Jul 1, 2012

End of an Era

Morning on El Cap while driving into the valley for my 2012 adventures
What a beautiful activity climbing is. 5 years I've been climbing and 5 years I've been captured under its spell with no end to this curse in sight. While the novelty has passed, the excitement has only grown. The "sport" (if you can call it that) has given me so much, a chance to learn who I am, a passion to fill the void, and friendships I'll never forget. Since my last post nearly every aspect of my life has changed. I've left Bozeman, I started a new job, graduated college, endured a long distance relationship, and hit the restart button on climbing. 

Commencement at Montana State University, 6 years of hard work, student loans, and an education. I sit staring upward, not at my peers walking across stage, but at the parallel cracks of Indian Creek beckoning me upward. May 4th through the 11th Lawrence, Whitney, Marge, Loren, Bridget, and I climbed in Indian Creek. The weather was hot, but as always the climbing was magnificent. We spent most of our days chasing shade, with many visits to cliff new to me at the creek. I wanted to focus on leading #1 and #0.75 sized cracks. The virtue of the big hands places these sizes as my biggest challenges in The Creek. Thanksgiving of 2011 was my first trip to Indian Creek. Mostly a top rope hero show, I made it my goal to get up (regardless of how many hangs) every route I attempted. I nearly completed this goal failing on Coyne Crack. May 2012, as climbing often forces you to do, it was time to face demons. While I was no where close to redpointing the route (climbing the route bottom to top without falling), I did manage to lead the entire ringlock to tight hands fest. Marge herself had a great trip to the Creek, with an incredible improvement in her technique and ability. Soon I'll be handing her the sharp end while I watch mesmerized calmly hikes my projects!

While in Indian Creek, I had received exciting news about the next chapter in my life. Since November of 2011, I had been pursuing a quality assurance position at Black Diamond. After many months of wondering, I finally got the confirmation that on June 4th, I would start my first career. Along with the news came the realization everything was about to change. Back in Bozeman, I had a few days between returning from Indain Creek before I left for Yosemite. Pat, Todd, and I made got a day out in the Gallatin. We got on a newer line put up by the Magro brothers on the South Side of Skyline Buttress. The route follows the first few feet of Lay Back and Be Cool, before finding an independent line arching to the climber's right. Sequential hand jamming followed by power liebacking, made for a very fun top rope session. We finished our day on Songline with Pat redpointing the route in two tries and myself getting a clean TR burn. 

Continuing the "Tour de Last Month Before I Start an 8-5", I headed to Yosemite. Meeting up with two of Tate's roommates (JD & Dillon), we set our sights on Wet Denim Day Dream. My first attempt at C3 and JD & Dillon's first real wall. The 10 pitch route shares its first 4 pitches with the classic West Face of Leaning Tower route. With a 70m rope you can link these first 4 pitches into 2 rope stretchers, ending at the Awahnee Ledge. From the ledge, Wet Denim breaks left while the West Face breaks right. Both routes are extremely exposed as per Supertopo: the bottom 4 pitches are on average 15-20 degrees overhanging and the final pitches are 5 degrees overhanging. Upon arriving on Awahnee ledge, we met an aid soloist with quite a bit more experience than myself. His gear was still in the pitch from his ascent several hours earlier. In his words "I've only lead one A4 pitch in my life and a lot of A3, this C3 pitch was the scariest lead of them all". Perhaps this whole trip to Yosemite was going to be about knowing when you had bitten off more than you could chew. A limited discussion lead us to the conclusion to refocus our goal to the West Face route. On a nostalgic note, the West Face was my first big wall during which time I spent 25 hours in my harness, jugging every pitch, a considerable nauseated feeling summarized those experiences. Now, I was able to return to the route to lead every pitch over two days. Sitting on Awahnee ledge that night, I noticed the guide called for at least one 4" piece to protect a short section of wide climbing on the final pitch. We were equipped with only one 3" piece. Seeing as the guide also gave that section a 5.12 offwidth grade, I was a bit nervous about how we might progress past the impending obstacle. Furthermore, due to the overhanging nature of the line, rappelling the route requires significant down aiding. The aid soloist had a fantastic idea, we took several rocks off the ledge and duck taped slings around them. This way, in case we did indeed need a 4" piece above, our 3" piece could be placed against a slung rock to create a 4" piece. Low and behold, the section in question was no problem without a 4", and these stones never came in useful. Nevertheless it makes for a good story. We topped out the second day, and managed to make most of the descent in the twilight. 

