Life can feel stuck in constant acceleration, each year speeding by faster than the last. I’m older, greyer, fatter, balder, crankier and more haggard by the day. It’s hard to believe I moved from Colorado a year and a half ago and easy to wonder where the time went.
But that perception exposes a choice we control.
It’s worth reminding ourselves to take a breath and enjoy the little moments. Collect them. When we’re old, grey and as wrinkled as discarded paper lunch bags they will reflect the stories behind our eyes more than any mirror.
Many of my favorite stories come climbing with the amazing people I’m privileged to call friends. Those instances occur not just pushing a runout or bearing down at a crux, but in the untied times. Grilling out on summer nights with a cold beer numbing wasted fingers, reliving the day with laughs and astonishment at what the human experience offers those willing to relish it. Brick red dried blood crusted over dirty ankles suggesting the embellished tales just might hold a shred of truth between the lines.
I love to make the trip back to Boulder without an agenda. But I’d be lying if I claimed Eldo doesn’t still draw me in. For years the crimson canyon held the spiritual center of my little universe. During that time, more than anything I sought Eldo’s one-of-a-kind, heady, gear-protected, cryptic face climbing. I loved the look and feel of the deep maroon cliffs, striped diagonally by bold yellow, green and orange lichen. I learned to thrive solving the sandstone puzzles of gear, position, rest and movement; and welcomed the stress that brought on a meditative state of effortless focus yielding a single path through those disparate riddles. There was no separation between the mental and physical challenges, only the hybrid demands of onsight adventure. A number of amazing climbs there still remain unticked, but I’ve completed most of the quality routes. It’s strange to walk into a place like Eldo and feel like you need to search for something new.
Yet one gigantic elephant in the room remained and his stinking hide was getting harder to ignore. Three years ago Eli and I climbed the Naked Edge and I peeled at the top of the first pitch finger crack. I’ve wanted to get back since.
Over a beer at the old place in Boulder, I brought up the possibility of scaling the Edge to Andrew. He appeared to became very interested in the living room rug and after a silent pause muttered “OK” under his breath. He sounded like he was being chided for ignoring his chores and we all had a good laugh at his disappointed tone. Like me, Andrew is someone who relishes a memorable day, but The Naked Edge can be an imposing goal.
The notorious route starts on the righthand side of the upper ramp, 3 pitches up the Redgarden Wall, giving the climb a taste of exposure the instant upon pulling onto the first pitch. This time I felt solid on the finger crack that had victimized me years ago and Andrew took down the exposed arete of pitch 2 without blinking. We were off to a great start and enjoyed the break of the long 5.8 third pitch before settling in for more business. Many consider the pitch 4 Bombay chimney to be the crux of the entire route. But I remember feeling it was surprisingly cruiser so I made myself comfortable at the belay and handed Andrew the sharp end. “You got it man. Once you’re in the chimney, you can take the weight off and get a rest.”
He looked at me with a skeptic’s guise, but he wasn’t getting anything from me but blue steel.
Though people may argue over which pitch is the crux, most would agree that the sketchiest section is pitch 4, protected by rattly pins backed by tiny nuts and cams.
Andrew committed to the flared chimney before realizing the pin below his feet would be the last pro until after the burly, delicate crux. Burning energy like a raging habañero Cheetos fire, he scraped and scrapped up, inch by inch, leaving the suspect pin farther behind.
Then arrived one of those moments I’ll always remember.
“Adam!!! I’m freaking out, man!!!”
“You’re…hmm…OK. Keep your back against the wall,” I said.
“Holy shit this pin is going to get quite a test,” I thought.
With a cross between a grunt and a battle cry, Andrew pressed on, grinding his back up the wall and smashing the flats of his feet against the opposite face like he was holding a bus off the street while rescuers saved a trapped kitten. Then, in the best case of heroic tunnel vision I’ve ever witnessed, he ignored the standard traverse out the roof, opting instead to visit the uncharted territory of pulling the roof directly. Man. I was exhausted when he got to the anchor.
Then it was my turn to relive the fun. The canyon reeked with the saturated stench of my overconfidence as I started off. As I’ve discovered and re-discovered so many times before, when you upset the climbing gods, they don’t hesitate to remind that you are but an unnatural trifling speck attached tenuously to a riddle of giant stone. I struggled. After fighting through the full body workout, thankful for the TR, I arrived at the anchor below pitch 5, worse for wear.
Pitch 5 is also scary and hard and now I was tired to boot. As tough as pitch 4 felt in my epic inefficiency, pitch 5 was relentless. I was pumped before even getting to the crux, awkward jams to pull a bulge. On any other day, any other moment, I would have fallen on the overhanging hand crack. I don’t know what got me through – it could have been the airy adrenaline of being 600 feet off the canyon floor, it could have been “110% effort” as Kris Linstrom likes to say or it could have been the horse steroids I took that morning – but it’s something I’ll never forget. I had to earn it big time, sweat pouring down the inside of my shirt, bearing down on the jams, rock knifing into the old woman skin I have on the backs of my hands, working the crunch through a desperate tipping point into a layback.
And just like that I was through, gliding up perfect jams and laybacks into the sun with the prismatic panorama of the Redgarden Wall stretching out on all sides.
I was too exhausted to give a damn and I threw in a few cams, tossed in a clove hitch and belayed up Andrew while resting my head on the taut rope strung between my harness and the anchor, the elephant retired.
Though a definite highlight, revising the Naked Edge was only one piece of a week climbing that flowed between pocketed Shelf limestone, bullet sandstone in Eldo, marbled Clear Creek granite and pebbled sandstone of the Flatirons.
One of my favorite areas around Boulder is Dinosaur Mountain. The Flatiron formations host phenomenal sport climbing from 5.8 to 5.13 and I was stoked when a big group of friends made the trek on a perfect Saturday. We had the place all to ourselves. Even my mom escaped the Nebraska flatlands for a quick weekend visit and she meant business, taking down a burly bucket haul for her third ever outdoor route.
I had a blast watching everyone take a spin on The Shaft. In my humble and correct opinion, the line is one of the best 5.12 sport climbs in the Front Range and would be a proud send for anyone.
I love the feeling that I can come back to Boulder at any point and just pick up right where I left off. I had just begun work on Milk Bone (5.13a), one of the best hard lines in the Flatirons, two years ago before winter settled in and science called me to California. I didn’t think I had much hope of sending the route in one day, especially after hanging the draws felt even harder than expected. I didn’t remember anything. But I was up for trying and the moves clicked in surprisingly quickly. Muscle memory won the day against fatigue and the third try proved to be the charm for a nice cherry on top of a great trip.
We had free entertainment the entire day with Dahlia opining on the issues of the times. Of course, editorializing takes effort and she crashed harder than a fat uncle after Thanksgiving dinner.
The one bummer of the time back in Boulder came when Tyler got his finger mangled repairing an auto belay. The spring-loaded gears sliced his ring finger to the bone and split his nail in half. The prognosis is two months without climbing. But he’s made big strides lately, breaking firmly into 5.12 and knowing how it feels to climb at a given level makes it easier to get back. Though a pain, literally and figuratively, in the grand scheme of things this is a minor road block.
Even more than the climbing, I enjoyed the time spent with friends. In some ways I see big changes in everyone every time I go back, but in other, more fundamental ways the important things remain timeless. Being included in such a great group of people reminds you who you are. Longtime friends put you in context. I needed that.