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Where are the 2 x 4s?!

In the spring of 2015, I was hiking up the canyon that contains the Angel food wall trying to find Lean Lady, the route furthest thing up the gully. It was both further up the gully than I thought, and I had to bushwhack and scramble to get there. While doing so, I spied what looked to be a killer, but hard looking line. I wasn’t sure if it was a route or not. Joe Herbst put a route up in the area called Echolalia and I thought what I was looking at must be it. After some corresponding with Larry DeAngelo I discovered the route was undone but, that Larry had tried it and bailed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember why he had bailed and lacking the motivation and a partner who wanted to do a new route that looked potentially hellish I shelved the project. I’m hardly some grizzled first ascensionist anyway – hell most days I barely feel like a rock climber.

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More recently I have started climbing with Kyle, who like me, is far too ambitious. He wants to do new routes like no one I know. More than I do, for sure. That’s a crazy combination when you’re not that strong, and we aren’t. He talked me into doing a real bad quality first ascent on a limestone peak outside of Red Rock that was just plain dangerous on a rainy day where I had nothing better to do. After that it occurred to me to mention this potential route I had spotted to Kyle. He was immediately excited for the idea. Given that I’d have to do the hard leading I was a bit more reticent. Kyle volunteered to rap the route to see if we could do it with nothing larger than a BD #6. That’s hardly good style, but I was scared and knowing sounded really nice to me. He worked his butt off all day hiking, rappelling, and ascending his ropes back up. In doing so he cleaned a block that could have killed one of us and said we didn’t need anything bigger than a BD #6 because the chimney was easy.

Kyle’s an optimist. I should have remembered that. He and Larry got me fired up on the route and I started to believe it possible. We set out to do it feeling brash and bold. Kyle and I fed off each other’s psych and our thirst for a first ascent worthy of the name needed quenching. When we got to the base of the second pitch, the business end of the route, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was unprepared for the raw physical difficulty and terror that was to follow.

Right off the bat there was a bouldery start with a nice BD #2 handcrack and then some thin face climbing up a varnished slab around a bush. From there it got harder. An awkward left leaning BD #1 handcrack led over featureless varnished slab. I felt that I felt would be impossible for me to jam so I laybacked it. The crack widened to a BD #5 size and I used a variety of funky laybacking like techniques to get past it. There may have been a calf lock in there too, I can’t remember. I found all this climbing quite strenuous and a little intimidating. I was scared.

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Suddenly, my way was blocked by 15 – 20 feet of perfectly parallel very wide BD #6 off width. I can’t climb off width worth a plug nickel, but laybacking something that wide up a sandy crack to risk falling on a BD #6 that some would say was tipped out was not thrilling. As I seized up and starting to freak Kyle started egging me on, reminding me of all the bold talk I made prior to beginning the climb. I thought ‘this must be what separates the men from the boys.’ Somewhere I found the mental strength and desperately clawed my way up the layback. Half way up I crossed my right hand over my left and found myself gripping a crumbly corner. I forced my mind to relax and bumped my right up further, desperately hoping the rock would be better. My luck held – it was better. As I muscled my way up the crack I knew I didn’t have much gas left. I knew a fall would be bad. I had pushed my #6 as high as I could before setting off but it wasn’t nearly as high as I wished. And certainly while I believed the cam would hold I had no desire to test it. I breathed a sigh of relief when I pulled onto some face holds.

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Now the crack was a squeeze chimney. Kyle claimed it would be easy. I didn’t believe him, but I figured it couldn’t that terrible. It looked imposing. Once again, Kyle needled me on. The way he made it sound the route was already over. I wasn’t so sure.  He had given me two pieces of beta, left side in and go as deep into the chimney as I could. I took the first piece of advice, but the second seemed to fly in the face of reality. Deep in the chimney looked impossibly small. I climbed generally on the outside of the chimney. At first it was fairly tight, and while strenuous I didn’t believe falling likely. As I got higher the chimney widened and became far more strenuous. Fully knowing the runout beneath me I was concerned. I knew not for certain what a fall would result in, but it could hardly be a positive result. I was at least 60 feet out from my last cam.

