Time and time again, my curiosity has bypassed the voice of fear in my mind. Rock climbing in Joshua Tree made me question my propensity to chase the unknown.
I follow my inquisition first, and then deal with consequences as it comes. When I was twelve years old, I wanted to test the theory of scaling down a building using tied bedsheets. I genuinely wanted to know whether this could be a viable method of escape since this always seemed to happen for rebellious movie runaways. As I stripped the sheets off my bed and began rifling through the closet for more, my parents stopped me. Their conditions? Wear a helmet and allow them to supervise the climb. I have to wonder if my nonchalant attitude towards potentially perilous situations comes from nature or nurture…
I was in Joshua Tree for a weekend getaway trip with a large group of friends, when James, a buddy of mine, organized a small group to go rock climbing. Aside from the indoor birthday party stint or two, or perhaps the heavily discounted introductory class at some random time, I had minimal climbing experience. Naturally, I wanted in on the excursion.
As we rode into the Joshua Tree National Park, I took in the scenery from this new planet; captivated by the iconic wonky Joshua tree in the backdrop of the desert. Its branches resembled Medusa’s head of snakes– twisting and turning towards the sky. Each limb ended in a spiky poof of leaves that dared you to touch it. I was still living in a blissful state of chasing my curiosity, without a clue in the world of what to expect over the next few hours.
The gear came on with giddiness; jokes and pictures of each other in our climbing harnesses, requests to loosen the buckles in the thigh area where my legs felt like they were being squeezed like sausages. Not a single ounce of fear in my mind, or even loosely around my shoulders. I learned how to belay my partner. Ouch. My city hands developed calluses and rope abrasions within minutes. My body awkwardly positioned itself, searching for the best stance and most natural way of learning how to perform a new action.
It was my turn to climb. I thought nothing of it when I finally heaved myself on the base of the rock and began my ascent up. I checked for small cracks and wedged my toes inside, contorting my body in strange ways to propel up just a few more inches. I listened intently at the encouragement from below, following their guidance to search for the next place hold to climb to. So on and so on until I conquered my first real rock; feeling a sense of victory as if I might just have ascended Meru, the sacred peak in the Himalayas.
My second climb proved a bit more difficult to get started. The base was protruded and smooth, making it difficult to position myself without help. With a little boost and heavy dose of guidance, I was finally up on the rock. This one, a much more sizable adversary than the first. I climbed up with more fluidity than before, newly calibrated to scanning for lips and cracks in the surface to use as the next step. The higher I climbed, the reassuring voices below grew fainter until the loudest sound I could hear was my own breathing.
It became harder to find these pockets. My eyes searched side to side, up and down to no avail. I began to feel small sensations of fear. There I was, well over halfway up the face of this rock. Not a soul at the top, and only the voices of my friends far down below. I had to get myself up, and I was the only one that could do it. I had finally come face to face with the consequences of my curiosity; I was fearful of what I had gotten myself into.
Suddenly, something somewhere slipped. The rope violently twisted around, my body turning away from the rock giving me an unexpected view of the desert around me. Like a pendulum that couldn’t be stopped, I swung sideways across the rock. The side of my helmet collided with an unseen crag of the mountain, giving me just enough time to think a single thought of gratitude for protective headwear. I sensed my shoulder firing with pain, as I must have scraped it somewhere along the way.
There is an overwhelming sense of vulnerability when you are swinging by a rope in an uncontrollable manner.
The voices down below were garbled, incomprehensible in my panicked mind. When I was able to locate a foothold and resting position, I began to hear again. I seized every word of instruction from the group below to find the next pocket and began climbing up until I reached the top. It had never occurred to me that I had this kind of determination to complete a mission.
Once my two feet were back on the ground, I began to feel every scrape, cut, bruise, and a wave of modesty. Had I been too bold to think I would be able to do this unscathed? I wondered if I should live with a little more fear instead of allowing my curiosity to pave the way.
I could never live that way. Inquisitiveness is what has led me to extraordinary situations– on motorbike rides through Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh road, to making flower crowns with the little girls in Thailand’s Karen Village. Curiosity has been a cherished friend in my life, giving me the gift of these vivid moments. It’s shown me that I can push beyond even my own expectations; that I can summon inner strength in moments of fear. For that, I am forever grateful.
Climb: Joshua Tree Uprising with Susan Cram
Stay: Airbnb in Yucca Valley (great for a large group, sleeps 10)