This past Sunday I visited Pawtuckaway State Park. It had been a week since my last excursion there, but it felt much longer. My friends intended to go bouldering, braving the inch of ice and foot of snow covering every rock in the park. Normally I’d be psyched, but the idea of not being able to top anything out coupled with knowing my hands and feet would soon be numb wasn’t sounding quite as awesome as usual. I like being able to finish things, but, more than that, I like being able to feel the rock under my hands while I’m climbing. Just grabbing the starting holds when it’s 23 degrees turns my fingers white, and I have to rely on sight and the fact that I’m not on the ground to know that I’m successfully holding on. There is also the matter of taking off one’s warm boots and Smartwool socks to change into 23-degree climbing shoes, which will likely become wet from the snow in the process. This is not the happiest thought, especially when I know I won’t be able to even get to the top of the rock I’m trying to climb. But I still go to “P-way” every weekend.
The previous weekend I didn’t climb. Brandon reached P-way before Tommy and I and decided to meet us by his island project in the middle of Round Pond. It was about 30 degrees and had been consistently below freezing for the past month, but, due to the currents caused by the stream running though the pond, not all of the ice was solid. Brandon fell in up to his navel. When Tommy and I arrived, he was just walking up to the parking lot, pants partially frozen.
Naturally, 10 minutes later Brandon had changed and was walking the downhill mile to the pond with Tommy and me. Something about P-way draws you in, whether or not you intend to climb its rocks.
When we arrived at the pond, I followed the boys, not about to fall into the muddy water. Tommy took his chances and took a short dip into the cold, smelly liquid, but only a little over his knees. I remained on thick ice, not daring to approach the island. The boys stayed on the pond, having found an alternate, solid passage to the problem. I decided to hike around alone while they took car brushes, toothbrushes, and a shovel to clear off the ice and snow encasing the boulder.
I followed a side path around one side of the lake that eventually leads to South Mountain. It had snowed that weekend, so there were several inches of powder covering the snowshoe-packed path beneath. I sunk in, only wearing my L. L. Bean hiking boots, but I didn’t mind getting my ankles a little wet. After all, it was warmer than putting on my climbing shoes. The only animals I saw were a few humans riding snowmobiles. It must have been quiet, as I don’t remember hearing any distinct sounds besides the occasional roar of a snowmobile.
As I often do when I’m wandering the woods alone, I quickly switched from admiring the nature around me to imagining life in the summer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the winter months, but I like to look ahead in life, planning out possible scenarios and getting excited for what is to come. On this stroll the topic was the climbing I would be doing this summer when I live in Carbondale, Colorado. I imagined bouldering with my colleagues after work, letting the sun’s rays tan my pasty skin. I thought about getting into trail running and interviewing climbers I idolize as part of my internship at Rock and Ice Magazine. The internship is real; I learned I had been chosen as the magazine’s summer intern at the end of winter break, but the rest are just best-case scenarios. Every time I think about this summer I imagine something a little different, a twist on what will soon become a story to tell Tommy and my parents over the phone. It is the many possibilities that excite me, not a particular one.
When I returned to Tommy and Brandon, they were finishing up on the pond. They hadn’t climbed either and, unlike me, were cold from falling into the pond. We decided to hike out and hope more snow wouldn’t re-cover the rock that week.
I didn’t reach the top of anything that day, not a mountain or a rock, but my mental state had risen. That’s why I returned this past Sunday, one week later. I hiked my climbing shoes, chalk bag, and crash pad into P-way, but I didn’t climb. I let the boys use my crash pad to work on the first two moves of a problem that they couldn’t finish due to snow and ice obscuring the top out, and I hiked up to the top of North mountain, again imagining life away from Durham, UNH, and schoolwork obligations.
For me, going into the woods is getting out of the human world that my parents, professors, and prospective employers find greatly important and entering the “real world” of flora and occasional fauna that live around me. Life in the woods continues whether or not I get A’s, finish my German homework, or eat with next years housemates at the dining hall. I can be just Liz, not Liz the journalist, Liz the bee taxonomist, Liz the stressed-out overachiever, or Liz the skinny girl obsessed with climbing. I am excited about life and its countless possibilities instead of overwhelmed by the lengthy, color-coded list in my assignment book. I’m never tired or stressed when I’m hiking, hungry sometimes, but that’s what the dried blueberries and honey roasted peanuts in my daypack are for, and I’m happy always, even when on occasion I do manage to fall into a hidden body of water in February, which has happened. That’s why I keep going back.
Originally published March 7, 2015, on coffeetapeibuprofenclimb.blogspot.com.