Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jackass and The Zebra

I stared into the mirror at the 4 x 6 inch tattoo on my neck. This wouldn’t have happened without Google.

My birthday is Tuesday Dec 6. I was born in 1981. This year, I will be thirty. I’ve always felt like a bit of a geriatric. For six months, I used a wheel chair, a walker, and a cane. Actually, I never used a cane; I used a nine iron to support my hobble. My limp got better and my short game improved a ton. I spent a significant amount of time around stroke victims while I was recovering from a climbing accident. My hospital room mate, an old Los Gatos school superintendent named John, was thirty years my senior. When they fused my back, and my ankle, I saw a Los Gatos orthopedist, whose waiting room was filled with geriatrics. The stiff ankle, the fused back, the wear on my body… I’ve felt old for 6 years now. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

The Phoenix climbs a technical corner to a difficult crack traverse. A pumping fingers section to overhanging hands follows the crux. I fell all over it this spring. During one lead attempt, I tried to stuff a red alien into a yellow alien spot. Think smashing a square peg into a round hole. Unable to fit the cam in and scared to fall, I threw the piece over my shoulder into the poison oak and waterfall far below. I grabbed the crack, made two moves, realized I could use the red alien but I had just thrown it, and promptly took a monster winger.

At Jailhouse, I punted off my mega proj staring at the anchor, 5 times. 5 times. It wore me down. On Washington’s Column, I tried to climb the Quantum Mechanic. Instead, I got scared, I aided, and I generally got worked. Morale was low low low.

Everybody’s nice to you on your birthday. It’s a fact. People get gifts on their birthdays, they get called up by long lost friends and distant relatives, and people constantly acquiesce to your demands. Hey, it’s your birthday! According to a Johnson & Johnson study, you are 68.5% more likely to have sex on your birthday. Yahoo! What better way to guarantee having a great day then having a birthday.

With a steady feeling of depression kicking in, I decided I needed to cheer myself up, at least for a day. I thought and I thought and I thought about what to do. I Googled how to cheer yourself up. Dance, Party, Smile. There had to be something. While Google searched the interweb for an answer to my depression I checked Facebook. I noticed that it was almost my friend, Alex Evans birthday. Everyone was wishing him happy birthday. He was gonna go on a Happy Birthday climb in Yosemite, have Happy Birthday cake with a group of Camp 4 climbers, and even have hot Happy Birthday sex with his girlfriend. Hundreds of people wished him happy birthday on his Facebook wall. That’s what I needed- a birthday. So I changed my birthday on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming. Over a hundred people wished me happy birthday. Alex came up to me and was so surprised- he’s known me for 6 years and never realized that his birthday was the day before mine! Then Casey McTaggart called me, “OMG! We have the same birthday!” It was all so awesome! I forgot about tossing that cam, about punting on the sport proj, and about getting worked on Washington’s Column. For one day, I felt good. What a great feeling. Why couldn’t I feel like this everyday? I decided it’d be a good idea to have another birthday. People would just forgot in a few months right? So, I changed my birthday on Facebook again to 3 months later. I could go for another PARTY!

Thirty is a milestone year. The twenties are done. The carefree days of my youth are behind. Think mortgage, marriage, making a career. My first facebook birthday in June was a celebration. My second Facebook birthday in September was a sudden realization of how old I actually was. A geriatric. If I had three birthdays every year, by the time I was 50, I’d be a hundred years old. Reality settled in. All the notes, the phone calls, even the gifts, from my second Facebook birthday just reiterated the fact that I was aging rapidly. I was getting old.

There’s hipsters everywhere at Smith Rocks. They come from Portland on the weekends. Tattoos, skinny jeans, and serious attitudes. I joked about all the bad tattoos that the hipsters had. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a hipster with a bad unicorn tattoo? I joked at the crag. Then I Googled bad unicorn tattoos and what did I find? Rambo riding a unicorn! It was so bad it was awesome. This was beyond hipster ironic- this was universally ironic.

Kate Rutherford, Greg Garretson, and I drank wine, hanging out after a day of climbing at Smith. I showed them the Rambo picture.

“I bet we could make that better,” Greg opened up Photoshop. “Enhance the background.”
The flames got replaced with a grassy flower filled field.

“Put a rainbow behind him,” Kate sipped some Merlot. “He should be shooting something. And a little burst from the end of his gun, like an explosion.”

“A laser?” I suggested. Greg clicked away at the image. Rambo had a laser.

“How about a rainbow?” Kate said. A few minutes later the image had reached perfection. The best picture of Rambo riding a unicorn shooting a rainbow crossbow ever.

I am in constant conflict with myself. I love climbing. Even when I’m throwing cams over my shoulder, punting on the sport proj, or jumaring, rapping, bolting, and hiking by myself. I love it. But there’s days when I don’t feel so young anymore. I look at my peers, the ones who are married, the ones with kids, jobs, and houses that aren’t station wagons. I get jealous. There’s times when I want to permanently remove myself. Destroy the possibility of ever living that lifestyle. Though I want it sometimes, it’s a hard one to move to. It’s easier for me to climb all the time, live on a budget, and travel. You get good at what you practice. Doing the things that make us grow, isn’t easy.
What’s more, I wanted to change myself. I wanted to be something more than I was. I didn’t want to blend in with the geriatrics I had spent so much time with. I wanted my youth back. I wanted to stop feeling 60 and start feeling 20 again. I wanted the perfect tattoo; the one that turned the jackass into the zebra.

I called a number of tattoo parlors around Smith. I even tried a few places in Portland; I figured the hipster capital would have someone who specialized in unicorn tattoos. I got the same answer from all of them. Expensive. Getting a little youth back doesn’t come cheap. I searched Google for an inexpensive way to get Rambo riding a unicorn on my neck. I found a viable option and I went for it.

I could hear their whispers from across the gym. I had stopped by the bay after my trip to Smith. A matching pair of hipsters adorned the Berkeley Ironworks lead cave. They had seen my neck tattoo. I could only imagine what they said to each other.

“That guy is way more punk than us,” a tat of a crying statue of liberty bounced up and down his skinny shoulder.

“Look at that neck ink. What a gangster,” she said. Roses marked the back of her hands and tattoed stars floated behind her ears. “I bet he totally passed the lead test.”

I felt bad ass. I stopped by Mortar Rock and tore my tips apart on Nat’s Traverse, falling at the end. Lucho, my long time climbing friend from San Francisco, came out with me. “That tattoo does make you look like a gangster.” Lucho never says stuff like that. Though, I kept falling off the end of the problem, I got a little more swagger.

The feelings lasted about a day, maybe a day and a half. Then I started to feel silly. I had a square 4 x 6 inch tattoo of Rambo riding a unicorn on my neck. What the fuck? What was I thinking? A neck tattoo in this recession economy, where the job market is tight, would squash my chances for future employment. Did I really want to eliminate the possibility of entering the rat race- a chance at a house and stability?

