Over the past several months, I have been writing the Tactical 2 Training Manual. This text culminates in the Misogi – an extremely difficult and strenuous physical challenge that is meant to change your perception of what is possible. When the impossible becomes possible you start to realize that you are capable of so much more than you may have previously imagined.
As you go through this process multiple times, you will change. More than anything, you will discover more grit and determination that will alter the way you approach challenges. The obstacle will become the way.
While creating the Tactical 2 Training, without even knowing it I had also crafted a Misogi for myself. In January 2017 I purchased my ticket to California and committed to attempting to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. ‘El Cap’ (as it’s referred to by climbers) is a roughly 3,000 foot vertical granite cliff that juts straight from the valley floor and has been the center of rock climbing for the last 70 years. I knew climbing El Cap would be quite difficult, but I did not think that it would turn into the hardest thing I have ever done.
Climbing El Cap had been a dream that started almost 15 years ago when I first saw the monolith. I had just finished high school and was taking my first trip to Yosemite. You never forget the first time you see the valley in full. The beauty is hard to process, but be assured that it will linger in your mind forever. As you follow the river up its gentle grade, El Cap is unexpectedly revealed and you are fully aware how far back you have to tilt your head to see the top. Then you start to see little dots on the wall. As you squint and focus, the dots turn into humans questing up a sea of granite. About this time, you begin to hear whispers in the crowds around you saying things like: “I could never climb that”, “that is insane”, “how is that even possible?”. I heard the whispers, but I had different thoughts. Maybe I could climb El Cap? Not now. Not next year. But maybe if I gave myself the time, one day I could stand on top.
I started climbing while working as a wilderness ranger and immediately became obsessed with the pursuit. It’s challenging and takes place in beautiful locations, but more than anything climbing is 100% fun. This was in 2010. Over the next 7 years, I slowly learned the dark arts of traditional free climbing and began attempting bigger, harder, and more committing climbs.
The fun never stopped. In May of 2015, I went to Yosemite to attempt my first big wall, Half Dome. We failed. Undeterred, I returned to the valley in May of 2016 to attempt El Capitan. We did not even get halfway up the wall after 3 days of climbing. I was terrified, exhausted, and wanted to go home. I went back to Boulder with my tail between my legs and cyclical thoughts of what went wrong.
After some time, I was able to harness my swirling mind and start to ask, “what could I do better?” The thought that kept coming to me was to focus on the goal. I had been sidetracked in years past trying to train for 3 different objectives, which meant I was never fully invested in any of them. So I focused and I trained. I also knew that I liked training within a community and that I wanted accountability partners that I would have to answer to, whether they knew it or not. I started posting a ‘countdown to El Cap’ training journal on my Instagram as a way to recruit these partners and put my goal out into the universe. I knew it was simple and I knew that it did not matter either way, but when I posted for the last time before we began climbing, there was no way I wanted to have to tell anyone following the journey that I had failed. This became very motivating, not wanting to let other people down.
After a false start, we started up the wall at exactly 4:40pm on Sunday, May 21st. We climbed through the night following crack systems until they ended roughly 1,500 feet up the wall. At this point, I was required to lower down 100 feet and literally run across vertical granite and swing into the next crack system that would lead us to the top. Doing this in the dark was a very intense experience. I’d equate the feeling of exposure like swimming in a deep lake or ocean. You cannot see it, but you can feel the abyss below.
At sunrise we found ourselves on a sloping ledge staring across my favorite place on earth. I wish I could say that I felt great, but the honest answer is that I was scared and starting to seriously doubt myself. We sat on the ledge for an hour going back and forth about why we should go down. Slowly, my sleep-deprived mind started to clear. The fear and doubt were never going to subside, if anything they were going to get worse as we entered the steeper, harder climbing above. I decided to accept this. I knew that we would not die. We could be setting ourselves up for a very uncomfortable time, but we would survive. I took the rope and starting climbing.
It is amazing at how fast time goes by when it becomes important. We were racing nightfall and would lose by a large margin. I climbed the hardest section of the entire route just as night started to fall and was exhausted. I had taken 2 scary falls and was feeling beat up by El Cap. My partner took the lead and climbed a few hundred more feet getting us to the base of the final section of overhanging rock. I took back over and I crawled up the final 30 feet of coarse, sandy granite slabs of El Capitan at 12:40am on May 23, 2017. My partner Chris and I had been climbing for 31 hours non-stop on The Nose route of ‘El Cap’.
I would not say I felt happy at the top. Or at least, happiness was not the emotion at the forefront of my mind. It was more of a deep satisfaction that comes from a new understanding of yourself. I had pushed beyond very real fear and doubt. The unknown is the most terrifying thing for me and the only way to overcome the unknown was for me to step across a line I was not sure I could step back from. It was an incremental process. We climbed higher and higher until there was no turning back. I had to accept that we would be OK and would not perish. If anything, we might just be uncomfortable for a while. It’s a funny thing, accepting that you will be safe even when you don’t really know for sure. We believed and this allowed us to keep pushing onward.
We were on the move without sleep for 41 hours by the time we arrived back at our basecamp. We climbed 3,000 vertical feet and hiked 9-miles back to the valley floor after topping out. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, both physically and mentally. For me, adventure has been an incremental process. I remember as a kid when a 2-mile hike felt like eternity. Then you do 4 miles, then 6, then 12, then 22 and eventually you start to realize that any distance is possible given enough time and effort.
The exact same thing happened with climbing. It took a lot of failure to learn what I needed to do to achieve this big goal. It’s paradoxical in a sense, but it was the previous failures that really allowed me to climb El Cap. These failures taught me that I was not tough enough. Physical conditioning is of course important, but on big walls, you have to have the mental strength to keep it together and trust in yourself. I’ve heard climbing referred to as an art form on multiple occasions. This makes sense, especially on bigger routes. You have to apply your skills in the best way you see fit. This chain of decisions solves the puzzle in the rock and eventually you find yourself back on flat ground. I think I finally know what this all means. I’m looking forward to finding out what else is possible.
Thanks El Cap.
Use the monkii community to achieve your goals. When you post something that thousands of people will see, you know that they know. The monkiis are here to cheer you on and keep you moving up even when you are stuck on a ledge, frozen by indecision. Remember, monkiis like to mimic each other. When we see a monkii having adventures and setting goals, we want to do the same. It is perfectly symbiotic relationship. There is a lot to do out there monkiis, I look forward to following your journeys both near and from afar. It’s time to pick and goal and do it.