Starting the traversing 3rd pitch

Toward the end of the traverse pitch

A sparrow was quite loudly informing me of his/her disapproval of my proximity to his/her nest, which was inside the crack somewhere near my position in this photo

Dillon taking the swing away from the belay at a grand off the deck

Keep in mind the steepness of the route, JD hangs in free space. His line hangs plum from my final position at the belay. 
The night we finished Leaning Tower, JD & Dillon left the valley. I spent most of the following day recovering from hauling each pitch on West Face, finding El Cap meadow to be the perfect location to rejuvenate. While watching the water streaks on The Captain mix; I began to come to terms with how my life was going to change in a few short weeks. I struggled with trying to understand how I could possibly continue to climb at a level I was content with, but not completely disappointed. I knew I was going to love my new job, I knew I would be happy, but I didn't know if the pay was good enough, or work conducive to achieving the western world's definition of success. These questions had long been nagging and had long been put off. Instead of being confused and discourage by the sheer size of the questions I sought answers, I found calm. I said it before and I'll say it again, how the naivety questions recently worried astounds me. 

With my partners gone, I met a very nice gentleman from France, Thierry. He was excited to climb some of the classic free routes over the next few days before Chris Welch (another Bozemanite) arrived. We climbed the Central Pillar of Frenzy, an incredible climb with pitch after pitch of world class granite cracks. The following day, Chris arrived and we set off to climb the ultra-classic Serenty Cracks into Sons of Yesterday. Much to my excitement, I was able to lead all but the first pitch of the route! Again, the climbing was stellar. I've heard it described as the best 5.10 in the world and I'm not inclined to argue. As always in the valley, after two days of staying relatively low to the ground, the walls called me back. Chris and I began preparing for our first trip up El Cap on The Nose. Of the may partners I've shared my big wall experiences with, Chris learned faster than any. The night before departing Terra Firma, we jugged and hauled to Sickle ledge. Chris had never jugged before, and by the 4th line, he was cruising. The following morning we set off. Leaving the ground I knew the climbing above would be awesome, but I never expected to find the terrain as good as it was. The rock and the climbing is . . . perfect. I lead the first pitch, while Christ linked a few above to put us on Sickle Ledge. Chris lead a great 5.9 off sickle an uncomfortable belay. Taking the lead, a series of challenging and exciting pendulums granted access to the stove leg cracks. Perhaps, the most exposed, run out, and capturing climbing I've done to date. Yes, these cracks gobble up #2 camalots, but when you only have 3, the climbing begins to be substantially more exciting. By the time we reached Dolt Tower, dusk had arrived and we were both pooped. We had planned to climb the route in 3 days before a storm was supposed to arrive on the 4th day. In order to do so, we knew we had to make El Cap Tower at the end of our first day.  3 pitches short of El Cap Tower, and the iPhone window to the outside world predicting the storm to be quite severe . . . we made the tough decision to come down. Tails tucked we hit the valley floor wondering if we had made the right call. Sure enough, the storm came and came with rain, snow, and high winds. A little reassurance that indeed we were glad to say "we are better safe than sorry!". 

Chris on one of the final pitches before Dolt Tower

Frustrated knowing we'd have to return to the ground from Dolt Tower
Returning to Bozeman, the chaos of moving set. Climbing has taken the back burner for what seems like more than a month now. It seems my biggest fear: loosing my climbing drive due to a busy work schedule, is on the brink of realization. However, I refuse to give in to the temptation, knowing that if I do, all my meaningless worries of El Cap Meadow will return. I've chosen to take on life in the manner which best fits the person I truly I am, not the person I thought I was. We constantly "redefine" our existence, with an ever present hope that each new generation will be radically improved upon the previous version. Each new version more complicated than the last. I feel this line of thinking guides us down the path to believe the our current state is out of sync with "who we should be" or "who we are". Thus, the continuous need to alter our definition of self, as if in each passing minute the world has handed us a new piece of information revealing one small part of who we are. So, how long must we wait to find out who we are and what our life should be intended to do? I believe the answer to this question comes from the ancient water streaks coloring El Captain I contemplated only a few short weeks ago. Our thinking is fundamentally flawed in waiting for the world to lift the curtain on who we are. Perhaps, instead of sitting back waiting for the transformation to occur, or perpetually facing disappointment, or frivolously wondering if we've made the right decision; perhaps the answer to inquiries we've been seeking is person we see in the mirror everyday. And, maybe that person, not the world, has been handing us these little new pieces of information all along. Perhaps the best example I can provide to support my claim lies in the very title of my endless ramblings "A Vertical Life in a Horizontal World". I've struggled, so frequently with accepting the life I was leading, always questioning if it was the "right" choice to climb, or to work instead of continuing to graduate school, or to take the high paying job over what I love. It looks like all along, I was trying to tell myself the answers to those questions, to live the vertical life in a horizontal world.

On a recent attempt to redpoint The Fugitive

Onsighting Anderson's Airlift . . . great climb!

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