Are Sends Really More Instagram Worthy Than Real Life?

“You have three belly pains, in rooms 11, 12, 13 and a chest pain in room 14; all are stable but 14 is your sickest patient.”

I respond: “Thanks for the report, Ty, have a good one,” and go to my assigned rooms to introduce myself, double checking their vital signs and making sure my patients are comfortable. After attending to their needs I sit down at my computer to update their charts and research “Wet Lycra Nightmare,” a route on Leaning Tower in Yosemite that my friend Mason and I plan on attempting come spring. My eyes fixate on my computer screen displaying the classic image of Jim Hewitt chimneying up a Bombay roof 1,000 feet off the ground.

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Transitioning between travel nursing and full time climbing has taught me that both are essential to my happiness. Nursing shifts my focus from myself to others and forces me to think critically. Rock climbing feeds my soul with adventure and freedom. And while I’m well aware of the benefits of both, my mind still gets carried away by the fictions of Instagram. Sitting at my work station, I scroll through my feed. The people I follow make their lives look extraordinary. An EKG alarm jolts me back to my ordinary existence, but I can’t stop myself from wondering about all the ordinary day-to-day work that was necessary for those people I follow on Instagram, to play outside. The work that doesn’t ever get glorified on social media.

After 13 weeks of work and training, I’m filled with angst, wanting to put my training to use. I can’t stop thinking about real rock, natural inspiration, peace and freedom from the city. Now, it’s my turn to be extraordinary—not just watch other people on Instagram.

Mason and I meet up at El Cap bridge and catch up on life. He tells me his wedding date and I assure him I will be there. The following day we meet at 7:30 in the Bridalveil Falls parking to begin climbing on Wet Lycra Nightmare. I had never climbed on the iconic, steep Leaning Tower. Its clean corners, roofs and face appealed to Mason and I after spending much time on the vertical face of El Capitan.

After jumaring 360 feet of overhanging rope to Ahwahnee Ledge, we feel tired already. We eat, drink and talk about how amazing Leaning Tower is and how happy we are to be in Yosemite. The next pitch is 5.12+ slab that begins in a corner for 30 feet before traversing left on edges. We both fall a few times but want to work on the following pitch. It’s the crux and consists of a 10-foot roof with a hard v9 boulder problem to gain a stance. Once you’re at the stance, you execute a hard slab sequence followed by a traverse with a sideways double dyno guarding the anchors. Both of us figure out general beta and we head down for the day.

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At 7:00 on Day 2, our goal is to fix our ropes to the top. We jumar to our highpoint and I begin climbing the flared crack. Mason takes the next pitch, up wildly steep terrain with face holds perfectly in arms’ reach. Mason yells down, “There’s a very loose block, I’m going to stop here.” I jumar up—the block hangs outward from the wall. After some discussion, we decide it’s unsafe to pass, so we head down. Our only option is to come in from the top. Mason and I walk the bank of Bridalveil Creek, trying to find a safe place to cross. The water moves with great force, creating a deep roar that demands respect. “There are boulders up there,” I shout. To our amazement, it looks possible to hop across five large boulders to the other side. Mason takes off his pack and ties the rope around him. He manages the large leaps from one wet rock to the other until he’s safely across. Then he pulls the rope tight and we tension haul our packs across the river to keep them dry. Now it’s my turn to jump, feeling uneasy but fully committed. Thirty minutes of bushwhacking later we’re at the top of Leaning Tower. We fix our rope and laugh sickly at how dangerous the block was.

We worked on the route for two weeks until we both sent the crux 5.13d roof on the same day.  Mason had been fighting a sore throat and malaise for the past week and needed to go home and try to recover.

A few days later after receiving Mason’s consent, I was ready to attempt the route. My friend Eric Bissell agreed to meet me at 6:30 a.m., with Austin Saidak to take photos. At Ahwahnee Ledge we took in the panoramic view, a low cloud rolling into Yosemite Valley from the west.  Ten minutes later we were engulfed in white, the temperature dropping significantly. We joked about how we could post photos about a Yosemite-to-Yosemite 24-hour Patagonia mission.

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I felt cold and stiff, and the clouds gave me an eerie feeling. My forearms filled with blood from climbing tensely. I fell on the second pitch and lowered to the belay. On my second attempt I climbed fluidly and stayed relaxed through the crux. At the final boulder problem, my left foot slipped. I was frustrated and disappointed in myself. “Just lower me to the no-hands ledge,” I yelled down to Eric. I placed my left foot perfectly and made it through the boulder problem. I regained my rhythm as I stemmed, smeared and crimped through the 5.12d slab. Then, at the base of the crux, I took deep breaths and rehearsed the moves. Feeling relaxed and at ease, I climbed out the jug rail, pulled with my heel, grabbed the left-hand edge and reached up to the small pinch with my thumb perfectly on the crystal. Driving with my feet, I pushed into the undercling, leaned left and stabbed the “heinous taco.” I let out a deep roar to psych up for the slab ahead.

Placing my feet with precision and keeping my heels down, I grabbed the gaston and pulled my body over my high right foot. Traversing right, I grabbed the right-hand side pull and matched with my left hand, taking a deep breath and letting my body fly to the right—all points off the wall until I grabbed the ledge. I sent the crux pitch first try!

We shivered and talked about how incredible the weather was. Two more 5.13 pitches led up to the loose block. Two days prior, I wrapped webbing around the block, connecting it with a cam and hoping my $12 insurance policy would work. Finding myself behind the block, there was only one way up, and that was to stem between the disconnected block and the formation. I shouted, “I am alive,” as I mantled onto the belay ledge. My $12 was well spent.

Only one pitch remained: the notorious 5.13a chicken wing roof. My body felt fatigued and my muscles ached from the culmination of difficult pitches below. At the 3x3 foot ledge, I rehearsed the moves in my head, ate some energy chews and looked at my silver dollar-size gobie left by previous attempts on the chicken wing. Flowing up the moves, I felt light and strong, I traverse out the roof 1,000 feet above the ground—the route overhangs well past the base of the cliff. I crossed through with my right hand to an undercling, brought my left foot up to a smear, and reached back over my head to place my arm in a chicken wing. Kicking off the wall, my feet dangled in the air. I brought my right foot up the lip of the roof, but it was too low.  Giving all my effort, I drove back into the wall behind me, but slipped out. I lowered to the anchor and attempted again, with the same result. On my third try, I popped my right leg up dynamically and placed it perfectly, allowing me to reach a pinch above. Groveling with determination, I pushed my back up the wall like Jim Hewitt in the photo I saw. After taking a deep breath of relief, I let out a loud hoot. I climbed to the top of the wall with an ear-to-ear grin and a deep sense of satisfaction.

I put so many hours of hard work into completing this route, and walking down from Leaning Tower I was fatigued, mentally depleted, proud, satisfied and thankful for the bonds created with fellow climbers and friends. The climbing process and satisfaction wasn’t actually that different from my other work—though in a different setting. Our society seems to celebrate physical achievements like sending a hard route, while dreading the behind-the-scenes work that actually makes those achievements possible. At least that’s what it looks like from all our Instagram posts. We try so hard to portray our lives as idyllic as possible, but who are we trying to fool? Are we ashamed of the work we do? Is our work not also meaningful enough to be shown to our followers? Maybe we’re worried that people will unfollow us because they’re not seeing exciting days outside?  Workdays are integral to the outdoor lifestyle, and I hope we can wipe our minds of FOMO and realize that work has merit, too.