Solitude, Serenity and the Old Man and the Sea-At the Forks

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Man cannot be defeated,” the old man said, β€œhe can be destroyed but not defeated.”

This quote-from the old man and the sea-resonates deeply with many, and in my mind is tied deeply to the outdoors. It is truly amazing to me how quickly problems can fade away as soon as I set foot on a trail. All the stress of work, bills and relationships fade when I step out of society and into nature.

A recent experience at Paradise Forks, in Sycamore Canyon, reminded me as much.

Heading out to the second annual Forks Fest climbing festival, this past September, the last thing I expected was to find solitude and calm amongst a large group of climbers. Yet, I managed to find myself wondering away from the crowds with my friend, Andy. We selected some less popular cracks at the Golden Pond on which to climb. As I rappelled down, the noise of the other climbers nearby disappeared and I found myself alone on a small ledge above the pond.

For a brief moment that seemed like an eternity, I was no longer in the canyon, I felt a part of it. As I placed my hand in the crack, I felt the warmth of the rock against my skin. I took a deep breath and stepped my foot up on a small ledge, entering a world I call home.

This rock doesn’t care how my day was, or how strong I might be. I focus on my next move. All of the plans for what is up above me are meaningless if I cannot complete that which is in front of me.

As I continued up the face of the rock, fatigue set in making my palms sweat, weakening my grip on the rock. Fear put me in a rare euphoric state, feeling powerless to do anything but keep going, like a waterfall in reverse.

As I neared the top, fear was winning as I shouted to Andy to take up my weight. As I prepared to lean back and weight my harness I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, a handhold. Taking another breath I stuck my hand in the crack and weighted it, allowing me to rest. I stepped my feet up and continued on to the ledge above me where Andy waited.

At the top we reflected on the struggle, concluding that whether I had fallen or not I had just been through the once in a lifetime experience because that was the first time I climbed that line.

The experience, like an iceberg, was something where what you see is only a fraction. There is a vast depth hidden beneath the surface. All I can say is that if I had fallen, as I did on many other routes that weekend, I would not have been defeated; I would have only been driven back to experience it once more.

Dave Warner, Oct 2013

To get to Paradise Forks from Flagstaff, with a low-clearance car (short stretch of good dirt roads), drive west on Interstate 40 for roughly 27 miles to exit 167 at Garland Prairie Road. Follow south, crossing railroad tracks, and then for about 8 miles. Turn right onto Forest Road 109 for 3.3 miles to a left-hand turn into the parking lot.