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Matt Marine

Matt Marine is an Arizona resident who loves exploring Arizona's wonderful outdoor adventures. To find out more about Matt, click the link below.

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See Intern Page for previous interns

Climbing Cochise

By Tobey Schmidt

I wake up only because I can’t sleep any longer with toes as cold as mine are. I’m wearing two pairs of wool socks, but they still feel numb. I hear coffee being made, which doesn’t motivate me as I’m not a coffee-lover. But there’s another motivation; the fact that in less than a couple of hours I’d be climbing the mountains we’d just slept in front of. And, unknown to me at the time, I would fall for the very first time from those same mountains, leaving me hungry and dreaming of trail mix.

I begin to get dressed for the day, groaning as I have to get out of my sleeping bag. I peek my eyes through a small opening of my tent to admire the mountains and also wonder how I’d be able to climb them in this cold. Hopefully the temperature will rise 15 degrees in the next hour. Doubtful.   

We make a warm breakfast with steaming eggs and potatoes. I eat as much of the hot breakfast as I can because I can feel it making my body warmer. No one else is saying anything about climbing in the cold weather, but I’m wondering if they’re thinking the same thing. I look at the mountain, and I can practically see the cold wind rushing across it.

We pack up everything we need for the day: ropes, gear, harnesses, helmets and the ingredients for lunch are all divided into everyone’s packs. It’s not too long of a walk to where we’ll be climbing, only a few miles. At first, we’re all bundled up against the cold. However, after a couples miles and a little elevation change, we shed our layers.

Finally. I actually feel warm. When we get to the spot we’d be climbing, I got rid of my jacket and wool beanie. By then, I was already starving. It was a good thing we brought trail mix to hold us over before lunchtime. After hanging out for a bit and talking with my friends, I felt ready to climb. It was warmer and my stomach was full. I felt good.

Until I touched the wall. A chill went through my fingers to the rest of my body. That’s colder than I thought. I guess I was still warm from our hike and carrying a heavy pack on my back. Since the rock wall was in the morning shade, it was ice cold. Now, it was mental. I could feel my feet getting colder, just because I was thinking about how cold the wall was. I had already told my friends that’d I’d like to lead first, so there was no turning back now.

I changed into my climbing shoes, after debating whether I should keep my socks on or not, which you’re not supposed to do with climbing shoes. I decided to keep them off, even though it was a million times worse without them. I put my harness on and I began to set up. I was getting nervous because I was so tired. I’m not really the morning type, especially when I have more work than usual.

Again, as I put my fingers on the wall the chill ran through my body. At first, it wasn’t too bad. After only a few feet of climbing and my hands touching the icy, cold wall I was already feeling like I should give up. However, for me, climbing is about accomplishing my goals. If I plan to do a certain route I work very hard to finish the route. I knew that I was going to push myself to finish the route, and that is what scared me.

I was about 30 feet off the ground by now. I went to move my left hand onto a hold that I was eyeing. My fingers were still numb. To me, the hold looked great. Well, it looked manageable. Except when I grabbed it, I couldn’t really tell if I was even holding it. Since my hands were numb, I couldn’t feel the hold, how reliable it was or how much weight I was already putting on it. I thought I might as well trust it. It’s not like I have a choice; I don’t see anything better. Almost as fast as I took my other hand off of the wall, I was falling in mid-air.

Two feet.

Four feet.

Six feet.

Snap. The rope quickly becomes taut inches from my face. It pull brings me back to the wall with a jolt. My feet must have slipped as soon as I lost grip of my left hand. Gravity won. I wasn’t expecting that far of a fall—a couple feet, maybe. 

For a few moments, I just hang there. It was my first fall, so you’d think I would be a little frightened. And I was, but in an exhilarating way. I wanted to do it again. Imagine skydiving but instead of free falling you are quickly pulled back to a face of a mountain and must be prepared to meet with it. To me, it’s better than skydiving.

Of course, after little to no thought, I decided to continue. My hands were numb again. My toes hurt from being pushed to the front of my shoes. I was hungry for lunch. Except, I was happy about it. Sometimes it’s fun to be in an uncomfortable or difficult situation just to see how much your mind and body can take the challenge.

Again, I fell. And again. And again. I didn’t mind the falls, but I really was trying to stay on the wall. The climb felt as if it went on for miles. Have I been climbing for a longer distance than we hiked today? I was not about to give up on the climb, even though I was starving.

Every time I look down at my friends I see one of them munching on our snacks. They are just relaxing down there, while I’m pretty much dying above them. The trail mix that we brought was full of different kinds of peanuts, along with some M&Ms and raisins. Those all put together don’t exactly have much of a smell, though I swear I could smell it from where I was.

Every once in a while I break to rest my arms. I let go of the rocks and let the person down below hold me. I take a look at the postcardesque view, but my eyes always drift to my warm clothes and the spot on the ground that I had once been sitting. I was so close, though.

After one more fall, I knew I would be to the top soon. I could practically plan out the holds that my hands would grab onto and the place my feet would balance. Everything always looked easier from below, but I had confidence that if I made it this far I could make it the last part of the way there.

The end is always the hardest because by then my arms are shot. I’ve been on the wall for too long without a break. Every time I make a move I let out a deep breath to keep myself going. Even though I know about how many feet it is the top, I still look up after every single move to see if I’ve made it yet.

Finally, I’m there.

After a lot of time spent climbing and hoping I’d soon reach the top, I can’t stop thinking about how I wished there was no top to the climb. I actually did want it to go forever. As much work as it is to rock climb, I do it because I love it. I’m not climbing because someone is telling me to climb or only because I want to see the view from the top. I climb because I love the action of it. I love to be stuck somewhere and then figure out what I’m supposed to do, and I love flowing through a climb. There are so many reasons to love the sport of climbing. If there was a route that went on forever, I might consider living on it—well, as long as there’s trail mix.

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