Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Moab Diary: Our Grade III Climb (day one)

We awoke slowly. There wasn't much sense in rushing because I wanted to change campsites. The Jeeps were annoying me, and the rocky parking lot was doing a wonderful job of delaying the healing of my sprained ankle. Besides, "Sungam" had an open spot at another campground upriver and I figured there'd be more of a scene around his fire pit than what he had in the middle of 4X4-fest.

Jello's comments in italics

Once again I woke up before everyone. Not because I wanted to but after spending so much time in an office this winter my body wasn't used to sleeping outside yet. So I walked out into the cold and noticed that it wasn't nearly as pleasant as the previous day. A little bit later Greg was out of the tent. I liked the plan to move. We would be away from the motor-heads as well as closer to the climbing. Even though Greg and I were making steady progress in packing the car, "Texas Flake" and company were sleeping away the day. Eventually "Trucker" made his way out of the tent. We decided that he could get the others up while we went and set up camp.

I'm not one for crowds, but I think I'm loosening up in my old age. So long as there is someone else to entertain and so long as I find time to be alone when I need to be, then I'm fine hanging around and listening to folks spin yarns with heartfelt emotions that make every story that seems to be a little too good to be true sound more honest when pondered. "Jello" and I had joined "Sungam" and his posse the night before and enjoyed a little wine and s'mores. There were guys getting ready to hit the Fishers the next day, another guy who was chilling after competing in the adventure race earlier, and two girls who were out searching for mushrooms and adventure. There was guy from Maine in the group, and we chatted a bit. I mostly enjoyed the warm fire and time away from forced conversation. There was no one in the group who felt the need to say something just because it filled the silence. Things simply filled as necessary, and everything was natural and relaxed.
After setting up our new campsite I left Greg to retrieve the pebble wrestlers. They still weren't quite ready, so I started tossing things into the car until finally there was nothing left to throw in. We bounced my crammed car out of the parking lot, scraping the rear quarter panels all the way. I had hoped to be ready to go climbing by the time we rolled into the Williams Bottom campground, but Greg and "Sungam" still weren't ready. Granted I wasn't ready either but I thought they'd be further along.
I'd say one of the things that slowed us down was the uncertainty of who was going to climb where, and how we were all going to get there. "Jello" and I wanted to climb and not boulder, and "Sungam" was with us. But "Texas Flake" and his friends didn't have harnesses and only had two options: to either switch harnesses with us or boulder somewhere that would require the use of the car. The obvious answer was to climb at Wall Street. It was close, we didn't need the car, and everyone could climb. Unfortunately, we didn't want to crag at Wall Street again. This was primarily because I couldn't climb without aiding and this would certainly get boring on the multi-pitch trad/sport climbs that lined Potash Road (Wall St.). So this meant we'd have to split up and rely on rides.
"Texas Flake" arrived back at camp he said his truck would be fixed by the end of the next day. This was good in a way because it meant they'd be going home when they picked up the truck and we wouldn't have to bother each other with rides the rest of the week. Unfortunately, it meant that we really had to plan the rides out if we wanted to climb the next two days. It was now 1pm, and "Jello", "Sungam", and I decided to tackle our first desert tower, River Tower, by jumping on the Wyrick-Merrill (C1 5.8 III) route about 30 minutes out of town on River Road. "Trucker" would drive us out and drop us off, and then agree to meet us at 6pm after he and the others finished bouldering. It was a great plan, so we packed our gear, ate lunch, piled into the car, and headed to River Tower.
Our way of deciding on River Tower had been somewhat less than scientific. I thumbed through the guidebook till I found something of both reasonably easy free and aid climbing standards. After hearing the words "bolt ladder" Greg was convinced. "Sungam" was just along for the ride and I wanted a proper adventure. River Tower seemed to satisfy all those. Despite Greg's comfort in the bolt ladder I knew it was the desert and the bolt ladder would be anything but easy. Even so I knew Greg had the skills necessary to complete the first pitch.
A half hour later and we were looking for a non-existent road, washed out sometime after the writing of the guidebook. After parking at Hittle Bottom we searched around for a path or somewhere to take us to where we wanted to go. Unfortunately we couldn't figure out whether to follow one road or another old road, or simply stay in washes until we got there. After debating whether I was correct with my estimate of two miles or someone else’s guess of six, we decided that we wouldn't be able to make the approach, do the climb, and make the descent in the daylight we had left. I was disappointed and agreed we should head back. With the wind whipping sand in our eyes we got in the car and drove home.
If it's one thing I learned from climbing in Vegas at Red Rocks is that the desert is deceptive in distance. The tower may seem to be close, but it's actually much farther away. We agreed to come back the next morning and slay the dragon then. I was personally relieved because we (read: I) chose this route for my first aid lead because the first pitch was supposed to be a bolt ladder. I figured, hey, why not practice on bolts before doing the real thing? Despite this, I was still nervous and putting off this climb for when we had more time suited me better.
Since it was windy and somewhat cold, and because Greg and "Sungam" didn't want to climb on Wall St., I decided to join "Texas Flake" and company at the Big Bend boulders. I was masturbating in the whore house, but it was still fun. I completed a few easy boulder problems, including the Death Flake Traverse. Nothing like clinging to thin sandstone flakes twenty feet off the ground and, upon realizing there is no walk or jump off, down-climbing the whole scary bit again. After everyone got tired of the wind and the cold we headed back.
While the others were gone, "Sungam" and I met a couple of girls back at the campsite, one of whom I was hoping would have kept her word and searched for me on Facebook by now (sigh, such is the life of the new generation's fake phone number), and we chatted for a little while. Soon the others returned and we crashed around the fire for some food, jokes, and rest. It had been a slow week thus far. I take part of that blame. Sometimes the desert has lines that I'd love to get on, and some times I am uninspired. I seem to lack ambition every time I step onto the loose sand. I've often wondered what the point of sand is if it doesn't turn into a hard-packed surface compacted by the constant lapping of waves. I was also weak, and knew I wasn't going to be able to carry my weight on this trip. I really don't like being the unequal partner. But it was what it was. I dislike even more going on a trip and disappointing my partner. I can live with disappointing myself, but I've made too many mistakes by not following through when I've committed to other people. I bothers me when I do that. The next day was going to be a better day.

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