I began to hyperventilate as my body rebelled against the discomfort of the chimney. It was that awkward size that was larger than squeeze but too small to get a knee bar or even get my feet high enough to feel secure. My legs were in an open hip position, similar to how one does a frog leg swimming kick, placing tremendous stress on the inside of my knees and hips. It hurt and was intensely physical. My hands were bleeding, I couldn’t remember why. My entire body began to shake. Kyle’s claims notwithstanding, this chimney felt like the hardest I’d ever climbed. I desperately needed a rest. I was so run out I dared not fall. If I did, I’d likely get wedged in the chimney lower down and get some first class rug burns and maybe get so stuck they’d need a crane to get me out. That would hardly be a happy ending. If I managed to fall out of the chimney I was certain I’d rag doll down the face and deck – resulting in my demise; an even worse outcome.

At this point I began to really hate Kyle and his damn optimism. I was breathing so hard he could hear me 150 feet below – while I was out of sight in a chimney. My anger exploded as I screamed, “Kyle, I’m really pissed. I could really use a fucking 2 x 4 right now!” I was referencing our plan to carry cut 2 x 4’s so we could protect the chimney. He had assured me we didn’t need them. I can’t remember his response. I discovered I could turn my body 45 degrees and wedge my shoulders in the chimney providing a crappy and painful rest. I also began to realize if I was climbing right shoulder into the chimney I’d have a much easier time of it, rather than the left side in I had chosen. I attempted to turn my body in the chimney using two small foot jibs that had probably saved me from taking the big whipper. My shoulders were too big. Trying to turn mid chimney made my heart race even more and trying to move a rack including the three largest BD cams around my neck was super fun.

Kyle advised me that I had screwed up and would have an easier time further inside the chimney. I could now that I was higher in the chimney he was certainly correct. Further inside the chimney no longer looked impossibly small and that there were substantially more edges and face holds there. Just climbing 10 feet higher and traversing 30 feet further inside felt like running a marathon. My body felt like it had been in a fight for my life. Once further in the chimney the climbing was no longer desperate. My body still felt wrecked though. I could barely move. My body still shook. I had to get to a belay spot, but it was all I could do to simply move a few feet and rest. I finally reached a chockstone I could sling. It was a terrible belay spot, awkward and hell, but I wasn’t thinking logically. As I tried to sling it, I discovered Kyle’s cordelette had come untied in with all my thrashing about in the chimney. I finally realized the wisdom in climbing a little higher to an excellent ledge. I collapsed and didn’t move for quite some time.

When I recovered and brought Kyle up I thought, “My God, I can’t believe I pulled that off.” I further thought I’d have to get Kyle to finish leading the route given how terrible I felt. At one point I thought I might throw up. Kyle struggled gamely on the climbing below the chimney. I couldn’t see him, but we could hear each other. He fell 3 or 4 times getting to the chimney. He had to carry the pack, not an easy task, hardly making his passage easier. Once at the chimney however he buried himself far deeper in it than I, and scurried up it like it was a piece of cake – it made me feel the fool. Clearly, I had greatly errored in how I chose to climb the chimney. Kyle did have two advantages over me. He’d seen it before, and he had the right beta, a combination of his and my own observations – right side in and climb deep in the chimney.

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Kyle led the next pitch. It wasn’t long and it followed an awkward crack one could stem up to a large chockstone, reminiscent of the one on Frogland or Community Pillar, you squeezed behind. Other stones pilled together formed a ledge. Kyle called this the elevator shaft. Above this the crack turned into an off width for a short while and I had no desire to lead it. I climbed around it via a slab on the right with a BD #6 in a horizontal hueco. Above I traversed back into the crack, I climbed dollar sized huecos through an occasional bush to a long ledge inside the crack. Above that an easy run out chimney awaited. My legs were sore and I was finished with chimneys, so I chose to solo a slab to the right and bring Kyle up the chimney. The climb was done. I felt like a shadow of myself. Kyle was kind enough to carry extra weight on the descent.

