Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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

We'd had two days to get to the top of River Tower, and we had failed. But our line was fixed for when we arrived at the start of Day Three. This was serious now. It was time for us finish the damn thing. We threw ourselves into the car, and when "Jello" turned the key - cough, cough, cough...rrrr, rrrr, rrrr...MOTHER -

This wasn't happening. After all we had put into this route, the damn car wouldn't start. This was deflating. We didn't know what was wrong - though we speculated that it was the starter. We had committed ourselves to heading back out there; our gear was still fixed out there. "Sungam" had the look of a cat who had just seen a mouse run by, but wasn't quite sure if he was supposed to follow his instincts and chase it. He wanted to say something, but wasn't quite sure what it was. I gritted my teeth but wasn't surprised. I'd been riding in this car for nearly as long as "Jello" had, and I'd never felt it was going to start - EVER, even though it had miraculously done so many times before. I tried offer some solace, but I really had no clue what I was talking about. "Jello", well, let's just say his calming anger was in full flavor. I've never met anyone like him. He has the ability to be so obviously pissed off without showing a hint of it all at the same time. He was the most competent climber in the group, and probably could have soloed The Wyrick-Merrill route all by himself in one day if he had the mind for it. But because I was slow, and because we were a group of three, and because we had started late two days in a row, it was his ropes and gear that were fixed on the first pitch for anyone to booty. I'm not saying anyone would have, but for the love of God, he had invested so much more into this route than anyone else, and his fucking car wouldn't start!

"Sungam" suggested that we push start it. I hadn't done this before so I figured what the hell, let’s give it a go. Greg and "Sungam" started pushing. What "Sungam" failed to mention was that I had to turn the key after I let out the clutch, so it didn't work and we hadn’t figured out why at that point. Luckily, the car stopped next to another campsite where I asked the attractive car owner if we could get a jump. She graciously said yes, and then her male companion made his way out of their tent.
We headed to the gas station in town to take care of some other business, and we got another jump. We headed out to the start of the approach, and we forgot about the car for just a while. We'd deal with it later. We had more important things to do. I cringed at the thought that this could be a long day.
A while later and we were pulling off the road in the same spot we had parked the previous two days. We knew the way this time, but the much smoother approach was continuously interrupted by "Sungam" wanting to take video of us on the approach. I've never taken video, especially not with my picture camera, but we patiently waited a few times while he ran ahead to catch us heading towards the tower. It was his attempt at capturing our destitution, and all the while he was unseen behind the camera. At one point we stopped under junipers and pretended to eat the poisonous berries and have hallucinations. We wondered aloud what had happened to our missing cohort. Had he fallen into a rattlesnake den? Did he run naked into the desert after eating the juniper berries? I climbed the tree and hung upside down. "Oh well," I thought, "he'll show up once the climbing starts." As we made our way to the fixed line we came into the shade.
"Sungam" was the first to jug up the section of rope we had left for the final 50 feet of the approach. He made it about five feet off the ground when all of a sudden he plummeted straight down. We all kind of looked at each other with wide eyes, no one wanting to be the next or even first person up. "What the hell just happened?" we all asked. My mind was on the anchor at the top of the first pitch. Would it hold? That certainly wasn't just stretch, not at that speed. The kid was a bit freaked out, but after collecting his wits, pulled himself off the ground and finished jugging over the lip.
He called down and said that the rope had been over a block. I knew Greg was freaked out despite the simple, somewhat safe explanation, so I went up. After deciding that ascending with a thirty pound pack was too much of a pain I handed it to Greg while dangling a few feet off the ground. A minute later and the rope stretch literally whipped me over the lip and I pulled up the pack.
We all had a slight problem passing our ascender and Grigri over the lip, but once our body weight was somewhat over the lip, the rope acted as if it were a slingshot and yanked us up the rest of the way. It was an interesting experience for a first-time aider / jugger. It didn't surprise me so much as I didn't expect it.
Greg came next and he was not having an easy time of it. He'd put on some sunscreen before we left, even though we were climbing in the shade. It was this thick stuff, with zinc oxide, that he'd read was better than the regular stuff normal people bought. He said it was because the thicker stuff protected against all kinds of harmful sun rays, but because he hadn't shaved in over a week it didn't rub into his facial hair as neatly as he would have preferred. When he came over the lip his phantom-like face and expression would have been more comical had he not been so freaked out, but he made it and we headed up to the base of the climb.

