Anchor to the Rock


Thinking about the Rock would never be the same after my broken promise nearly sent me into a free fall.

Anchor to the Rock

My senior year of high school began with the tardy bell ringing, echoing through the empty hallway. Agghh! Late for the first day! I slammed my locker door shut and ran down the hall to my first class. Why did school have to start today? I had slept in this morning and missed the bus. Mom had already left to take my little sister to preschool, so I hopped on my mountain bike and covered the two miles to school in record time.

School should start next week! Why couldn’t today just be a repeat of yesterday?

“Hey, Andrew, Mr. Lazy Bones, wake up! It’s gonna get hot soon and we gotta do Pet Piranha before the sun hits it!”

My best friend Josh made a habit of charging into my room like that. I shouldn’t have been the least bit surprised this morning. With school starting tomorrow, this would be our last chance to go rock climbing with no schedules or homework to worry about.

“Dude, get up!” Josh hopped onto my bed and started jumping until I could no longer ignore him.

“Okay, okay, I’m up already!” I whined in my best morning voice. “Where’s my stuff?”

“I thought I told you to lay it all out last night, since I knew you’d sleep in again.” Josh tried to sound impatient, but I could hear the excitement in his voice.

I got dressed. As I picked up my harness, climbing shoes, and chalk bag, my Book of Mormon fell to the floor. I had set it on top of my gear yesterday afternoon to remind myself to read before going to bed, but the time had grown late and I was sleepy. What did it matter if I missed reading the scriptures for one more day?

Reading the scriptures every day was a goal I had agreed to in seminary before school let out for the summer. Our teacher had said something about how reading the scriptures would protect us. It had motivated me enough to make the goal, but I had long since forgotten why it seemed so important.

As I picked up the book, I also thought about my goal to say my prayers every morning and night, but that could wait too. After all, I could pray anytime. I tossed the book on my unmade bed and headed out the door with Josh.

Mr. Fenton had just started class as I walked through the door to algebra III. I avoided his gaze as I made my way to the back of the class.

Uh, oh. Amy sat there in the back, smiling at me and clearing her notebook off a desk next to her. Amy was all right as a person, but the way she looked at me sometimes made me feel uncomfortable. The brownies she sometimes cooked for me tasted great, but that didn’t mean I wanted her to give them to me.

After Mr. F. had begun again, Amy looked over and smiled. “You missed the bus,” she whispered, as if I didn’t already know. I nodded my head and looked back up to find Mr. Fenton staring straight at me.

“Do you think you two could get reacquainted after class, Andrew?”

I thought of defending myself, of telling him that I hadn’t said anything. “Yeah, sorry,” was all I said. I didn’t look at Amy again, even though I sensed her trying to get my attention. I tried to pay attention for a while as Mr. Fenton droned on about our first assignment but soon found my thoughts drifting back to yesterday’s adventure.

Outside my house, I set my gear in the back of Josh’s truck. We backed out of the driveway and drove up the canyon to our destination. The guidebook told us that Pet Piranha was rated 5.11a***, right at the edge of my climbing comfort zone. The three stars next to the rating, however, promised good holds and a fun, doable climb.

We pulled off the highway at the bridge and began the steep hike to the cliffs. Once there, we studied the drawing in the guidebook, looking for Pet Piranha while walking along the cliff base.

“This must be it,” said Josh. “See, this looks like the tower to the left, and there’s Chips Ahoy that joins it halfway up.” He dropped the guidebook and walked over to touch the cliff. I pulled the tarp and rope from his pack and looked up to find Josh already four feet off the ground. He pulled himself close to the rock and swung his right hand high above his head to the next hold.

“What are you doing?” I asked. “Aren’t ya gonna wait for the rope?”

“Yeah, sure,” he answered. He lowered himself a bit and jumped to the ground. “But someday, I’m gonna free solo this route.”

Josh stared up the route as he spoke. He wasn’t afraid of anything, and I didn’t doubt that he meant it. But free solo? That meant no rope, no protection at all, nothing to keep him from falling all the way to the deck if he slipped even once. And it happened to the best of them. We had read magazine articles about guys who free soloed and talked about how great it was, but now at least two of them were dead.

“Don’t be crazy, Josh. What if you die? Who would I climb with then?”

“But think of the rush!”

