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Red Rock Solo Enchainment

Inhale. Exhale. Cough. Moan. Repeat. Despite the world class view, I’m in pain, and that’s all I can think about. Still, I’m happy that I can put the stress and fear of not performing under pressure behind me—now only a few more hours of suffering remain. It is amusing how the idea of ‘less’ suffering sounds so good right now. What’s wrong with me anyway? Why do I do this stuff for fun? I’m sitting down at least 1500 feet about the canyon floor on a mountain of sandstone. It’s 6:05 PM and the sun is setting. My lips are chapped, my feet ache, my toes throb, and I have a cough the racks my body every few seconds. I’m cold and I feel approximately like ones feels with a mild case of the flu—shitty. I have a militarized squadron of hell diving demon mosquitos constantly on the attack—they’ve been chasing me for over an hour now. I pull on a pair of pants and a jacket to keep the mosquitos off me and to ward off the cold. I then promptly curl up into a ball, let out a sigh, and tell myself, you can do this; you’re over the hump now. Likely story, all I want to do is *stay* curled up in a ball. I know far too well what sort of misery awaits me on the descent before me and I want nothing to do with it. Thankfully, I have a secret weapon.

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It all started that morning. Bright and early I started soloing routes in Red Rock. The idea was to free solo as many easy routes as I could in a day. It just sounded so outrageous I had to try it. I left my car in Calico Basin at 6:47 AM and hiked up to Physical Graffiti, a two pitch 5.6 that’s a favorite of mine. I planned to do four laps on it. The first lap went quite badly. I’ve done this route quite a few times, it’s a favorite of mine, and I thought I had it wired. Hehe. The first pitch is super juggy, but the second is old school butt crack climbing that feels rather insecure if done wrong and only somewhat secure when done right. When it felt like the former, this shook me up a little until I figured out by the second lap the technique I’d forgotten. Feeling insecure while soloing is an experience you’ll never forget, I can tell you that. Thereafter it felt like it should have. Not easy, but not difficult either. Sometime around the third lap my left knee started hurting me some, though mostly on the down climb, not the actual climbing itself. This was to continue for the rest of the day. Lucky me, I try and go do something real hard and my body won’t give me 100%. This was to be a theme of the day.

Next up was Cat in the Hat. I drove out to Pine Creek and prepared for the first of the real approaches. That’s the nice thing about Physical Graffiti—the approach is short and easy. As I walked away from the car I suddenly realized I needed more stuff than I realized, because I’d save time not returning to my car between routes. As I crammed as much stuff in my small pack as I could, I realized a bigger pack would have been a good idea. It was hot and I could barely fit 2.5 quarts of water in my pack along with the necessary light cord and harness to rappel off Cat in the Hat (hereafter CITH).

The walk to Mescalito, the formation that CITH is on, takes 40 or so minutes. I eat as I walk out. I need a constant supply of food otherwise I’ll bonk. By this time it was getting hot. Every route I will climb today is a south face or otherwise sunny face. I know the heat will get to me. I’ve actually never climbed CITH. I’ve done the first pitch, but that’s it. I’m not entirely certain what to expect. I debated going to the summit of Mescalito, but I’d only pick up one more pitch of 5th class pitch of climbing and one hellicious descent of the formation. Sounded like a bad equation to me. CITH turned out to be probably the most enjoyable climb of the day. Really, the only unenjoyable part was the heat. For a Thursday, there was an impressive amount of people on route—I had to pass them all, but they were all incredibly friendly, kind, and very willing to let me pass. Thanks folks! I see now why CITH is a classic. The climbing is way fun for being 5.6—really it’s unusual to get that good of climbing for something at the grade.

CITH went fast and before I knew it I was rappelling off. I really was disappointed; I wanted it to be longer. Rappelling with my 60 meter / 7 mil accessory cord went quite well, certainly better than I expected. It got stuck once, but it was easy enough to solo back up and clean it. The second rappel required some mellow down climbing and I chose to forgo the third rappel in favor if a quicker down climb. Perhaps I should have down climbed the route, but I thought a combination of the two would be easier, faster, and safer.