Wyrick-Merrill (C1 5.8 III) - Four pitches - Mix of aid and fee climbing - Mixed anchors (<-- Click here for guidebook info)

After gearing up I started up the line, quickly realizing that I was not in very good jugging shape. Every ten minutes I would have to stop and after a half an hour I was close to the anchor. Once I got off the line I called down to Greg and he started up. As he came up I looked at our four piece anchor and noticed something fairly disconcerting, one of the pitons was moving. I looked at it more closely and the hole it had been nailed into was slightly expanded. It was a four piece anchor but if this was any indication of the quality of the other pieces then we were entering the danger zone. I put my hand over the moving pin to keep it from popping out. I fiddled with a pink tri-cam in the small slot next to the anchor, but it wouldn’t go. I gave up after a while and decided I would leave it up to fate. None of the other pieces had moved, so it was probably OK. When Greg arrived at the anchor I told him to try and not weight the anchor once I left. He asked why and I told him I'd tell him later.
I'd asked him several times why he didn't want me to weight the anchor, but he wouldn't tell me. He kept telling me to wedge myself off to the side instead and to trust that he knew better. After having some of my more harrowing experiences with him tied to the other end of the line, I trusted him. I rarely take other's comments as the truth without understanding the context first, but if he was telling me not to weight the anchors then I wasn't going to. But still, the awkward position I was in made this one of the more uncomfortable belay stations I've been on. For one, I had to lean under a roof and into a small cave-like area filled with bat poop. And the ledge that my feet were resting on was large enough for only one-and-a-half feet, so I was constantly shifting my weight back and forth as an attempt to keep my legs from falling asleep. Finally, all the small ripples of sandstone that surrounded me were at such a height that I couldn't rest any key parts of my body against them without weighting the anchor; there was no place for me to sit, the cave was too high, slopey, and shallow to arm-bar and lock myself in, I had to step high on my toes to lean my knees against anything comfortable, and I had to stay under the roof out of the fear of getting clocked in the head by falling chunks of mud from above. I knew I couldn't to it forever, and I nearly begged him to tell me. He finally told me that at least one of the pieces of the anchor was moving, and I didn't care in the end. I needed to move my legs somewhat, and so he advised me to pull down on the anchor and not out (naturally, pulling out was by far the most comfortable position, too). From that moment on I rested only one leg at a time, and shifted my weight every 30 seconds in order to keep my legs alive.
I top-stepped on the anchor pin that wasn't moving and I jammed the next crack full of tiny gear. Building an anchor above the actual anchor seemed like good sense to me, but I couldn’t quite get the two smallest C3s and the nut I placed to sit the way I wanted. There was nothing else I could do, though, and as I weighted the mess of gear all of the pieces settled and I cringed. A factor-two fall on this anchor did not seem like a positive life decision, so I tried to move quickly to the next part of the crack where I placed another two pieces and immediately felt better as I clipped into them. If the nine piece mixture of bolts, pins, small cams, and nuts didn't keep us off the deck then I didn't know what would. I had finally moved into the free climbing section of the pitch, which I thought would be less scary, but as I moved higher above my last gear I noticed no opportunities for gear and the rock was not any cleaner than it was below. The chimney started to squeeze down and I still hadn't placed any gear in fifteen feet. I stopped briefly to collect my thoughts and gather my courage.
"Jello" never was one for keeping his thoughts to himself while climbing. As I sheltered myself under the roof from the occasional thudding chunk of mud dislodged from the adventure that I couldn't actually see (because of the roof), I also heard his patented swearing emerge. The desert is a boring mix of brown and red that is sometimes graced with green. On that pitch, the entire valley was a rainbow. He was looking at a 30-foot whipper at this point, and the climbing felt anything but the grade at 5.4.