I stood staring in the mirror. I scratched at my neck hard, rubbing the skin red. Blue flakes fell into the sink. Google found my only affordable tattoo option. A company in China or Milwaukee or somewhere in between made temporary tattoos for a margin of the price. My nails tore at the flesh and the flakes floated into the sink. I thought of the ephemeralness of it all. Like the feeling of specialness from changing my Facebook birthday, the tattoo tough guy feelings wouldn’t last. I lacked the sincerity to be a true gangster. I couldn’t change my birthday every day. The feelings woud only last for so long. I'd need something more sustainable.

Part of growing older is learning to be comfortable with yourself, a challenge I feel on a regular basis. It’s 11pm on Dec 5. It’s almost my birthday. I’m gonna wake up tomorrow morning, have something to eat, and then go climbing. I’ll be 30. Maybe I’ll boulder at the Buttermilks, maybe I’ll climb some routes in Owens River Gorge. I’ll spend a little bit of time looking for a place to rent for the winter in Bishop. The house might happen, it might not. I’ll work a little, hang out with friends. I’ll try not to worry too much about growing up or staying young about changing my birthday on Facebook or getting a tattoo. I’ll just try to be something between a jackass and a zebra. I’ll just try and be myself for a little while.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Living the Dream

Cold gravel crunched beneath my feet. The air bit my lips. Smoke emerged when I exhaled. I used the bathroom and scrambled back to my sleeping bag, my car, my home. It wasn’t raining yet. Maybe there would be climbing when the sun rose and warmed the park.

An hour later, I heard the familiar tapping on the glass. Drip drip drop. I groaned. I tried to go back to sleep. By 8 all the rocks in Smith were wet. By 9, the ground under the trees was too. I sat up in the back of my Saturn station wagon and stared. There would be no climbing today. I would sit and stare out the car window all day, wishing it was nice outside, wishing I was climbing, maybe even wishing I had a normal job with a house, a girlfriend, and a real life. Drip drip drop. But that’s only wishing. Right now, I am living out of my car, traveling wherever I want with no responsibilities. I am living the dream. Drip drip drop. There were days when I wish the dream would end.

I should have known I was out of my element when I stopped just north of Shasta. I tried to pump my own gas. The attendant stopped me immediately, assuring me that it was his job to fill my gas tank. “That’s why they pay me the big bucks,” he said as put $38.00 of regular unleaded into the tank. I gave him a look of pure Californian suspicion. Why was the gas cheaper than in Cali? Why was he really filling my tank? Who were these sneaky sneaky Oregonians with their half truths?


“I love this climb. You can just scamper up it,” Darryn said as she lowered down from Wedding Day, a 5.10b arête at the Dihedrals. I crimped through the classic climb, grunting, thrutching and desperately fighting my way to the anchors. I pulled out every trick in the book. I didn’t come close to “scampering.” As I lowered, I looked at the route next to it, a short 5.12a called Flat Earth. “It’s a stroll,” said super local, Ian Caldwell as he sunk a mono and drop knee back stepped through the crux. It’s a local sandbag, I thought to myself.

The climbing in Smith is tuff. Alan Watts, established many of the routes on rappel. Bolting the chossy faces from the top down revolutionized American rock climbing. By climbing on preplaced gear, bolts, the climbing standards rose quickly. “Sport climbing” arrived in the United States. The standards of the 80s were far different than those of today. The bolts are miles apart by today’s standards. It’s not sport climbing in Smith. It’s 80s face climbing. And it’s SCARY.

10 Gallon buckets- a 35 meter 5.10c or a multi-pitch cluster fuck

I can’t crimp. I can’t high step. I get terrified when I’m ½ an inch off the ground and more than ¼ an inch away from a bolt. There were a hundred reasons why the climbing in Smith would be especially hard for me- I took everyone as a reason to go. It’s easy to get better at things you’re already good at but working your weaknesses- that will make you a better climber.

The Full Heinous climbs a steep gently overhanging section of the Dihedrals area at Smith. The route originally had 3 bolts and required widgets to protect. Watts retrobolted the route and placed twice as many bolts! Twice as many! That’s incredible- until you realize how far apart the bolts still are. To stick clip the first bolt, you need to stand on someone’s shoulders with a stick clip.

What's that guy doing? Stick clipping on a route? OMG!Smith Rocks!

I found an extendable pole in the boulders of Camp 4. Duct tape held two brushes to the metal telescoping pole. I ripped the tape off, grabbed some supplies, and with my own duct tape, created a Stick clip. This would surely get me up any route I wanted to try in Smith. That’s what I thought when I showed up.

Ian Yeardin getting out his thermal sensor.

Perfect temps for sending the mega slab To Bolt or Not to Be.

Perhaps it was his half Billy Ray Cyrus, half George Michaels good looks. Maybe it was the stained long underwear he wore under his filthy shorts. “It’s like you said James,” a cloud of dust hung around Portlandianer Alex Baker. “You got to look good to climb good.” The mullet, the dirty costume, the 5 day old beard, and the dirty costume, somehow got Alex a send of Vicious Fish, a difficult 5.13c arête at the Morning Glory Wall. It also got him a girlfriend. Weird. Baker was also on his way to get a job at Black Diamond in Salt Lake City. Oregon is a strange place with strange people. While Baker was an out of the ordinary bone crusher, the weirdest people were the “Super Locals.”

“Im glad I can climb harder so I can climb easier routes,” said Mark Postel, a tall, lanky Smith Rocks climber of over a decade. “A lot of the easier routes aren’t that well bolted and often are quite hard.”

Located directly across from the Smith Rocks campground, the Postel’s humble abode is as close as you can get to Smith Rocks without tripping. The small building Postel called home could barely contain the big man. Postel refuses to admit he’s six foot two inches. “I’m 5’14”. Postel works as a guide in Nepal or Patagonia or Anartica- wherever the yak riding Sherpas with Britney Spears ring tones on their fake iPhones live. He returned from dragging a couple clients to some mountain called ImmaDaBomb to hike all the routes on the front side of Smith Rocks. There’s people out there who are close to living the dream. They own houses and climb at the rocks outside their house. They are super locals, and Postel is one.

Postel service at the Dihedrals

Max shaved chocolate into a mug ¾ full of hot water. By the time he added the bourbon, the hot liquid almost boiled over. He played the new Chromeo album, placing his iPhone into a cup so that the sound was amplified through his home, a Toyota Previa vansion. Max had finally made it.

“When the dashboard battery light comes on, it might not be your battery,” Max called me from Goldendale Washington, a small town somewhere between Leavenworth and Smith. “It could be your alternator. Did you know that your car won’t drive without it?”

