Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Moab Diary: The final "push"

"Jello's" comments in Italics - which happens to be the bulk of this post

I didn't want to wake up. It was our last day and I was pretty tired. Why should I get up? Maybe I'll just lie here forever, in my desert grave. A few minutes later and I gave up. I had to piss anyway. I ambled over to the designated urinal and watered the lawn. I looked around. The dihedral above the campground dominated my view. It was a fantastic-looking crack. I had been a little disappointed when I discovered it had been climbed before. For some reason I feel more compelled to seek out new lines than to climb old ones. I don't feel like I can push myself when there is so much information available on climbs.

I went to the cooler and pulled out the usual suspects: bagels and cream cheese. We'd run out of fruit a few days ago and the only thing left was some bacon. When Greg and "Sungam" arose we agreed that the bacon should be cooked and Greg, the great cook he is, took charge and soon we were eating loads of delicious bacon. While eating we discussed what we should do. Greg felt fine to tag along and watch us. We decided to hang around camp and climb some of the nearby routes and then maybe walk around Wall St. for awhile. I figured I should head into town and get the car fixed but I was in no hurry.

This day wasn't a matter of ego for me. I didn't need to climb. Shoot, I practically couldn't climb. I was more than happy to sit back and watch "Jello" and "Sungam" yo-yo their way up whatever climbs they wanted. I was happy to be on vacation, and with that time ending soon my appreciation for being away from work grew with each passing moment. Had I let things get out of hand I might have ended up in confession, as a man on his deathbed might, and I'm not even Catholic (or religious, for that matter). "Jello" wanted to tackle the climb right next to our campsite, so I scrambled up to the top for a few photo opportunities.
I racked up for "Campground Crack" (5.9) and "Sungam" put me on belay. Greg brought over some more bacon, which he balanced precariously upon the fence post nearby, and went up to the top for a better view. A moment later a mother approached with her brood and they delighted in knocking our bacon into the sand as they jumped back and forth over the fence. I looked at the mother who stared dumbly past me. Too dumb to notice, too inconsiderate to care, or maybe just looking for that break in life she knew wouldn’t come for another 15 years when the kids finally moved out. I thought about saying something, but decided to focus on the climbing instead. After pulling the initial moves, which were probably the crux, I placed some gear and watched the unruly brood trample back and forth across my rope. I was only a few feet off the ground and "Sungam" had just taken in the slack from where I clipped my first piece. I could have had him take me off so he could run down the little bastards, but I blew it off and kept climbing. A few hand jams later and I came to a point where the crack seemed to grow wider. I was surprised to find that it held some nice solid hand jams deeper inside. I moved up an awkward half-face-half-crack move and I was home free. I clipped a pointless bolt a foot below end and topped out. "Sungam" said there was an anchor and he wasn't lying. It just happened to be in the most pointless place imaginable. Why would one decide to put the anchor at the very back of the tower? I don't know, maybe they like rope grooves. Maybe they didn't think the stone near the top of the climb was safe. Either way I decided to fix the line and do a single line rappel. "Sungam" wasn't going to climb it and Greg was on top to release the line so it would do the least damage to the rock.
After a little rest "Sungam" decided he would lead the long dihedral that caught my eye earlier. I took the gear and ropes over to the other side of the campsite and I waited for "Sungam" and Greg to join me. "Sungam" soon tied into the rope and was climbing up the initial slab to the crack. As he came to the steeper sections, and then the crack, I could see the hesitation in his movement. I might have known before he did that he was approaching the crux. He clipped the bolt, made a move, and then backed off, down-climbed to a rest, climbed up, hesitated, and then backed off again. His turmoil went on for a while and eventually he added a small nut to protect the move and went for it - and took a fall. He tried a few more times but he couldn't get past it. He asked me to lower him and then it was my turn. I had given the lead to him even though I kind of wanted it and then where the fates conspired against one they conspired for
We switched rope ends and I went up. As I came to "Sungam”’s highpoint it began to feel like a low gravity day. The crack pinched down and the feet were awkward. I thought that after the crux the crack would open up and I could get an easy rest but things weren't so easy, so I kept going. I went up another seven or so feet and got in another piece. The crack was almost hand-sized but this was a layback crack so I got my feet high and started cruising. Every once and a while I'd find a stance and place gear. About ten feet from the anchor I placed a red number one and then I gunned it to the top. As I struggled to clip the anchors I heard "Sungam" in the background, "don't clip the anchors, take a fall." Briefly, an extremely odd thought entered my head - "I should let go." I don't know why I've started getting these thoughts. Every time I am near the top or on the edge of a cliff I get this weird thought where I think about just letting go. I'm not suicidal, just curious. I wonder what the feeling would be like.

