I rolled out of my bed into the morning light. The thoughts of the upcoming day weighed heavily on my mind. Our objective for the day was Fine Jade, a beautiful 5.11 crack system moving gracefully up the end of the Rectory formation. It's a really fantastic climb that...what the hell was I doing? I'm, not a 5.11 climber. Sure I'd climbed obscure routes not published in a guidebook that people said were 5.11 but I figure they were just trying to embolden me to push to further heights. I'd even redpointed my first 5.11 last week but it felt hollow having toproped it right before, even if it was cleanly. I walked over to wake up "Utah". The day waits for no man.
We quickly made our seperate breakfasts. Mine the usual bagels and cream cheese with a side of fruit. "Utah" had some eggs and bacon he pulled out of a bag which was cooking while he made some PB&J. We talked about the route a little bit. I finally decided that if we were going to do this then I wasn't going to screw around. I said I'd take the crux second pitch. "Utah" seemed fine with that but admonished me - calling me a pussy - for avoiding the 5.10 offwidth on the first pitch. That's the way things are for me as an onsight climber. If I don't climb the crux pitch then it doesn't feel like I onsighted the rest of the climb, no matter how I seconded the crux. A stupid, arbitrary rule I self impose but it felt important to me all the same.
We finished up breakfast and started packing. It went much more quickly this time because most of the gear was still packed from the night before. All we needed to do was thin the rack out to avoid unnecessary weight. We read the guidebook description. Despite the crux being a thin crack on the second pitch, the first pitch called for a #4 so we didn't end up getting rid of much, just a few midrange cams. After we sacked up the gear I looked up the hill. The walk uphill wasn't incredibly hard but I wasn't looking forward to it. We decided to time ourselves to see how long it really took to get this whole approach business finished. When we finally made it to the base, having taken our fair time and a few rests, it had been fifteen minutes. This obscenely fast time surprised both of us but there it was. It made me feel confident and strong as I flaked the rope out. I could do this. Not a problem. "Utah" racked up and after a quick look at the guidebook he started up the beginnings of the first pitch.
The first moves looked pretty easy, thin hands on gently overhanging terrain but a good ledge from which to assess the moves ahead. "Utah" placed a smaller cam before heading into the short offwidth. The gap appeared to be about a little wider than fist size and he placed the #4 early on. His grunting and wiggling worried me. He looked like he'd fall at any moment. Not only that but I would have to clean the damn thing. He finally was out of the offwidth where he got a nice jam from which to place more gear. He kept going into what appeared to be a very awkward notch. As "Utah" tried to place his feet somewhere around his head I wondered how the 5.11 pitch was going to look. A few grunts later and he was in the notch. "Man that was fucking pumpy." After his breathing returned to normal he set off out of sight and a little while later called "off belay."
I slipped on my shoes and waited for the rope to come tight. A few moments later and I donned the pack and started climbing. The first moves were easy, if a little thin. I came to the piece before the wide portion of the crack. The stance was not bad until I started to clean the .75 camalot. The trigger was deep enough into the rock to prevent easy removal. The crack was too thin to get my hand deep enough to reach it. I pulled off my nut tool, still clinging to the rock. I tried to pull the trigger and the cam at the same time with the same hand wielding the nut tool. This wasn't working. No way in hell was I going to let go. Not only would I consider that blowing the onsight but it would not bode well for the rest of the route if I flailed on the first pitch. I yelled up, "put a quickdraw on your cams you son of a bitch!" He didn't seem to hear me. After struggling with it for another ten minutes I finally free'd the bastard. Highly pumped I started the offwidth. Despite the intimidating, overhanging, and wide nature of the crack it was relatively easy with just a large size handcrack deep in the back. The hard part came in getting over the bulge which, while awkward, was relatively easy with the bomber hand jams.