In hindsight it’s hard to say how hard the route was. My hips and knees were sore for days; I had bruises and scrapes all over the place. I felt it took everything I had, but I was generally climbing with little knowledge of what lay ahead or the correct techniques to use. Beta makes a route easier, physically and mentally. I’ll be real curious to see what people say about it. I should probably tell them, “YUR GONNA DIE!!!!!!”

 

 

 


An Obsession

“A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” the Psalms

October 29th 2015

My stomach is in knots. I’m walking into Black Velvet canyon to solo Frogland. I don’t believe it would be all that hard, but I often get a case of the nerves before a solo. The moment I step off the ground, my nerves became calm and I began floating up the route. Frogland went well. I enjoyed it. As I climbed I fooled around taking pictures and was generally quite relaxed except for a few sections. The one spot I was concerned with (I’d climbed the route 2.5 years earlier), a slabby traverse, I avoided by traversing low. While walking off from Frogland I scoped out the Epinephrine descent – I was curious given the fact I screwed up the decent, the one time I’d climbed the route 6 or so months ago. It was simple, I can’t believe I missed it.

Frogland took me a mere hour and twenty minutes to climb. My speed was casual; I took breaks and messed about. Once down from the climb I was faced with a decision. Should I solo Epinephrine? This question has been weighing on my mind for years now. In the beginning, it was a dream, like climbing free climbing El Capitan or going the Olympics – something you dream of but know for certain would never occur. Two and a half years ago when the idea first occurred to me, I’d soloed very little and would have never believed I’d actually do it. It would have been suicide. At that point I just wanted to climb Epinephrine, and that alone took me two years. Over the last year I began soloing easy routes in Red Rock regularly. That’s when the dream began to take serious root in my conscious.

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion…I go to them as humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of the future and, with an unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment…my vision cleared, my strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn.” Anatoli Boukreev

The problem of course is the Epinephrine is the classic stout solo. That is to say, it’s hard. For Red Rock it’s difficult 5.9 and it’s long, steep, and sustained. That wouldn’t be an issue if I was a crusher, but alas I’m not. I’m a moderate climber with big ambitions. My only stand out skill is that I’m relatively bold – but I’d far prefer to be strong. More or less it’s probably too hard for me to be within the realm of a safe solo. Which is a problem – a big problem, if I were to solo it. My hardest onsight, Mushroom People, was a one move wonder 5.10+ and was far and away my hardest onsight. I think an honest assessment would put my Red Rock on sighting ability, when fresh, at around 5.10b, which makes Epinephrine two grades below my on sight ability – a damn thin margin.

“A man who says he has never been scared is either lying or else he’s never been any place or done anything.” Louis L’Amour

I’m obsessed. When my mind wanders it wanders to soloing Epinephrine. I search for answers, climbing the route in my head time and again. I weigh my desire against my concern. I am not suicidal. For me falling to my death is the worst of nightmares. I’d like to die at exactly age 100 in my sleep – not rag dolling off a cliff. If I thought it would happen, I wouldn’t do what I do. However, I’d be a fool to believe there isn’t a chance it could happen. The fear and danger helps make climbing what it is. Climbing is a special pursuit because it flies in the face of humanities greatest fears, death and heights– insuring it doesn’t become football or some other inane sport. Managing and battling with those fears makes climbing as intellectual and psychological as it is athletic.

In my heart of hearts I know I’m going to try and solo Epinephrine. I also know it’s insane. Up to this point my solos have been mostly safe. I honestly believe that. Yes, perhaps a time or two I’ve run into something that I didn’t expect or had something go sideways, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest the absence of an acceptable safety margin. I’m seriously concerned I’ll be abandoning that margin if I solo Epinephrine.