Instead of dropping I found a nice little arm bar and clipped the ropes easily. "Sungam" decided he didn’t want to give it another shot, so I cleaned the anchor and started lowering down to clean gear. When I got to the end of the dihedral "Sungam" said there wasn’t enough rope to lower me all the way. The guidebook splits the climb into two pitches and we had ignored that and decided to do it in one. Oops. There wasn’t much else to do, so I stopped at the first-pitch anchor, which was a single good bolt and nothing else. I could have just down-climbed, but I decided to pass the rope through and go the rest of the way to the ground. The first half of the day was accomplished with little incident.
We decided to get some lunch and then head into town afterward to figure out what was wrong with my car. While we munched on what scant vittles we had left, a few park service workers came up to replace our perfectly acceptable wooden picnic table with some unseemly metal thing. We chatted for a while and I eventually started to look at the car. I decided to disconnect the battery to see if I could figure out where the starter was. One of the park service workers came up and asked what the problem was and after looking it over he had the same ideas as me. He then told us where an auto parts store was. We bid them farewell and continued our lunch until the camp host approached and asked what was happening with my car. After some idle talk he said we should just push start it. Then came the needed information I had not gotten the day before, you have to turn the key after you let out the clutch. WOW!
And thus began my cardio workouts for the new season. I had taken good care the previous climbing season to ensure that I rode the bike enough over the winter to be in good cardio shape once the climbing started. But this year, with my sprained ankle, I hadn't so much as breathed heavy than I had exerted myself. It didn't take much to push-start "Jello"'s car, but those ten feet that I pushed with "Sungam" by my side made we dream of owning a puffy leather couch with comfy pillows all around me.
With the new information on how to start the car firmly in my head, Greg and "Sungam" pushed me down the slight hill, I let out the clutch, turned the key, and lo and behold the damn piece of shit started. We all let out a cheer and decided to use some of our time that day to see if we could get the stupid thing fixed. We drove into town and after some discussion Greg and "Sungam" felt the need to download pictures and use computers. I sat in the warm sun-baked car and waited for a while until they decided they'd had their fill of technology. After they came back to the car, they pushed me backward out of the parking spot and into the street. They then went to the back of the car, and started pushing me forward.
We pushed for what seemed like an eternity. It was our third time pushing it with the first at the campground and the second at a local gear shop. The car started up fine the first two times, but this time, on the steepest hill we'd had the pleasure of pushing on, the car didn't start.
We went 10 feet:

- (breathing heavy) When is he going to pop the clutch?

We went another 10 feet:

- "Sungam" (breathing heavy): No kidding, it should have started by now.

We went another 10 feet:

- Oh (breathe) man, is it not (breathe) starting?

We went another 10 feet:

- "Sungam": We're running out of room. (breathe, breathe) There's a hill coming.
- There's kids over there, too. (breathe, breathe) They're (breathe) coming out of (breathe) the library.
- "Sungam": Shoot, man, pop the clutch! (breathe)

We went another 10 feet:

- Both "Sungam" and me: (breathe) POP (breathe) THE (breathe) DAMN (breathe) CLUTCH!

A block later and I managed to get the car started. It was kind of funny because they had just pushed the car about 50 yards and were completely out of breath. I felt bad that they had to run so far, but it was funny to see their faces and hear their complaints being pushed through their heavy breathing. It was all for naught, though. Just as we started to pass the library, less than another 50 yards down the road, "Sungam" shouted, "stop! Go right there! No! Park right there! Park here! Park here!" He was pointing excitedly to the right, so I pulled into a parking spot between a church and some sort of school. I wasn’t sure what to do considering they had just pushed the car, were out of breath, and were going to have to do it all over again. But I turned off the engine and waited to learn what all the excitement was.

- "Sungam": Dude! There's free food here.
- Huh?
- "Sungam": It's a free lunch, from noon to one.
- Sweet!