Once on the ground I headed off for Geronimo, which was a bit of a hike. Again it was hot. I had hoped and planned to also solo Olive Oil, which is quite near Geronimo, but due to time constraints, the heat, and how quick I was going through water I realized this would be a bad idea. More importantly, given that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders I didn’t want to onsight solo a rather long 5.7 route. I’d likely pull it off, but this isn’t a gamblers game. Also, if I had soloed Olive Oil I knew positively I wouldn’t have the time for Solar Slab, so it wouldn’t help me gain any mileage.

Geronimo went quickly and fairly easily, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember exactly where it was right off the bat. I ran into a couple from the bay area half way up. I took some photos of them and them of me, so maybe I’ll get a decent picture out of the deal. While I was down soloing Geronimo the female member of the couple abruptly asked me if I was married, and what my wife thought of how I was spending my time—I laughed my head off. She thought I was totally deranged. A little further down I soloed by several groups of young people climbing the route. Keeping with the goofy spirit of the game GNAR (this is for you Neil) I told one of them, “Just so you know, I’m the best climber on the mountain.” The guy seemed unimpressed. I don’t think he got the joke.

By this point I was sunburnt and tired. By the time I got back to my car I was even more so. For the first time that day I sat down and took a proper rest on the pavement next to my car and ate a bunch of food. I contemplated ending the day right then and there. Instead I drove to the Oak Creek lot and headed out to solar slab—a longish hike. I was tired and I felt similar to how you feel when you have a cold or the flu. I’ve soloed solar slab before, but I took my time and it’s BIG, something to the tune of 1200 feet. I knew I wouldn’t have much daylight to play with. I knew I was fatigued. I got scared. I kept on thinking of quitting. Thinking the odds had become too steep. Thinking about how scary I’d be to solo that far off the deck, with my fatigue level in the dark. I shut out my fear and it came back.

Minutes away from the base I passed by a party coming back from Black Orpheus. Ironically, I had exchanged facebook messages with one of them, but didn’t recognize the guy. Turns out he knew a climber who I’d done Black Orpheus with who’d mentioned me to him because we both are Christians and because both of them are from North Carolina. Climbing is a small, small world. Sorry we didn’t get to climb together bud!

At the base there was a three person party of seniors who had just rappelled Solar Slab. As I caught my breath and put on my shoes I chatted. They had just done solar slab, with a rope, and they emphasized the rope part. One of them asked me if my mother knew what I was up too. I answered honestly that I wasn’t sure. She said it would probably be for the best if my mother didn’t know. I laughed, wished them a good day, and began climbing faster than I’ve ever climbed before. I had barely more than an hour of daylight to cover 1200 feet of 5th class climbing. It felt more like running than climbing, but thankfully solar gully is really easy. Once I hit solar slab itself, I caught my breath again and slowed down a bit. I swear that I almost hucked up a lung. Last time I soloed this route I got quite scared at two spots and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The route went by surprisingly fast. A time or two I had to study things a bit to figure out where I was going and stay on route, but I never got very scared. I was too busy trying to outrun the fast approaching darkness and all the mosquitos intent on their strafing runs. The hard move that I had remembered from my last time on the route didn’t materialize, which was nice. I’m not sure if I did a harder variation last time I soloed the route or if I’m just that much stronger. It’s hard to say. I wish I knew. I remember that move feeling 5.7+ / 5.8 so my money is on the variation theory. Finally, I topped out just as the sunlight died.

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I uncurl myself and begin slowly walking up the 3rd class ledge systems that will lead me back to my car. A massive system of ledges, cliffs, slabs and a creek bed filled with boulders the size of buses is between me and my car. It’s a joint murdering multi-hour proposition. I’m assuming that having done it twice before I can pull this descent off, in the dark, via a headlamp that only reveals 100 feet of world around me at a time.