“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger.” Sophocles 

I need to figure out a way to increase that far too small safety margin into something acceptable. I have a few ideas. Become mentally strong, aka, solo lots of routes. Become physically strong – go to the gym and train and boulder as much as I can. Become a better chimney climber – climb lots of chimneys. Gain endurance – climb lots of long routes, climb till pumped regularly.

I do all these things. I work up my soloing ability to 5.9 in Red Rock – only soloing one or two 5.9s. I purchase a membership at the new bouldering gym and wreck myself all summer long, getting stronger as the result. I head out to plumbers crack and climb it 12 times in a row – hoping that’ll improve my chimney technique. I don’t have to try to climb long routes – that’s my jam, I do that anyway.

“Man could escape danger only by renouncing adventure; by abandoning that which has given to the human condition its unique character and genius among the rest of living things.” Rene Dubois

What I should do, but haven’t, is climb Epinephrine several times with a partners, wiring the moves and fleshing out how safe or not I’d be when potentially rope-less. I want to, but it’s a matter of opportunity. One needs a willing and able partner and a car that gets down the rough road out there. Most climbers I know aren’t terribly interested in repeating it. Understandably so, it’s an exhausting climb.

In my mind I climb, practice, and train with this one goal. Solo Epinephrine. I still don’t know if I’ll ever do it. My training, however hard is half assed. In my mind I should be onsighting 5.11 sport routes with ease, floating up 5.10 chimneys, and climbing routes the length of Epinephrine with plenty of pep by the end of the day. I can do none of these things.

I’m afraid of telling people what I ponder doing. My doing so places a weight on their shoulders and gives them permission to inject doubt into my head. I know I want the decision to be mine and only mine. I want to do this climb for myself – not to impress others or because I talk myself into a position where I feel obligated to fulfill an idle boast. Still, I derive great benefit from talking ideas over with others. I find that a great help in fleshing out the weak points of my ideas.

“Risk is an essential dietary constituent.” Thomas Hornbein

One night, at the gym I have an in depth discussion with Patrick, a climber I don’t know well, despite having close mutual friends. Patrick and I are opposites. He’s strong, climbing 5.12 sport routes, but the idea of scary trad climbs, run outs, soloing or anything of that nature, is foreign and scary to him. We wind up talking at length and I really enjoy the conversation. I tell him I have this burning desire to solo a big hard route, but I’m torn. It seems at or over the edge of acceptable risk. When I suggest we should climb together sometime, I’m shocked he says he’d like to but, honestly he’s intimidated by me. I’m floored – I can’t ever remember being told I’m intimidating, and it boggles my mind to think someone that strong would be intimidated by me. I wonder, have I really strayed that far from a normal assessment of risk? That night I realize how badly I want to solo Epinephrine. It doesn’t make sense, it just is.

Only a few people know of my longing. I tell my dad in passing – he doesn’t grasp the significance and pays little attention. I talk about it at length with Micah, my housemate – he treats it the way I do, that’ll be damn dangerous, and advises I should do many laps prior to the solo. My partner Jake guesses my objective after a conversation similar to the one with Patrick, and tells me I’m out of my mind – a reasonable response. Jake actually took a huge whipper on Epinephrine, and he’s a 5.12 climber – when he broke a microwave sized hold.

That day after climbing Frogland I sit on a boulder and struggle. My logic and drive clash viciously. An opportunity has been handed to me; do I take it or walk away? I’m a naturally cautious person, people laugh, but it’s true. For me, risk taking was a learned behavior. I feel like I haven’t prepared enough to solo Epinephrine, but I feel this may be my best opportunity to do so. I prefer understanding every possible ramification of a decision before making it. Not to do so seems illogical to me. I’m hardly a natural ‘live in the moment’ type. I prefer to think my way to victory – not seize the moment and fly by the seat of my pants. I’ve learned however, that however illogical it may be, the second of these options seems to lend itself better to many personal decisions relating to life. It’s just one of those goofy things I wish wasn’t true.

