Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Red Rock: The Gift of a Trip

"Dude, name that band, name that band," said the shirtless knit-capped twenty-something climbing gym patron of the post-garageband-1st-world-white-teen-angst rock playing via Pandora on the establishment sound system. His friend tried planned ignoring, head down, seated at one of the glass tables between roped and bouldering climbing areas, studying a laptop or something. Slowly he looked up, stalling for time, "what?" Then, acquiescence, "who?"

"Name that band," said with expectation of Holy Communion between individuals, with voice loud enough to passively invite the half dozen of us within eavesdropping range to respond.

Funny that expectation of communion. You chase your musical whims in the vast field of methodically arranged aural frequency sets to find a particular set that tingles you in old and new regions. You play and replay it. You attach it to your collage of self. You watch for perked up ears among the outside collages when you play it. Then you see someone else get tingled and it's like you're sharing the same parts. You're made of the same stuff. You attain elusive intimacy that well-functioning humans seek.

To observe the musical interfacing from the outside feels perverse, like witnessing PDA, or, in this case, a failed pick up line.

"It's Linkin Park!"

"Oh, really, I didn't know..."

I left to complete my session.

I’d been diligent about maintaining a streak of lunchtime sessions during the week. There simply is no other time, and to climb a few boulder problems, strength train a little, and run one mile each day on the treadmill is enough to keep me whole, but now the lunchtime workout was engendered with a sense of mission. My wife's mom and brother were coming to town for the weekend. The kids were covered. I could go climbing.

Alex and I attempted to plan a traverse of the Presidential Range in NH for this weekend weeks ago, but I had no kid coverage.  It fizzled. Then he made plans with Spencer, who has been further hardening his slender man visage to ice monster function between congressional recesses. Now I'm back and crashing the party. Spencer had our sights north so far as Quebec, where there are ice falls the color of sanitary outfall, d'Or as they say, 1000' tall, and where you have to ski, or ski doo, as they say, 10 miles to access the flows. But man, that's a lot to try and pack into a long weekend, and the forecast was for the kind of dense cold that feels like death itself, crystalline liquid, curling into your nostrils, frosting nasal hairs to an iced web that cracks as you wrinkle your nose, and there's no good feedback saying that the big poop flows are in condition.

And ice climbing is a rough sport to adopt with home base in DC. As a rock climber you feel that your skills should segue well to climbing ice, but then you encounter the severity of it. You fall off good steep rock and the rope whips through carabiners attached to metal wedged in solid rock substrate till rope tension, gentle swing into wall, and bounce to a stop. You fall off ice, which grows clean only at low, leg breaking angles, and is chandeliered when straight, and your rope whips through carabiners attached to metal in brittle water substrate till rope tension, gentle swing, crampon point catches ice, ankle break, or, worse, chandelier blows up. It defies the casual approach. I used to just get after it, embrace fear. I faked it. Now I don't want to fake it. I want to do it for real as the ice monster with tuned strength and instincts, but you have to have a certain surplus of time to nurture regionally esoteric skills. Anyway. There was doubt in my heart you see. High’s of 70 degrees in Red Rock outside of Vegas? Alex saw it too. Yessiree. Tickets booked. Hotel booked.

The wonderful thing about ice climbing is that it transports you to a crisp, ethereal, brisk world of glinting, refracting light, and sounds all hushed by snow, but, inevitably, after a few bouts of the screaming barfies where blood returns to freezing digits and complains loudly about the whole getting shut out in the first place thing and slugs the same part of your CNS that makes you want to barf after getting hit in the genitals, you start to daydream about the simple life of climbing rock on gear in determinate substrate, birds singing, warm light as around sunrise or sunset, with only the need for thin fabric covering. This time, dead of winter, we're cutting straight to that warm image, and we're going to live it out. We are going to play act the dream. Spencer, I'm afraid, is too tuned up. He refuses the dream. He will roam quarries in PA in search for ice.