“Listen, if you slipped from even halfway up this route, you’d deck so hard you’d crush at least three dozen bones and blow your chance to ever climb again. How would you like to spend the rest of your life as a paraplegic?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Anyway, I don’t think I’d really have done it.” He turned away from the cliff and smiled cheerfully. I finished doing up my harness and waited for him to tie in.

My next class was seminary, or released time, as they called it officially. I had signed up with Josh, and we were both in Brother Stowers’s class. I stopped by my locker, then headed outside toward the seminary building. The touch of the morning breeze against my face reminded me of yesterday’s breeze in the canyon.

“You gonna go first?” Josh asked, smiling.

“I thought you were going first,” I answered.

“Of course you did. I always go first. That’s why you should go first today. This is the last day of summer. Ya gotta do something memorable!”

The thought of leading this climb frightened me a little, but why not? If I couldn’t finish, Josh could always come up and do it.

“All right, I will then.” I pulled on my tight climbing shoes and tied myself in with a figure-eight knot. As each second passed, the knot of fear inside my stomach cinched tighter.

“Climbing,” I said, trying to sound as casual as Josh always did.

“Climb on,” he answered in a sing-song voice.

I chalked my hands and stepped up to the cliff. The first holds weren’t too bad. They were small and a bit polished, but I moved up to the first bolt eight feet off the ground and clipped in. I breathed more easily once I had the rope clipped through the quickdraw. Now there was something to catch me if I fell.

I can do this! I moved up toward the second bolt. The moves became technical and balancy. My feet were placed uncomfortably off to one side as I tried to lay back on vertical handholds. I made it to the next bolt, but the thought of letting go with either hand to clip frightened me.

“I don’t know if I can clip this!” I yelled down to Josh.

“So skip it,” he yelled back. “You can clip the next one.”

Yeah, right! Falling without protection nearby would result in a long fall, and my chances of getting hurt would increase dramatically. My stomach tightened again and adrenaline seeped quietly into my veins. I knew I couldn’t hang on forever. I slowly let go with one hand and reached down to the gear loops on my harness, unclipped a quickdraw, and clipped into the bolt. I reached down for the rope and clipped it into the draw. A cool wave of relief swept over me as the gate snapped shut around the rope.

“Lookin’ good, Andrew!” Josh yelled from below.

My arms were getting tired, and I couldn’t see my next move. “I don’t think this thing is only an .11a!” I shouted down. Maybe it got easier higher up, but the fear was already making me use up my strength much faster than I needed to.

“I’m getting awfully pumped! I’m not sure I can finish this!” It was times like this that I began to wonder why I climb in the first place. “Hold me for a minute while I rest then.”

“Gotcha. Go whenever you’re ready.”

Josh took up the slack in the rope, and I sat in my harness and let the rope hold me up. I was glad for the bolt right there, something that would hold me up, keep me from falling, and let me rest. The bolts also marked the route, telling me where I could expect to find holds that would take me to the top.

I shook out my tired forearms and looked down to where the highway and river twisted along the canyon floor. A few swallows floated gracefully on the updrafts. For a moment, I forgot my fear of the climb. Then I looked back at the gray and black limestone in front of me. I touched the narrow edges and ran my fingers along thin cracks and seams. It was beautiful, and I remembered why I came here—the thrill of the climb, the beauty of the natural world, the sense of accomplishment after a challenging ascent, and just spending time with my best friend.

I walked into seminary and found my name on a desk at the back. I sat down as Brother Stowers walked into the room. He told us a little about himself and asked each of us to give a short introduction as well.

Next to me on the back row sat a girl I had never seen before. She must have been new in town, and I wouldn’t mind being one of the first to get to know her. The new girl said her name was Amber, and she had just moved here from Wyoming. Josh noticed my interest and bobbed his eyebrows at me. I gave him a “Give me a break!” look, even though it was futile to deny that I was interested.

Having learned Amber’s name and given my own short introduction, I was free to let my mind wander again.

I took a deep breath and called, “Climbing.”

Josh answered with a cheery “Climb on,” and I went back to work.

I had scouted out a few potential moves and tried them out. They worked all right, but they were small and I had to move quickly to avoid burning out again and coming off the wall. I climbed to the third bolt and clipped again. Only three more bolts to the top. By now I was more than 30 feet above the deck. “I sure wish these bolts were closer together.”

With my middle finger in a shallow pocket and my index finger stacked on top of it, I smeared my feet on a bulge and looked up for the next handhold. “Ya know, this doesn’t feel anything like an .11a,” I shouted down. “Seems more like an .11d!”