Today, I’m in Black Velvet canyon because I have a car that’ll get my there with ease, a loaner while mine is getting fixed. This isn’t going to happen again. The temperature is perfect and the sun is masked by clouds, meaning I’ll need little water – a fantastic advantage on a route of this length. Silly as it may sound. I’m concerned that if I put off a solo of Epinephrine that’ll I’ll certainly do it further down the road, but with a borrowed vehicle, and that if I kill myself doing so, the person I borrowed the vehicle from would feel guilty because they enabled me. I don’t want that burden on a friend.

We don’t talk about death much in our culture. It’s morbid, so we say. I feel differently. I’m of the opinion one should constantly run a program in the back of your mind calculating the odds of death and trying to avoid it. I also believe an honest dialogue about death is equal parts interesting and healthy, especially if one engages in activities that are actually dangerous or seen as being dangerous. I think risk is healthy. I think it sharpens the mind and invigorates the soul. Our lives today are tamer than ever before in history-it’s actually kind of outrageous. We have it so good we’ve all gone soft. I don’t want to be like that.

I want to test myself. I desire to know my limits, physical, mental, and psychological. I want intensity, to explore the unknown, to understand fear and its ramifications. I hope that by doing so I might learn to better deal with other fears in my life.

I grapple with deciding for an hour and a half. I’m crazy. Why risk my neck for something and inane and useless as climbing? Why love something so pointless? I know the answer. The flow is addictive. I wonder what God thinks of this. I pray. I have no indication that God is for or against this solo. I believe he protects me. I’d like to think I have the best guardian angel in the business. I don’t believe that God’s protection insures that I’ll survive what I’m contemplating. Call it a paradox. My brother and I have a joke where we bombastically claim to be invincible – but it’s exactly that a joke and we know it.

The clouds in places are dark and stormy – threatening rain. This is a massive objective hazard. The Aztec sandstone that makes up my route, and all of Red Rock, becomes very weak when wet – if it rains while I am on route, my goose will be cooked. Latter the clouds drift away without rain. I decide that after two hours of agonizing decision making that I should at least walk to the base of Epinephrine – I’m not sure I’d forgive myself otherwise. Once at the base the inner turmoil replays itself. Never before have I been so uncertain about anything, or been so emotionally scrambled – I feel anxious and shitty. I decide that my drive to solo Epinephrine is going to be dangerous whenever it occurs and putting it off achieves little. I commit my soul to God, say a prayer and step off the ground.

Sometimes a solo feels like a prayer. Like I’m climbing my way closer to God – it’s so peaceful up there. Soloing demands perfection, drive, passion, and total commitment. It quiets my over active mind. It is the antithesis of modern life. A good solo is the closest thing to perfection I’ve felt in my entire life. A good solo is the very opposite of adrenaline. The first pitches before the chimneys flow by, I climb perfectly. Precision is everything. I reach the chimneys and throw myself at them forthwith.

“Nature for man is only truly manifest where danger, challenge, and exposure have not been shut up.” Reinhold Messner

The many times I visualized this solo I broke the climb down into bits, the most basic being the lower chimney pitches and the sustained long face climbing up high. One has to break something like this down mentally – a shear wall in excess of 2,000 feet high is just to terror inducing otherwise. When I onsighted the route with a partner, I led all the harder chimneys, and generally felt comfortable in them, but over exerted. I had a foot skate on me once, but I didn’t feel like I came close to falling. The upper face climbing pitches however, felt difficult. I was pumped up there. One of the cardinal rules of soloing is never, ever get pumped. Getting scared is unavoidable at times; getting pumped is a different story. Thus, I assumed that the real challenge would be in the upper pitches and that I could handle the chimneys, while not with ease, with little chance of falling. I reasoned that I’d never fallen in a chimney before.