Friday, before leaving for the airport, happy motions at work, holding on to quotidian responsibilities with gleeful anticipation of their pause. They become something for doing for their own sake. They become luxurious. One last word, another jab for show, demonstrations that I genuinely care before I forget about it all. One more email holding a subcontractor accountable in smooth prose. The response comes back immediately, a resounding, "F@ &K YOU," in unsmooth capital letters, boss copied, boss's boss copied, sub's boss copied. It’s a business firestorm as I stand in the TSA security line. I call the irate associate, and my bosses. Between calls and email, between exhibitions of soothing and reasonable tones, before I need to de-shoe and receive low energy penetrating particles, we achieve business kumbaya. I take this as business gods smiling, releasing me for the weekend.

Boarded, sitting on the tarmac, I call Nana to wish her happy birthday, to pay tribute to the family unit, to find absolution and blessing for engaging in selfish challenges. I tell her about Finn's ordeal in San Antonio a few weeks prior where the ER prescribed alternating Motrin and Tylenol to quell a fever. She mentions that she likes Aleve for swelling. It lasts a long time.

I can’t shake the feeling that I’m too lucky. The wife and kids are too great, the job is going too well, I’ve been too healthy, I’ve arrived here from too much privilege, and here I am granted shore leave from what I should consider a cruise liner. I’ve flipped the coin and come up heads 7 times in a row. I must be due for ebb. My rope will snap, my job will sour, health in the family will wane. Chances on the 8th flip are the same. Where’s the book to teach Mega Millions winners how to cope with their luck? 

Following flight next to fidgety late night caffeinators, following hour long wait in line between soccer moms, baseball dads and their well-mannered athletic children, children mature beyond chaotic toddler body chemistry, mature to point of zeroing in on cool, masters of their peer group, unaware just how artificial, temporary, privileged is their current circumstance, Maslow's needs all given for free, following mother from Minneapolis marching to line's front and applying attention to management of the Avis Rental franchise, assigning a roaming manager to desk duty for improved throughput, following her return to line and connection to front desk activities with eyelock forged by raising of athletic progeny, following the 2am finding that my quick scoop of the re-emerged hotels.com deal for the Sun Coast Casino Hotel was for next weekend, they are completely booked this weekend, following the call to Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel, yes they have a room, we finally settle to rest.

The first day on this gift of a trip, and here we are sleeping off inefficiencies from last night. Further, we realize that our 60m-ish rope, once a 70m, but with withered, knot exercised ends chopped off, is a poor tool for the long descents at Red Rock. We sleep in to arrive at the climbing shop upon it's 9am open. They carry taglines. Perfect. Now we can pull a light 65m x 7mm static pull cord with us up the rocks to join with our heavy duty ~60m x 9mm dynamic climbing rope, doubling our reach for established anchor stations on the way down.

What should we climb first? The culture established in a long partnership with Alex has been one we each assume the other will one-up the other's suggestions. Rather than suffer the indignity of being one-upped, we skip to the biggest challenge we're capable of. Cloud Tower became our aim, supposedly the classic-est route of the 5.12- grade in the country. It also had the benefit of being relatively short at 800' compared to our other objectives, so maybe we'd eke it out with the late start.

Alex vibrated with the description of the route's last crux pitch, a laser cut Indian Creek-style steep corner hand crack with a 11+ bulge at the top, so I took first lead despite having lost the rock flip. Now I would get the techy fingertips and stemming 5.12- corner.

Man, I remember when 5.12 trad climbing (on gear you place, rather than on infallible preplaced bolts) came with holy aura. It came with silhouetted cowboy, whose face you could never see, whom you could never know as his experience set was incommensurable from yours and everyone else's. Then, you attain 5.12 a few times on bolts, then you get it on gear, and no one gets down on their knees to kiss your feet. 

Previous efforts at this difficulty came from total immersion in the goal. Cloud Tower would be born from the context of protean family, diapers, recurrent stink, the two off phase generators of cuddles, silliness, hysteria and naps, the front of destruction and trough of never complete repair. I would test the hope that old synapses have matured in absence of fanatical practice, and now 5.12 trad can accommodate the casual approach.

