Making Sure There's a "Next Time"

Matt and I headed off on our adventure all psyched up. The mission was Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. 1200 feet of beautiful sandstone, with the same crack system for over half of the route; it is considered one of the most amazing climbing routes in the country. It can be climbed as a clean, easy, aid route or as 5.12d for superhumans. For me, it would be the perfect introduction to big wall climbing, as Matt had spent a summer on the high granite of Yosemite a few years ago. The Zion Park shuttle picked us up at the visitor center and whisked us away to Big Bend. Twenty minutes after getting off the shuttle, we were at the base of the first pitch.

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The climbing was straightforward. Easy for the first pitch, a little harder the next pitch, and full aid for us from then on, we put one piece in front of another and made slow progress up the wall.

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It wasn’t until we reached the Grand Dihedral that we realized how fast we were blasting through water. We brought over four gallons of water for two days of climbing. Twenty-four hours into the trip, we had already drank more than half of it. As the saying that I learned a long time ago while backpacking in New Hampshire with my dad goes: “a happy mountaineer pisses clear.” Dark, gross yellow pee is one of the first signs of dehydration which is exactly what I found myself producing when I heeded nature’s call. Worse, Matt was getting weird cramps in his arms which. Worse still, neither of us felt like we were thinking straight.

Well, check that. We were both thinking well enough to recognize that without enough water to both recover from our moderate dehydration and continue on the next day to the summit, it was time to bail. Having brought a portaledge with us, Matt and I decided it made perfect sense to camp on the wall.

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The next morning we woke up, rappelled down to the bottom, walked across the river and went home. The only thing going through our minds was “next time.” It wasn’t until later that I realized how important that thought was.

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Life in the mountains is a very complicated thing. It is incredibly difficult to admit to what feels like failure. In the past few months, I’ve had to do this more times than I have wanted to. Skiing the wrong route on Mt. Hood, hiking too slow and too late in the day on Rainier, and now another huge effort gone to nothing. The drive time, the cost of gasoline, the potential build up for huge high fives, the vision gone–it’s all incredibly disappointing. I keep reminding myself that no amount of time spent in pursuit of what you love is a waste, no matter how unachieved your goals end up. Shane McConkey, Ueli Steck, Chris Davenport, and countless others did not get everything perfect on their first try. Every minute spent on what seems like a failure is another minute spent learning to do it better the next time, which is probably even more valuable than getting to check off another thing on your list.

And as always, whether you accomplish your goal or not, the most important thing of all is to be able to do it again tomorrow.