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Thus, when I entered the first real chimney, I was in for a shock. It was hard, scary, and felt far more desperate than I had projected in my head. I still stand by my opinion, that it’s difficult to fall out of a chimney, but that belief did little to help me with the wave of terror that struck as battled my way up the chimneys. I was appalled by how insecure I felt. I had remembered working out rests in the chimneys, but this time around I found myself wondering how I pulled that off. My foot skated at the same spot it did the first time around, further unnerving me. Higher up, on the last chimney, the only one with good edges, I chose to face climb inside of the chimney as long as I could before turning and employing chimney technique. While changing techniques, I found the necessary 90 degree turn far more difficult than I imagined. It wound up taking tremendous effort to make the turn and resulted in my left foot slipping off a hold twice – something that’s never happened to me soloing. By the time I had managed the turn I was hyperventilating badly and felt like I’d just come out of a boxing match.

I pulled out of the last chimney, on to the top of the black tower. I was drained from the exertion. I ate the last of the food I had and consumed a second Gu, the first having been consumed half way through the chimney pitches. As I rested with my feet up, I replayed the first half of the climb in my head. I wasn’t too pleased. The margin wasn’t there. The face pitches above weighted heavy on my mind, but I was glad to be done with chimneys. At least I’d be using different muscles. I was worked – fear hadn’t let me climb in a relaxed manner and I had wasted tremendous energy. As I moved upwards I initially found the climbing thin, but it quickly changed and I discovered I was completely wrong about the face climbing pitches. They were fun, enjoyable climbing, rarely difficult, and generally juggy, if sometimes big moves. I was tired,  but this I could handle. I felt safe again. My body however, was still weak from over exertion. Still, I looked forward to the walk off where I could relax my concentration.

At the rare small ledge I took a photo of my feet as I gazed down on the exposure. It was hard to believe I was 1500 feet off the canyon floor. I was an insignificant blip on the wall, a mere speck in the universe waging a war for survival. For the first time I begin to believe I’d actually pull this off. That was more than mind blowing. The climbing still took serious thought – mostly I was concerned with keeping as many points of contact as possible, because I was face climbing and am always concerned with breaking holds. My body felt incredibly sore which made things more difficult, but manageable.

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Still higher on the wall I came to my last real obstacle, a 5.9 roof. As I climbed up to it I was happy, after this there would be nothing harder than 5.7 – home free territory. I climbed it with gusto, finally cutting my feet and swinging up up a leg to heel hook onto the terrain above. Shortly later when I topped out I checked my phone, it’d taken me three hours, twenty minutes. Not exactly fast, but not terrible for over 2k vertical feet of climbing. After all, I had spent a lot of time milking every rest, and had rested for nearly half and hour after the chimneys. The gravity of what I’d done sank in. It felt like I hadn’t done it. I thought of how impossible it was to convey what I had experienced to others.

I was glad. Glad to be free of my ambition and drive to do this crazy thing. Once and done. I resolved that this was as hard as I was going to push the soloing game for the rest of my life. I thanked God for his protection and heaved my wrecked body down the descent groaning along the way.

“He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” The Psalms

The below photos are all from other people climbing Epinephrine. They help illustrate what the route is like.

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Postscript: Soloing Epinephrine was a defining moment in my life. I’m inspired by many things about climbing, but the most basic of these is the movement. I’m not naturally graceful, but I’ve learned to be graceful climbing. For me, it’s poetry in motion. Soloing allows me to experience that to the fullest. It’s also the purest, simplest, cleanest, and boldest form of climbing. All these things made the experience incredible and something to be justifiably proud of. It was also dangerous as hell and I’ll never forget that. I’m a little embarrassed that I pushed it that close to the edge. I can’t say if it was a bad or a good idea. Perhaps it was neither. Can something be neither? Now all I can say that it was in me to do. Even though looking back it seems that I didn’t do it, like it was some strange dream, the experience changed me as a person. I’m calmer, more confident in myself,  less worried, and I feel less egotistical. Suffering and challenge are for me, a purifying experience. All of these are changes I’m deeply thankful for. People say climbing is useless, but I’d like to think that God used it for good.


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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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.