Doing the descent in the dark without having prior knowledge of it would be really difficult. I remind myself how thankful I am for a talent I see to possess on third class stuff and a sense for the easiest way through terrain. Even my old experiences trying to navigate on alpine starts up on Mount Shasta comes into play. Navigating in the dark when you can’t see the more than a short distance around you can be really unnerving when you haven’t done it before. I find it intriguing how quickly I absorb new skills sets and forget that I didn’t always have them. When you can’t remember how ignorance felt it makes teaching much harder.

Thankfully, I purposefully brought along a pair of Carhartt pants so I can do the semi-mandatory butt sliding that can really save your joints. I of course promptly wore the seat right out of them—so much for tough pants. Over the next 3 hours I struggle down the descent finally making it to my car by 9 PM. In a 14.25 hour day I climbed over 4,000 feet of 5th class rock, hiked who knows how many miles (probably between 12 and 16) and gained a lost all kinds of elevation not reflected in the 5th class climbing. By the end of the day I was wrecked and badly in need of a rest.

I went climbing again the next day.

Postscript

As I reflect on the day I’ve realized it really wasn’t that much fun. Typically I revel in my rare solos, so that was unexpected. I’m guessing it was my rushed pace that killed the fun of it all. A really enjoyable solo is a truly amazing experience. I quite honestly hope the heaven itself is much like an enjoyable solo. It’s nice to know that I was generally right on about what I was going to be capable of doing. It pretty much turned out like I thought it would. It is rather amazing to look back and realize all you can pull off on that sort of an endeavor. Actually, it feels just a little bit like someone else did it and I was just along to watch the show. Too bad that’s not true. That’d be preferable to the truth.

A Sense Of Longing

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘A Pilgrim’s Regress’. I confess that I doubt I ever would have finished the book if it wasn’t for the fact that I have an excess of time on my hands while working a very quiet graveyard shift, but this is beside the point. It has made me think a great deal about longing and desire in regards to the human soul, as this is the main thrust of the book. The point is that longing and desire are at the very core of the human experience. At least they were for Lewis – and from my informal polling this is common in the human experience.

So we, as humans, regularly desire to do particular things, have experiences, or perhaps wish fancifully certain impossible things were to be. Whatever the specific desire, once fulfilled, it fails to meet or match the desire or longing. Nothing ever quite measures up. Some perhaps come close, while others fall short, but fulfillment eludes us. Everyone has experienced this, that is, if they tell the truth. It is, in Lewis’ words, inadequate. The desire and longing never go away. The specific thing of the desire or longing changes, but there is never any real fulfillment. Any fulfillment is certain to be measured on a scale of how fleeting it is. This is not to say nothing is ever fulfilling in any way. We’re talking about the most nagging of longings. The sort that exists in the deepest realms of the soul.

However, the instant of longing never ceases to be real. It seems that it is, in fact, the most real part of the process. The sense of desire and longing are in a way more general and all-encompassing than the actual object of longing. It is, in fact, the desire itself that we long for. For within that desire for an adventure, a chance to experience a mythical Narnia-like world,  romance, a chance to experience history, or simply see what is around the next bend are nuggets of truth, glimpses if you will, of the purpose of this longing. Namely, the cycle of desire / longing and disappointment was designed to show us that the human soul is missing something—and that this something is cannot be grasped in our present world. Nor can it be well explained, justified, precisely known, or controlled. It simply is.

Longing is an image. Its purpose is to point us to God, and real fulfillment. Everything else is a shadow.

“It appeared to me therefore that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given—nay, cannot even be imagined as given—in our present mode of subject and spatio-temperal experience.” – C.S. Lewis

Simplify, purify, take a risk

Note: I started writing this the day of. That was a little while ago, and not actually today.