Max walked to the library and spent most of the day trying to find something to do while he waited for a new alternator to arrive in Goldendale. That’s called living the dream. After a day’s delay and a few hundred bucks, Max arrived in Smith. He spent most of his five day stint getting flash pumped and then leaving to find some boulders. Did you know that there are a number of boulder problems at Smith? I didn’t. Nor did I care. Max did. And he cared enough to climb them, dragging me out to a surprisingly cool chunk of rock below the campground. Though Max has climbed the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre, climbed El Capitan, established new free routes in Alaska, he is primarily a boulderer at heart. Not only did Max crush some V gnar, but he put on a rope and fought his way up the classic Chain Reaction, falling at the redpoint crux a number of times. On his last day before leaving for a business trip to Japan, Max stuck the dyno at the top of the route. Boom!

Max bouldering at 11pm on the tuff below the Campground Bivy at Smith Rocks

I climbed towards the first bolt. My legs shook for 15 minutes as I stared down the crimps to the first bolt. If I could only make it there, I could be safe. The exposure was overwhelming. Panic. Panic. Panic had set in. I over gripped then when I couldn’t hold on any longer, I fell. I plummeted a solid 12 inches to the ground. It was an enormous fall. I thought I was sport climbing. I tried to clip the first bolt but my stick wouldn’t reach. The bolt was too high for my stick clip. I didn’t need a stick clip- I needed a rope gun. Thank God Kate was around.

Kate Rutherford climbs good cause she looks good. Kate advises you to wear pastel puff jackets for winter 2012.

Kate Rutherford is quiet. I met her like 7 or 8 years ago in Indian Creek. She was atypically clean for Indian Creek. I didn’t know it then, but now I do. It wasn’t abnormal. Kate always manages to look put together. It’s impressive. I’m not sure how she pulls it off but she does. It probably comes from her well put together life. Kate works as a part time jeweler, part time Patagonia Ambassador, and full time bone crusher. She lives most of the year with her boyfriend, Mikey Schaefer, inside a black Sprinter, a regular McVansion. She’s living the dream. While at Smith, she totally took advantage of the look good climb good phenomenon. She hiked The Full Heinous, Darkness at Noon, Doritos, and a ton of other “moderate” 5.12 “warm-ups.” She wasn’t the only one hiking at the sport crag.

“Someone’s on the proj Kate,” from the Morning Glory Wall, I watched a pink shirt dance up the runout climbing of the Full Heinous, a 5.12cR route at the Dihedrals. When I walked over, I saw a bespectacled man and a couple of young kids. The dad seemed intent on toproping the Full Heinous all day. I groaned, wondering who had put the rope up for this dad. I looked around. Kid, kid, fat parent, kid. It wasn’t making sense. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pink shirt bursting from beneath a skinny 12 year olds oversized down jacket.

I stared at him. A few minutes of conversation revealed the culprit. Drew Ruana onsighted Kate and I’s project as a warm up. My ego was the Hindenberg. Crashing. Burning. No Survivors.

“Tell that kid of yours to stop flashing my projects,” I said to his dad, hoping to salvage some of my destroyed dignity.

“He's been doing that to me since he was 9...” said Rudy, a bridge architect in Seattle who was well aware of the reality of having a young crusher around. “I took away his playstation, just to be a dick!”

This 12 year old Seattlelite will crush your proj and act like a gangster.

I tried to ignore my defeated attitude and went up the route. One move before
a bolt, high on the wall, I fell, whipping well past the first set of chains. Yup. Smith is scary. Yup. Little kids send your projects. Yup. Living the dreams means living with a constantly broken ego.

This summer I spent a month in Rifle, which was a fun place. The limestone there is ok. There’s a large concentration of good or okay routes, which makes the 2 mile canyon pretty good as a sport climbing destination. A few years ago, I went to the Red River Gorge for 23 days in November. The climbing was fun but robotic. I don’t remember any different routes there. There was a lot of sandstone, the south east culture is super fun, but that place- meh. Red Rocks, Mesquite, Sonora, Rumney, little crags like Little Si, Chekamus, Trinity Aretes…meh. Smith may be the best sport climbing in the United States. The style of climbing there, vertical, crimpy rock, isn’t in vogue though and even the locals don’t take advantage of the offensively large amount of basalt in the gorge.

An Upper Gorge classic Wardance- 5.12a. My ass hurt the next day from stemming so much.

“Chicken pot pie- my three favorite things.” Greg Garretson. I met Greg in the Red a few years ago. The brief encounter ended up turning into a lucrative opportunity when Garretson hooked me up with an amazing job.

The production poster for the upcoming movie. I get credit on it!

The movie closed the entire Morning Glory crag, 5 Gallon Buckets, and many of the best climbs on the front side of Smith Rocks. Disney productions hired Mario Lopez and Flipper’s grandson son, a dolphin named Flopper, to star in River Dolphin, the story of a retarded football player and his redemption with a smart alec river Dolphin. The movie gave me an opportunity to cash in on some costume designs. Mario Lopez got a nice Ducks shirt with a fake string of saliva on it. Boy, Lopez looked better than when he did the Slater Dance.

I put glitter around Flopper’s blow hole. That’s right. Lots and lots of glitter.

Disney will be releasing the movie later this spring. I’m looking forward to its arrival. Maybe I’ll get more costume designing jobs out of the production. That’d be sweet!

Five or maybe six years ago, Drew “The Iceman” Rollins set a toprope on Dreamin for me. The crux of the route is low and well protected but the run out 80 degree wall above keeps away the crowds. I tried for a minute to stick clip the first bolt. Then I tried the initial moves. Then I figured out how to clip the bolt. With a few weeks of tuff under my feet, I monoed and grab the pockets just right, surmounting the roof and heading up the long section technical section. I tried not to be scared but I was. The park was quiet. I felt alone between the bolts. It was a Wednesday or Friday or maybe even a Monday afternoon. I don’t know. I was just focusing on the rock climbing. I was living the dream.

My fingers numbed out below the roof. I fought through the stemming in the middle to the redpoint crux at the pen ultimate bolt. High on the red wall of Kings Of Rap, I crimped a hold and locked off to grab a small pocket. I couldn’t feel anything and fell.

My next try, I wore a buff, another shirt, I put hand warmers in my chalk bag, I ran to the bathroom and back to warm up, and I sprinted through the intial difficulties, ignoring the pump and fighting the biting cold. I was successful.

Even the deer look cold.

That night, it snowed three inches. Snow covered the car. I woke up two, three, maybe four times during the night because the cold froze my nose and lips, the parts of my body not buried into my sleeping bag. The sun rose eventually. The snow stayed. It was time for me to leave.

A few hours after I left

I began driving slowly, very slowly down the 97 south towards warmer and better weather. A semi, a chevy van, a pick-up, were all on the side of the road. I focused on the ice and keeping the Saturn on the road. Kate sent me a message that the crags were sunny by the afternoon. I wondered why I left. I wondered if I should just turn around. I wondered mostly what part of living the dream this was.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quantum Man -5.13a Grade IV.