Pitch 1 of Cloud Tower
My sense of balance floated around unpleasantly on the first 5.8 pitch. My toes found their holds, my arms and shoulders applied pressure to allow ratcheting locomotion up the initial chimney, but I felt a little drunk. My desk and commute tuned senses were dull. My movements were sluggish, informed by only vague notions as to their aim. I optimistically wore my soft Mocassym slippers on the hope that their flexibility, and direct transmission of feel would overcome their lack of stiff edging support, and allow me to enjoy a long route without the usual throbbing murder of toes and Achilles tendons by the end. The muscles of my big toes and calves thickened and burned. "This is why you can't just stroll in and climb hard again. Maybe this (middle-aged climbing) is unsustainable," I allowed in spooked acquiescence.

Alex followed, and swung to lead the next pitch with it's no fuss straight in 5.10- hand crack. Following, my flexible shoes melted into the crack as I sideways inserted each foot, and twisted to lock upon standing. My hands easily found textbook jams, thumbs arcing across the top of the palm with lower thumb meat expanding against one crack side, pushing back of hand into the other till locked in static friction. My hips swayed in rhythm as I alternated left foot, right hand, stand, right foot, left hand, stand so the axis of balance moves diagonally through the center of mass as much as possible, avoiding the body clenching offset axis. The doubts of the first pitch were forgotten.
Finding flow on pitch 2 of Cloud Tower

I remember not wanting to dwell as I set off into the crux pitch, and feeling pretty well equipped as it had been so long since I'd worn a rope that topics for dwelling were not close at hand. I set off without hesitation, not with confidence hardened by recent practice and success, but with mind unburdened by recent failure or expectation for a given performance. I was looking at clean, strong rock that would take solid gear, and allow safe falls. Nothing to worry about. I thought about our peers freezing under ice falls in the northeast.
Leading the crux corner on Cloud Tower

The pitch unfolded in a series of discrete offensive and defensive moves. Offensive: high step, rock onto right toe, palm left face of dihedral, stand. Defensive: shake out calves one by one, try outside or inside edge of foot on available coin edge holds, explore edges for hands, search for an edge sharp enough to catch the skin close to a knuckle for optimal digit/knuckle fulcrum advantage, ideally where the fold of your bar callus catches an edge enough to stall your slight outward tilt, where fingers can relax completely and you can even wiggle them. Place gear, clip, figure out the next move. Offensive: tips layback on pinky, ring, middle with feet smeared high in corner, long reach to jug. Defensive: swing out from the jug, so positive, yet without footholds necessary to get total body weight off arms, back to the thin toe numbing flakes on the right face, back to bridging with palm on the left side. Clip fixed cam.
Cloud Tower crux corner crack close-up

Near the culmination of difficult ground, toes numb, forearms pumped, core starting to flag, mind vague on the best moves ahead, nothing individually to a catastrophic degree, but enough to yield a first fall. The fall was light in body and mind. I was happy with the effort. I rested, batmaned to the high piece between bouts of rest, then completed the pitch.

Once your allotted crux pitch is done, your being lightens. You look around and joke more, you find appetite, take a swig of water and catch up on calories. You set down your hone after steeling your mind to its keenest edge. The visible slump reminds your partner that their hard pitch has yet to come. They need to carry current fatigue, and the weight of remaining approach pitches, and then, there is their moment to perform, when the toes hurt more, the skin's worn more smooth, when hunger and thirst are banging to be let back in.

Alex led a surprisingly awkward 5.10 crack pitch. I completed the 5.easy/weird tunnel through to the final belay stance. What towered above was the beautiful hand crack in corner on laser cut sandstone as advertised. It looked strenuous.
Following the awkward 5.10 pitch

Alex embarked on the pitch, which ate 2" cam's, and little else. He stuck with the thing valiantly, but hung when it became obvious that he'd need to back clean 2" cams to complete the rope length safely.

Geometric pitches such as this, hand crack in perfect right angle corner wavering over and under vertical, allow only specific sets of body positions. You generally get to alternate two body positions for ascending, and then you get a third for resting and placing or removing gear. Variations are met with core shattering strain. I would need every advantage or this was the sort of ground that could physically burn me out for the rest of the trip.

