Climbing Crimea: Cory Richards – After a Delicate Suffer-Fest, Gravity Brings Clarity

Climbers Matt Segal and Emily Harrington enjoy the high life in Crimea; Photographs from @emilyaharrington on Instagram

Jumping off a cliff is a never natural thing … and gravity is a funny thing. This occurs to me as I feel my quadriceps contract into a half squat and then launch me forward at a 45-degree angle over a 300-foot abyss. Gravity doesn’t care about our sufferings or joys, doesn’t think about what we ate for breakfast, what song is stuck in our head or if we are tired … it’s an absolutism … a law. It’s unforgiving if we don’t have a backup in place. I hope my backup works…

We’ve been in Crimea for two weeks, established two new routes, and sweat several gallons in the indian-summer heat. We’ve hauled ropes to the top of walls, ascended and descended immaculate limestone slabs, trundled blocks from 1,000-foot cliffs, got to bed early with tired dirty hands, only to turn around and get up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, wash the dirt from yesterdays wounds, and start all over again. It’s been hard work.

My body is tired and heavy. For two weeks, I’ve relegated myself to manual labor acting as a support for my teammates. For Cedar, Emily, and Matt, rock climbing seems to unfold out of their muscles, transformed into a tenuous vertical dance. For me, it’s more like falling upwards. I’m in Crimea because I play two roles … one as a climber/glorified pack mule, and one as the story-teller.  The former lends to bad knees and bloody knuckles, but the latter hopefully offers a glimpse of athletes committed to an unlikely craft in unlikely corners of the globe.

The first route that Matt, Emily, and I worked on ended up to be a delicate suffer-fest of tiny hand and foot holds up a blank slate.  I watched through my camera as they studied the line, practiced, fell off, and tried again.  After four days of effort, they had done a first ascent. Emily described it as “…a combination of greasy foot smears, cryptic body positions, delicate shifts of balance, and just straight crimping like your life depends on it; this section of the route was a real question mark in our heads, call it a “maybe” if you will.”  They named the route “Call Me Maybe” as per the description and a heinously catchy pop song.

Cedar and our Russian friend Sergey chose a line at the top of an obscure, hidden wall. It required a walk through a Sherwood-esque forest, spitting you out on massive alpine plateau 2,000 feet above the sea.  The line follows a proud buttress silhouetted by the folded coastline behind. Cedar and Sergey put in three consecutive days of cleaning the line, putting the moves together, and putting in bolts before relaxing for two days. Day six on the route saw Cedar grunting and thrutching through the crux section … topping out successfully by headlamp, his face covered in chalk and sweat.  In accordance with our ridiculous pop-culture themed new routing spree, they named it “Game of Thrones.”

The progress seemed to halt after the two new routes were established … energy waned.  With any trip, there always comes a saturation point.  When you are on the road and your clothes become stiff with sweat and dirt and your diet is reduced to whatever you order through pantomiming to confused waitresses who are looking at you like you have eight heads, things get a bit hard.  It usually happens when you get too focused on the climbing and aren’t resting enough. Two weeks into our Crimean odyssey, that point has been reached.  We are losing the sight of the forest through the trees. We’re tired, beat up, and ready for rest.

Climber Cedar Wright takes the first jump; Photograph from @mattsegal on Instagram

It’s odd then that the ‘rest’ we’ve engaged in seems to involve hurling myself off of a cliff and falling towards the earth.  It was Sergey’s idea to go rope jumping … after all, he holds the world record in the sport.  He said it would be cleansing for us to do something different and get away from the climbing for a day.  Honestly, none of us were that excited to go…we just wanted to rest.  It’s strange that screaming towards the ground, I feel more rested than I have since we got here. It’s an obscure recipe for rest…gravity, space, and complete surrender.

Gravity is a strange thing. It’s a law … but it’s forgiving. As the rope system begins to ease my free fall and my body slows, the exhaustion that had seemed so encompassing is all but gone. Sergey was right. We needed to step away and rejuvenate, to shift focus if only momentarily.  While it’s true that gravity doesn’t care and it’s easy to get wrapped up in it, it can also lend a element of clarity when it doesn’t carry you to it’s natural conclusion.

For now, it’s back to work…