Thursday, March 29, 2012

This One's For the Bobcat

I found myself more centered last weekend at the New River Gorge than I was on my prior outing.  I was rested, and not so thirsting for beer as I am sometimes at the end of the week.  I felt simply glad to climb--not overly eager, and fretting over details.  This would be a good weekend.

Saturday morning at Endless Wall, Alex won our customary rock flip and started us on Discombobulated.  Apart from fingery holds at the second and third bolt, the difficulties were punctuated enough for the route to serve as a decent warm up.

Next came Aesthetica.  I was pleased with my flow, and lack of hesitation on the aesthetic long moves, but it wasn't enough to win the onsight.  I took a fall at the crux.  Then, high stepping to a two-finger pocket, I skipped the big hueco out left, and climbed the second half to the chains.  Alex flashed the route.

Winning the second rock flip, for Mig Squadron, Alex racked and hiked the starting layback flake to a good stance preceding a blank traverse.  He inspected the diminutive holds, committed, toes smedging on glints in the sandstone, but ultimately fell in a slight pendulum.  Second try, he negotiated the thin part to an awkward stance, high stepped, and gained a moderate dihedral to the finish.  Informed by Alex's ascent, I cruised the route.  How great to cruise 11a on gear.  The training must be working.

Last of the day, we climbed The Stick.  The climb started with a bouldery roof and V3 moves just to get to the first bolt.  Presumably the "stick" refers to the tool you should use to clip that first bolt from the ground.  But I was feeling good.  I gave it a few tries, Alex spotting from below, committed to a long slap, and made the first clip.  I climbed past the crux after a few falls using of-the-moment beta, took another hang near the top after a desperate clip under a pumpy roof, then climbed steep full-pad crimps to the finish.  We both red pointed on our second attempts.

Content with the day, we hiked along the base of the orange cliffs, found the rest of our party and swapped stories.  As they packed their gear in the diminishing light, I found a flat rock, stretched and improvised an informal yoga routine.  I need to do this more often.

The next day we hiked to the seldom trod South Nuttall area.  15 minutes into the approach we encountered a large bobcat in a trap.  We stayed back so she wouldn't freak and hurt herself.

She's well camouflaged in this photo, but she's caught in a
trap that's attached to the tree.
"We have to do something," Alex said.

I agreed.

We searched the guide for phone numbers.  The forest service maybe?  Nothing.  Alex called the sheriff, who dispatched an officer from the Department of Natural Resources.

"We'll hike out and meet the officer."

"Thanks son, you did the right thing."

Saving a beautiful cat like this?  That has to be worth karma points.  Maybe it'd take the edge off gravity for the day and we'd have a chance at our day's objective.  That's how it works.

So the officer arrives and we walk him in.  It turns out that he grew up in these woods and knows them, and the neighbors well.

"Bobcat are common around here.  Trapping season ended in February.  The only thing I can do is put her down."

What?!  That's not how this was supposed to go.  We were supposed to save the cat, have it cared for, and nursed back to health.  Then...I don't know...the cat would thank us.  Like the mouse and the lion with the thorn in its paw.  You know.

We arrived, and *Bang*.  There was no delay.  It was done.

After waiting to make sure the cat was dead, we took a closer look. Its paw was hanging by muscle and skin, with its leg bones completely severed by either the trap or its own jaws--hardly Aesop's fables.  I suppose we saved it from further suffering.

Bidding the officer fairwell, we continued deeper into the suddenly more surreal WV forest, well removed from other people.

We connected patches of ruffled leaves and snapped twigs to find our way. We found the occasional bolted line, that would stop, unfinished, in the middle of a blank wall.  We found an impressive bright, sulfur colored section of cliff, the Toxic Jesus Wall, that was entirely void of features.

Forty minutes into our approach, we settled, and Alex warmed us up on a mixed 5.10a with inconvenient bolt placements on an arete of choss.

Then it was time for the route that drew us here: The Beckoning.  We'd been talking about projecting our first 5.12 trad route for a while, and lately had spoken of trying to climb twelve trad 5.12's in the calendar year.  It's possible we talk too much.  How we performed on this would tell.

I donned my hula skirt of steel and aluminum, and bouldered to the corner system above.  The gear was great, but the features blanked quickly.  Palming one wall and walking feet up the right side to a good edge, I made it past the first difficulty.  The second shut me down, and I took my first fall.  I ventured an undercling, mantle, and high step combo and passed to the final, real crux.  This one unraveled as a puzzle, requiring a sequence of 5 or 6 precarious moves to negotiate just two or three feet of blank corner.  Puzzle solved, I was rewarded with a more moderate splitter finger crack, but after working the beta on the crux dihedral, I was spent, and lowered to let Alex his burn.

Alex explored his way up the corner with falls and hangs as I had, then pushed our rope to the top anchors, remarking that the top half should not shut us down on a red point attempt.

Photo taken by Kevin Umbel of
climber, Levi Rose, found on the web.  I'd like
to think I looked equally cool on the route.
We each took a lap on top rope.  I fell at the crux, worked the moves, then finished clean.  Alex climbed the crux, only to slip on one of the harder moves above.

It was getting late in the day, but I felt a welling of confidence that I would bag the route on my next try.  I racked and climbed gingerly.  Success!  "Game on" for twelve 12's.

Unfortunately, by the time I was done, it was getting dark.  We still had an hour's hike out of the remote area, and a 5 hour drive home.  There wasn't time for Alex to red point.

We realized that the local who owned the bobcat trap might be looking for us as we hiked to the car.  Fresh 4-wheeler tracks fueled our imagination.  Luckily, no lynch mob greeted us, and we found Alex's car unmolested.

My first 5.12 on gear.  The significance of the milestone seeped in as we drove home.  Not that it has any real-world value, but it's a level I couldn't even imagine when I first started climbing.  Anyhow.  I'm stoked.


  1. Nice work Dan. Congrats on your first 12. Shitty about the Bobcat.

  2. i hope you took the trap, otherwise there will be another one there in a few days....damn humans...

  3. The officer took it. Not much you can do otherwise. Is a shame. Such a beautiful cat.

  4. Dan hats off to you in many ways. Alot of people have the o well attitude and would not of given this poor cat a second look. Thank you !