I squeezed through the slot in the chimney to where it opened up again. Another twenty feet later and I was now about thirty five above my last piece, the mangle of small nuts and cams I had placed just above the anchor. I saw a loose block above where I could get in some gear. As I crawled up to it, I breathed a sigh of relief and plugged in a #3 camalot...which didn't fit. Son of a bitch. It was cammed, but definitely at the low end so I plugged in the other one, equalized them, and hoped for the best. I moved slowly from there and stopped every once and a while to calm my nerves. This was supposed to be easier than the adventure Greg and I had on Kor's Flake last fall, but I didn't feel any different. As I moved higher and higher above my tipped-out #3s all I could think was the rating. It was only 5.4.
I never heard so many "5.4 my ass!" comments in my life. All I knew was that he was a long way above his last piece, and I knew the rock was crappy, crusty, and loose. I sincerely hoped the anchor that he had built above me was strong enough. Ripped gear with 60 feet of rope out and his weight landing on the wiggling anchor didn't make me feel better. I couldn't see him, and I couldn't see any of the pieces he had placed. All I had was his swearing, and I hoped his swearing didn't turn into screaming.
The anchor finally came into view and I pondered my predicament. I was sixty feet above my last crappy pieces. The climbing had been reduced to walking up steep rubble and gravel but if I tripped or slid I would fly out of the chimney, all the way back to the anchors and kick Greg in the head, assuming the tipped out cams would hold, which they wouldn't. So that would have meant that I would have kicked Greg in head, and then fallen until his knot jammed in the belay device. In reality, if I would have fallen there was a good chance we would have both ended up on the ground.
"Sungam" shouted up to me and asked how things were. I said I didn't know, but "Jello" said that he could see the anchors. I was relieved to hear this, but then he said just how far past his last piece he was and how much farther he had to go still. I gulped, and hoped the climbing suddenly became easier.
When I came to the anchors I could see a small spot of sun and as I stepped into the warmth it helped wash away the anxiety. I added a few pieces of gear to the slung block, which composed the entire fixed anchor, and let Greg know that the line was fixed. I went to sit in the sun. I was mentally drained. I hoped that someone else would volunteer to lead the next easy pitch. Greg got to the anchors and his face confirmed my thoughts on the seriousness of the next lead. He was white as a ghost and breathing heavily. His jacket had a small hole in it and we both sat down to wait for "Sungam".
I've only jugged five times including the second pitch, and I can say that I'm sure this will be one of the most awkward jugging experiences that I'll have in a long time. I knew "Jello" was going to fix the line, and I knew it would be safe, but I couldn't see it and I was still tepid from this whole trusting-the-gear experience. This isn't to mention that when I attached myself to the fixed line there was a swing out into space and away from the anchor. As crappy as the anchor was, it was at least something concrete that I knew would hold me. But I got myself on the rope and fixed the other line for "Sungam", and we jugged the separate lines together. Unfortunately, when I reached the squeeze section of the chimney, I had such a hard time squirming, pulling, stepping, and fighting my way through it that I sent several bombs down onto "Sungam" below. One of them socked his shoulder well enough to hurt the rest of the day and into the next. I felt badly about it, but there wasn't much I could do. Even if I could have avoided it, I certainly lacked the skill to do so.
I came to one section of the pitch, though, and noticed a very concerning detail ahead. The rope that I was on, the one that had been weighted by me as I thrashed my way through the chimney, was firmly bent over a sharp edge about 20 feet above me. Weighted ropes and sharp edges don't make my favorite combination, and when I moved, even slightly, the rope dragged heavily across the edge. I hate being suspended and totally reliant on one piece of gear like this. Rappelling and even being lowered while top-roping scare me more than climbing. If the rope breaks, then I'm toast. At least if it breaks while climbing then I'd have a chance to latch onto the rock. But there I was, dangling in the softest chimney I had ever been in, jugging when I'd only just learned how a few days earlier, trusting gear for the first time in six months on terrain I wasn't familiar with, and I noticed how white the rope was where it was rubbing.