The first ascent of the Quantum Man (Quantum Mechanic to Astroman via the Quantum Leap variation) was made in October of 2011 by myself and Madeline Sorkin with a couple of falls and returns to no hands ledges. The first free ascent was made later in the month by myself and Ben Ditto. Neither climber fell that day with Ditto making an impressive flash ascent. I am hoping to climb the route out the roofs in the longer days of spring.

The first pitch follows the initial climbing on Astro-man to the two bolt belay and then cuts across a slab to the base of a widening splitter. Delicate face traversing and lots of rope drag make the 5.8 moves to the crack feel difficult. A few finger size pieces will make a natural gear belay. 200’

Off a gear anchor, the crack widens from a section of difficult big fingers to thin hands to full on offwidth. Reaching the top of the crack is a forty foot horizontal roof. An enormous granite manta ray hangs at the beginning of the roof. After clipping a long sling to the bolts at the top of Terminal Research (5.11c), it is possible to undercling the manta ray feature. A big hands piece then a fist piece can be placed behind the flake. If this piece of rock came off it would seriously jeopardize team safety as the belay is directly below it. Undercling left to better rock. Catch a small break by a flake keystoned in the undercling and then fight leftward. This is not an undercling. It’s a Thundercling! Place a 4 camalot, a 5 camalot and then a 6 camalot. Two bolts protect the final moves. It is easier to clip the first bolt when it is behind you. Moving to the next bolt requires an interesting, though not difficult kneebar move. A few moves of 5.10 liebacking take you to a two bolt anchor. A 60 meter rope will reach to the ground from here. The pitch is 5.13a though the rating comes from the difficulty in placing the large gear and the offensive pump. Some might call it "athletic 12c." It It is difficult to follow and tagging out the gear at the Terminal Research anchor is advisable as it takes some weight off. It's hard to clean the gear- try the pink point tuff stuff. 120’

A few wide moves leads to a hanging rock and a small roof encounter. A finger to hands to fingers crack allows passage on the right side of the hanging rock. A short 5.11c footless 1 camalot hands traverse across the top of the rock leads to the next belay.

Belay off a two camalot, a solid bolt and a quarter incher at the stance. 40’
A series of detached pillars lead to a corner, which is often wet. Place two blue alien size pieces then layback the fin of the corner to a couple of pin scars and a large flake at 5.12. A 3 camalot fits in at the base of the flake. Climb to the top of the flake and clip a manky pin. Either down climb and make a reachy traverse right on delicate feet or continue up to a steep hand crack, a couple funky chimney style moves and the tree out right. Either way is 5.11. Belay at a two bolt anchor by the tree. 100’

Follow a finger crack up and then traverse right through delicate face holds at 5.11c. Climb the corner with care of loose rock at 5.11. The original Quantum Mechanic traverses right on orange rock. The Quantum Leap variation continues in the corner. A belay stance rests below a steep corner. There are 3 solid bolts at the belay. A 70 meter rope just makes it to the top of Planck’s Constant, the Thundercling. 100’

A steep fingers section followed by a wide block marks the initial difficulties of the next 5.11 pitch. Climb both sides of a large block, clip a bolt, then make some steep layback moves up a corner with good feet. A two bolt anchor should be drilled on the left arête to make a solid stance but instead continue climbing the amazing corner to a hanging two bolt aid anchor. 90’

The overhanging hand crack of the Quantum Leap pitch

The Quantum Leap pitch follows a steep 5.11+ hands pitch off the hanging belay. Stay left and be careful not to place a cam at the lip of the crack- your rope might get stuck behind it. After the hands section, continue up to a large ledge. Clip a bolt off a swaying pillar, gaston, cross and then campus to the arête doing a v3 boulder problem. Mantle and place a green alien behind a flake at head height. Traverse left and then up on dirty terrain placing another finger size piece. Good news is that you’re at Hotel California. This is a good bivy for two with no need for a ledge120’
Head up and then left on 5.8 terrain being careful of dirt and loose rock to a two bolt anchor. From here, an easy downclimb can be made to the base of the changing corners pitch on Astroman or the route can continue up the 5 roof pitches of the full Quantum Mechanic.

A double set of cams from blue alien to 2 camalot will suffice. Include a 3, 3.5, 4, 5, and 6 for Planck’s Constant. Rappeling from Hotel California requires two ropes, directionals, and there will be a lot of rope drag. It is possible though.
Much thanks to Tim Derohen, John Schmid, Todd Bartlow, Jake Whittaker, James Selvidge and Rob Miller for the belays, beta and support.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ghosts, Magic and Science

Located an hour east of Seattle, Index Washington sits on the North Fork of the Skykomish River, just above its confluence with the main channel of the Skykomish a small river that the passing train crosses over on its way across the north Cascades. The 150 inhabitants live in the woods by the river and wake to the sights of Mount Index, Mount Baring and the vertical granite of the Upper Town Wall.

On Sunday mornings, bells ring in the town church. Some of the residents are god fearing people. Some residents are pagans with pentacles, five-pointed stars contained within a circle. The five points of the star represent the four classic elements. The pagans believe in a fifth element as well. The little town in the mountains hosts a variety of beliefs. Stories exist of ghosts, of magic and of science.

Index climbing involves blue collar science. The 80 degree slabs involve boulder problems between no hands rests. The routes feel extremely sandbagged. Climbing in good conditions in Index is rare. Summer is hot with the Lower and Upper Town Walls in the sun. Winters are rainy and there are few steep routes to climb on. Sometimes in the fall, when the clouds sit just right, Index can be perfect. That’s the magic time in Index and that’s when everything gets sent.

In 1984 the Department of Natural Resources granted the Robbins Company, whose equipment helped dig the chunnel between Great Britain and France, the right to test mine in Index. Using a Mobile Miner, an enormous digging machine, the company bore a 12’ x 21’ by 278’ tunnel in the wall and removed 3,000 cubic yards of material. Local climbers argued against the heavy machining and the Robbins Company voluntarily ceased their digging, allowing for the University of Washington Gravity Lab to use the tunnel at the Country climbing crag for research.

The fifth force may exist. Elementary particles interact with each other through four different forces: gravity, electromagnetism and strong and weak interaction- known as “strong” and “weak nuclear force” respectively. Tests on gravitational constant have been recorded in a deep borehole in the Greenland ice sheet, an Australian mine shaft and onboard the USS Dolphin submarine while it was deeply submerged. These tests search for discrepancies between the estimated and the actual forces, for the existence of a fifth force. Being close to a known large mass allows for a constant in the tests. The University of Washington Gravity Lab used the tunnel in Index to search for the fifth force. Scientists invent magic.

