The top of the rocks along the river bed are slippery, and we can hardly keep our footing as we try to cross the water. Yet, we keep going. We have a date with a cliff in much deeper water. It’s Friday in the Panamanian Jungletown of Kalu Yala, and today, Michael Mason and I are going cliff jumping, with one small twist. “I’ve heard you can deepwater free-solo up the side of it” Michael says, grinning with excitement. To some, swimming against a fast river current, clinging to rocks, and projecting yourself onto a thirty foot cliff may not sound like a fun idea. But, nature can inspire people to go to new heights. It can connect someone who feels lost in the woods of their own life with their primal spirit. If you’re willing to make the climb, the rewards are limitless. For Michael Mason, the physical act of climbing is a part of his identity, and he’s thankful for the wisdom it continues to bring him.
“I’d always liked the idea of it, but I had never been given the chance to try outdoor climbing. Once I had the opportunity, I started my junior year of high school, with my sister’s boyfriend. It just started to click with me, and I began to pursue it on my own. But I didn’t get REALLY into it until college where it was a lot more accessible for me. However, where I went to school and what I studied was a direct result of my love of climbing. I wanted my career to allow me to pursue climbing and the outdoors, so I studied adventure education.
Not that that lasted long. After about a year I realized school isn’t for everyone. There’s multiple ways to every goal, there’s multiple routes to every summit.
Over the past few years, climbing has been my outlet. It is where I feel most connected with the earth. When I climb, I feel a physical connection to who I am. Climbing has taught me to welcome a challenge, because that is where we learn.
One of those lessons is patience: not everything in life comes easy or quickly. If you’re patient, and your willing to embrace the challenge, climbing can give you many gifts.
One of these of these gifts is “flow”. Flow, or the instance of getting lost in the moment, is one of the greatest possible outcomes of climbing. Hours turn to minutes, tension that was once dictated by thoughts and feelings about the world are reduced to what the body is experiencing in the here and now.
One of the most critical lessons of climbing is to abhor hesitation. As we walk down the side of the Pacora River, Michael points out a steep cliff, jutting out into the deepes part of the water. Only “fuck yes” or “fuck no” will do, and there is no hesitation. Michael kicks off his shoes, dives into the water. When you hesitate during a climb, you get scared, you fall, you get hurt, and once you realize the challenge, your hesitation seems so nominal. You’ll question why you even hesitated in the first place. We put a lot of doubt in ourselves, and climbing teaches (us) to trust our instincts. If you feel something in the moment, “fuck yes” or “fuck no”, you’re able to truly live, and move forward. Ats he positions himself for his first move, Michael finds an obvious first foothold. He opts out of using it, keeping his legs, dangling in the running water, making his first move easily three times harder. As I watch him launch out of the river, he calls to me, “if I took every shortcut and every step, it wouldn’t be a challenge! Where’s the fun in that!?”
Without any hesitation, I can’t help but smiling and calling back, “fuck yeah!”