- How sharp is that edge?
- What edge?
- Where the rope is rubbing. How bad is it?
- It looks fine to me, but I can't really see.

I didn't have much of a choice. The white around the rope never left my eyes the entire time I jugged up to it. I tried to be as gentle as I could, but considering my skills and the difficulty of the terrain, the rope never stayed put. There were at least a dozen moments in that 20 feet where I saw the rope snap. I thought I was done. I honestly thought that was it.
Part of what scared me the most, however, wasn't so much the rope ripping apart on the edge, but more that the ascender would rip it up when I got to the point of having to pass it over the edge (and the Grigri, too, though I was less worried about that). If the roped snapped before the ascender reached the white section, then I'd at least have a fighting chance to throw myself into the chimney. But if it snapped as a result of the ascender's teeth ripping it shreds, well, then I'd have my weight too far out to regain control before plummeting to the hard earth below.
It was scarier the closer I got. The rope was definitely pulled tight over a groove in the sandstone. I could see that more clearly now. And the white section was larger than I saw from below. Instead of being only a couple of inches long, it was about eight inches long, and its whiteness was as bright as the strings on the inside of the sheath. I had no choice but to continue up. Climbing was too awkward for me. I was afraid that I wouldn't have the ankle strength to torque and hold myself into the wall. If I fell, well, that was going to be a bigger impact on the rope than if I continued to jug. Finally, I got to small roof that the rope was resting against and breathed a sigh of relief. It was dust, dirt, or whatever. I don't know how red sandstone became white dust at that specific spot in the rope, but it did. The rest of the climbing was easy, and I was reassured that the slung boulder was backed up by a series of cams off to the side. "Jello" had since seen the white spot and he was concerned. In fact, he was very concerned until I told him it was dust. He still wanted to check it, though. It didn't seem right to him.
Arriving at the top of the second pitch about 45 minutes later "Sungam" was all smiles. Having ascended past the first anchor, he didn't bother grabbing the gear because we'd probably grab it on our way down. He, too, was concerned about the whiteness in the rope, but when we pulled it up it was confirmed to be dust. That had scared all three of us. None of us knew where the whiteness came from.
I looked around and asked if anyone wanted to take the next pitch. Greg was an obvious no due to his ankle, and "Sungam" explained that he was just along for the ride. All of a sudden I felt like I was at work, guiding neophytes up the dirty stone of the desert. I sighed and started up. The tower seemed to peak right in front of me, and I was looking for the false summit, so this seemed to be it. I crawled around to the easiest looking line and literally dragged myself up it thanks to the tremendous rope drag as a result of me wrapping it around half of the false summit. As I stood on the top and looked around, I realized there was a bolted anchor down around the corner in the opposite direction I had gone. Slowly down-climbing from the false summit, I went in the other direction - the scarier direction. I passed by a small crack, plugged in a piece, and came to an exposed edge. I had been creeping along this shelf for a bit and was a little nervous at what I saw. Between that shelf I was standing on and the next large ledge was a gap of only about three feet, but the distance down was all the way to the ground.
"Jello" seemed to be on easier ground, but I couldn't see anything due to the angle of the rock above me. At one moment he pulled the rope upward, and I gave him slack. The next moment I saw the rope coil at my feet, so I brought it in. This happened about three times before I heard him shout down.

- Hey, Greg! Give me lots of slack!
- OK, how is that? (I fed out about three feet)
- I need more. I'm going to jump about five feet across a gap!

"Sungam" and I looked at each other with wide eyes. "Huh?" I fed the rope out and braced myself.

- Me: Five feet?
- "Sungam": Jump?
- Me: What is doing?
- "Sungam": What the fuck did we get ourselves into?

"Jello" pulled up the slack and "Sungam" and I heard a breathless grunt.

- Cool, thanks, I'm across.

We looked at each other again, and as he told us to take him off belay, we wondered what was in store. "Sungam" was the first to go, and then I was next. I found the climbing easy, until I got to the gap.

- "Sungam": It's totally awesome, dude. Just jump!
- Yeah, and I've got it backed up with a cam around the corner, so you're good.