The vertical granite of the 600 foot Upper Town Wall hosts a number of quality free climbs. The Davis-Holland, the easiest route on the formation at 5.10b, follows a crack line on the west face. Next door is Rise and Fall, followed by Green Dragon, Town Crier and a host of other “5.12” routes. I hiked to the top of the Town Wall with a seventy meter rope and dropped it down the face. Using two mini-traxions, I rappelled down seventy meters and then climbed back up using the mini-traxions to arrest my falls. Being alone on the wall, working through the tech nine climbing of Rise and Fall, was one of the best experiences I’ve had in awhile. I used to free solo longer routes a lot. Working the route, along on the wall gave me a lot of the same feelings. I enjoyed the solo time.

The local hardmen of Index are an interesting crew. Andrew Philbin’s mom belays him occasionally and almost always on his hardest sends. When Andrew projected the tech-nine arête Amandala (5.13c) at the Lower town Wall, his mom belayed him on the rig. With encouragement from his mommy, Andrew sent and earned notoriety in the Washington climbing community for his ascent of the “Mom”dala. Andrew’s mom believes in him.

Philbin wrote about our recon of Good Girls like Bad Boys, a 6 pitch 5.12 route off of Madsen Ledge on the Upper Wall. “We used The Ave (5.8) as an approach pitch; not the most elegant outing even if you are fond of thorns, spiders and dirt. “ Philbin lead the first two pitches off Madsen Ledge, a pitch of 11c and a pitch of 5.12. While Drew managed to figure out the difficult slab mantle on the 5.12 pitch, the hard climbing proved my ineptitude on this style of climbing and we retreated as darkness fell. I vowed to return.

Mikey, the other master of Index, and I hiked past the Upper Town Wall. The technical climbing had worked me and Schaefer wanted to get back into shape.

“I’m gonna send on my last try,” I told Mikey at the base of Attractive Nuisance a route at the Outdoor Hangboard. The route follows a steep corner. A slab on the left side and overhanging incut granite holds on the right require drop knees, shoulder scums and wild body movement. Initially, the route was rated 5.13. In the new guidebook Daryl Kramer downgraded the route to 5.12c. Mikey tried the route 8 times before he sent. It took me 9. It’s hard to know what to believe sometimes. I do believe that I did it though.

Locals hang signs outside their houses. No trespassing. Private Property. Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again. Index residents are known for having 12 Gauge Iqs.

Built in 1898 to serve train passengers heading over Stevens Pass, the Bush House served as a hub for the small town of Index. Mrs. Bush, the owner, greeted travelers at the the train, ringing a bell and calling out “Bush House Hotel.” The Bush House served as a hub for the town, being the only place large enough to accommodate sizeable gatherings. Index’s largest building shut down when Snohomish County revoked the hotel's occupancy permit because of structural and public safety concerns. The hotel’s disrepair, the poor foundation and the collapsing structure, were just part of the concerns.

Concrete tiles run perpendicular to the steel rails. Every other tile has a scuff mark, the white blasted line where metal hanging from the train connectors gouged the tile. This is what kills people on the train luge. Lay between tracks. Face up. Listen to the roar. Watch the sky vibrate. Hold still and the Amtrak will clear your body. If a chain hangs from the caboose, the train luge becomes serious. It’s possible. It just involves laying beneath the tracks and believing you’ll be ok.

1907- Annabelle stayed at the hotel while her newly married husband worked in the Monte Cristo mine. Prospectors found rich surface deposits in the area but the past few years had been less fruitful. Annabel’s husband thought he could revive the mine, make money to support his new wife and build a family in Index. While eating dinner at table 2, a group of train passengers entered the hotel’s restaurant with news of a catastrophic accident in the mine. The rains of the past few days had flooded the mine, destroying much of the infrastructure. “Everyone died,” they said. Annabelle sat in shock fiddling with the silverware at her table. She left her food, returned to room 9, packed her bags and hung herself. Her husband returned a few days latter after narrowly escaping the accident. When he discovered her dead, he killed himself too. The ghost of a woman in a white dress walks through the hotel at night. Tears run down her face and onto her deeply bruised neck. When the hotel restaurant was open, visitors complained that the silverware at table 2 shifted while they were eating.

We started hiking in the dark and reached the top as the sun rose. Jessica Campbell, a friend from nearby Leavenworth, and I rappelled into the crux pitches of Green Dragon. The classic Washington aid line goes free at 13- with a couple of face variations around the original aid line. Justen Sjong and Ben Gilkinson freed the route recently and gave it modern (read not sandbagged) grades. The last two pitches of 12c and 13a are the crux and we worked out the moves early in the morning. But soon, the sun was over Baring. The rock heated quickly. Our feet burned in our black shoes. Climbing became impossible. We retreated to the summit.

WSGS, the Washington State Ghost Society, investigated the paranormal activity at the Bush House a few years ago. The group spent the night, setting up video cameras and tape recorders to capture EVP, electromagnetic voice phenomenon. I’m not sure how the advanced scientific equipment worked. Probably like the fifth force testing. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” Arthur Clarke. In the morning when they reviewed their footage, the white silhouette of a small boy appeared running near the shed behind the Bush House. They heard his screams on the tape recorder. Interviews with locals revealed that a boy had been murdered in the shed. Or so the stories go.

“This is the hardest pitch in the world, “ Mikey’s yell soaked into the mist of the Upper Town Wall. Our one headlamp jumped across the Upper Town Wall. Earlier that afternoon, Mikey redpointed the crux pitch. He managed the third pitch, put together the fourth, and the fifth. When darkness fell, he started up the last difficult 5.11 pitch. With a scream, the light of the headlamp levitated upward. The mist hid the moon. The air was cold and the rock colder. It was the magic time in Index. Mikey sent the pitch and took us through the difficult climbing to the summit. When it was my turn, I couldn’t figure out how he ascended the blank expanse of vertical rock. The fifth force? I pulled through and soon joined Mikey on his successful ground up ascent of Good Girls Like Bad Boys. It had been a daunting prospect but Mikey had succeeded. He believed.

Rain wet the trail on the hike down from the Upper Town Wall. My headlamp picked out a newt walking down the trail, I’d seen a fist sized frog and a large snake hiking with Drew. Thumb sized brown spiders weaved webs between the trees. Where the pagans in this town because of these animals? Why were the scientists experimenting with the fifth force in a place like Index? What else lived in Index? I wanted to find magic in the woods.

Previous owners nailed plywood to the windows and doors of the Bush Hotel. A small opening just pass a No Trespassing sign and above a piece of plywood, allowed entrance. I stared into the room full of dust and old couches wondering if I should go in. The voices of dead people sang in my ear. I turned off my Ipod and the voices ended. A little bit of the magic stopped. I turned around, and went back to my car. I was afraid of seeing ghosts. I was more scared of not seeing one. Finding a boring reality is more frightening than having those unknown possibilities, even dreadful ones. I want to live in a world of imagination. I want to believe in ghosts, magic and science.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Colorado Love

I woke up in a casino parking lot. A dome light dangled above my head. The electric wires spun in and out of view. I was somewhere in Nevada in the back of a station wagon.