It turns out that Moab has free lunches every Wednesday (or maybe everyday, I can’t remember). It seems to serve two purposes: one is to decrease food waste and the second reason is to get people to understand how it is to rely on the kindness of others for food. The sponsors of this grassroots adventure go around to restaurants and schools and collect the leftover food before it gets tossed, kind of a homeless awareness sort of thing. The conglomerate of soup and salad was rather good and it being free was a major plus. All three of us went back for seconds and thirds along with all the other people hanging out; the vast majority of whom seemed to be climbers like us, wrapped warmly in expensive down jackets and clothes that hadn’t been washed in weeks. Did I mention that it was good and free?
We chatted with one of the sponsors and he told us that the nearest auto parts store was only a few blocks away. I hopped in the car and we waved farewell as my trusty steeds pushed the car once again. I was better at getting the car started this time, and a moment later they were back in the car as we headed to the Napa Auto Parts down the way. When we got there, I backed into a parking spot to facilitate push-starting for later on and then headed inside to have them test my battery, free of charge.
The spindly, grey-haired gentleman I had spoken to inside the store came out with his electronic gadget and poked and prodded the engine. "Contacts are too dirty. I can't get a good reading,” he said. I asked to borrow some tools so I could clean the contacts and terminals and he obliged. After fifteen minutes of trying to undo the rust and corrosion of years of neglect, I gave up. I needed the proper tools and what he had given me wouldn’t do. I returned the tools and we headed back to the campsite.
Before doing that, though, we bumped into a guy "Sungam" had climbed with at one point or another. The guy was apparently a fairly famous dirtbag who drove across the country climbing. We talked a little bit about the 'Gunks, and he not only knew one of the rangers I know, but had helped to build that ranger's summer cabin down by the Split Rock swimming hole. He was a fascinating guy, and seeing him encouraged me to believe that yes, it is possible to live a decent life without living in a cubicle. I was empowered just a little bit by this.
We got back to the campsite and, after our third little lunch of the day, we decided to hit Wall St. for a few more climbs. My thought was to head all the way to one end and climb our way back. Everyone seemed OK with that so we started walking. About halfway to the other end of Wall St. we saw "Bad Moki Roof" (5.9) and decided to start from there. This climb has a little bit of a reputation as a sandbag but I was feeling pretty good and it was well protected with a clean fall. There was no reason to not go for it. I grabbed a few nuts and several cams and started up. The initial crack/slab is pretty easy with lots of good stances from which to place gear. Then you come to the roof. It's about seven or eight feet long and starts at thin hands and widens to near fists for me. From the ground it looks to be the most improbable 5.9, but when you get there you see it is pretty straight forward. I climbed up to the roof and placed a red number one, slung it long, and then climbed back down to rest.
After shaking out a little, I started back into the overhang, placed another piece with a shorter sling, and kept going. As I came to the lip of the roof I placed another piece and looked for a good spot to place my feet and help me over the lip. There weren't really any good holds. I fumbled around for a few moments and I eventually found a slopey, dirty hold over the lip and proceeded to move my feet awkwardly up near my stomach, and as I moved up I found a better hold and feet cut. I dangled there awkwardly wondering what to do. I couldn't lift my feet because my knees were in the way and I was stuck because my hips were jammed in an awkward wide section of the rock. I also didn't have a good enough hold to pull myself up. It was an interesting next few minutes as I wriggled around until I was sideways and was able to lift up one foot before I was finally able to stand up as a human being should. The rest was very easy, and after touching down on the ground it was "Sungam"'s turn.
He racked up and started off easy enough and after fiddling with gear at each rest position he was finally at the roof. "Sungam" is much bigger than me. He weighs in above the two hundred mark and has about six inches on me. I didn't think his big paws would cause too much of a problem for him. As he came to the roof he looked at it, stepped up and placed some gear, then down-climbed to the rest. He looked uneasy and he stood there a while longer. He climbed up again and I encouraged him to burn through the roof but he down-climbed again. I told him that after the roof it eased off and to just go for it, the fall was clean. He climbed up again and managed to place another piece. After another move towards the edge of the roof he asked me to take.
"Sungam" seemed to be having an off day. The first day I'd seen him climb I watched him cleanly top-rope a 5.11 immediately after trying to swim downstream in the Colorado River (because it was quicker than walking), and now he was struggling to climb a 5.9, albeit a sandbagged one. After trying unsuccessfully for a while to conquer the roof, he relented. I knew he could do this but he wasn't mentally in it so he began down-aiding and cleaning the gear as he came down. After painfully watching him do this for almost an hour, he got to the bottom and looked spent. He was certainly frustrated, and I can understand it. I’ve been there, and off-days are never fun.
I asked what was next and Greg pointed me towards the next climb. I asked what it was and he said he'd tell me later. I wondered where I had heard that before, but shrugged it off as a coincidence. He said he wanted to see what I could do without knowing what I was getting on. I trusted that he knew what he was doing, but I persisted in getting him to spill the beans on what climb it was. After finally getting him to tell me at least the name of the climb, "Flakes of Wrath", I racked up and started climbing. The first portion is pure hand jamming in my perfect size and then slowly the two cracks converged into a strange lieback situation that was difficult to protect. After this I came to a small roof that cut left. There was some easy laybacking and then I cruised to the anchors.
When I got to the ground Greg asked me what I thought it went at. I figured easy 5.10 and before I could say hard 5.9 he had already belted it out as 5.9+. So I had easily dispatched with my previous goal of climbing 5.9 on gear both by red pointing a 5.11 but also on-sighting two 5.9's pretty easily. I was feeling good but also a little tired. We'd been climbing consistently for the past five days and I was feeling it. I wasn't quite in the shape I needed to be to climb hard for five days in a row, so I said we should find something a little easier to end the day on.
We walked a little and came upon a lightning bolt crack that was at first a delight to see but we decided against after a quick thumb through the guidebook showed it to be harder than it seemed. Another route, "30 Seconds Over Potash" (5.8) caught my eye. A 5.8 would be a nice easy way to end the day so we found the feature and I tiredly looked up at the dihedral when we approached it. Still, I racked up and looked up from the ground, just to give it one more look-over before moving upward. The beginning was thin and seemed a little improbable for the grade. I doubted myself, but I was ready to give it go. I started the initial moves and continued to assess, never letting my fatigue out of my head. I was only a couple of moves up when I decided I was too tired and hopped off. It would have to wait until next time. There was no need to do everything in one visit.
With that we walked back to the campsite where Greg and I decided that maybe we should just go home. It was still light out and he needed to shower and get his things together before flying out two days later (doing so at my house was easier than on the road). I needed to get my car fixed, too, so that I could get him to the airport and allow both me and my girlfriend to get to work with reasonable commutes the next day. We could either waste the time driving tonight or tomorrow morning. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to waste the time during the day when we could be productive doing other things, so we decided that night would be better and after packing our things we push-started the car, bid "Sungam" farewell, and drove towards home.
The drive home was fairly uneventful. We stopped for dinner once and collapsed upon returning to the house (well, at least I did. "Jello" and "Iowa" were happy to see each other after a week apart. I was glad to have fallen asleep quickly if you catch my drift). It was cold the next day, but we pushed his car down the street and drove to an auto parts store a few minutes away. "Jello" bought a new battery, but they wouldn't let him change it out in their parking lot. So I had to push the damn car uphill this time just to get the new battery back to the house. He changed it out while I emptied some of the gear from the car, and when he was convinced it was put in correctly, it was time to return the old battery to the store. He went over to the driver's seat, sat down, turned the key, and...rrr, rrr, rrr. "Huh?" rrr...rrr...rrr.