Pulling over the bulge I could see "Utah" again. "That was pumpy, especially after trying to get out your overcammed, walked-in, piece of shit cam you asshole." He looked at me stupidly, "sorry dude." I took a moment to catch my breath and finished up the rest of the pitch. Despite feeling a little tired I started trading gear with "Utah". I looked ahead. I had seen pictures of the crux and it looked a lot farther along than I thought it would be. After an awkward manuever around "Utah" to get above the belay I started cruising along. So far the climbing was fairly easy. A few moments later I came to another bolted anchor. I was confused. Had we reached a rappel anchor, was this the end of the pitch, was I missing something? I decided to keep going. I hadn't placed a lot of gear and I could see the fingercrack bulge ahead. I made my way up the less than vertical crack until I was at a good stance just below the ledge. "You got this dude", "Utah" called from below. I felt unreasonably good. I felt ready to send. The climbing looked hard. It wasn't easy fingerlock size for me and there didn't appear to be straightforward footwork once I came out of the bulge. I placed a small piece and backed it up with another. Shaking out once more I chalked up and looked ahead. "Go for it," "Utah" yelled to me.
I put my fingers into the crack and moved upward. The crack was a little too wide for my knuckles to find really good constrictions, so I slowly walked them up with my feet on the ledge where I had rested my head a few moments before. Walking my hands up pulling in opposite directions, like opening an elevator door, I finally found a small constriction I could hang off of. I moved my two small pieces up. Both at my waist I looked around for my feet. I couldn't see the crack or pretty much anything near my feet because of the bulge. All I could see was a small divot in the layer of sandstone. It was high...too high, it would push my hips far from the wall, straining my tenuous fingerlock. I looked for other options and found none. I struggled with the obvious. I had to bear down and trust the fingerlock with my feet very high and my ass swinging in the wind. I moved my left foot while my right remained on the ledge. The fingerlock felt a lot less solid now as the nervous tension grew. "Utah's" calm call from below to go for it rang in my ears. "Just go for it, so what if you fall. The gear is good, there are good jams ahead." The self talk did little to calm my nerves but I was resolved. I squeezed my fingers as tightly as I could into the small fingerlock, shifted my weight to my left foot, lifted the right foot, and stood up. I knew as soon as I stood up I would only have one chance to find a good fingerlock if I was going to be able to do this move. My left hand was the free one and it quickly darted upward. My body fell away at the same time I moved the hand, two opposing forces working against each other. I hoped for that fingerlock that would abate gravity. My fingers slipped into the crevice of rock and then slipped out quietly as I plummeted towards Earth.
It was a small fall but dissapointing nonetheless. "Utah" gave me some encouragement, "nice fall, way to go for it." I felt good that I had tried but much more dissapointed that I had fallen. I consider myself pretty much an onsight climber. If I don't think I can onsight it I either toprope it or don't touch it. I like the feeling of something being totally new and succeeding purely through the skills I have gained on previous climbs, not that I hadn't gained by falling off the current one. I hung on the rope a bit longer. The fingerlock was tenuous and I couldn't really tell what I was aiming for. I pulled myself up the rope a little bit to rest some more. A moment later and I was clinging to that tenuous fingerlock once again. I pulled myself up again and tried to be more controlled to find the elusive hold that would spell success. Desire was no substitute for skill and I peeled once again. I apologized to the group that was racking up on the first pitch. "No problem, we're enjoying the show." The show, what was I showing, my inability to climb 5.11 cracks? Maybe how I could fall really well? I tried the move a few more times without success and shamefully pulled through on gear. The rest of the pitches, which I finally realized I was stringing together, were farely uneventful except for the horrid ropedrag I was feeling.
I reached the anchors and called off-belay. The position was nice for easy belaying and the view couldn't be beat but the failure weighed on me. Why couldn't I stick that move? I tortured myself. The rope came in ridiculously quickly and much sooner than I thought "Utah" was in view. "That crack was nice, fit my fingers perfectly." I made excuses about the size to cover my lack of skill. The next pitch belonged to "Utah" so I relaxed and payed out rope as he complained about the crumbly rock. "Shut up and climb you big baby." I felt the need to be savage and cover my inadequacies. A few moments later he called off belay and I started up the next to last pitch.