My red Saturn Station Wagon. My beat down, gear laden, Saturn Station Wagon.
I fell out of the back and into the driver’s seat. I drove towards the sun rise. Behind me was a Yosemite season of disappointment. The eastern sun rise promised something new, at least something different. I was skeptical tho.

“Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west- A state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness.” Dr. Dre and Tupac rap in California Love. “Cali got gun play, models on the runway,”sings Notorious BIG in Going back to Cali. Snoop Dogg sings “I’m all up on ya- cause you’re representin California” in the pop hit California Girls. Who’s famous for singing about Colorado? John Denver. He strums a guitar and sings about a rocky mountain high. That is not gangster. California 1 Colorado 0. I drove east anyway.

I arrived in Rifle with the goal of getting stronger so I set an appropriate goal- clip the anchors of 100 pitches and send 20 of them. The steep limestone requires serious technique- drop your right knee, drop your left knee, now shit yourself cause you can’t move. My first 3 weeks there were awesome. I climbed well, flashing and onsighting a few easy 5.12s and then flashing a 12c. I got lots of mileage on the soapy limestone.

This is me flashing Cardinal Sin. This route is 12a but in the gym it would be 13c.

For the better part of two weeks, Hayden’s house in Carbondale was empty. Think parents gone. Think huge mansion. Think kegs, cocaine and a house full of raging party. I commuted from Hayden’s house to Rifle for a few days, while I met people camping out there and got used to the scene. Hayden had to handle the dozens of Carbondale hotties himself.

Hayden on Pump-A-Rama at the Arsenal

Supposedly Michael Kennedy, Hayden’s dad, is a good climber. He’s climbed a lot of rock routes across the world. He’s done some serious alpine climbing. He owned Climbing Magazine and now works as the editor for Alpinist. Supposedly he’s a bad ass. I don’t know about all that- what I do know is that Hayden’s dad can drink some scotch. Part of my reasoning behind making the big drive to Colorado was to meet some of the talking heads I’ve conversed with via the interweb but never met. Michael Kennedy exceeded my expectations. After a few glasses of scotch, MK was able to discuss the effects the internet had on print media using eight letter words. I could only nod and watch the room swim. Professional. Point Colorado.

Hayden and Julie Kennedy stretching it out after too much Scotch and wine

Dan Mirsky, Jen Vennon, Wendy Williams, Andrew Bisharat, and a dozen other Rifle climbers, all crush steep limestone on the western slope. They also all wear tank tops. From plain white Target style Man-tanks to surf inspired Volcom hipster sleeveless shirts, tank tops are the hippest piece of climbing apparel in the canyon. To fit into the scene at Rifle, I bought one at the Glenwood Springs Mall. The 16 year old girl at Pacific Sun told me the turquoise shirt with the navy piping looked best so I wore it to the crag the next day. The warm-ups felt easier. I crushed the first pitch of my project and headed into the extension. I felt strong in my tank. The freedom that my arms had seemed to make all the difference. Just a few feet from the anchor, I threw for a crimp, hit the hold and promptly flew off.

“FFFFUUUUCCCKKK!!” I screamed. My belayer yearded 20 feet off the ground to the first bolt. I finished the route and lowered. What had gone wrong? I looked good. I had my tank top. I had the appearance of a Rifle crusher.

“Nice farmer’s tan,” said one of the sport wankers at the Project Wall. Something snapped inside of me. That was the answer- that was the reason why I had fallen. I wasn’t tan. Not only did the Rifle climbers wear tanks but they also had tans. Despite climbing in the shade all day, the climbers managed to be tan. Coloradians tan in the shade. Point Colorado.

Jen Vennon's birthday party. Andrew and Jen were having dinner at this sushi place once when the sushi chef started belting out "Take my hand, we'll make it I swear Oh oh, livin' on a prayer Livin' on a prayer!" Apparently Bon Jovi was sitting right next to them at this Aspen restaurant. He was wearing a turtleneck. CRAZY!

My blog wouldn't be complete without a picture of Max- the scardest dog I've ever met.

The Austrailian kid came running over to the Wasteland. “Rednecks are stealing draws from the Arsenal,” he panted.

Kenny Barker ripped his Cookie Monster t-shirt off, exposing a sinewy 6 foot 3 inch frame, and transforming into a beast. He owns a pug named GusGus, coaches for a youth climbing team in Vail, but grew up in the South East. The redneck in Kenny emerged as he marched across the street with four other climbers to confront the family of thieves. The family of four was waddling in and out of limestone cave on the other side of the canyon. The father was fat and had a tripod. The 20 year old son was fat and had a face full of metal. The 10 year old son was fat and had a walking stick. The mom was fat and had a frump so big she probably hadn’t seen her vagina in a decade.

“Did you guys take a draw off a route?” Kenny asked politely. We stood behind him. We must have looked like a group of maneroxic body builders.

“I’m actually a Yosemite trad climber,” I thought, “I’ve battled the wide.” I folded my arms, pushing my fists into my biceps so they would look bigger.” If there was a brawl…

“I climbed up the route unclipped it, and then dropped the car-biner slingee. I don’t know what happened to it,” the thug son said.

“Why do you need those things up there anyway?” The fat dad’s jowls shook. “If you were real climbers, you would hang your own car-biners every time,” The redneck had a point.
He held up a keychain carabiner, “How much do those things cost? 1 or 2 bucks? What do you care anyway? They’re not your car-biners. Who cares if we’re taking someone else’s stuff- that’s none of your concern.”

The mom’s fat cheeks, her stomache, and her frump all bounced in time as she nodded in furious agreement.

“They’re part of the climbing community,” Kenny said diplomatically. “These are expensive pieces of equipment and we all use them for our own safety. When one is worn or goes missing, the climbing community replaces it. They’re expected to be there and essential to our safety. Do you really want someone to die?”

The family looked at Kenny and grimaced. Thoughts like these caused boig pains between their ears. They didn’t look happy with having to think so hard.

“Why don’t you ask your brother what happened to it? I looked- it’s not there anymore,” said the Aussie.

“You want some of this?” At the subtle accusation that the rednecks had stolen the draw, the 20 year old threw his arms in the air. The flab of his biceps swung around. “I’m from Denver.”

I had no clue where Denver was but from the looks of the fat ass it couldn’t be that tough. Things were heading to fisticuffs. Colorado was exciting after all.

“I’m just gonna be honest,” the ten year old boy squealed. He ran around the corner and returned with a $25 Petzl Quickdraw, the bottom fixed draw on Pump-A-Rama.

“Thanks a lot,” Kenny said. “Thanks for helping keep the climbing community safe and for your honesty.”

The father nodded. It was about safety after all. The young son looked at the ground.

The older one looked disappointed and pissed. He mumbled than spoke.

