Pinnacles National Monument, California, USA
Last weekend both Jack and I got suckered into doing something we weren’t prepared for. Expecting a day of leisure climbing in a familiar area somehow we ended up doing a 10 mile hike (4 of which was done in the dark) and one very, very scary climb.
Pinnacles National Monument is about 2 hr drive from the Bay Area. It has many climbing routes of varying degree of difficulty. However, most of the routes were established by crazy and suicidal climbing dudes in the 70’s — so we’re talking 20-30 ft run-outs on dodgy rocks that can pop off at any time.
It’s not really my cup of tea, but the place is perfect for climbing day trip.
Anyway, the couple we went with talked us into exploring the other side of the park. The side that contains much more striking rock formations but looser rocks. Jack and I have never climbed on that side before.
It was the last day of the year before the they closed the area down from climbing to protect the nesting condors. So that fact alone along their insistence found us sweating in our heavy jeans and tshirts, carrying 20 lbs of climbing gear up and down a mountain.
We came upon the particular formation called ‘the Balconies’. It’s truly a striking formation with multiple dark water streaks running down its face. It’s about 300 ft tall, a beautiful piece of ancient volcanic rock, and intimidating like heck.
The climb was well within the capabilities of our two leaders. What makes the climb scary, however, was the fact that we had an outdated guidebook (for awhile we weren’t even sure if that was right route), lack of gear (you’re supposed to be use slings as extra protection, which we didn’t have), 20 ft run out on the first pitch, the need to set up a 2 rope rappel from a hanging belay, and the fact that it was 2 pitches tall and it was getting dark — so we didn’t have the luxury of time.
In non climbing terms, it was scary because we weren’t prepared. We didn’t have any plan of attack.
It all ended well, fortunately. It was a very, very fun climb. Tough for the grade, but doable. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was, at the time I felt pressured to do certain things I wasn’t comfortable doing, and it made me think…
During our upcoming RTW trip I can see us facing similar situations. What if we go with a group and have spent some time and money to get to… let’s say, to a starting point for a trek. We get there and was warned of the danger of landslides. The trail was open, but there are warning signs all over. Are we going to be:
1. Be the cool people. Do it anyway because we might not find ourselves having that opportunity again and risk injuries, getting caught, or other unpleasant consequences? But the reward might be great. It might be worth the risk.
2. Be the lame people. Back off and live with regret and questions of what-ifs? Or be seen by your contemporaries as ‘not fun’ and ‘party poopers’?
(not really the best examples, but I hope you get the gist)
I’m not proposing that scenario #1 is always better than #2 or vice versa. It’s truly a case by case scenario. In Pinnacles, we spent time on the ground rehashing how we’re going to do rope management. There were things I wasn’t comfortable with and I made it clear of what I wasn’t prepared to do. Fortunately that didn’t mean that the others didn’t get to climb and have fun, but what if it did?
What if me saying ‘No’ means the rest of the group would not get to do what we came there for?
What if ‘everyone else is doing it’?
I’m completely ok being seen as the lamest person in the group, but I do feel guilty if through my ‘lameness’ I ruin the day for other people. And I guess that’s why I’m using traveling as a group as an example.
Traveling often involves investing a lot of money and time into an activity and it’s more than natural to want to get what you pay for. There’s more of an incentive to force yourself (or others) to do something you’re not comfortable with (bribing officers, going into a dodgy bar, climbing multi pitch with unknown betas, you-name-it) because the next opportunity might not come by as easily or cheaply.
I’m simply hoping that during our trip we will have the wisdom to make decisions on what we believe is right, and not to bow in to social pressures and groupthink when presented a scenario like above.
(At the same time, we’ve been guilty for being the ones exerting pressure unto others. We tend to have higher tolerance of… adventures, than others. So, let’s also hope that we’ll have the wisdom and the patience for those who decide to be ‘the lame people’ in the group because, really, they’re simply standing up for what they believe in.
It’s hard to put somebody down for that.)