Utah’s Rock Canyon holds the climbing equivalent of a marathon. It’s called Squawstruck, a 1900 foot sport climb from the base of the mountain to the summit of Squawpeak, one of the tallest mountains in the area. America contains only one longer sport climb.
When I first started climbing, I would look at the Squawstruck line as if it were an ogre, massive, bumpy, and ugly, leering at me and reminding me that I was not much of a climber. I resolved to conquer the route someday, and I began training with a friend to tackle the monster.
We couldn’t do it. Not the first time anyway. Our first attempt was a failed 15 hour excursion that ended with us rappelling down and a making a long walk home.
After the first failure our training recommenced with a vengeance, and we worked as if we had some kind of vendetta towards the king of Rock Canyon. We finally sent Squawstruck in a plodding 17 hours. The climb was a lot like the fight at the end of Rocky. We had been beaten and bloody, but we had not been knocked out. The first half of the climb had gone well, after all we had done it before, but the second half was a relentless series of roofs and extremely difficult face climbs. A short section of two easy routes gives a little bit of relief before the finish over an enormous roof that leads to the summit.
I hung and rested in front of the final roof, completely drained, cold winds wailing around me in the dark of night. I wanted to go back. I wanted to do anything except climb that roof with my bruised and swollen fingers. In a surge of frustration and anger I grabbed onto those depressingly small holds and pulled over the roof. We stayed at the summit for a few minutes, glanced at the city lights below us and started the 4 mile hike down.
I didn’t feel good about the climb. In particular, I was disturbed by the surge of anger that had propelled me to the summit. Shortly after the climb I first heard about the war-metaphor. The idea is that humans conceive of life as a battle, a fight. It’s always me vs. something: me vs. the test, me vs. the job, me vs. the climb. Our language is filled with things like, “That test kicked my butt,” or “I crushed the interview.”
Violence and war are some of the primary themes whereby we interpret the world. I realized this perspective was the cause of much of the stress and dissatisfaction in my life. The constant mentality of being in a fight with something—be it a rock wall, a test, or a project—was wearing me down and making me unhappy. I think this may have been part of what Jesus meant when he said “All they that take the sword will perish with the sword.” I was unsettled by this realization and how much of my life it characterized. In spite of this, I couldn’t really think of an alternative to the war-metaphor until I returned to Squawstruck.
I had been feeling like there was still something to learn from the route, so I went back this weekend to try and figure out what that was. I climbed for the sake of climbing this time. I didn’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I just climbed.
While climbing, I saw something I had never seen before. I stopped to look at the scenery of the climb for the first time. The last time we were on the route we were in such a rush to avoid getting caught in the dark that we didn’t even slow down to look at the view our massive elevation offered. We had taken a cursory of the valley from the top and hurried home. As I stopped to look at scenery in the middle of the climb, I saw an aspect of the canyon I had never seen before and realized the value of looking at things from the middle and not just the end.
I turned and saw that the canyon had several slot canyons that looked like waves of stone, each shaped like a surfer’s dream wave that had been struck with Medusa’s gaze. It looked like an ocean of stone rolling towards the city at the mouth of the canyon. A peak I had never noticed before jutted up above these waves like a new earth, and the changing leaves made the mountainside forests look like rivulets of gold dripping off this nascent earth, newly emerged from a sea of stone. It was gorgeous. In all of my time in the canyon I can’t believe I had never seen this area that looked like a whole new world of potential climbing and exploration. Then again, I had never stopped to look. I had been too busy fighting my battle with Squawstruck.
I discovered the journey-metaphor on this weekend on Squawstruck. Life doesn’t have to be a battle; it can be a journey full of sights to see and things to experience instead of a set of foes to vanquish or obstacles to overcome. This perspective can turn something arduous into something beautiful. I was still exhausted after the climb, but I felt a sense of joy and wonder at the beauties of the forest as we made the 4 mile descent.
Our lives don’t have to be a war. If we perceive our experiences in terms of a battle then we will be harmed by the violent and aggressive thought process. The war-metaphor may be strong enough to get us over a single roof, but it will exhaust the mind and the spirit in the long run. Life can be interpreted in terms of a journey or a trip, and this perspective has the power to reveal worlds of potential we’ve never seen before.