I peered around the corner and saw the ledge slope away into the air. The shelf was no more than a foot wide, but its angle was steep enough to not allow for walking. There were no hand holds, either. It was a leap across the gap - a gap that was at least 200 feet straight down - onto another sloping ledge. This wasn't in the plan, but I did it. I hadn't planned on putting so much stress on my ankle, but I did it anyway. We were so close, and I wasn't going to let this stop me. I inched closer, as close as I could go until I felt myself slipping away from the edge, and then I jumped.
Now we had to rappel into the notch. "Sungam" and Greg scrambled past the anchors to see what we could do to set up the rappel. Greg didn't want to climb so "Sungam" and I would rappel into the notch, climb up the other side, and set up a Tyrolean traverse. I rappelled first and "Sungam" came next. When I got to the bottom there was a #5 tricam and a skinny sling just sitting on the ground near the beginning of the climbing. After "Sungam" put me on belay I donned my climbing shoes for the first time and started up. The first part was a little awkward but not very hard. Gear was pretty decent and for the first time there was no mud veneer to interfere with the actual climbing. At this point I was standing on a shelf where the crack began to overhang, so I tried to place a #3, but did it work? Of course not. I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to climb an unprotected, overhanging, offwidth that would somersault me backward into the open air behind me. No way was this 5.8 as was described by the guidebook. It was the second sandbagged pitch on the route. I was pissed.
But there was another way. On Greg's recommendation, instead of climbing straight up, I worked my way through the slot and behind the free-standing upward-facing flake. I came out completely on the other side of the block and was able to find my way to the top, despite the lack of protection. I slung a block, clipped a piton, and tied into the rest of the ratty slings that were on the block below the summit and brought "Sungam" up. He came up and then told me to put him on belay so he could go to the summit. I felt a little resistant. Here I was leading all the pitches and taking on all the hard work and nobody else was really doing anything. We were supposed to be a team and I felt like I was doing everything. I set up the Tyrolean traverse while "Sungam" took pictures of himself.
Now if I was afraid before, then I was very afraid now. Remember how I said I don't like hanging on the rope? A Tyrolean traverse has to be the worst of all hanging-on-the-rope experiences. Not only was I completely dependent on the rope, but there was nothing, no chance whatsoever, to keep me from swan diving all the way down to the ground below. Even if the whiteness on the rope had snapped on the second pitch I would have had a least a chance of catching myself in the chimney. This traverse was above everything and nothing at all at the same time. I had never been more exposed than I was when I first weighted the rope.
Of course, I wanted some protection, so I attached myself to an ascender and used that to pull myself across. My thought was that if the anchor blew behind me then the ascender would at least keep me on the rope. I didn't realize, however, that if the anchor had popped on the other side, in front of me, that the ascender would have done absolutely nothing to save me. That probably wouldn't have been a fun oops-I-forgot-about-that moment as I stared at the fast-approaching ground with my feet flapping wildly above my head. But I got across, despite some difficulty at the very end where I had to pull and be pulled over a ledge that was too high off the ground for me to climb. I had made it, and I couldn't have been happier. "Jello" held out his fist for me to pump, but I pulled him in and hugged him instead. He deserved it. He had done so much work on this route, he had displayed so much patience, he had taken a week off from work to climb with me in the desert, to spend time with his girlfriend away from home on his birthday (and she wasn't able to make the trip due to sickness and poor driving conditions), and all he had to show for it was his first 5.11 trad climb, teaching me to jug and aid, and an unecessarily long, dirty, and arduous climb to the top of a tower that no one had probably climbed in five years. Yeah, we were a team, but he did this more than anyone. This was his climb.

