome.
A week later I sat next to a small, meandering high country stream with my immediate family as my daughter tossed rocks into the bubbling brook.
We had hiked up one of our family’s favorite local trails to baptize our two young children in a semi-traditional ritual that each of our families had followed, albeit in their own way.
For my wife and I, baptism reflected a commitment to our children that extended far beyond the religious significance.
For us, we wanted a ritualistic symbol of our commitment to our kids to raise them in a loving manner, to provide for them, to educate them, to protect them and to do it together, in an act of love.
I have long appreciated and respected rituals.
My wife and I didn’t need a baptism ceremony to know that we were committed to our family and how we wanted to raise our children.
But, a simple, informal ritual gave us the opportunity to make an explicit, outward commitment to our family’s future.
In life, commitment can be hard but we find a way.
My daughter has always loved jumping from the heights of playground equipment, boulders, and the like. My 1-year-old recently started to do the same.
In learning to let go and commit to the fall from up high he would inch himself toward the edge, lean forward and then pull back, putting himself into a precarious wobble.
Over and over again he tested himself when he approached the lip and tried to commit. Sometimes he would reach his hands out, looking for support and comfort.
I tried to lure him forward by bringing my hands toward his but pulling them back at the last instant.
Peels of laughter ripped through the air as he squealed with a childish mixture of adrenaline, excitement and adventure.
Finally, he let himself go and soared through the air for a split second before I caught him.
Joyous laughter erupted and he turned and reached out for the ledge to go again.
Again and again he pitched himself off and as he did I saw much of myself in his play.
As adults we often teeter at the edge of commitment, unsure of what lies ahead. But, when we commit there is often great joy to be found and we want to go back for more.
In the Black Canyon, we cast ourselves off on pitch after pitch for two thousand feet of climbing.
As the sun turned the sky pink we pulled over the final lip of rock, finishing where we had started early that morning. Looking down into the canyon I saw the same sight I had seen that morning, a complex and foreboding sea of granite with a mighty river far below.
Now, the lens through which I viewed that sight had changed. It was no longer such a scary place for we had committed and found great joy in our adventure.
And I couldn’t wait to go back and do it again.
– Mike Schneiter is a Glenwood Springs High School teacher and coach, owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides and is a Brooks Inspire Daily athlete.
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