- What the fuck is wrong with you you stupid piece of shit I can't believe you aren't starting its a brand new fucking battery you stupid piece of shit I fucking hate you there had better not be any other problem than the stupid fucking battery I don't HAVE THE MONEY TO FIX ANYTHING ELSE YOU STUPID. PIECE. OF. CRAP!!!!

We pushed the car to jump start it again, but it wouldn't go

- FUCK YOU!!!!!

I suggested the battery wasn't put in properly.

- It's in there they way it's supposed to be.
- You sure?
- You ever put a battery in?
- Nope.
- Well, it isn't that hard. I did it right.
- Hmmm...maybe it needs time to let the electricity flow through it?
- What? That's dumb. It's electricity. It should be instant.
- Well, we're not pushing it again. It didn't start the first time. You'd better get "Iowa"'s car to jump it.

"Jello" ran off to get her car and within a few minutes had it parked next to his. We hooked up the jumper cables and turned the key - rrr...rrr...rrr - rrr...rrr...rrr.

- I swear to God I think it just needs a chance to settle first.

"Jello" wasn't sure what to say. What I was saying didn't make sense, and I admitted as much, but somehow it just seemed appropriate. He unhooked the cables and drove "Iowa"'s car back to the house. He then came back and, just as we were going to push it back to the house, he thought he'd try it again - chchchch ROARRRRR...vroom...vrooom...vroom. It worked!
The rest of the day was a lazy day. I packed, we sorted gear, exchanged photos and watched a couple of movies. We checked my flights for the next day and all seemed well, until we saw the weather forecast for Denver: blizzard conditions with at least a foot of snow. "Great," I thought. "I came to Moab to get away from the snow and winter in Boston. I landed in Denver in a freaking blizzard that set us back one day. Now I'm going to be flying out in yet another blizzard." All was well, though. My flight made it out OK, and "Jello" only hit one guardrail on the way home; it was a job well done by all.

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Jen T said...

I can't believe no one suggested trying coca-cola on the battery terminals.

GB said...

You know, with three non-soda drinkers none of us even considered it.