 

Today I did what I long considered doing. I onsight free soloed a link up of solar slab gully and Solar slab, in oak creek canyon, Red Rocks. I was conflicted about doing it. I’ll admit I like danger. I like the focus it brings. I love the feeling I get when I am through with it. There just ain’t nothin’ like it. Still, a death wish I don’t have. Dying is best done while sleeping, and when you’re old and worn out at that. Anyhow, soloing a 1700 foot 14 pitch 5.6 isn’t exactly cutting edge. Given that I rarely solo and have never really soloed anything over 100 feet it was kinda a big deal for me on a personal level. However, it wasn’t half as dangerous as it sounds to the uninitiated. I knew I didn’t want to carry enough gear to realistically be able to retreat if I got cold feet – after all the point of soloing is freedom, not carrying a bunch of crap. However, I did carry a pack, 1 quart of water, 2 jackets, a camera, my phone, and I wore my harness with a tether – even though I only used them on the descent.

I wasn’t sure about the whole thing and kept on putting it off. But, I haven’t climbed but once since I spent a week in Joshua Tree in early January. Now, nearly two months later I figured I needed to fix that. Having two days off, and no climbing partner I figured now was the time. Events (and my lazy ways) conspired against me and I got a late start. By the time I was at the trail head and ready to go it was 11:20ish I was at the base of solar slab gully and climbing by 12 noon. Solar slab gully wasn’t too bad. But, the start got a little tricky when I tried climbing in m approach shoes. I figured I’d refine my technique and make the higher up bits that were graded harder feel easier by climbing the easier stuff in my approach shoes. That trick failed quickly when I started on the wrong side of the gully and made the climbing harder than necessary (solar slab gully is 5.3/5.4). Instead of down climbing I donned my rock shoes and did the deed. A little higher up I got stuck in a chimney feature thanks to the pack I was wearing. After a momentary bit of concern I figured out how to escape and all was right again. The rest of the gully was causal. Near the top the the gully, I took my shoes off and ate lunch at a ledge. I also chatted with a party that was rappelling the gully after climbing Johnny Vegas. Once I summitted the gully I had to decide if I was gonna go for it or beat a retreat with my cord down the gully. Feeling like it was now or never I went for it.

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Fifty feet up, on the only slab climbing on the route (ironic given the name) transitioned into a crack. Transitioning into the crack was a little tricky. At this point a process began to reveal itself: I’d find a stance when I couldn’t understand or figure out the sequence and study it. Once I figured out the best sequence I’d go for it – even if I wasn’t psyched about the moves. Once I past the second pitch there really wasn’t much sense retreating, as my 60 meter 7 mil cord wasn’t going to get me down. And the only reason to retreat would be if the climbing was too insecure or hard. If it was, going up made more sense than going down. Down climbing is always harder. Climbing the second pitch was funny, because I doubt you could get much gear in it anyway. What’s the difference between free soloing with or without a rope after all? The 3rd pitch wasn’t to bad. I started getting more confident. As I traversed over to the start of the 4th pitch, which was supposed to be awkward, I figured I just found the trickiest bit. A very small corner feature that was significantly less positive that comparable moves on the route. Being committed to climbing in the most static, positive, conservative manner possible I wasn’t psyched on the moves. I wound taking a more secure looking line just to the right of the corner feature figuring I could traverse back into the corner. I ran out of positive holds and had to down climb. I then attempted laybacking up the corner – which didn’t feel all that secure, but I executed it nicely with some fancy footwork making it as secure as I could. The pitch then eased in difficulty. The next pitch, a 5.5 hand crack I assumed would be easy until I got my foot stuck in it while jamming. Trying to get your foot out of a crack sans rope isn’t much fun, FYI.  After that the difficulty of the route slacks off significantly until you pass a large ledge and gain a stunning corner feature that goes at 5.5. I thought that was the best pitch of the route. By this point I was beside myself. I was grinning so widely I think I might have broke my face. Life just doesn’t get any better than being on top of a mountain. I can’t stop grinning ear to ear. The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming – also deeply irrational I might point out. But I’ll take it. 2000 feet, and 14 pitches of climbing is as fun as it gets.

The hike out is fun too. The view from the top is totally kickass. Plus, I got to have convo near the end of my hike out with a buddy who called me. What a great day.

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Go Sleep In A Tree

Once, a long time ago, I spent the night in a tree in northern Georgia. I figured I’d be fun. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Of course, I was a little scared. None of my friends wished to do it with me. Well, at least when the chips were down they didn’t want to do it. Previously, the promised to join me. It was their tree platform. They never slept up there. What a waste!

