Sunday, September 6, 2009

Perspectives on the climbing experience...

My friend Zach wrote a great short piece about how he feels when climbing. I thought about it for a while and decided to also write my own, a much needed distraction to homework that day. I'll put Zach's first, as he is a much better writer.

"Of all the reasons that life in the mountainous, empty country of the West is mocked by urbanites, the least convincing is that there is nothing to do. Oftentimes these city-dwelling naysayers can be found on sofa cushions basking in the glow of artificial light. I, for one, believe that there is an inherent advantage to sunlight.

From the belay at the base of the rock wall, both Zach and Jake looked up to see the long, winding crack they’d soon climb. It was beautiful all the way up, slim enough to accept fists here, fingers there, and never so wide that it became the less beautiful offwidth. It was a single pitch, a carefree line.

The morning was warm and windy. The branches of the pines that surrounded the belay swayed slowly, and at the top of the crack, where the anchor chains hung on the wall, they could see the small shrubs that grew in the notches and were fed by rainwater and dust whipping back and forth. They sat quietly in the grass chewing energy bars and learning the crack. When their hunger was sated, they organized gear and taped their hands.

The last act before the climb was always the final check—yanking on straps and tugging at rope, placing a faith in the nylon and steel so strong that it was a form of love.

“You good?”

“Yep. You?”


Jake led. He was a superior climber, both technically and mentally, and he always led. As he approached the wall, his focus narrowed to the rock in front of him. His thoughts disappeared. He slid his taped hands into the first great opening, felt the cool granite against his fingers, and made a fist. He could sense the mass and the strength of the rock. He gave it his trust, and his confidence was tempered. From here on he was an artist, lost in his art. He was fast and sure.

Zach looked up, tense. His hands gripped the rope, feeding line now, pulling it in now, and he felt the grease of sweat and chalk on his palms. He watched Jake placing gear and wedging fingers, always searching for any sign that a fall was coming. If he saw Jake pause, or fumble to place a cam, he braced himself, ready for the catch. His weight shifted back and forth on his feet. His arms were tense but gentle, like a dancer’s. And always, his eyes were on Jake, far above.

Toward the end of long days he felt a sharp pain in his neck, and would hang his head heavily in between climbs for relief.

In ten minutes, Jake approached the anchor, sixty-five feet above the floor. Zach stood, still tense, squinting his eyes against the deep blue sky above. He watched as Jake used a free hand to unclip gear from his harness and methodically build the rappel anchor. He began to imagine the climb for himself, how he would feel high above the ground, everything quiet but his breathing and the wind whipping across his face."

Here's mine along with a non related picture

I look upward searching the featurless rock for answers. My only focus on, where can I protect myself next, do I need to protect this section, and how can I get up the next ten feet of rock? I look down and see the rope blowing in the wind going to my last piece of protection almost 20 feet below. I take a cam off of my harness, remind myself to breath, and place it in the pefect contstriction in the rock. Quickly I attach a carabiner and clip my rope in. Each movement planned and precise as that of a dancer in show. The energy rushes into my body and an unusual lightness, as some climbers call a, “low gravity day,” takes over. I continue upward.

It is in these situations I feel the most alive. I imagine myself as an artist painting a masterpiece, or a composer pouring his/her heart into the music. All thought inward, focused on my breath, the rock, and not work, school, or other societal constraints. Before I know I’m at the top and am met with mixed emotion. It is not the top that I climb for, but the whole experience.

After buidling an anchor and attaching myself to the rock it is time to focus on the other half of climbing. I pull the rope tight. It is attached to not only a climbing partner, but a friend. To me climbing is as much about commradere, as it is about climbing. A quote by famous French mountaineer Lionel Terray articulates it much more concisely than I will attempt to.

"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."

My climbing history...

I saw a post on someones blog talking about their own climbing history. I thought this was an interesting concept, so I'm going to copy it. It all started back in 2003. My friend Graham and I grew tired of the gym very quickly. I found a deal on a used set of climbing gear (harness, shoes, chalk bag, ancient atc, more ancient set of cams) and Graham bought a rope. After looking on the internet we found the perfect outdoor climbs to start with. Two 5.5's at Vedauwoo. Surely 5.5 in the gym would be the same at Vedauwoo, ha.