I studied the corner, applied tape to the back of my hands for enhanced friction, and embraced the luxury of top rope to stay relaxed.

Starting the last pitch of Cloud Tower
I commenced shuffling, leading with thumb downward right hand jam and following with thumb upward left hand jam, left foot jammed in crack, right foot smeared on face, planting the left thumb upward jam high for the right hand gear removing position.

I made it to the final bugle where the method blew up. My feet pawed for a jam, then pawed for a smear amid locked off layback, hoping to bump to a jug where the whole train could fall and dangle from a thankful hold. There was no jug. More moves and more power were necessary. My eyes bulged as I bumped for the next section of crack. Thug is all I had left. The thug who likes big moves on steep ground where feet can be forgotten, and the upper body can swing through a series of holds, but here my lower half was mired on a beach. You need to hang low on your arms when mired on a beach, find some foothold to create space between your body and the rock and allow for a final high step through on the beach. Or else you panic and employ thrutching walrus maneuver.

I lower onto arms, and find no inspiration for feet in a narrowing vision tunnel, then pull back up for the dreaded walrus approach. I was done, and popped off. I finished the last moves after a short rest.

Down, down, down into night. Tie the ropes together, thread fixed anchor, fling stopper-knotted ends into the darkness below. Clip a bight to harness, and ride to next anchor station. Pull the skinny cord to a pile at your feet. The double knot's down, now for fate to resolve. Will the rest pull clean, may we pass to the next station, or will we be forced to self rescue? The rope wraps itself on a chock stone above. The snag is near and the terrain easy at least. I lead on the free end, placing gear to protect the down climb, free the catch, and back down. Down into night in lamp light. The air is cool, but easily kept at bay with thin jackets unfurled from back of harness. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, thought, all are still, waiting in trained suspense.

These moments used to inspire unfocused dread. Everything rides on single point connections, and there's nothing to do but check, test, go. The proof is in not becoming pudding. All else is irrelevant. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, thought, all seeds for want, which, unrequited, echoes into cacophonous fear, and fades to dull dread. Irrelevant. Now there's calm, suspended time.

As your feet find solid ground on that last rappel, the sensation of time returns. Now you can feel the back of neck heat of dehydration, the stomach pit of hunger, and you can run meaningful calculations as to whether you'll make the Bonnie Springs Ranch Restaurant before close.

Down the dry dusty declines, between yucca, cacti, and creosote. Traverse the wash. The way back is given to take longer than it feels it rightfully should.

We swung the door of the cowboy saloon open with 20 minutes to spare. Fresh beer was conceived in ancient times for this moment. BBQ ribs, not my usual draw, fit appetite perfectly.

Now, with froth of second beer matched with rim, what for tomorrow? There were obscure options, but the answer, Levitation 29, moves in without fuss. It’s Lynn Hill’s favorite free climb after all, First Free Ascended by her and John Long with prolific local Joanne Urioste as guide, as foil to the bold routes they were climbing in the Yosemite Valley. We get to logistics.

We understand that many find the approach to Eagle wall to be the crux of the long day’s outing. We also understand that there exists a labyrinthine shortcut with some exposed bits.

We're veterans to this sort of thing. No reason for fear. No reason to succumb to the inner voice that assumes that they know (they know!) more than we do, or the nagging inferiority complex that gets me thinking "exposed bits" means free soloing.

Next morning, we hike the wash.

Climb at Red Rock and you find yourself say the word "wash" more than you ever thought you'd have calling for. "Think we follow this wash? Think we followed the wash too long? Man, someone dripped blood all over the wash." Basically, the wash, the dry stream bed that functions as highway at the bottom of the steep walled Red Rock Canyons, which then exits the canyons and points vaguely back to civilization, not necessarily back to your car, is the only identifiable feature in the desert.

Deep up the canyon we find a cairn as described by the internet voices, and commenced ascending a buttress.