Like I said, I was a little apprehensive about going 80 feet up in a tree to spend the night by myself. It’s hard to do something no one else around you is psyched to do. Leaving a warm well lit house to go spend the night in a tree – not the most logical thing ever to do. I wasn’t sure it’d be fun. Or a good idea at all. I willed myself to do it. And I’m glad I did.

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That night, all by myself, was one of the most ethereal experiences I’ve had. It was weird. The experience was this odd combination of incredibly peaceful and exciting. As the platform, high in the tree, gently rocked in the wind I unwound and relaxed at a speed I would have thought impossible. As relaxing as it was, I enjoyed myself so much that I didn’t want to sleep. Who’d have thought doing exactly nothing up in a tree would be that fun? This was a one time affair and I knew it. I figure if I stayed awake I’d feel like I’d been up there longer. Really, it’s hard to imagine that laying in a sleeping bag and listening to music, while high in a tree could be almost magical – but, it really, really was.

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Come to think of it that entire trip was really fantastic. I remember it very fondly. As a broke, homesick, stressed, college kid 3,000 miles from home I was blessed invite myself over to my buddy’s Jon’s home for Easter Break. Thanks Arenas! We camped, did some rock climbing, I sleep in a tree, and got to see a meteorite fireball (a very large, long lasting, bright shooting star).

Ishi

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In the spring of 2007, my brother, our friend Robert and I backpacked the entire Lost Coast in northern California. I have quite a few memories of the trip, some good and some painful, but one of my favorites is this one.

We were nearing the end of our journey on the northern section of the trip. As we hauled our weary bodies down the beach we talked about how happy we’d be once we completed the trip. Suddenly, several hundred feet down the beach from where we at, I saw an otter come running out the surf at an impressive clip. Now, I’ve lived most of my life near the coast and I’ve never seen an otter before and I’ve certainly never seen one in the ocean. Even more impressive was the massive fish the otter held firmly in its mouth. In the flash of an eye, the otter had run up the beach and disappeared into a rocky creek. Just then, I noticed that my brother had shed his pack and run done the beach as soon as he saw the otter. Now, this puzzled me. My instinct was to wish I had a camera in my hand when I saw this otter – clearly, my brother had a different idea entirely.

As I’m scratching my head, my brother reached the creek, hopped his way to the middle on some rocks, and shoved his arm into the creek. In a snap, his arm came back up, but holding the tail of a very, very angry Mr. Otter. The otter was swinging this way and that trying to claw or bite his way out of his predicament. All the while, my brother just looks at this otter all casual like as he holds him with his arm fully extended, with a bemused slightly annoyed look on his face. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed he yanked otters out of creeks on a regular basis.

At this point, I got concerned. Mind you, I love my brother and think the world of him, but sometimes he needs to be kept in check. I knew that sea otters were near extinct and highly protected under law. Given that this particular otter was in the ocean / sea I figured it must be a sea otter. I figured I was doubly lucky to see this sight. Certainly, I thought we shouldn’t be disturbing this otter. So, I yell “LEAVE THE OTTER ALONE. WHAT IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” Right then, he drops the otter rather suddenly, and without any fanfare whatsoever, headfirst into the creek. I thought that otter was quick coming up the beach, but he showed his true speed as he headed back into the ocean! I blinked and he was gone.

As I approached the creek, I noticed that my brother was fishing around in the creek with his arm for something. I again asked what he thought he was doing and informed him that sea otters were protected and should be left alone. Right then and there, he let me know that this was a river otter (not protected), and that he was trying to steal its fish. When I protested this attempted theft, I was informed that he was only playing by nature’s laws. I guess animals don’t play nice when it comes to food. He never did find where the otter stashed the fish in that creek. Too bad, it would have made for a tasty backcountry meal.

And that, my friends, is what it’s like to go backpacking with a brother who thinks he’s an Indian. There’s a reason I called him Ishi for so many years.

