My eyes struggle to focus in the early morning light. The sun has not yet risen, but we’ve been hiking along an old road for thirty minutes. As the sun gets closer to the horizon, colors of orange, red, and yellow, fight their way into view. The objective looms overhead; a 3,000 foot monolith of sandstone. It still all seems surreal, and the hours of dreaming of this route now blend into reality. The robust smell of the desert in early morning overwhelms that of the pollution of nearby Las Vegas. For once, we are alone here, no other climbers, no hikers, and no tourists. As I walk, my legs start to wake up, and I think about what it would have been like to be here before the city. We gain rhythm as the sun starts to rise and eventually come to what we assume is the white rot gully, a passage way that will lead us to the base of the cliff.
The gully is steep and covered with loose rock. It was certainly not what I expected, but I carefully make my way up stemming my feet, grabbing with my hands, and doubting with my mind. At the top of the gully we recognize the start of the route to the left of the one we will be climbing, and the excitement of being close gives us energy. After scrambling through, under, over, and around small oak trees and various other shrubbery we finally reach a line of bolts arching up onto a 1,500 face of rock. This is the start of our route. We are in a narrow gully with hundreds of feet of sandstone on either side. Ferny vegetation fills this narrow and ominous corridor, with our climb taking a drastic vertical path toward s the sky.
We quickly drink water, unpack the ropes, rack the gear, lace shoes, tie into the rope, and before I know it I’m on belay. The first pitch proves to be less than inspiring, and there is loose and sandy rock. My plan was to link the first two, but by the time I get to the top of pitch one I decide to stop and bring Jason up to keep a closer eye on me for the crux pitch.
This pitch looks steep, much more than I had imagined. It appears to be dark black patina, contrasting to the red rock sitting behind it. The moves look straight forward, but hard. I chalk my hands, and head up into the meat of the pitch. Usually a climb of this grade doesn’t fell this hard, but gravity is pulling on my oversized pack and my still groggy morning arms. I get up to the crux, try to make the moves and all of a sudden I’m falling. Both Jason and I are shocked that I’m falling, and abruptly I come to a quick halt. I quickly assess the damage and am excited that the only damage is a few bloody fingers. The moves consist of a few small crimps, with small feet, and a dynamic throw to an awesome finger jam. Everything feels different a couple hundred feet up and a body length above a bolt. A couple more tries sends me quickly above the crux and to the anchors. I’m upset that this pitch took so long and that the climb seems to be more serious than I’d imagined.
The next few pitches while easy are still quite run out. At times I find myself 40 feet above my last piece of protection, and this is where I really start to get inside my own head. It is in my own headspace that I try to push out the constant thoughts of a recently failed relationship, and can start to regain myself worth. All I feel is the breeze in the air, my hands grasping the patina’ed sanstone, and the focus to get to the next piece. The exposure of clinging to these small holds 1,000 feet off the ground is the perfect escape for me. While climbing I strangely start thinking about my own struggle, and success with staying away from alcohol as an escape during this heartbreak. With each clip I can feel Jason’s relief, as well as my own. My pace speeds up as the rock quality gets better and before I know it we are at a nice ledge taking a brief break. My big sur bar is better than I could have imagined and the extra hiking water weight now seems worth it.
I quickly re rack and head up into the next pitch. The guidebooks call this pitch the S-crack and it is supposedly the trad crux of the route. It looks like an arching crack system the winds its way upward to yet another hanging belay. It is at this point that we look outward and see clouds.At first I push the thought out of my head, as the weather forcast only called for a ten percent chance of rain. As quickly as possible I start the next pitch as to get out of the miserable hanging belay that is cramming both Jason and I into a small corner. I lead up once again run out, thinking, clipping, and then becoming run out again. With a big whoop I turn the lip and practically belly flop onto a huge ledge! I set up the belay bring Jason up, and hear him commenting on the huge clouds that I had pushed out my mind during the lead. It is a quick decision, and we both push our ego’s aside, and decide to retreat.
This is hard, as we’ve been planning this for over a year, and the summit is the goal. But safety, and living to climb another day, are more important. We rig the first rappel backing up the old nasty rodent chewed slings with Jason’s cord, and I set off into the abyss. It was only on the car ride home that Jason told me how badly the bolts on this rappel flexed as we descended. I can only imagine his reaction to knowing that he too had to rappel these sketchy bolts next. Without a whimper he descended, the first of our seven double rope rappels.
About one rappel down the rain starts to lightly sprinkle. Then it gets harder. The thunder rolls in, and then the wind. Now we are tasked with throwing our ropes into an abyss the captures them and shoots them horizontal. While on rappel I literally have to grab the ropes out of the air above me and pull them out of the wind to proceed down. Jason and I both stay super calm during this ordeal cracking jokes as the wind rushes in with 50 mph gusts, and the rain swirls around. We make sure to double and triple check everything on our way down, and before I know it my feet are on the ground.
This is only half the battle as now we have to reverse the two hour scramble that brought us here in the first place. We wind our way through, under, and over shrubs, trees, and brush once again, this time a little bit lighter, and lot more tired. Finally we break out of the gully and find two rappels that surpass the sketchy sections of the hike up. Soon we are back on the trail, and then finally back to the car. I am constantly overwhelmed turning around and looking up at what we were on. In the morning light my eyes were unable to properly distinguish the height, but now the 3,000 feet of this wall stands above us in all of its glory. I’m happy to be down safe, and happy with our good judgment to bail.
The climb was much needed to regain my motivation and re-ignite an inner drive to train, and to constantly better myself. It is often easy in life to get stagnant, but we must keep moving forward. Even little steps get one closer to whatever destination they are destined for. It is in the acknowledgement of this that we can begin to control our own destinies, and regain our power making our societies better.
As always being that exposed brings a feeling of vulnerability, and recognition of just how tiny we are in this world. It made me think a lot about where my life is headed, and while I have no answers, at least I am once again making decisions for myself.
I will be back soon, stronger, faster, and more experienced. Mt. Wilson will go down, and I will take the same steps forward in all aspects of my life.