Though the details have faded I still remember the moment well. The 100 free feet below my feet would mean nothing unless the next foot went clean as well. The perfect flake stared me in the face as I wound up and stabbed. My hand slid off the sandstone, unable to remedy my slight imprecision. At 32 feet per second squared I lost altitude, eventually coming to a stop after a massive whip, spit off of Ultrasaurus one more time.
This was my first 5.13 and I was pulling off all the stops. Skipping the crux draw and extending the draw below it were just the first steps in my energy saving necessities. I had also found a way to negotiate a delicate turn around, hunch and sit in an uncomfortable cave to recuperate before launching into the jugs and then the last crux. But this wasn’t exactly a rocking chair. Every inch of me in contact with the rock had to maintain just enough friction to avoid sliding out of the bizarre position. On this attempt I had used the awkward rest not once, but twice, downclimbing the jugs to reinsert my bum in the hueco after clipping the extended precrux draw. This was truly a patient belay.
Tyler captured my defeat in a great shot from the Dinosaur Mountain hillside.
The next attempt later that day I put the route to bed. Since moving to California, I’ve kept the photo by the bathroom mirror. It serves as a daily reminder to go for it. It reminds me that the things in life worth achieving require big efforts – that those first 100 feet actually mean everything, not in spite of, but especially when I fall. It also helps me keep a perspective of risk. Sure, climbing is risky. Just last weekend I pulled on a ticked crimp like I’ve done a thousand times before. This time the bomber Yosemite granite gave way and I pulled off a fistfull of rock that tumbled down the cliff, catching Kris square in the leg. Indeed, climbing is risky.
But to me a bigger risk is not climbing. A bigger risk is having every moment of life locked down by 2.7 kids, 0.6 dogs, and a white picket fence while longing to be terrified on the side of a rock. Right now the biggest risk in my life is falling victim to the expectation that work should be so consuming, so defining of identity, that passions wilt in its shadow.
Last month my uncle, Bob, was in the Bay Area and stayed at my place. We had a great time playing guitar, having a bottle of mead, catching up and making some mean salsa. Bob is a talented guy who follows his heart. He understands the ideas woven into the picture. A couple weeks later a package arrived at my door and I opened it to find his painting of my fall. I love it. What a fantastic gift.
It’s been since those attempts on Ultrasaurus that I’ve really worked on a line. But in the last month I’ve made several trips to Jailhouse, an area known for kneebars, projecting and more kneebars. I’ve been on the sparse non-kneebar tour including a sprint of a climb named Fugitive (5.13a). I feel close, but it’s going to take a really good go.
I’ve had a blast getting to know the unique Jailhouse crowd – good people and excellent climbers. I’m just trying to keep up.
But last weekend a break from the massive overhang cliff was in order and Kris and I met in Yosemite for some old school 5.11. I took off from the East Bay in the pitch black and made it to the golden hills of Sonora as the sun crept over the ridgeline. Waves of clouds spread thin parallel to the hillside showcased the nacent day.
Then it was business time. The 4-sentence description of the Moratorium approach seemed plenty clear until we followed a series of cairns into the abyss. After 2-hours of wandering and wondering (that should have been a chippy 20 minutes) we finally arrived at the base of the beautiful right facing dihedral. The first pitch (5.10+) was my favorite – finger jams, perfect liebacks and the occasional stem mixed with a couple fun face moves and a mantle to end on a nice, big belay ledge. Pitch 2 was less continuous, but included a tougher stemming section up top with strange drop knees and tenuous palming wide. The third pitch was tough, even for Yosemite 5.11. The seam narrowed considerably, protecting well with small nuts and C3s. At the crux I couldn’t even get a knuckle deep. The lieback was made even harder because the feet on the facing wall were pure smears, without so much as a dime edge. The seam seeped a bit and had a variety of greenery growing in places that could have been useful feet and possibly hands/gear. I struggled to lead it.
The reward for the effort was a great view of half dome, which was visible from atop the third pitch, but still hidden by the Valley walls after the second. Kris fared much better on pitch 3 than I and he inspired me to lower and give it another spin on TR. The second burn brought night and day improvement. I found my quads getting tired during the layback from the huge counter pressure I needed to stay on.
Afterward, we enjoyed a couple sport climbs at the base of Schultz’s ridge. The highlight was a fun 5.11 called Dreams of Thailand. It was basically a 4-bolt boulder problem, but well worth the trip.
Then, unfortunately, it rained all night and into Sunday morning. We tried to get in some bouldering, but everything was soaked to the bone. Bummer. At least we got one good day.
The rain chased away the crowds. Kris and I took advantage and hiked to the base of Yosemite Falls. Devoid of the standard streams of sidewalk adventurers, the scene of a cloud creeping across the falls was a perfect way to end the trip.