“Whatever,I don’t need these things,” he held up a keychain carabiner, trying to save face. “I free climb.” Point Redneck Freehander. I wish California had redneck freehanders like that.

Jed got to ride a Segway at one of his office parties for the bank he works at in Rifle. Jed's a classic Rifle character. Just check out that wolf shirt.

I’ve met Lynn Hill a few times. In Hueco. In Yosemite. This time in Rifle. Every time she asks me what my name is. I say, “James.” There’s a pause while I wait for her to say, ”I’m Lynn.” She never does and it makes me mad. Who doesn’t introduce themselves? A few years ago, her son was at the crag and threw a rock through a climbers’ window. Lynn got the guy compensation for the window and then wrote him an apology note. In with the note, Lynn added an autographed photo of herself sending the Nose on El Capitan. “Hey, so sorry my kid broke your window. Here’s a picture of me climbing harder than you ever will.” Point California for having people who keep it more real than people who live in Colorado.

The normal junk show at the Project Wall

“Are those Oreos?” My mouth watered slightly. It’d been days since I had a cookie. The backlight of the Rifle Campground fire made the tasty little treats glisten a little. I wanted one or two or eighteen.

“Actually, they’re organic Belgian chocolate crackers with a Peruvian vanilla bean filling. They’re fair trade,” she responded.

My hand shot out and stole a cookie. “Are you from Boulder?” I asked as crumbs fell out of my mouth.

“OMG! How’d you guess?” She said nearly laughing her $300 LuLuLemon Yoga Pants off.

“Like everyone in the world is from Rifle,” she said with the conviction of a religious zealot.

Danny laughed at her. He was from Atlanta.His girlfriend was from Delaware. I was from California. No one around the campfire except the girl from Boulder was from Colorado. The Austrailian kid and his Canadian girlfriend weren’t even from the States. No point for Colorado on that one. Actually Colorado loses a point.

Hanging at the Arsenal- Photo by Lukas Hill

Laos. Vietnam never felt this muggy. Sweat pours down my body. It’d be better if it was raining on the Project Wall. It would be less humid. The conditions suck. I shouldn’t care but I do. Instead of not getting attached to anything in Rifle, I started projecting. Bad Idea. I one hung 3 different 12ds in the same day and couldn’t manage to send any of them. I’m starting to wobble. I decide to take my fitness to the next level.

Rifle attracts all sorts of weirdos

At the end of the month, I was ready. Honed. Conditioned. I went into the comp with high expectations. There would be a cash prize. If I won the contest, the award would pay for my entire month of climbing. I’d done some prepping with Kenny Barker the week before.

The 40th annual Mountain Fair Festival in Carbondale attracted hoards of hippies, carnies who set up booths to hawk glass vases, do angel readings and make a few bucks from fat locals. I stopped by the pie baking booth as early as I could on Saturday morning. “You’re fruit number 1,” the official told me when I dropped off my lattice butter crust organic Granny Smith apple pie. I knew the competition would be stiff. The Olympic Sprinters of pie baking come out to the Mountain Fair festival for the contest. Over a dozen contestants enter into each of the three categories- fruit, crème and exotic. This year was no different.

Some of the other contestants at the bake off

“Randy has no sense of direction. He can’t find anything and has no clue what’s going on around him. Oof!” That’s when Beth ran into three people walking the other way at the summer fair. Andrew, Randy Puro, Beth and I cruised through the fair, scoping out the scene and stopping by to see Jen Vennon;’s origami earring booth (which was rad)

My bad ass pie

With a couple of cherry pies made with Kenny in Aspen under my belt, and a slew of other pies this year in Bishop, I knew I stood a fair chance. I spent 4 hours baking at Andrew’s house. Sunday morning was a great big disappointment to me. Carbondale resident Judy Harvey destroyed the competition, winning the fruit section with a marian berry, raspberry, blackberry pie. She also placed third in exotic. She’s won over 20 ribbons in the past few years for her baking expertise. Sandbagging locals. Point Colorado.

This is the part where I talk a little bit more about climbing. I do climb a lot. Blah blah blah fall fall fall send send send. It’s just about all the same but this time I went somewhere new. I’ll wrap things up now.

Put yourself out there. Try something new. Fail. Fail. Succeed. Grow as a person. It’s not easy but it’ll make you a better person and a better climber. Being willing to push yourself is a requirement of success. I don’t know how many points Colorado had in the end. I can’t count to twenty with my shoes on. I do know that I went out there, tried something new, failed, succeeded, grew, and mostly importantly had a good time with lots of great people. My trip to Rifle was fun, the way climbing trips should be.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Yosemite Spring 2011

Picture four limbs flailing in the air, a tangle of ropes whizzing by, and a man screaming. Lucho called me from the hospital that evening. There had been an accident.

I arrived in Yosemite with high hopes of free climbing a new big wall route. John and I woke up early, marched up the east ledges of El Capitan, and rappelled from the summit down to the two crux pitches on the FreeRider, the easiest free route up El Capitan. After warming up by toproping the Enduro Corner (5.12b), John and I headed down to the boulder problem, a section of 5.12d and the hardest moves on the whole route. We got schooled. John really wanted to climb the Freerider this season and getting shut down on the boulder problem was demoralizing. This 20 foot section of rock would stop us from a free ascent of El Cap. 20 feet on a 3,000 foot climb. Brutal. Before we made the long rappels to the ground, I gave John a hug on the side of El Cap. Climbing is hard.

Lucho and I climbing at Killer Pillar- Ben Ditto Photo

John and Lucho climbed Demon’s Delight, a 5.11- traversing route on Schultz’s Ridge below the East Buttress of El Capitan. The initial 3 pitches traverse leftwards and then the final pitch climbs straight up through a 5.11 mantle. Lucho followed the last pitch. At the belay, Lucho asked John if the rope was middle marked. The rope’s mark was highly faded from use. Lucho didn’t have a rappel device so John lowered him to the bolted belay at the top of the third pitch, approximately 90 feet off the ground. Lucho stayed tied in. John double rope rappelled but neglected to even out the ropes. Lucho saw the uneven ropes but didn’t say anything. John descended until he was ten feet above Lucho and a hundred ten feet above the ground. Then the rope went through his belay device and John started free falling.

Tim Derohen and I went climbing for the first time 11 years ago. Vermont Academy, the boarding school I attended in southern Vermont, hired Tim on as the climbing coach, a babysitter for a group of kids who needed an after school activities to bolster their college applications.

Coach Tim at the Keene State Bridge 12 years ago

“You didn’t have to show Grayson how to back step,” Tim said. On a trip to the gnesis sport crag of Rumney New Hampshire, Grayson Holden onsighted Romancing The Stone, a 5.10d. “He was naturally talented.” I was not. After two years of toproping on the Keene State Bridge in New Hampshire and other tiny crags, I managed to send Yoda- a steep 5.9 sport climb at Rumney. I moved to Yosemite a year later and started a ten year love affair with granite. I saw Tim a few times over the years when he came out to Yosemite.

