What Fairytales Are Made of in a Vertical World

 Once Upon A Time boulder sits high in the San Bernardino National Forest. Photo courtesy of Albert Cheng.

Once Upon A Time boulder sits high in the San Bernardino National Forest. Photo courtesy of Albert Cheng.

My mind is racing. My knees press tightly against my chest and I’m shaking as the sun starts to slip behind distant mountains. I’m in shock of what I just did.

I can faintly hear three friends, clapping and cheering 15 feet below me, but the rock I sit on, the route I just finished, and the world all slowly start to drop away. I have never felt more alive.

Earlier in the day, I saw the granite boulder in-person for the first time. It was tucked away deep in the wilds. I turned a corner and at the same time my eyebrows rose and my mouth fell agape.

It felt like finding hidden treasure, something that you’ve heard about, but thought was a myth until you saw it in real life.

 Once Upon A Time. Photo courtesy of David Rozul

Once Upon A Time. Photo courtesy of David Rozul

The massive formation was named, Once Upon A Time. It balanced on a side of a cliff high above the tree line in the San Bernardino National Forest. Walls of green and grey mountains stood guard as it’s backdrop.

It looked mystical and unreal.

The mushroom-shaped, wide-chunk of granite was about two stories high and the landing sloped away at a steep angle near an edge of a cliff hundreds of feet above the forest floor. If you fell off the route - no harness, no ropes - the possibility of quickly rolling down over an edge into a crevasse of rugged rocks and sharp branches was too real.

The exposure was nauseating.

The local guidebook even gave it a difficulty rating of three ‘heart flutters’, online forums graded it an unanimous rated-R.

I never once considered myself a big risk taker. I am a normal guy, who worked his day job in an office, had his routine, and like many others came out to the mountains on weekends with friends for fun. Certainly, with no intention of getting hurt or putting himself in danger. But I was enamored. I was captured by an innate feeling of wow. A genuine appreciation for its massiveness and truth that beautiful natural things in this world do exist. Love sometimes makes us do crazy things.

I felt my heart beat a little faster.

I was enamored. I was captured by an innate feeling of wow. A genuine appreciation for its massiveness and truth that beautiful natural things in this world do exist.

The climb itself had easy moves, big holds, decent distance apart, something well within my climbing ability, but I was nervous. The exposure, the fear that I could get hurt, the doubt that I wouldn’t be able to do the climb, all piled on.

Jerry had already passed on the climb. We saw it together and his response was an immediate “No.” An escape route presented itself if I wanted to back out, no one would question me. I so badly wanted to say, “It’s ok, yeah, I’ll try another time,” or even, “No, me too, this climb isn’t for me.”

But you don’t see something as grand as this every day. If a window of opportunity appears, you don’t pull down the shade. I stood at the base of the rock. No matter how nervous I was, I needed to try.

We all have doubts and get scared. That’s what makes us human. But I kept my mouth shut. Silenced my fears.

 My feet cut half way up the route

My feet cut half way up the route

When I was seven I loved baseball but almost cast it away forever. I botched Little League tryouts – dropped every pop fly, missed every ground ball and swung and missed each pitch when I was up to bat. I was crushed, humiliated. I sat out that year and vowed to never play again.

The following year, my dad challenged me to try just one more time. I resisted. He sat me down and instead of forcing a decision upon me, told me I didn’t have to play, as long as I wouldn’t regret my decision. Then came out the words that have been a guiding principle in my life to this day: “Don’t live life thinking, what if.” I ended up trying out that year. I even made the team.

The rock was there. The weather was good. The stage was set. I just needed to show up.

I took a deep breath and felt my limbs, one by one, slowly leave the safety of the ground. I was committed.

I worked my way up the climb deliberately and meticulously placing my toes and fingers, listening to my breathing, listening to the cool breeze that was slowly gaining pace. In no time I was in the middle of the route. My friends were below me. Gravity was dragging me down. I lunged. My right hand threw for a shallow hold five feet to my right. I felt my fingers dig into cold sharp rock. They tensed. My body followed and swung over onto the full weight of my fingers. I squeezed harder. My left hand aligned next to my right. I remembered to breathe, tilted my chin and looked up.

The wind and my nerves picked up. I coiled, preparing to throw for the last move. My breath fought to keep my anxiety at bay. My hands clenched harder. I heard from underneath me, “you got it man, breathe.” Another reminder to relax.

I hesitated.

 The author David Rozul. Photo courtesy of Albert Cheng.

The author David Rozul. Photo courtesy of Albert Cheng.

In a split second I threw, flailing my left arm upwards hoping it would catch and I wouldn’t fall. Oh god, I didn’t want to fall. My hand grabbed, but my body swung out. I gripped harder and stayed on. It stuck. Exhale. I threw my left heel over the lip of the rock, twisted my palms in and pushed myself upwards. It’s the last move. I pushed harder and harder. My face winced. Don’t fall now, the highest point of the climb. I’m up. I’ve done it.

Adrenaline rushed through my arms and into my face and I didn’t know how to react. I collapsed into a ball, head into my knees and a smile formed on my face.

This is something special. The moment that you do something that you didn’t think was possible. The time you fought against doubt and fear, and won.

The Pandora’s box of my doubts was now open, the key, climbing. I just had no idea something could elicit such a feeling. I want more. I want to keep pushing my limits. Now, what else am I capable of doing?

I slip back into reality, lift my shaking hands in the air and join in on my friends’ triumphant praise.

It’s a magical feeling, and it’s all mine.

This is my moment. This is what fairytales are made of.