The first climb E.O. layback didn't go as planned. While approach the climb, a classic Vedauwoo walkup, Graham took a nasty fall. For some reason we continued up. Since Graham had been climbing for about two months longer than me he was going to lead. After his fall it was up to me. I looked up saw the anchors, and was under the presumption that climbers just climbed up to the anchors unprotected to set up a top rope. So I did. Luckily I didn't die, and luckily there where big chain anchors at the top that I ran the rope through.

Second climb; hideway chimney, which proved to be a large step up from the prior. The guidebook said classic 5.5, 90 feet of chimneying to one of the scariest rappels at Vedauwoo. Great! We set out around 5p.m. after work. Since I had led the last climb it was Grahams turn. After a half hour spent trying to untangle the rope he started climbing. Notice in the picture we are still under the assumption the first climber has to solo to get to the anchors.

So Graham gets about halfway up into the crux and after much deliberation we decide I will try to complete the climb. He downclimbs and we switch spots. At this point it is getting dark.

The above is me climbing with a headlamp, yes we didn't know how to climb, but I did come prepared with a headlamp. I finished the climb, got to the top, and started looking for the "gym type" anchors. I didn't find any. After twenty minutes of yelling against the wind to Graham I finally found two bolts. I could think of nothing else to do so I untied, threaded the rope through the bolts, and tied back in. I told Graham I was ready to lower. Once again I'm lucky to be alive, and have learned from the experience.

After these experiences I get some basic advice from people who know what they are doing, and deem myself ready to show others after some equally sketchy lead/solos, I feel ready for a multipitch. At this point I at least know what a quickdraw is for (I once thought it was took hook into your harness and then the bolt and rest on in between soloing.) and I know that it is safer to be hooked in at all times. I also learned how to rappell.

I get a group of five or so people and we decide to do Vedauwoo's only multipitch sport route called "5 days one summer."

With the combined brains of a future economist, engineer, environmentalist, and english major we figure out roughly how it should work. I lead the first pitch clip into the bolts with some webbing, and belay the next person up. Then we throw the rope down to the next person and repeat. Pretty soon we have three people at a crappy hanging belay and it is time for me to lead the next pitch. I do so and luckily find some big fatty chains and a nice huge ledge at the top. I bring the others up. When I look back on it, we are doing it in seige style as if we are climbing a large mountain. Moving people from camp to camp. Eventually we get 4 people to the upper ledge! One was too scared to go up to the second ledge, I won't name names. Then it is for us to figure out how to get 4 people down a multipitch rappel. This goes smoothly, and everyone survives. Much is learned.

From here I decide to actually learn from more experienced people and take a NOLS mountaineering course.

The following year is spent learning how to crack climb. This costs me much skin, and having to work in the back at the pizza place I worked at because of how gnarly my arms looked.

I led many 5.5's, 5.6's, 5.7's, and 5.8's testing my gear seeing what worked and what didn't. It took me a long time to graduate to 5.9 and above. I'm glad I learned this way because I've also learned what to avoid, and how to get out of some shitty situations.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

End of Summer

I had a great two and half week vacation after PCEI and before grad school. The trip started with a trip to McCall to visit my friends Tim and Adrienne. I got two days of climbing in with Adrienne. The first day we went out to some crags by the wildlife sanctuary. I re climbed some climbs that I likely did the F.A.s on a year earlier. Nice day out with great huckleberry picking on the hike. The second day we set out to do the classic route on slick rock (I've lost track of how many times I've been up this great 1200 foot climb!). The climbing went smoothly, and it was evident Adrienne's technique and strength has majorly improved. She crushed the tricky crux. The hike down was nice, as it was filled with huckleberries.

After some beer, coffee, and free sushi we headed out to find Tim. Since he had no cell phone, and only left us a message, and no phone number we had to brainstorm where he would be. My first guess was Osprey point, and I was right. We then started drinking beers and went out to the new brewery. The new salmon river brewery in McCall has some super good IPA's!

I headed to Laramie the next day. In Laramie I fooled around with my rope solo setup, and climbed some classics I hadn't done before. I got on Skull, Beefeater, and MRC direct. All three where excellent quality, and reminded me why I love Vedauwoo so much.

Medicine Bow Peak soooo pretty!

Climbers on gnarly 5.9+ offwidth at Vedauwoo!