Climbing Grief Fund

By Henna Taylor

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THE CLIMBING GRIEF FUND

aims to integrate the grief caused by climbing tragedies into the healing process of individuals and the community. We are beginning a movement towards the mystery and pain of grief through sharing stories, providing therapeutic services and building a proactive network of services for affected members of our community.

The American Alpine Club will be developing this program to help all climbers in need. The Climbing Grief Fund’s starting goals are small—individual counseling grants post-trauma or loss; a webpage that provides educational resources and builds community through affected climbers’ stories; and finally group counseling sessions at AAC Craggin' Classic events.


This fund is overdue and we hope to see it build tremendously over the years through individual, company and organizational donations.


24 HOURS INTO THE BLACK

is a climb to launch the CLIMBING GRIEF FUND. We will follow athletes Madaleine Sorkin and Mary Harlan as they attempt to link-up 3 major routes in the Black Canyon in 24-hours. Madaleine says the climb is "for the nourishment we can find in the void, in the Black, and for the fierce and gentle persistence to trust life enough to risk returning time and time again.” Follow them live on the American Alpine Club’s Facebook page and via updates here.


Madaleine Sorkin's words:

This climb is motivated by the trauma of loss and change. People we knew, people we know, people we didn’t know and wish we had. Grief is part of the climbing experience, and while climbing is often fixated on stoke and sending, the expression of grief is also essential. We experience loss, we experience unwanted change, and inevitably we all find ourselves staring into the abyss, the void, the BLACK.

I want our climbing community to create a more intentional resource for grief—a place that bears witness to death, our pain and a way to return to the vitality of ourselves. I wish for “a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering" (Parker Palmer).

The Black Canyon National Park of Gunnison, Colorado is a 2000’ deep chasm in our earth that draws climbers perennially for the spectrum of experiences promised in the mysterious, ancient, steep and committing walls. Towards the end of May, Mary Harlan and I will attempt to link-up 3 major formations in the Black Canyon. Our goal is to connect 3 challenging routes up the North and South Chasm View Walls within 24 hours for nearly 6000 feet of climbing at a difficulty up to 5.12. We are both experienced Black Canyon climbers seeking out the difficult free climbs as well as the many “character-building climbs” in which the loose rock, marginal protection, pricker-bushes and poison ivy are as much a feature of the day as any phenomenal single pitch of climbing. Mary has returned to climb over 40 routes there! It’s been 15 years since my first climb there, yet I can still taste the fear bubbling up through my chest, the canyon walls echoing the river below as I hung hundreds of feet from the rim and night crept up over me.

Learning to participate with our fear and doubts is one of the opportunities that climbing can offer. The completion of 24 HOURS INTO THE BLACK won’t rank as a world-class climbing achievement but we hope its intention will hold significance for our community. The climbing will most certainly be an exhausting physical challenge, and as our bodies soften so will our minds and hearts. Exposed to our vulnerability, we hope our climb will become an embodied expression of joy, gratitude and sorrow. We hope this long day will include movement with grief, not escape from it.

Many of us long to deeply participate in our lives. Climbing offers a way into that desire. Lengthy, challenging climbing days often bring me to a place of deeper participation, where I experience myself as a human again and again, intimately interacting as an essential small speck of the natural world. It is a place where my vulnerability speaks openly from my heart. As I get broken open by a challenging climb, I may find myself crying, alone at a ledge as I belay my partner 100 feet away. The tears can come from deep gratitude for being alive as well as pain over a loss. Whatever it is, the point seems to me to be the expression of it.

Perhaps climbing is limited in the ways we can express grief. There are times when not climbing and finding other ways to turn towards one’s wholeness is the most nourishing decision. As a climber for over 20 years and now in my mid-30s, my motivation to achieve and relationship to risk and death are evolving. Parts of me struggle to accept that I no longer am willing to risk my body as I may have in the past. However a wiser-me accepts this evolution as natural and important as I navigate my life’s arc honestly and continue to be in relationship with others and the world.

Existential questioning and a fear of my own depression have affected my life for many years. This past year was perhaps no different except that the painful circumstances of a friend’s suicide and several friends’ climbing accidents and trauma reminded me that I was ready to be broken open. For a while I needed to stop climbing—to pause on any remaining false idols I was using climbing to chase—to experience grief and sit in my body. I learned to express my longing and connect to my wild nature without climbing. I am still learning to do this. And I also want to return to climbing. I feel deep gratitude to be able to climb, as healthy as I am. It is important to me to maintain my commitment to climb in respectful relationship with myself and to use climbing as tool for renewal and vitality.

Many climbers return to climbing after a traumatic event (in or outside of climbing) and ideally this return is linked to deep nourishment for themselves. Mary and I return to the Black drawn into dialogue with an ancient mystery that reveals itself in beautiful, intense, and paradoxical ways. We trust the healing power of climbing. The support of our climbing community and therapists has helped us both through dark times. This climb is for the nourishment we can find in the void, in the Black, and for the fierce and gentle persistence to trust life enough to risk returning time and time again.



SELECTED POETRY


Excerpt from Heartwork by Anita Barrows

Something that had been stopped

is beginning to move: a leaf

driven against rock

by a current

frees itself, finds its way again through moving water. The angle of light

is low, but still it fills

this space we're in. What interrupts me

is sometimes an abundance. My sorrow too,

which grew large through summer feels to me this morning

as though if I touched it where the thick dark stem

is joined to the root, it would release itself

whole, it would be something I could use.



Mameen By David Whyte

Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.

Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed by circumstance, how great reputations dissolve with infirmity and how you,

in particular, stand a hairsbreadth from losing everyone you hold dear.

Then, look back down the path to the north, the way you came, as if seeing

your entire past and then south

over the hazy blue coast as if present

to a broad future.

Recall the way you are all possibilities you can see and how you live best

as an appreciator of horizons

whether you reach them or not.

Admit that once you have got up

from your chair and opened the door,

once you have walked out into the clean air toward that edge and taken the path up high beyond the ordinary you have become

the privileged and the pilgrim,

the one who will tell the story

and the one, coming back

from the mountain

who helped to make it

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Henna Taylor

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