I came to the belay and looked at our options. The original line went around the corner to a big ear of rock that went at 5.7. Above us was a 5.11 sport pitch. I didn't feel like challenging another 5.11. I looked at the ledge that would lead around the corner.
- Me: Do you think I should walk across or hand traverse?
- "Utah": I'd do the hand traverse.
- Me: I think I'll just walk across, looks easy enough.
- "Utah": If you trip and pull me out of my stance I'm gonna be pissed.
- Me: Shut up jackass.
I grabbed the gear and started walking across the ledge. The slight overhanging nature eventually forced me to scoot across the ledge. Ten feet out I looked at the crack below where I was sitting. I carefully bent down and squeezed in a #3, my only piece. I moved carefully around the corner. I hadn't even used fifty feet of rope and wanted to keep going but I knew the rope drag would kill me. As I slowly brought "Utah" across I thought about pulling the smug bastard off just to see the surprise on his face as he swung around the corner. I figured it would be more trouble than enjoyment with the last pitch remaining to do any sort of rescue.
"Utah" conceded the last pitch to me due to it's low grade, 5.7. I was happy to do it and it was probably just as fun as all the other pitches. The final pitch climbs a gigantic wedged ear of rock. I climbed straight into a small hollow and slung a cam long and started traversing out of the ear. As I clambered over the top I noticed I could look all the way through and see "Utah" belaying. I gave him the finger. There weren't very many belay spots to choose from. A small crack filled with sand seemed my best option. Even if the anchor failed my body would be too big to be wrenched through the slightly wide crack that composed the ear. I brought "Utah" up and we sat on the summit for a while, enjoyed the warmth, and myself a little bit of pepperoni. As I sat there about to enjoy the last bite it slipped from my hand and rolled into the abyss below. "Pepperoni!" I haphazardly yelled down, "Utah" laughed. We talked a little bit about trying the North Face of Castleton but we both seemed done at this point. We'd each gotten what we came for; myself, Castleton Tower, and "Utah", some damn difficult free climbing.
We started down the rappels. In the middle we met the party coming up behind us. Seemed the typical climbing couple. Strong boyfriend out front with girlfriend tra-la-laing up the rear. She was nice though and made space for us to continue to the ground. On the ground another couple was starting to climb. This time the dredlocked blonde girl was flailing up the offwidth section. I wanted to point out that this wasn't Indian Creek and she might want to just downclimb and they could try some of the other fine climbs of easier difficulty nearby. I kept my mouth shut. She was already having enough trouble.
We walked lazily down down the talus cone, we were done climbing and neither of us felt like rushing to a long car ride: I, back to Colorado, and "Utah" to Salt Lake. I asked what he was planning to do after he did his AMGA course. He was taking a fellowship in Ohio.
- Me: You know Ohio doesn't have any climbing, right?
- "Utah": The Red is only a few hours away.
- Me: I thought you were a climbing bum for life.
- "Utah": I dunno, guess we'll see.
It seemed pointless for him to take the AMGA course if he was going to pursue a graduate program in....well something that wasn't climbing. I thought back to my failed attempt at law school. I couldn't think why any reasonable climber would put themselves back into such a situation. We both packed our climbing and camping equipment into our respective vehicles. I finished a little before "Utah" and decided to hit the road. He talked about coming through Colorado on his way to Ohio and I told him to get in touch with me if he came through. I hadn't planned on leaving until tomorrow morning but there was no reason to stay. There was no more climbing and if I left tomorrow then I would just be wasting that day so I said goodbye and drove off.
The drive was uninteresting. Driving along I looked out onto the Colorado Plateau. Literally thousands of unclaimed first ascents were in this region. I was sad to leave but normal life was calling my name. I had work the day after tomorrow and I wanted to spend some time with "Iowa" before she had to work. I finally pulled into the driveway around one in the morning. The lights were on and I left the gear in the car to organize the next day. She greeted me at the door with a hug which made a small dent in my depression about leaving the desert. We made dinner and shortly thereafter went to bed. Firmly re-emerged in the constant groan of life my head hit the pillow and I did not fight the advance of unconciousness.