Now above the wash, the sun reverberates within the canyon to create the effect of being on mars or in a toaster. Photochromatic polarized lenses at full tint detach the everyday feel of reality so it registers at a distance as in scuba diving, or in attending a party in costume. Internal system noise rises with heat and light till there's no range in the sensory feedback, there's no analog finesse, there's only mashing of the controls, stinging in the eyes, digits that first grasp the rock to clear moisture, and then again for ready-to-be-betrayed progress, feet that ooze within their shoes, toes and Achilles tendons that swell.
The IBM boulder on way up to Eagle Wall

Beyond technical and wayfaring difficulties, beyond incline, arrived at the base of the wall, I'm stupefied to find a party on route, on the second pitch, with both members wearing packs sized for Patagonia. "You guys doing some training with those packs?" Alex inquires at their heels with apparent jocularity, but really with concern. "We weren't sure about our plan for top out," comes the answer muttered down. Alex and I were a little hazy on the details for topping out ourselves, but there was no way we were going to spoil good sport climbing wearing what may as well be a small child on our backs.

We take our time shaking out gear to let the party ahead improve their lead. At route's base, the air moves more freely. The feeling of having been doubled, twisted, and wrung free of molecular liquids subsides. The air is actually cool.
Waiting to start at the base of Levitation 29

We flip an individually packaged salted chocolate waffle purchased in pack of 5 at Starbucks the previous morning. Alex succeeds in calling the toss and wins the tricky 5.10 first pitch. The usually soft, well frictioned sandstone wears slick desert varnish here. I follow to the base of the first of two 5.11 pitches. The first 60' progresses as a series of face boulder problems with good stances. Then I'm below a juggy over-vertical face up to a 2' roof. The steep face could not be easier, but it feels heroic. The roof looks like it'll spit you off if you can't figure out the right way to enter from right into leftward layback on rounded arĂȘte. Feeling clever, I cross leftward with right hand, reset feet, pull to lock off and stand to lean left into the corner. I bump the right foot high and hand over hand the arĂȘte through the roof, and arrive at the anchor. Alex follows without introspective study of sequence, and, with well dosed application of power, makes it look easy. Two more face pitches and we’re back on the heels of the party ahead as they negotiate the crux pitch.

Pulling the first 5.11 crux roof on Levitation 29

Where is the descent route anyway? We hoped to top out and hike back to our packs at the base of the wall without any great detour, but there's no apparent way where that works. We are on a massive wall that diminishes without weakness on either flank. Best we can tell, the westward walkoff, which is supposed to be generously marked, takes you in a vast arc all the way back to the wash, 1000' below our packs. We decide that we're rappelling the route, which is fine considering the slower party ahead.

The internet voices recommend linking the crux pitch with the following 5.10 pitch. I was autonomically intimidated by the task. Linked pitches often involve spent power reserves, deep capillary burn in forearms and calves, the full 8 lbs of static rope weight tugging at your navel, plus another 10 lbs or more in dynamic friction from rope’s drag through many carabiners of zig zagging protection points. Direct sun magnifies the burden. I’ve experienced it enough for Pavlovian response. My shoulders stoop slightly, mouth goes dry (contrary to original canine behavior), mind goes foggy. Good thing it was Alex’s lead.

Following the mighty pitch required great effort. I enjoyed success in unlocking challenging and varied sequences, but found my defensive moves parried at each stance. I was stuck on tiptoes and curled fingertips, and had to keep going. Thankfully the difficulty yielded just ahead of my physical decline allowing me to join Alex at the anchor without a fall.
Following the upper crux pitch on Levitation 29

Now my final contribution. The last difficult pitch. Those who top out climb two more easy pitches, but we were in full sport mode on this excursion. Summit be damned. The party ahead was to blame.

I yard on wafers up to a steep bulbous arete. The bulbs offer hope from below, but once on them I find that they are near useless. My toes lose all feeling. My vision closes under heat and strain. Just before the usual conclusion of a buzzing pump clock, I throw a foot wide left to gain an awkwardly placed, yet positive foothold. It was just enough to push back the vision tunnel, wipe off the hands, and let the forearms detumesce. The rung sponge feel returned, but I’d passed the most difficult terrain and finished the pitch clean.

We rappel faster than ever, racing waning light, hoping to descend the labyrinth before headlamps debut. We unlock the last puzzels of the descent with that familiar last-rappel-and-return-to-time relief just after dark.

