For part 1 click here
For part 2 click here
It loomed overhead, the giant curving dihedral, resembling stadium infrastructure more than moderate crack climbing. Keith was still below, on the third sustained pitch of rough hand jams and hip scums. Some idiot took him too fast up to 11,000′ yesterday and there was plenty of time to scan the shaded rock for scoops and divots to dance around.
I’m an eternal optimist. Whether it’s getting altitude sick on Middle Palisade or thinking I can get to Bishop from San Diego in 5 hours I’m over or underestimating something. I saw a thin crack trending rightwards, under the roof, with what looked like enough little dimples to skate across.
Keith arrived at the belay soon after I connected most of the dots.
“Sorry I was so slow, I yacked on the ledge.”
Things were getting more fun.
When racking up for the route I knew I needed some small gear for this particular section, but shirked anything past a double set of cams and single set of stoppers. I had used a handful of tiny wedges at the belay and probably had enough to finish the next pitch, providing I ran out what I hoped were easier sections.
I took one last look at the belay, hoping it was bomber enough that I could swipe a stopper or cam for the next pitch – no go. Oh well.
Step, step, back clean, step – slowly but surely I went up and right along the roof, standing on dimples and convincing myself to run it out just a few feet more. The belay looked a mile away as I ran my fingers through the last remaining small cams. Before too long I was about to turn a corner along the roof, but the insipient crack rarely opened up to allow more than a fingertip, much less decent protection. Now out of the shadows and in to the sun, away from the main corner system of the climb and on a narrowing overlap of stone, the edges I was on were baking with heat. Fiddle, fiddle, get something in. Move past a piece, watch it fall out. Old school climbing.
Rather than stopping to place crappy protection often I made long runs between decent pieces. Keith would have to do the same, as the crack curved from vertical to a traverse. Any fall he took would likely be a swing, and I was banking on my ability to stuff small stoppers in cracks to keep him from taking a giant whip across the face. A few layback moves, another cam wiggling out, and I was at the last crux move. Despite the rating, the step down onto a short ledge was trivial at best. This was the crux? Unprotected greasy slab moves might be more of a concern for yours truly over positive edges below the only bomber micro cam I could get in the entire pitch. Out of slings, out of gear, but not out of adrenaline, I pulled a short roof via decent knobs, slung a cam in a pocket with my twenty foot cordalette and made the belay in a small alcove with my last remaining protection to anchor us both.
Now it was Keith’s turn.
I thought it was better not to say anything, to let him figure it out. If I told him that a fall just after pulling gear would mean a good sized pendulum it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Twelve years playing this game told me to say pleasant, encouraging quips as he groveled his way over to me.
Below the roof, at the thin crack with terrible gear, he was just out of sight. “Easy edges below you, man. Just trust the feet, you’re almost done.”
I look down as he is yarding on the tiny cams I stuffed haphazardly in pods. My eyes bulged as they miraculously held position, and in between bouts of dry heaves and grunts he worked his way up, across, down, across, and finally up to where I was at.
“You see?” I told him. “It’s not that bad, really.”
Not that bad. A total sandbag.
Someone once said life exists at the end of your comfort zone. I don’t really know what that meant, but at least that day I felt pretty damn alive. I wasn’t sure if I could get myself up that climb, much less a dilapidated partner, but we did. Adventures come in all shapes and sizes, and just like the weekenders from San Francisco sketching up Cathedral I had myself a ‘fun’ time that afternoon. I’m sure some local later solo’d the route for his lunch break, but for us it was pretty cool to be on top. I guess that’s the real goal, then, to stand on top of something and go “Hey, look where we are. Go figure. Let’s get a beer.”
Life might begin at a hard earned beer.