I reached up and pinched a tiny crystal, then shifted a foot to an eighth-of-an-inch-wide ledge. It had a sharp edge and felt secure, and I breathed a little easier as I shifted most of my weight back to my feet. “I bet the guidebook got it wrong,” I yelled while moving my right hand to a large rock flake above my head. “I bet it was a typo and this is really a .12a or maybe …”

As I pulled down against the flake, it broke loose and sent me hurtling backward into empty space. “Falling!” I shouted instinctively.

Just for an instant, the wind whistled past my ears; then the slack ran out and the rope caught me with a gentle jerk on my harness. I held my feet out in front of me, and they landed softly against the cliff, almost 15 feet below where I had fallen.

“Yahoo!” Josh shouted. “What a screamer! You got some serious air on that one. You okay?”

“Yeah,” I answered as I watched the loose rock tumble down the mountainside below. That would explain the wrong rating. The route has probably changed as other holds have broken off. That would make it a completely different climb than it used to be. The shock of the fall quickly turned to excitement and elation with the adrenaline still pumping hot through my veins and brain.

“You owe me your life!” Josh said in his most dramatic tone of voice. It was his standard line every time he caught a fall. I laughed and he asked, “Wanna try again?”

“Nah, I’m gonna let you finish. I’ve had enough for one day.”

After I lowered down, Josh tied in and climbed quickly up to where I had fallen. I noticed him carefully testing each hold before trusting it with his entire weight. He agreed that the route was more difficult than an .11a, but he enjoyed it just the same. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating granola bars and drinking apple juice in the shade, then wading through the river and finally swimming once a water fight had broken out between us.

My thoughts returned to class when Amber started reading a scripture.

“… with a promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings.”

Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if we could count on everything being that dependable. Like climbing routes and guidebooks. Like life even. I thought of raising my hand to share the analogy, but I hadn’t been listening and wasn’t sure if it would fit into the discussion.

“That’s one reason why we call Christ ‘the Rock’,” Brother Stowers said. “Because he never changes, we can trust him to bless us when we keep his commandments just as he promised people in the early church and throughout history.”

Now I was intrigued. The Rock, huh? This analogy is getting better. Only the true Rock can be depended on like that. Everything else in this world can eventually break off, and that could put a person in a great deal of danger or pain if he had trusted it too much. I looked at Josh and he smiled. He must have thought the same thing. Suddenly I found my hand raised above my head.

“Yes, Andrew?” Brother Stowers called on me after consulting his seating chart.

“So we should clip into the rock frequently, I guess,” I blurted out.

“Clip?” Brother Stowers asked, a bit confused.

I should have backed up and explained things a little. Now no one would know what I was talking about. I was remembering the cliff breaking apart yesterday. I was thinking about how each clip on yesterday’s climb gave me a great sense of security and how I wished they were closer together. I was thinking about my broken resolves to read the scriptures and pray every day and how foolish it seemed to put them off now that I could see it all in perspective.

Then Josh jumped into the discussion. “Yeah,” he said, “attach ourselves, anchor ourselves to Him.”

“Ah, yes,” Brother Stowers said. “That’s a good point. And how can we do that.”

“Pray,” one student volunteered, “every morning and night.”

“And study the scriptures often,” added Amber.

“Yes,” agreed Brother Stowers, “and if we anchor ourselves that way to the Rock, then … Well, I think Paul said it best in his letter to the Romans. Andrew, would you please read the last two verses of chapter eight?”

“Sure,” I answered. I flipped open my New Testament and began reading, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I suddenly felt the strength of the Spirit in the room that everyone else had probably felt throughout the entire lesson. It burned inside me, confirming to me that the words I had read were true, that Heavenly Father and Christ love us more powerfully than we can know, and that they are always there for our security and well-being in this unpredictable world. It made me feel strong and confident.

I thought again of my broken resolutions. This time I’ll really do it. No more procrastination.

“Nothing can separate us from Him,” I added thoughtfully, “except for ourselves.”

The class was silent as everyone pondered my last comment. Brother Stowers nodded his head. His mouth began to form another word, but it never came out. Instead, the bell rang marking the end of the hour, and everyone scrambled to pile up their books and make their way out the door. Brother Stowers smiled and walked to the door. He shook our hands as we left class and told us he would see us tomorrow. I, for one, could hardly wait.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson; photography by John Luke