I just got back from a great trip climbing at Smith Rock over my fall break. I arrived at Smith on Friday evening with my Jane, and we were joined by several of our good friends before Jane had to leave Monday evening. The rest of us stayed on until Wednesday night, making for a total of 5 consecutive days of climbing for me.

The weather could not have been better. I have never before had the good fortune of being at Smith during the fall, but it is without doubt the best time of the year to be there. Once the weekend had passed, and the crowds faded, all that remained were about 20 climbers, and we had the park to ourselves. It was 60-70 and bluebird for most of the trip- perfect climbing weather.

I got in a ton of time on lead, a relatively new thing for me, because I was acting as rope gun for most of the trip. I was also there long enough that I started to get more comfortable and began to push my limits but leading a number of climbs in the 5.10 range, including some Smith classics like The Phoenix, and one of my favorites from this trip, Pop Goes the Nubbin. I don’t know why I like leading so much, because in my experience leading is most characterized by the attendant fear that arises when you take your life into your hands and defy your instincts by leaving the ground so unsupported.

The most fear filled moment of my trip came on the very first climb of the very first day when I decided that I had it in me to lead a three pitch trad route. Trad climbing is super scary because I’m not yet confident in my placements, and all that I have between me and a long fall is the gear that I place. So, I found myself in the middle of the first pitch with about 20ft of rope out above a small nut, facing a possible groundfall, asking myself why the hell I do this kind of thing. I pulled through, and topping out of the third pitch, coming out of the shade and into the brilliant sun on a ledge at the top of the formation, alone (so I thought) with the swallows cutting the air around me, I received a sort of answer to that question. I let out a yelp of victory, just a moment before noticing three older tourists sporting fanny packs and visors who had stopped to watch me like some queer spectacle from the misery ridge trail only a little ways beyond me. I laughed it off and waved, but I don’t think they were any less puzzled for it.

Maybe the draw of leading is just getting through it; putting yourself on the line and coming back unscathed. Or it might also be the intensity of the action that it inspires- the focus, the drive, the commitment, and the strength that it requires and creates. It might be both of these things and more. All I know is that I am lucky to have an opportunity to take such complete control of my life, and more lucky still that I can experience the stunning beauty of places like smith in the company of really good people.