It's 2016, and Josh Benham had been climbing for about a year.
He and his brother, Noah, are five hundred feet up the Royal Arches, about a third of the way to the top. They're headed for the fully-bolted North Dome slab route. Anticipating a full day, they'd begun their hike before sunrise.
Mostly clear skies today- crisp October air and characteristically slick Yosemite granite. The route is easy enough, with mixed terrain and quite a few ledges. Josh is leading the pitch, working his way up a 5.8 crack. Four more feet, and he can build another anchor. At this point, he is officially out of his brother's line of vision.
You'll guess correctly from his beard and gentle-giant-energy that Josh feels at home in the mountains; before he got into climbing, he'd been primarily a backpacker and hiker. He enjoys the desert and its subtle, barren beauty, but the dynamic nature of mountain scenery along with opportunities like this for big face climbs are unbeatable.
Noah can't see his brother, but continues feeding him slack. It's calm and quiet- the easy, but slippery terrain means that when Josh slips, it's entirely unexpected. Noah takes the fall, but not before Josh slams into a ledge and rolls off into a bush further down. Adrenaline is a natural painkiller but he knows immediately that his ankle is wrecked. The only information Noah has to indicate that something has gone seriously wrong is his brother's shouting: "hold on, hold on!"
At six foot one, Josh is a naturally static climber, preferring sport and trad climbing over bouldering. And like all other math teachers and Tottenham fans, Josh enjoys a healthy dose of suffering, and that, he says, is why he appreciates the endurance factor of ropes. It's also why, on that October day, he takes endurance to the next level and climbs another thousand feet up the Royal Arches on a broken ankle.
It's both commitment to finishing the route with his brother and not wanting to leave his gear behind that carries him through the pain. They eventually make it to the North Dome and rappel down- it's after midnight when they're finally able to head home. "It wasn't until later," Josh says, "that I was able to take in the beauty of the area and really appreciate how awesome of an experience it was, despite the injury." He speculates now that walking up the slabs did even more damage to his ankle, giving him a full five-month recovery period, but still- he regrets nothing.
"Don't get overexcited and injure yourself, but at the same time don't be afraid of getting hurt." Josh is a major proponent of balance- in his actual climbing, of course, but also in every facet of life. "Go hard," he explains, "but know when to relax."
Josh exudes a naturally quiet and laid-back energy, but he is skilled, driven, and unafraid of struggle or pain. Stoney Point, for example, is a place that "can shut you down real quick, but to go back there and progress- even failing at the classic routes- is a really cool experience." He takes his sports seriously but his main advice for climbers (besides not feeding too much slack) is to have fun, and definitely don't forget to breathe.
When he's not climbing, playing basketball on the adult league here in town, or talking about how cool his girlfriend is, he's teaching math at the Gorman Learning Center in Canyon Country. He loves to help out his friends and fellow climbers at the gym but leans more toward encouragement rather than beta spraying. "There are plenty of people who are way better than I am or have more natural skill than I do, and the way I see it is, right on- we can teach each other."
Happy four year climbing anniversary, Josh. If anybody's headed to the Grand Tetons this summer, he'd like a ride!