Sunday, July 27, 2014

With Us

“Give ‘er…Give ‘er” Cory shouted to me as I started up the layback. I fiddled in thin gear and wavered. “You got this!” He encouraged.

Pop. I was off.

I looked down to Cory in shock. His long, unruly, sun-kissed hair swayed with the wind. He chuckled. His smile eased my nerves.

We were in the southern Sierra, a place called the Needles. Granite spires, perched high along a ridge above Sequoia National Forest, created the skyline. This wasn’t your typical granite, it was glowing a fluorescent green that became even more radiant as the sun was setting, as if there was some sort of magic involved with this place. The spires had names like Sorcerer, Witch, and Warlock. The climbing was thin, perplexing, and hard to read …so was the gear. Magic. Pure magic.
Cory and I on Atlantis Photo Credit: Vitaliy

With Cory, the three mile approach felt like 5 minutes. He told me about his travels. He encouraged me to follow my dreams, many of which we shared - big walls in remote places, adventure, experiencing everything life has to offer.

“Cory, your shoes are wrecked…” He pulled out a well-worn Muira, delaminating along the sides with his toes nearly poking through. He laughed and continued to put them on with socks. I gave him a look of concern. “No really, you’re not going to wear those, are you?”

“Aye, these are perfectly good shoes…third resole. All of my shoes are old.” Cory laughed and began to tie into the rope. “I haven’t rock climbed in months. India got me weak and out of shape. This will be interesting.”

I was nervous and I had been climbing all fall. Atlantis, a four pitch 5.11c, was known for being a bold climb with thin gear.  Cory casually climbed the first pitch, protecting the pitch, but not the move. I struggled to muster up the courage to climb above my gear on the second pitch.

Up and down. Up and down, I climbed, back to the belay. He was so patient, insisting there was no place he’d rather be than there…in the moment. His words of encouragement pulsed through my veins as I felt the adrenaline rush of committing to face climbing. True to his words, I did not fall. 

After Atlantis, we decided to climb another spire via an easier route. The climbing was smooth, fast, and we summited just as the sun was starting to set. We sat in an evening glow with a slight breeze. Cory talked about his plans for the rest of his motorcycle trip. He told me about his sisters, his parents, growing up in New Brunswick, about crazy stories and people. That weekend, I never saw him frown. It was then, I realized that I wanted to live like Cory. His calm, optimistic demeanor, adventurous spirit, and on-the-fly problem solving skills were traits I really admired. He was a good listener, insightful and helpful. He laughed a lot- we laughed a lot that weekend.

Me following Cory up the crux pitch of Don Juan Wall

I was lucky enough to meet up with him in Bishop the following month. We bolt-clipped, stacked pads, and plugged cams together. He also taught me how to open a bottle of wine.

“Ok Alix, here we go. I’m going to put this bottle in the shoe and smash it on the ground.” Cory boasted, sure of himself.

“I don’t believe you.” I was skeptical, but he continued through with his plan.

He lifted the wine-filled shoe and hucked it down to it’s fate. SMASH …into a million little pieces.

“Aww Alix, I’m sorry. It’s worked in the past.”

“No worries, that’s why we have two bottles.” I smirked. We enjoyed the other bottle of wine and the starry night.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster following Cory’s death. First, it was sadness. Then, it was emptiness. I tried to put it past me. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t believe it. I wanted to believe so much I was going to see him in Patagonia or take him up on his offer to teach me to ice climb in Canada, but I knew, deep down, it would never happen. I tried to not think about it, but then, I wouldn’t be able to live on in his spirit - with intention, love, and gratitude. Instead, I’m learning to embrace his existence. I feel grateful to have shared a rope with him, a few moments in different places, and many long distance conversations.


After four days of rain, lightning, and thunderstorms, a day of splitter weather appeared. Jim and I decided to climb a route up Merriam Peak, just outside of Bishop. We longed for a big day in the mountains and in the spirit of Cory, we chose to do the route car to car. We hiked - 8 miles up, 9 miles back.

After we wrestled the talus to the base, we were forced to make a decision about our route options: climb behind a party of three on the route we planned or adventure up another route with a vague idea of where to go.

We chose the second. I knew that Cory would have enjoyed that. Jim and I embraced the situation with a new-route mentality, choosing a line that made sense. There was no chalk to be seen, loose blocks, crumbling footholds, stellar climbing, and even more stellar weather, no wind and sunshine. It was the epitome of a perfect day in the mountains.

We found glorious hiking through a creek-carved meadows. We found vast, open landscapes. We found beautiful, thought-provoking corners and a clean passage to the top of the peak. And I found a part of Cory’s spirit within me. Three of us summited that day - Jim, I, and Cory. I realized on the summit that he’d never be gone. In the mountains, his spirit would be with me. In scary situations, his boldness. And when things went wrong, his optimism.

I thought of the words he last said to me, “See you down South.” I will see you down there Cory, I will. 
Cory Hall Photo Credit: Rovert Wallshinback

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