a piece of gum was produced. Blake took a hit of his joint anyway. This,
Kieran realized now, was strange. They never smoked before a climb or
hop. He heard himself saying now, as Blake pulled the car lighter from
the lighter plug, Are you planning on peeling today?
To which Blake replied, All right, Judge McGee.
I’m just saying, the Dome’s nothing to scoff at.
That’s why I’m buying life insurance from you today, Blake said, pulling down a long drag. He handed the joint toward Ian, and Ian waved it
off a second time. And I know you don’t want any, either. Right, right?
Am I right?
Kieran knew he didn’t have to reply to this, and he didn’t, mainly
because he wanted to get back to thinking about what he was thinking about, which, even while conversing, he had been thinking about:
the spiritual nature of the climb and the memory that that had caused
to surface about his wife. The notion of climbing as a spiritual act, of
losing self and becoming what he’d read years prior as the one that is
without a second (all after the climb, of course, upon reflection), had
been the key element in his granola-girl wife falling in love with him.
What had happened he now saw as eerily manipulative: he had been on
a rock in northern Utah with someone named Brennan, who had, four
years ago, with Kieran, broken his tibia for the third time and was now,
with a family and medical bills and work, essentially done climbing. He
had been with this Brennan on a very difficult headwall. And what had
happened on the headwall was that Brennan fell while lead-climbing.
Falls happen. Climbers peel out daily. What was frightening about this
particular fall was that Brennan had advanced far up beyond Kieran,
and he was just about to clip in, high up on this huge, overhanging headwall. They were almost two hundred feet up, and Brennan was about to
clip in, Kieran remembered, and there were people below. Hikers had
stopped to watch. And there was Brennan high against the wall, Kieran
lower, kind of edging along in order to reach a tough crimper, Brennan
on this impossibly beautiful red rock which just chimneyed out and up
through the trees into the sky. Brennan lost a foothold. He was reaching, trying to get the rope secure, and his foot slipped out of its hold,
Kieran remembered. His toe—when he was pushing up to reach and
clip in to an old climbing bolt to secure himself and Kieran on this lead
climb—slipped out of the hold, and he was not ready for the slip. His
hands reached and caught nothing, and Kieran remembered seeing all
this happen impossibly slowly, saw that Brennan was definitely peeling