Day 4: Confidence (7-25-12)

Stepping cautiously off the trail out of Big Arroyo, my eyes scanned the grassy slope for any signs of other snakes. Working diagonally up and across the steep meadow, I jumped onto the broken slabs and edged up and away from the trees. The sun was already warm as I crept through the foxtail pines, crossed the seeps and small creek meandering at the first bench. A quick hop up the boulders brought me to a deep blue tarn, its waters calm and reflecting the walls all around. Finding a flat spot, I dunked my bottle into the water, then sat back to admire the face above.

The southwest face of Black Kaweah is nothing less than intimidating. Above the crumbling moraines and talus fields rise the dark, segmented chutes; arêtes and gendarmes standing sharp. In keeping with the theme of the trip, I was just happy to be so close to this peak, to have this moment of gazing at grandeur all to myself. I relaxed, telling myself that anything I accomplished today was enough, accepting that perhaps today was not the day to climb it. The breeze swept across the lake and across my face, tickling my ear with the little hairs I can never seem to tuck under the brim of my hat.

Who was I kidding?

My eyes scoured the slopes to each side of the lake: slabs to the left, moraine and sand to the right. I could see an arcing path leading steeply through the rocks, knew that circling the lake to get to the even sidewalks would take more time. My summit pack loaded, I simply let my feet crawl away from the tarn and the blue-black water shimmering in the breeze. In my pocket, the notes from my book crinkled with each step. Secor had said something about a 100 foot black rock waterfall…

“Wherever you get to, Laura, it’s enough. This day is only about exploring.” I kept looking for the harder scrambles, a nagging in my brain convinced that I had read about how tricky the scrambling was up here. A few loose rocks echoed against the dark and broken walls as they tumbled, despite my best efforts to step cautiously. Cairns were sparse but perfectly spaced, the small towers doing their best to maintain my focus on the main chute. Only once did I stray, reaching a chockstone and a move I wasn’t sure I could reverse. I squinted at the narrow chute above and retreated, only to find the next small stone pile just above my view from before.

I paused to breathe and look around as the angle lessened, the chute opening to a ramp leading up and right. I shook my head to clear my eyes: was I already topping out? My left hand rode the wall as I stepped up to a small notch, a small gasp catching in my throat at the sheer drop back to the Chagoopa Plateau and south to the rest of the Kaweah Crest. Within a few moves, I was upon the summit, and in awe I simply sat upon the blocks to stare at the whole of the Sierra at my feet.

To the north, lines of simple clouds swept across bluebird skies, and my eyes were drawn to the Great Western Divide rippling north towards Bubbs Creek. Darker slopes covered in trees rolled to the west, and a faint darkening on the horizon gave away the coastal range. To the east, my high Sierra was the golden crest of the building wave of mountains, its rocks set to pour into the Owens Valley.

The tears came, welling up from deep inside my heart. Sobs born of fear and frustration, of regret of letting myself go for a year and losing all I had worked so hard to gain. In the thin air of the summit, I purged all the anger and self-loathing, threw it out into the wind and allowed myself to revel in the wonderful thing that is my body: my big, strong legs carrying me across the scree and talus, up the faces; my eyes to search the route for the safest path; my arms to help the balance and hold the rock as my feet found purchase. Everything had worked in concert to bring me to the sacred ground, this thin place.

In gratitude and happiness, I pulled in the deepest breath I could manage, cupped my hands to my mouth, and sounded a long call across the Sierra. The echo reverberated down the canyons, bounded across the peaks. My arms overhead, I laughed out loud.

This was the woman for whom I had been searching, who made herself known on Mt. Huxley a few weeks before.


The fire had been lit.



One Response to “Day 4: Confidence (7-25-12)”

  1. Peter Hirst Says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

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