Then, down the wash, down too far. We’re almost back to the highway, on our way to walking to Bonnie Springs rather than the lot where our car is parked. We orient ourselves with satellite image and compass app on iphones, and cross a half mile of untrammelled desert to find the car just in time to reach the Bonnie Springs Ranch Restaurant before close.
Racing the dark on the way down from Eagle Wall

Two classics down, with froth back to the rim of our second glass--no thoughts occur during the first, which is drunk in gasps--now our task is to choose the final piece to assemble a proper trilogy. There is no climb more classic at Red Rock than Epinephrine, and now that we have two more technically difficult climbs out of the way we can feel okay about its moderate grade of 5.9. The grade belies the true difficulty, its length of 2000’. Alex seriously proposed a heady, 500’ 5.11+ as a more laid back alternative. I wasn’t so sure about his math, but I was certain we needed this classic to complete our trio.

We free ourselves of constraints for good coffee and breakfast. We resign ourselves to the offerings of the Terrible Herbst gas station at the highway intersection en route to the dirt drive to the trailhead. Their facsimile of "strong coffee" wasn't that bad afterall, and their microwave bean and cheese burrito plumbed happy memories from childhood where those were favorite freezer food. The now remembered art was to microwave them seam up, then seam down, to get the contents evenly hot without allowing hard, dry spots to develop on the tortilla. We eat our burritos on the dirt drive in, Kia Soul suspension pumping through washboard, cobbles, and ruts, piping burritos held aloft of the heaving interior, bravely joined with face in time for the next bite.

Glorious orange morning light warms our backs as we rack up on harnesses. Right on time. Given 8 hours to climb the route that'll still have us racing daylight for the descent. Man, 8 hours to climb 11 pitches will be tight. We're really doing it. We're in place and we have the long shadows of glorious morning light this time. No one else in the lot. I rerun the timeline in my head over and over as we hike in. All systems go. No heavy breathing, we only carry a liter of water between us. Keep it Zone 1.

We arrive at the base of the route 45 minutes later and begin starting rituals. Rock flip to determine first lead: Alex. Drawn out flaking of the rope as metabolisms settle from the approach, sweat dries, layers are donned. Careful awareness to gut, listening for that faint message saying yes, bathroom now, while you can, or, no, phantom urge that often follows the hike. T-shirt worn on the hike is let to dry on a rock. I unbutton the waist of my pants and roll it down to also let it dry. I pop an Aleve as prophylactic against the usual day three foot-in-climbing-shoe, and fingertip pain, which is a new addition inspired by conversation with Nana. Knotted in, racked up, climbing shoes tucked in my armpits for prewarm, Alex and I check each other’s knots.
Following the first chimney pitch on Epinephrine

Then he sets up the improbable looking 5.8 pitch. It’s runout, but easy, and Alex makes good time. Now me. I hike the friction rich, feature poor slab, gain Alex's belay, take the rack and set out onto more easy ground at the base of a great slot. I tunnel into the darkness of the slot, realize I've gone too far, that I'm supposed to stay toward its rim, backtrack, make progress again over a bulge, see anchors up the ramp ahead of me, and chase them till I can clip in and call "off belay." As Alex follows, I realize that I can't be at the right anchors. I was supposed to be at the base of the major chimney system that is all the hype of this route. I was supposed to traverse off the ramp out to the right. I tell Alex as he pulls the bulge. Few pieces of protection were necessary on my pitch, so Alex can climb around to the correct anchor without having to clean gear up to my stance. He ties off, pulls up the slack and puts me on belay. I down climb, arc around the buttress and join him at the base of the giant chimneys. Now my end of the rope is on top of the pile, so I take off on lead again. A mixed bag of techniques are necessary for climbing an awkward hand crack between flakes within the chimney, then for transitioning to full back on one side, feet on the other chimneying. The chimney pinches down toward the top and all I can fit is back on one side, knees on the other. The internet voices should have mentioned knee pads. Reading the description, we gather that Alex's pitch should carry us to the top of the chimney, but it looks too far. Alex shuffles in ascent with a lot of grunting. It looks a bit dire. Oh man, the nut he just placed slid 15' down to the previous piece. Alex swings his feet out the chimney and mantels into an alcove. There's not much rope left. Alex sets the anchor.