Vida

Life’s become a little crazy as of late. I’ve been working more. Working five totally random eight hour shifts is surprisingly wearing on an individual. It’s nice to not have the monotony, but keeping up with the random schedule gets old fast and makes a regular old schedule sound nice. A case of the ‘grass is always greener’ I’m sure. I’ve been climbing / hiking / running much less for a lot of reasons. None of them I like.

I injured my ankle quite badly almost two months ago in a climbing fall when I failed to gain the stance I needed to clip a bolt on my sport climbing project. It was kind of an odd ankle sprain too. I didn’t actually roll my ankle – it sprained from the simple impact of hitting the vertical rock flatfooted when my lead line caught me. I’ve sprained my ankle quite badly in the past but this sprain is grabbing the record for the longest lasting ankle injury I’ve had. It’s 95% better, mind you, but it’s still annoying. Sadly, the ankle injury caused me to miss the best of the Vegas valley’s climbing weather. I’m cursed, I tell you!

I got the flu real bad for about a week. That made work a total pain. Least I haven’t gotten sick again.

I’ve been planning the biggest ski tour I’ve ever attempted for the last few months. Myself, my brother, and two buddies (also brothers, ironically) are trying to ski from the Lee Vinning side of highway 120 to the Rim of Yosemite valley right above the Snow Creek Trail – AKA, the easiest trans-sierra ski tour. Then we plan on turning around and going right back. I’ve wanted to do a trans-sierra ski tour for quite some time either via snowshoes or skis and starting easy makes sense, especially seeing that it’s a long, hard ski. One way it’s 30-35 miles. Two ways, out and back, it’s at least 60 miles. That’s a lot to do with a heavy pack, snow, cold and 18 pounds of ski and boot spread between your two feet.  Still it seems doable in the week we’ve planned to do it in.

Problem is we need the weather on our side. I’m not sure that it will be. We’ll see. I give 50 / 50 odds. We need snow, and stable snowpack conditions for good skiing. But we need a stable weather pattern for that week in early January – hardly an ideal time for a big ski tour. Early season is not considered ideal. Late spring is when most people tour, especially for the big trans-sierra trips. Usually, the weather is rather unstable early season. It’s no good to try to ski in a whiteout or low visibility. Neither is it good to try to make time or miles in unconsolidated snow. It’d be like skiing through glue. Plus, that makes for avalanche conditions – though, honestly the sierras are one of least avalanche prone ranges in the North American west. Good thing too, because dying in a ‘lanch isn’t my idea of fun. I’ve heard that being buried alive in an avalanche is one of the most frightening experiences a person can have. And that comes from real life professional badasses. Plus, I don’t have avay gear anyway. It’s too damn expensive for the minimal amount of skiing I do. I don’t ski well enough to get in your average avalanche terrain anyway.

I’ve been trying to land a career path for a long time now. When I moved out to Vegas about seven months ago now, it was because I was tired of being unemployed and had despaired landing a job in the field I wanted. That’s what being picky gets you – lots of frustration. Despite seemly working my tookus off I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Anyway, recently in the space of a month, I went from having no potential jobs in this field to having three. Wild, eh? Life and its curve balls, I didn’t see that coming. That’s made life even busier. I’ve traveled and rearranged my work schedule regularly for tests and interviews. It looks as if I have quite good odds of landing a job back home in NorCal. Nothing is for certain – other than chaos. The presence of chaos seems quite reliable. But, still with one job potential near and two backups it seems like I’ll wind up with one of them. And my current job is a pretty decent gig. Plus, there are endless amounts of rock to be climbed in Red Rocks.

Deydration

According to my terribly un-scientific calculations I should have been in water debt for approximately 3 gallons when I epic-ed on Dark Shadows a few months ago – very possibly more than that. And that’s a conservative estimate. That’s 24 lbs of water worth of dehydration. No wonder I could barely function. I wish I would have weighted myself when I got back. That’s the only way to truly know how dehydrated I really was.

16 hours of climbing / descent in 120 – 95 F weather + 35% of which was in the direct sun + 3.5 quarts of water = ugly