Border Country

BORDER COUNTRY

Here it comes

to take me down

takin me down with a

thunderin sound

Here she comes

with arms spread wide

callin me back from

border country

Inch by inch

step by step

shadows are runnin in both directions

cowerin down from

the echoing sounds

bringin us face to face

tighten my boots

make a run

turn to see that

my thoughts are untied

standing still in the

blazing sun

nowhere to hide in

border country

grabbin at the earth

holding on tight

wishin for my momma

and my sweethearts

delight

pull-out-a pennywhistle

let the old man dance

buying my ticket

outta border country

–Jonny Copp


Progression

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I’ve been climbing since the summer of 2010. I absolutely love the sport. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but it’s extremely empowering. I like how creative it feels. I like the feeling of being able to accomplish something the untrained eye looks at and thinks can’t be climbed. I love the feeling of figuring out a sequence and suddenly going from falling off time after time to gracefully gliding over stone without falling. Climbing also really helps me get out of my head. I have an ‘active’ mind that rarely shuts down, thus I really enjoy brainless activities that help me zone out or focus completely. Climbing, especially climbing at my onsight level, or soloing completely seize my attention and get in my face like nothing else can. They fell intense and peaceful all at once. You can’t imagine how it feels until you experience it. Sometimes that feels peaceful and graceful, other times it feels as if I’m fighting for my life.

Climbing brings on the most amazing sense of focus – something that compares to nothing else I’ve ever done. I’ve become addicted to that sense of focus after a fashion. If getting to that point of focus wasn’t so difficult, scary, painful, and potentially dangerous then it’d probably never be able to ever stop climbing. Not that climbing is always fun, easy, or that it always provides focus. Many times it’s a complete chore.

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Sadly, however, while I’ve been climbing for near five years now the vast majority of that time I climbed very little due to a lack of time, transportation, money, ect. Because of this, I was never any good. At best I was a very moderate trad climber. I always wanted to do stuff at the outer edge of my abilities, but due to a lack of strength and more skilled technique I frequently failed – often in spectacular fashion. Contrary to popular belief, failure is one hell of a teacher. I’m actually sort of happy I learned in that fashion. All that failing and close scrapes taught me far, far more than success would have. Hence, when I moved to the general Las Vegas area in April of 2013 I figured this was my big chance to climb more and finally progress as a climber.

In those 21 months I’ve climbed far more than ever before. It’s been fun, and incredibly challenging. I’ve learned that climbing once or twice a week outside did relatively little for my climbing ability, but combining that with two or three days in the gym or hang board workouts produced measurable leaps in ability. Progress comes slow to someone with little talent, but it’s still worth fighting for.

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Honestly, I’ve always been a terrible gym climber. I believe I get more frustrated and shut down there than I do outside. It is however, the ideal place to get pumped in a hurry. I find it ironic that the path to becoming a better trad climber lies through the gym. I’ve always known it to be true, I just never wanted to deal with all that time in the gym. Now that I’ve done it, it’s isn’t quite as bad as I imagined. I’ve made some friends and enjoyed it.

Progress is still far to slow for my liking, but at least it is there  – I haven’t always been convinced that was possible. There are still so many routes that I haven’t done, despite try after try. Still, every once in awhile I surprise myself and get a glimmer of what is possible – and for a moment anything is doable. I live for those moments and hope there are a lot of them in my future.