Leading the crux chimney pitch on Epinephrine
I follow with great attention to technique. Chimneys can be miserable given poor technique, they can be pleasurable with the right technique, they can be miserable with the right technique. I get back on one wall, and two feet on the other at hip level with knees only slightly bent. I drop one foot, plant it below butt, disengage back from wall, stand 12 inches, re-engage back on wall, swing rear foot back to front at level with hips, swing other foot below butt and repeat. The method is perfect for the chimney size. I've got it down. It just takes a little... The chimney closes slightly. Now knees are in chest shorting me of breath and all I get is tiptoes smeared on the far wall. It gets hot. A few moments of panicky progress and the chimney closes further so I can lock back to knees like on the previous pitch, and everything calms down again. I grab rack at belay, and review the rest of the chimney. There are two bolts spaced far apart. I'm off. The bolts arrive quick enough, and soon what turned out to be easy was done.

Now I'm on top of a 1000' pillar. Warm diffuse light bathes me. I ditch my climbing shoes and don the socks stuffed in the toes of my approach shoes hanging from the back of my harness to properly enjoy the spacious belay ledge. Quality of belay ledges is how I rate climbs now, and this one's classic. We have 4 hours to cover the next 6 pitches. All is well. Alex joins, receives gear and swings to lead. He climbs 5.8 face over a roll over and I lose sight. Pretty soon he's near the end of the rope. He backs down 30' as the pitch was only supposed to be 150'. I follow, and find the detached pillar "elephant's trunk" feature off to the right, traverse and easily gain the anchor station at its top. Alex joins the perch. Myriad easy moves on steep face lull us into quiet meditation as we scurry up 600' of butt crack in the sky.

Now past the technical difficulties, we stow the rope and rack to our respective backs and carefully scramble a few hundred feet of barely not technical ramp. We've had about enough, and see what appears to be a foot traverse on an otherwise blank wall overlooking a clean 2000' plunge. It doesn't look hard, but it looks like the stage of a nightmare. We rope up and are happy to find ourselves truly at the end of difficulties on the far side. We find long shadows and glorious orange light on the summit at 4pm, 7 1/2 hours after starting, errors and all.

The summit ridge transports me to that bittersweet last hike from last climb of two months in Patagonia 8 years ago. We were new to climbing adventure and had accomplished more than hoped--we were hero's in our own minds--but it was over, and we faced return to a life where no one knew our heroism. The value of the powerful experience was uncertain.

Down, down, down the mountainside we go. Blessed be the cairn makers. Blessed be me knees. Jingle go the packless climbers. Snag goes the backpacked rope on sage brush. Thirst presents itself, but lays in spasmodic yet obedient wait, like a free diver's urge to breath before surfacing. We reach the car at dark.

That night we drink more than advisable on general principle.

Weirdness at Bonnie Springs Ranch

Returned home, I’m fuzzy with post trip glow. I'm fatigued, but light and floaty. I feel like I've just accomplished something wonderful, and have only to wait for my award to arrive.

The award never arrives. “Name that band…” and nothing, no Holy Communion, just hanging out there. The glow fades. The resumption of quotidian demands feels rude. Unrequited expectation for external reward echoes and fades to nihilism. I need to squelch the post-trip turbulence and get back to work, get back to the vectors of cuteness I have at home, get back to my station on the family ship. There is reward, but it is internal, paid in annuity. It’s the happy memory of freedom of the hills. Expectation for external reward is folly as it’s always been. Returning is the way. Return to daily practice of what is important. Then, maybe if we’re lucky, if we tell the story, maybe someone will get it, they’ll get tingled in similar collage regions, maybe someone will name that band.

Cool photo once you get the scale, once you realize that the two pixels on Whiskey Peak's summit are climbers topping out.


  1. Great report Dan. Very impressive to squeeze in so much quality climbing in 3 days. Congrats and keep it up

  2. Awesome work amigos! I'm inspired!