We headed out to Washington’s Column. Jake Whittaker and I had dabbled on Planck’s Constant earlier in the season, trying the pitch twice. The crux of Quantum Mechanic follows a 5.11 crack to an enormous roof, which traverses left for 40 feet. It’s not an undercling- it’s a THUNDERCLING! Tim and I climbed the middle portion of Mid-East Crisis. We aided up beautiful corner pitches, scoping them for a free line. I returned with John Schmid and we freed the pitches in sections. I fixed ropes half way up the Column and returned to drill a lead bolt connecting the top of the crack system to some face climbing on the arête.

John’s arms flailed through the air. In an attempt to slow himself down, he grabbed Lucho’s end of the rope. The rope burned through his hand and he got tangled up in the other end. John crashed into the branches of an oak tree 100 feet from where he fell. After a few moments, Lucho heard him. “I’m alive! I’m alive!” Lucho fixed the rope and rapped down to John, who was precariously balanced in the branches. He clipped him into his belay device and the two rappelled to the ground. Lucho ran to the meadow, grabbed Dave Turner and the pair carried John down to the car. They drove to the hospital in Merced, where John was treated for 3rd degree burns on his hand, other minor rope burns, two slightly sprained ankles, and a pulled tendon in his elbow.

All Phoenix pictures by Michael Pang

Climbing in Yosemite involves toiling. Hike to the base, hump a big back pack, do some sketchy approach pitches, climb one splitter, epic topping out, scramble back down to the base, hike down at dark hungry and tired to deal with whatever fucked up camping and food storage scene you have going on in the Valley floor. That’s an easy day. A day when your friend doesn’t fall a hundred feet. The day after John’s fall, I jumared up his line on Demon’s Delight, rappelled, and then went to El Cap meadow and drank. The next day, I jumared up my four fixed lines on Washinton’s Column and rappelled the route, cleaning it as I went down. I was terrified rappelling down the wall, still shaken up by John’s fall. Yosemite was crushing me. I would have to return in the fall.

Hike from the top of Cascade Falls, rappel 60 feet to a stance, then head down another 120 feet, and you’ll reach the base of the Phoenix- one of Yosemite’s famous difficult crack climbs. An ascent of this route is a nice feather in any climbers cap and I managed to toprope it from below the crux. So I tried to lead it. This did not go as planned. I climbed pinned out 5.12 stemming, and placed a crappy piece inside a pin scar that opened up in the back. The climbing felt too hard to put in a more solid piece. I wanted to send the route so I punched it into the crux.

That’s when I fell. My cam popped out of the crack. I fell on a fixed piton. When I stopped, I was right next to Ashely, my belayer.

I pulled the rope, climbed through the stemming and then hung my way through the crux. I was scared. I climbed through the thin fingers section after the crux. I tried to place a cam but my smallest piece was too big. I tried to stuff it higher, than lower, than higher. Eventually I tossed the piece over my shoulder, and kept climbing. I got massively pumped, tried to down climb, got scared, and jumped. Ashley tied me off and went searching in the poison oak for the cam I had thrown. Thankfully she found it. I climbed the rest of the route without incident. I went back a week later with Jens Holsten and tried the route again. It was offensively hot. I couldn’t stick the technical jams at the crux. I needed a hug.

The day before my failed redpoint attempt, Alex Honnold free soloed the route. Honnold's actions were part of a Vendetta. We met 5 years ago in Squamish. When I told him I'd fallen off the crux of the notorious 10d offwidth Pipeline, he went and soloed it. When I was driving to Zion to free climb Moonlight Buttress, he told me he had soloed it a few days before. Regular route on Half Dome, The Rostroman, just about any long hard free route I've tried- same thing. Since I’d been working on the Phoenix this spring- getting close- so you know what Alex did?

Llyod Christmas in Foresta

Honnold’s a nice guy- for a dick.

“Speaking of ugly,” John Long leaned against the porch wall in El Portal as Lara Logan, the voluptuous 60 Minutes correspondent walked out to the group of men.

“Speaking of washed up has been rock climbers,” Lara knew how to work the film crew, flirting coquettishly and with just the right amount of sass.

Logan, along with half a dozen of out of shape camera men, met Peter Mortimier, Rob Frost, and Sender Films intern Kyle to film Honnold soloing the Choinard Herbert on the Sentinel. Long and Logan stood at the base watching him climb while Yosemite locals Mikey Schaefer, Dave Turner, and Ben Ditto dangled from ropes filming Honnold climb the route.

“Ho man! Looks a little touch and go up there,” Long commentated when Alex climbed through a bit of wet 5.10. Alex had climbed the route twice that season and had it pretty worked out. It wasn’t very touch and go at all despite the few wet holds. Alex is a calculated soloist. Long hammed it up for Logan and the 60 Minutes crew at the base. The ascent went by smoothly. A couple of times, Alex had to sit on a ledge for half an hour while the film crew jumared higher on their fixed ropes.

“How’s the view?” Logan asked Honnold in a radio interview at the summit.

“It’s good. But if I wanted the view I would have hiked around to the top,” Honnold said.

I cackled in the background, cracking up at Honnold’s penchant honesty. Mortimier and Kyle shot me a glance to quiet down, afraid that my braying would be recorded onto the interview. The Sender Films hired porters to hike a load to the top and then carry another one day. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make a bunch of money, hang out in the 60 Minutes rented house, eat tons of food and drink lots of beer. I swooped. Ca-Caw!

A hungry climber, Coach caught a snake for lunch on the hike to the top of the Sentinel

Ben Ditto suggested that we were encouraging Honnold’s soloing. We were certainly participants in the stunt and were making money off of Alex’s life threatening climbs. It’s true. We had all hopped on the 60 Minutes gravy train when it rolled through but if we hadn’t who would? Not sure what else to say but that I hoped Alex doesn't die.

Ditto in the heat of El Portal

The heat, the traffic, and mostly the amount of work that needs to get done to go climbing in Yosemite worked me. My 8a card suffered and so did my fragile fragile ego. I climbed with Jens Holsten for a few days in Tuolumne but despite the great weather and being able to climb with one of my long time friends, I needed to escape. I spent the week with Kim, climbing in the gym, and with the next member of the 100 foot club- John Schmid.

Schmid lives

I hoped to salvage my season by becoming a bad ass gym climber and impressing Kim. I definitely didn’t do the former and the latter is still in question.

All I do is rock climb and to a great extent, my feeling of worth is directly linked to how well I climb. While it’s bad to attach myself so greatly to something as abstract as scaling a rock, I can’t help myself. I complained to Ben Ditto about not having done anything this season. “You’re putting in work for the future,” he told me.

I kept that in mind as I packed my car and made the 18 hour drive to Rifle Colorado. I was working for the future.