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One Scared Monkey

There I was, standing on some seemingly irreversible slab feeling far to insecure for comfort, thinking “$*%&(, I could DIE!” No bueno. Let’s make that MUY no bueno! How’d I get here? Well . . .

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I’d been hearing about the Needles and it’s supposedly immaculate granite and splitter routes for years. All manner of adjectives are used to describe the place. The photos make your jaw drop. Friends said I’d love it. Finally, I’d organized a big trip, with multiple people coming. Then they all bailed, with the exception of my buddy Jesse, who’d I’d go anywhere with, because he’s a badass, by the way. We wind up meeting and spending our first few days at Dome Rock, a smaller Needles sub area. The weather was cloudy and it misted light rain several times. The peace and quit was randomly shattered with the roar of Navy jet fighter pilots roaring up the valley only to roll and dive between small gaps between the Needles’ individual peaks – only adding to the raw intensity of the place. Wild, hair raising stuff!

The first day, after doing an rather adventuresome route, after dinner and a few beers, I decided to go solo the easy classic on the dome, “Tree Route” a 5.6 crack climb. People even recommend it as a solo. Should be child’s play I figured. I’ve soloed harder so I wasn’t worried about it. Just to play it safe though, I chose to wear a brand new pair of shoes with perfect edges. That sounded like a nice safety margin – after all I wasn’t familiar with the area and don’t often climb on granite these days.

As I worked my way up the route I found it was indeed easy. I was a little buzzed, but felt confident that in no way affected my climbing ability. Frankly, I was a little disappointed that the advertised ‘hand crack’ was less gold camalots and more red camalots. Not that it mattered – I was almost walking up the thing. Up high, at the beginning of the last pitch, there was a real narrow ledge – and then 20 or 30 feet of no nonsense slab climbing. Mind you, it’s all reportedly 5.6. There was more slab after that but the angle relaxed and it looked easier. There was one bolt maybe 15 feet up. As I looked up I had the sinking feeling this slab might be harder than I wanted it to be. I studied it time and again, but discovered no weaknesses or ways to ease the difficultly.

Finally, I just went for it. Terror invaded my mind as I came to grips that only my feet held me from slipping into oblivion. I began wondering if climbing buzzed wasn’t the hottest idea. Had I lost all my slab climbing ability? I’ve climbed slabs four grades harder – and I’m a better climber than when I had last done that. I found myself stalled out and scared just below the bolt. Two more body lengths more and I’d be on some micro edges that I knew would spell safety. I felt startling insecure. Down climb, my mind screamed? Nooope, no gonna happen. The alarm bells were going off. I knew falling was no option. I didn’t like the idea, but my self preservation instinct said, “pull a move and step on the dratted bolt, NOW!” I stood on the bolt I collected myself. Now I was just a mere move away from easier climbing. I was safe. I asked myself, “was the slab that hard?” “Am I just that out of slab climbing practice?” “Or was it just fear?” Or the alcohol?” As I finished up the route, I decided I just didn’t know.¬†Ironically, my one attempt at safety, a new pair of shoes may have been a bad idea on that slab. A more worn, looser pair might have made it easier to get more of the rubber soles surface on the granite, and thus better friction.

The next day, I went and soloed the route again, this time stone cold sober just to see if the beer had anything to do with it. It didn’t. Like I originally thought, my climbing ability and sense of self preservation were exactly the same. Either the slab was hard or I’m out of slab climbing practice – probably both, because it was just as scary and insecure as the first time.Yikes.

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