There are days that stand out from the rest; days that make one explore their limits both mentally and physically. These days are the ingredients of character and the basis of the spectrum of emotion. These experiences include extreme joys, fears, ups, and downs. The camaraderie built with those who these moments are shared with is irreplaceable. When I first moved away from Wyoming I immediately missed the cheese grater offwidths of Vedauwoo. I struggled to find them in Idaho, and then moved to Flagstaff for grad school a few years ago. There is no lack of wide, burly, gritty climbing here…
Saturday morning found me once again driving down I-17 towards Sedona, coffee in hand, music blaring, debating if we should even be getting on the climb we had in mind. I’d run into my friend Cody at the gym on Wednesday and he was going to join Jason and I on this adventure. We were all stoked, and it showed, the energy was radiant, and upon arrival at Courthouse Butte we literally began running the approach. A super quick 40 minutes later, after winding in and out, passing ancient ruins, and circumventing large cliffs, we arrived at the base of “The Prosecutor.” This climb had a fabled puke pitch of 5.11 offwidth that I’d been dreaming of for a long time. Staring up at this climb was intimidating as it appeared to be overhanging. Our line of ascent was obvious, it was the only one! The first pitch from what we knew was bolted. Jason led off with only draws, and after pulling through some really interesting bulges found himself about 30 feet from the anchors, with no more bolts, and no gear. While Cody belayed I scrambled around to the left to get a better view of his climbing. Jason, quickly decided to just go for it, and set off. I watched, blocking the sun with one hand, squinting, as he precisely moved his through finger locks, smears, and eventually up to a limestone band, and onto the belay ledge. His seeming confidence and lack of freak led me to think this climbing was probably easy. When I followed him I found out that he had been run out 30 feet on sandy, hard, 5.10 climbing, with the potential of a sixty foot fall. It was sweet to watch him progress, somewhat surreal like watching a climbing movie of some crazy getting run out on loose rock. Both Cody and I were super stoked at how well Jason held it together, and I’d call it one of the proudest leads I’ve ever seen him do. Excited and nervous to be at the base of the offwidth I looked up into the abyss and prepared myself mentally.
Thinking about all I’d learned in the past about this type of crack I put all my cams in the order I’d use them on a should sling and pushed it over to the right side, as my left would soon be engulfed in the rock. Each cam had an extendable sling so I could push them with me to keep my protection above my head for the most part. A final dip in the chalk bag, and some enthusiasm from Cody and Jason and I sunk the first perfect hand jam. I quickly progressed and the crack widened. First it went to 4 inches, then to an awesome bulge. I pulled through this only to gaze up at a 5 inch roof. I rested, then made it to the roof quickly, giving it my all trying stacks, arm bars, and chicken wings, but to no avail I came to rest on the rope. The roof wasn’t pretty and it was some crazy combination of footwork jamming, and grunting that led me through it and into another 30 feet of 6 inch crack. This went surprisingly well as I alternated between shoulder jams, and butterfly hand stacks. By the time I pulled up into the squeeze chimney I braced my head against my arm desperately trying to breathe, and trying not to puke. I didn’t even think to put another piece of protection in and as soon as I thought I could hold it in I continued up. I ungracefully belly flopped onto the top, an amazing ledge, and rested.
Jason and Cody both had a similar experience to myself, both struggling with the roof, and both feeling like they had to vomit at the top. After some rest we split a PBR, some beef jerky, and a snickers bar. The next pitch looked awesome, a 50 foot traverse on black varnished sandstone over to another great belay ledge. Cody took this lead, and looked like a samurai. Each move calculated, precise, and accurate. He flowed through the crux and to the next belay. Jason did the same, with a little bit more scruffiness and some horizontal stemming. I got through most of it, but struggled with the crux, and pride aside, grabbed the draw.
At this point stoke was high, but looked up at the next pitch, was unsure. It did not look straight forward, although we could see at least five bolts. This pitch was long around 160 feet and stayed pretty sustained with some good rests. Cody took this lead, and worked his way up through cracks, and into a hole. After about five minutes we asked if he was okay, and he shuttered a little and said, “I guess I should keep climbing, I think I’m okay.” His nerves were shaken, but he gracefully pulled through the last layer of rock and up to a belay. At this point he discovered the climb didn’t top out, but was nice enough not to break it to us.
After both Jason and I stemmed, groveled, and fought our way to the top of this pitch we were all ready to rap. Cody, nerves shaken, reminded us about the beers we’d brought to drink on the summit, and cracked his open! At this point I was ready to rapell and saved mine for the bottom. After a sweet free hanging, but un eventful rappel all three of us reached the based. We were so excited to be off, and super excited about what we’d just done. We shared the remaining beers while watching the sun set behind the Mogollon Rim. Vivid reds, oranges, and purples, shone in contrast to the black sky and red rock. The remaining ray’s illuminated the 500 foot red wall sweeping behind us in a surreal orange glow.
The hike down was awesome with the light, and the smell of the desert in the early evening filled our nostrils. This earthy smell seems to fume out of the red dirt and the Junipers filling the air with freshness and rebirth.
While the climb itself was amazing, the best part was the people. Each of us pushed ourselves, each of us had a proud lead, and each of us had a great day out! This is what climbing is about and I’m thankful for how close I live to Sedona, and the amazing friends I have to climb there with!