Lightweight Backpacking Shelters and Tarps: A Primer

You don’t want that fancy looking tent at REI. The sales guy or gal will sell you a bill of goods that your back and pocket book will regret. For backpacking, tents are *completely* inferior to other options. Herein, I will attempt to explain these other options and how to successfully use, purchase, and understand them.
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Ultralight hiking has popularized ‘alternative’ shelter options – really most of them are in fact old school traditional shelters that work better, are lighter, and are often cheaper than that backpacking tent at REI. Also, they are often very high quality due to being handmade in the USA. Much of the ultralight world’s gear doesn’t hold up well to long term use, but when it comes to shelters, quite the opposite is true– nearly everyone would be better off using an alternative shelter. They do last, and they work extremely well. There is no good reason not too. Keep your tent for car camping!
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However, using an alternative shelter isn’t a brainless activity, which is a good thing really. Learning is fun, right? Plus, remember your skill set is what stands between you and harm in the mountains. You should be excited to learn! You mind, and what it knows in your greatest asset.
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Most alternative shelters require careful staking out, use of guylines, knots, trekking poles or trees, careful campsite selection, ect. Basically, practice setting up your shelter in the backyard beforehand (and hopefully sleep in it) and don’t pitch it in an area that’ll turn get flooded in a rain. If you don’t have trekking poles, you’ll find you soon want them. They are a backpackers best friend. Using them to erect your shelter make sense, lightens your pack, and fulfills the ‘multi-use’ ethos backpackers are so fond of.
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You’ll also want a ground cloth (most of these shelters don’t come with a floor) and pay attention to ventilation and wind direction when using a shelter. Incidentally, you should be doing these things with a traditional tent too . . . Basically you want the wind to be moving at a right angle to whatever part of your shelter is most open so you get some ventilation to reduce condensation (and thus moisture in your shelter). You do NOT want the wind blowing rain or snow directly in the open end of a shelter. Unless, you enjoy taking showers in your sleeping bag that is. Again, don’t think that traditional tents don’t suffer from condensation issues, they most definitely do.
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Also, it’s proper to mention a touchy subject. Generally when backpacking you don’t actually *need* any shelter whatsoever. Unless you’re in the habit of going backpacking in heinous rainstorms or otherwise foul weather a shelter really functions as an emergency tool, though one you *must* carry. After all, you’re supposed to be having a wilderness experience, right? Go sleep under the stars already! Most people sleep in tents because they are institutionalized to believe they can’t sleep or aren’t safe without four walls and a roof over their head. What rot. If you want privacy, don’t camp where all the muggles are camping. Practice leave no trace (really, no one should be able to tell where you’ve camped) and stealth camp where you please. If your sleeping bag gets a little wet from dew, no big deal. Dry it out at lunch the next day. If the weather looks iffy, sleep in the shelter. Once you acclimatize to sleeping out under the stars the smallest patches of ground become campsites. Your ability to find and use these campsites is a very useful skill your should attempt to cultivate.
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Flat Tarps
-Most versatile
-Cheapest option
-Incredibly simple
-Less privacy
-No bug protection
-Requires trees or trekking poles to set up
-Good size is 8×10 upwards is good for two people
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Canary Cut Tarps
-A subset of flat tarps, the only difference is a curve along the spine of the tarp which makes the pitch more taunt. This is a plus in an extended rainstorm, but reduces the tarps versatility in other pitch modes.
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Tarp Tents
-The most civilized option.
-Good bug protection
-Good privacy
-Expensive (in comparison, everything is relative right?)
-Are the most like a ‘normal’ tent (if you’re skeered of the woods this is nice)
-Some are free standing (a nearly useless feature, but some people can’t grasp that so . . . )
-Have an excellent reputation
-Are best for someone who wants all the features of a regular tent in a lightweight package and doesn’t mind spending extra money.
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Shaped Tarps
-One of my favorite options
-Shaped tarps are the bastard child of creative flat tarp pitching technique and tarptents. In my eyes the provide the best of both worlds.
-Can have bugnets, zip doors, privacy, vents–really anything but a built in floor.
-A pimped out shaped tarp will be quite similar to a tarp tent, while a basic model will be less so.
-A basic model is quite affordable costly little more than a flattarp, while providing better storm protection and privacy.
Models LaGarita, AT, Bear Den, Cub Den, Diamond, Ute, Lair, Luna, Canopy all fall under this profile
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Mids, otherwise known as Pyramids / Tipis
-Another favorite of mine
-Super classic, you can’t go wrong with one of these
-Are truly four season, you can winter camp or use mountaineering!
-Really these are a subset of shaped tarps. They are the original shaped tarp and are timeless. THE tent design.
-Tend to be a little more pricey than other shaped tarps due to the labor involved
-Are perfect for large groups (3+) or winter camping