Trying to get Greg across was a bit of a chore. He had never done a Tyrolean traverse and he didn't have a lot of trust in the system, but after a little cajoling he made his way over. Finally we were all on the top. The sun was getting low in the sky but I felt like we were pretty much done. After Greg went to the summit I went up for the mandatory summit picture and everything seemed worth it. The sunset looked fantastic, we were on top of something majestic, and the work was done, except for the rappelling. We still had two full rope rappels to get to the ground again.
Once Greg and "Sungam" went back across the Tyrolean traverse I rappelled into the notch and ascended the line back out the other side. Greg was standing there and explained that "Sungam" had gone to set up the rappel. Finally I was getting some help, so I started pulling the rope from the other side to finish setting up the rappel. Greg went over to get ready and to get out of the wind. By this point the sun was set and the twilight left an eerie glow on the tower. I had no headlamp and when I got to the other side the tangle of ropes told me that there was still plenty of work to do.
We weren't sure how high off the ground we were, but we knew that we didn't want three people on the anchor at the top of the first pitch. We also knew that we didn't want to rap off the second-pitch anchor and that third-pitch anchor wasn't much higher than from where it started (the third pitch is about 10 feet of climbing up and 30 feet of walking right). So we used the good bolt(s) at the top of the third pitch and tied the two ropes together. Since "Sungam" knew how to pass a knot on rappel, we sent him down so that "Jello" and I could be the only ones on the first-pitch anchor. It was dark now, and we only had one lamp between the two of us. "Jello" was going to go first, and so I gave him my lamp. I'd rather the first person have the lamp in order to see so that the second person could simply be pulled in. I also figured since he was more efficient that he should go first. Saving time at this point was worth it at this point.
We flaked the ropes "Sungam" hooked in, turned on his lamp, and started down. It was a long time before we heard anything. The wind was blowing and we were shivering despite trying to shield ourselves against the rock. We talked about how we were going to do this so that we were ready to move when the time came. But after a while we heard, "You can do it in one go" and we were elated. This was a great time saver and I borrowed Greg's headlamp for my descent. We pulled the ropes up and fastened them as a normal two-rope rappel. As I left I felt bad for Greg shivering in the twilight, his face was almost phosphorescent with that suntan lotion of his. But he was correct in saying that I'd be quicker, just in case "Sungam"'s weight allowed for the rope to stretch enough for only him to make it (he outweight Greg by 50lbs and Greg outweighs me by 20). As I lowered, "Sungam" explained that we needed to stay deep in the chimney to the left in order to retrieve the carabiners and slings from the first anchor. I tried mightily, but the rope pulled me away from the chimney and after swinging into space high above the ground I figured I'd let Greg deal with it.
I heard "Jello" shout that he was off-rappel, and I stood up. I couldn't see a thing, and I figured that would be the case before "Jello" took off. So I had put myself on rappel before "Jello" left just so I could use the lamp to ensure that I had put myself on correctly. We had used some of "Sungam"'s slings for back-up, and I removed those before I lowered. Now my weight was on the anchor, that old anchor with one good bolt, one old bolt, and one hangerless bolt that we had slung with "Sungam"'s thin high-tension cord that he usually used for a back-up on rappel. If I fell, if the anchor popped, then I was going for a night-time ride that no one would see. They'd only hear the screams and the thud at the end. I took several quick breaths and left the ledge.
"Jello" had shouted up to me that I had to stay in the chimney to the left. I wasn't sure why except that it made sense that the ropes wouldn't reach all the way without staying left. The route started at the edge of a small cliff that was about 10 to 15 feet higher than the ground below. I also knew that the chimney was the to the right of the start, and that I was rapping off a set of anchors that were about 30 feet farther to the right than that. I didn't know that "Jello" had swung out from the chimney, and so I stayed in the chimney as best as I could. It wasn't easy. The chimney was pitch black, and I couldn't see anything around me. This turned from a straight rappel and more into a controlled fall/downclimb. I fought the urge to swing out into mid air all the way down, and all the while I couldn't see where the foot or hand holds were that would keep me in place. There were two moments when I literally let go of the rope (don't worry, I had a back-up) and fumbled my way down through the chimney because I couldn't find the necessary feet that would keep me from swinging away. I couldn't see below me, I couldn't see above me, and I couldn't even see my own feet. In fact, because of the position of the chimney and the direction I was facing, I never even saw when I passed the anchor at the top of the first pitch. I didn't even know I had passed it until I was above 30 feet from the bottom. That's when I saw their headlamps for the first time.

- "Sungam": Did you get the gear?
- What gear?
- "Sungam": The gear at the first pitch.
- What?
- He left gear at the first pitch for us.
- Huh? What? Why?
- "Sungam": I thought it would be needed on the way down. I thought it would be eaiser that way.
- I couldn't even see the anchor.
- Huh?
- I don't have a lamp. I couldn't see the anchor. I didn't even know I had passed it until I saw your lamps.
- "Sungam": Well, there's a couple of lockers and slings up there now.

