No Sojourn For A Fool
Wind whips around me, snapping at my garments, causing my nerves to wear thin. I’m frustrated and pissed. I scream a little – no one can hear me anyway. This whole blasted route has been an exercise in frustration. Now I’m stuck at the end of a dead end crack system, trying to decided if I should pull out on to the slab above and blindly hope there is gear and a belay spot or if I should down climb at least 70 feet down to the last small ledge and veer left onto the slab down there. I have no clue which way to go. My only source of beta, my smartphone, is with my belayer my good buddy Jesse. He can’t hear or see me. Despite reading the route description right before setting off on this pitch, I’m doubting my choice to follow this crack to it’s end. My route finding instincts are usually spot on, it’s been forever since I’ve got off route, but I have a bad feeling about this one.
On one hand I have my gut feeling I should have gone left down below. It’s rarely wrong, this gut feeling of mine. There is also a very difficult to see sun bleached and weather knotted piece of webbing in the jammed in the back of the crack someone clearly bailed / rapped off of a long time ago. That’s ominous as hell. On the other hand, what little I remember about the pitch says follow some crack to the end and belay on a dish on some slab – which sounds like I’m doing this right. Also, there’s a faintly chalked hold in front of my face – evidence that I’m on route, unless I’m following some other fool. Also, on the plus side is a lizard, I’ve dubbed him, my ‘spirit lizard.’ Adding to the day’s list of oddities, I’ve followed him up this entire route, and he nonchalantly free solos in front of me, as I imagine him saying when looks at me, “dude what’s the big deal – this is EASY!” ‘Course, I’m not sure if I trust the little bugger. Could be he’s leading me down the garden path.
Unsure and uncertain, I figure it’s time to man up, make a choice, and damn the consequences. Heh. Bad idea. The slab is tenuous – my feet feel insecure – which I’ve discovered have lost there slab climbing skills during my two year tenure in RR climbing nary a slab. As I traverse to a dish feature that is lower angle and my only chance for a belay I have hope, it looks like there might be gear here. When I arrive, my hopes are dashed. Every crack I check is useless – I can’t even place the smallest RP in one. I scream and hurl profanities at the sky. I hate my choices. I could down climb a slab that’ll likely result in a long, long fall onto a good camalot – all the while trying to reverse 100 feet or so of climbing. The idea of down climbing slab makes me shudder. Or I could bring Jesse up on a butt belay, and then quest off onto a a slab with no gear or bolts with no idea if I’m on route or not, since the next pitch is supposed to be a unprotected pitch to a bolted belay. If I fell we’d both tumble to our deaths – a regular crap sandwich of a gamble not to mention a genuinely bad idea.
Drat! There I was, up shit creek and real scared. I thought of the irony. Trapped on a ostensibly 5.7 + scared outta my mind, just when I had begin to think I had this grade range basically down. And when responsible for my buddy, who’d I’d protect at all costs. Risking my neck is one thing, but Jesse’s is off the table. Ah, hubris, you ugly bastard! I don’t pray half as much as I should, but when my tails in a crack I can wise up a little. Now I started praying real hard right about then, asking the big man upstairs to save my sorry, worthless butt from woe. ‘Bout right then I started to get more rational than scared. I started double and triple checking for gear placements. Yet again, I was surprised I had missed a real small crack system and was able to build an anchor of micro cams. I was so unnerved that I was concerned about the anchor failing – an oddity, since it was textbook, but it illustrates how freaked I had become. Just as I finished the anchor I spotted what I was certain was a bolted anchor 100 or so feet up and to the left. Once I found that, I knew I had things almost under control again. I was just a single, unprotected pitch from a bolted anchor and being back on route. By the time Jesse reached the belay my fear had abated and by then I felt like a fool.
The rest of the route wasn’t to bad after that. Route finding still wasn’t easy, but the climbing was so I didn’t matter much. Prior to my little freak out we spent probably three hours just hiking to the base of Voodoo dome and trying to find the route. Then, once at the base, the line was anything but obvious. The various descriptions seemed contradictory. Not wanting to get stuck on unknown rock, we spent a further hour trying to figure that out. Then, on the second pitch I climbed what I thought was rather wild and woolly dihedral right off the belay. Stemming up the thing felt touch and go, especially given the fact that some wanker on mtnproj had the nerve to give the pitch a 5.6 rating. Biggest lie / sandbag I’ve seen in a long while. Moving from stemming to jamming in the dihedral I was near positive I was going to fall.
Anyway, there she is boys and girls. Humble pie all around.