I looked back for a minute, watching the white powder drift from my palms, slowly falling below, a mistaken burst of snow in the summer sunshine. My legs ached, but not unpleasantly - more so I knew I'd been doing something. "Hey, you going to sit there all day?" came the voice through the wind, laughing. No, I wasn't.

I was working a route I'd taken many times before, but never clean. A fun chunk of limestone, 60 feet of pump with enough trick in it to keep it interesting. Sweat dripped down my skin slowly, encouraged by the exertion and the beating sun. It was time to get moving..

Leaning forward, my hands found the rock again, taking its shape, embracing it, enjoying the contact of the rough stone. I remember when in the early days, every outing would mean bleeding palms, but the calluses came eventually and they stayed. The entire nature of the experience changed. It ceased to be conquest of anything but self, with the stone as a partner instead of an opponent. I grunted, planted a toe on a nub and pulled up, into a weak sidepull and a nestled little two-finger.

Sometimes I thought I lived for these moments, sunny afternoons with a little breeze, planted forty five feet in the air, grinning at the world through gritted teeth. Nothing matters on the rock except that next inch, the next bolt, the next clip. Peace may come in emptiness or great concentration - climbing was both. Five, ten routes with friends, a dip in the lake, hours in the sun. Time well spent.

I leaned into the stone, pushed hard and rose to a big ball, palming it in both hands and squinting up at the silver glint above. Bolts always seem that way, up above a long barren stretch, probably because the ones below don't matter so much any more. Just that next bit of shine, always out of reach. Maneuvering closer I pulled the edge of a flake tight into my chest and reached up, up. There was nothing between us but air - and blank rock that didn't look eager to help. I leaned tighter, tighter - and into the sky, watching rope trail down behind me.

Part of the intensity of leading is that when you fall, you fall to the last bolt clipped and then the same distance again. On a long route, I've fallen as much as thirty feet in one go. This one was probably closer to twenty, clean air, thanks to the angle of the route. Not horrible, but enough to take the breath - enough that you could feel the falling, know it was happening and lay back and watch..

The rope caught and I bounced a bit, too far from the face to touch. Swinging forward I caught a finger of rock for a moment before tumbling back into the abyss of empty air. "Wanna fight it?" I shrugged. "Nah, I'm done.." I smiled at the rock as a slowly slid past it, watching the relief, so different from a distance. When my toes touched the dirt and I chuckled. Maybe next time.