I was bummed. I didn't want to leave that much gear behind. I felt bad even leaving the cord at the top as a back-up. "Oh well," I said. "I'm not going back up."
Thankfully they had tied off the ends of the ropes on the first bolt at the start of the climb, and so they were able to pull me in. Apparently "Sungam" had to swing in and had a terrible time of trying to catch the bolt with a draw. He missed about three or four times before he finally snagged it. It was good they had held the ends for me because I did not under any circumstances want to swing with the rope rubbing against the rock above, not after seeing the dust on the second pitch.
Greg was happy to be on the ground. Unfortunately, he hadn't even be able to see the gear and was unable to worry about it because of the continuous fear of plummeting to his death. Even so we were on the ground and could get the hell out of there. We packed up the gear and thought about how to get down. It was dark now and I was without a headlamp. Greg thought we could go uphill and come down the other side of the tower into the main wash that led back to the car. We were all a little worried that we would be cliffed-in and then have to go back the way we came. But we tried his idea and headed up before heading down to an area we knew nothing about. The lights from Greg's lamp behind me kept shadowing my feet and prevented me from seeing where I was going. The light from "Sungam"'s lamp in front of me kept my eyes from adjusting to the darkness.
We weren't done yet. The first time we had come to the tower we had to cross some very tricky terrain that we didn't want to use for our descent. The second time we had come up we jugged our way over the difficult cliff faces. Walking all the way up and all the way down the other side was a risk. We had no idea if the base of the tower dropped precipitously down to the wash below, as it did on the side of the tower where the climb was, or if my assumption that the wash on the other side eased up to the base instead. We'd have to venture all the way down to find out. If I was wrong, then we'd have to go all the way back up and carefully trek back across the difficult terrain we had used for the approach the day before.
It was tricky walking. The sand slid beneath our feet and our hands were constantly flung to the ground to save us from tumbling down. I wore gloves because we thought we had seen a family of brown recluse spiders and maybe a baby scorpion on the way down. Who knew what kind of creatures lay hidden under the rocks and sand in the night? I'm normally sketched out by this stuff, but this was one of those situations where one just goes without thinking about anything else.
The steepnees worried me, and three times we came across a cliff that we couldn't down-climb. But each time "Sungam" managed to find a way around the steepnees. I'm not sure how we did it, but we were lucky to have found all the easy routes, and even more so to not have slid right off the edge. We finally stumbled to a small bouldering section we had discovered the day before. It dumped us into the wash, and we were home free.
The hike out was tiresome, but uplifting. We walked at our own pace, but stayed relatively close to each other. It was 45 minutes from the base of the climb to the wash, and another 45 minutes from the wash to the car, at least. We were so happy to finally see the car. "Sungam" shouted with glee, and "Jello" was as relaxed as I had seem him in several days. But just as we approached the car, my heart sunk. I stopped, and "Jello" stopped, too, probably out of instinct of knowing that I'm slower than he is. He always waits for me on the descent. Sometimes he forges ahead, but never too far.

- What's the matter?
- We're not done yet.
- "Sungam": Hell yea we are!
- We're at the car.
- No, we're not done yet.
- "Sungam": It's finished, dude. We did it. We're done. We're here. We made it. We're at the car.
- But that's just it, isn't it? The car.

We had parked just on the other side of a small hill. There was no way I was going to push it, not with a potential 60mph car barelling unsuspecting and over the hill. I didn't want that car crushing me in between its front bumper and "Jello"'s rear bumper. It was late, about 1030pm. We had been out 12 hours car-to-car, and the campground up the road was probably sound asleep. "Sungam" started to walk to the campground to beg for a jump when I said, "shhhh... ." We stopped and listend. "There's a car coming," I said. "I can hear it." Relief passed through us. We were saved. "Sungamn" took the two headlamps and, when the car sounded as it was getting close, jumped into the middle of the road and started doing jumping jacks with the lights faced toward the on-coming car. I stood back. For some reason, I didn't think the car would have enough time to clear the hill, see "Sungamn" jumping, recognize what it was that was jumping in front of him, and stop in time. But the old man who stopped did just that. He seemed skeptical of us. We stunk, had a dirty car, were out in the middle of nowhere with no lights other than his front beams and our headlamps, and he was alone. But he helped us. We thanked him and drove off to bed. The Wyrick-Merrill Route had taken three days, three biners, two slings, and a lot sweat from us. We deserved a good night's sleep.

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