Friday, March 4, 2011

Excerpt from "Go West Young Man, In the Freedom Mobile"

Below is an excerpt, with a few photos, from the feature for the upcoming, Climbing Zine Volume 3. The story involves myself and my friend Gene travelling out west to Red Rocks, J-Tree and Yosemite, in my beat up old 1988 Mazda, aka The Freedom Mobile.

The Climbing Zine Volume 3 is set for release sometime this spring. There will be at least one zine release party aka "zine thing" at the Firebrand delicatessen in Gunnison.

Here's the excerpt from some of our experiences in Yosemite:

The alarm went off and I felt tired. Like a true fiend I headed straight inside to get coffee going. The coffee ignited the fire of my determination to finally climb El Capitan, and I felt motivated. Gene made up some grub, and we packed the two large haul bags into the Freedom Mobile.

It was still dark as we drove from Foresta into the Valley. We parked the Freedom Mobile by the El Cap meadow, and made the short approach to the wall. After the coffee wore off I felt tired, and the task of humping our gear to El Cap, while short, was draining. I looked at Gene and he was sweating heavily. Scott, on the other hand, more of a big wall Yosemite veteran, seemed to be in his element, accepting all of these struggles as part of the game.

Since Scott was the aid climbing expert it was agreed he would lead the first block of pitches. He started up, moving quickly, and then commenced to start the hauling of the pigs (the haul bags). They didn’t budge on the slab and Gene had to push them up to get started. At that moment Gene and I knew we were in for some serious suffering and hard work, and we looked at each other. I said, “You know we probably should have done a practice aid wall before jumping on El Cap.” He looked back and agreed, with the ocean of over 3,000 plus feet of towering golden granite above us.

Finally Gene had to jumar up, to assist Scott with the hauling, as they both grunted and struggle to move the haul bags inches. I jumared up as well, and thought about the time that had passed since we’d started the pitch. When we reached the second pitch, well over two hours had passed, and I thought of how daring, expert, big wall Yosemite climbers had speed climbed the entire 3,300 foot route in the time it took us to get up the first 200 feet.

The suffering and turmoil got worse as the morning progressed and turned into the afternoon. There were traversing pitches, where I had to lower out the two haul bags so that Scott and Gene could haul. I’d never done this, and the weight of the bags pulled on me and the anchor, which made me terrified. I was to the point of cursing and complaining already. But, a party was behind us, and a woman was leading up behind me, and there was no way I was about to have a meltdown front of another climber, a female one at that, just a few pitches up on the El Cap.

The woman arrived at my belay as I struggled with the haul bags, clipping into the same bolted anchor I was using. She and her partner were only doing the initial pitches of the climb, and so were equipped with a light free climbing rack, and nothing else; the same style that the speed climbing aces use to run up the wall in a few hours. They looked so free and happy. I was having problems un-weighting the haul bag from the anchor, and the woman helped me get the weight of the bags off the anchor by pushing up on them, so they could be lowered out with the remaining rope. “How far are you all going today?” she asked.

“Uh, I think we need to go back to the drawing board, maybe go do a shorter aid route,” I replied. I was already coming to the realization that Gene and I had a lot to learn about big wall aid climbing before trying to climb El Cap.

At this ledge I thought about style, and hated that we had so much weight and it was such a task to haul all the supplies up. I thought about how we had come all the way out to Yosemite just to suffer like this, because after all even if we did not realize it at the time, we were doing exactly what we’d came to do. To learn to big wall aid climb is to suffer, and then after that suffering the knowledge is attained and the rewards are found.

Finally, Scott and Gene had begun the hauling I started up the pitch. There was a traversing section where I had to lower myself out with the extra rope that was dangling off my harness. I’d never done this before and was terrified. Scott, just forty feet above, was close enough that he could offer a tutorial of how it was done. I finally lowered myself out, and like many climbing procedures, it was not as scary as the initial perception in my head. We were lucky to have Scott on board, and if Mark were there he could have provided beneficial lessons as well. Gene and I had a lot to learn, and luckily we had Scott there to teach.

When I arrived at the belay with Scott and Gene we had an enormous eruption of laughter at our struggle. I couldn’t recall the last time I laughed that hard, and felt a weight off my shoulder as I laughed to the point of tears.

We were at a spot where we could rappel down directly in a short amount of time, so we debated what we were going to do. Scott was game to continue, and I think Gene could have gone either way. I’d made my mind up at the last belay that I wanted to hone my skills some more before climbing The Captain. I expressed this to my friends, and they obliged to retreat. Sometimes admitting failure can be a blow to a climber’s ego, but at that point, I had no ego to be had, I imagined I was the worst aid climber in Yosemite, and didn’t give a damn, which in itself was a relief and a revelation. Freedom is just another word for nuthin’ to lose right?

Retreat was not as easy as we imagined. At that point there were now five of us climbers at the belay ledge, us and the other party. There wasn’t any tension though, as can happen at a crowded belay ledge, especially with failure in the air. We were sitting there trying to figure out how to rappel off with the mighty haul bags the weight of a man. The woman’s partner, a big wall veteran himself originally from Alabama, who’d already been up El Capitan, and all the other walls in Yosemite, advised us to simply lower the bags off as one of us rappelled down and clipped the bag into the next anchor. He was right, it was the most efficient way to do it, rather than having one of us rappel with the bags attached to us, and fumble down the wall. He was hilarious too, as we messed with the bags. At one point Scott had the bags in between his legs, and he joked, “I bet you always wanted to ride a fat chick huh?” in a way that only a Southerner could say. We talked to him more as Scott rappelled down, “Oh man you guys are trying El Cap for your first big wall in Yosemite? That’s ambitious. I did five or six practice walls before getting on this thing. Almost died once of heatstroke on the Leaning Tower, trying to climb it in the summer, we were so stupid…” he went on with his stories. Big wall climbers all have these stories, and more proof in my mind that every big wall climber suffers for every bit of glory attained.

I was feeling glorious and relieved when we finally touched back on the ground. It wasn’t the goal, the goal was to top out on El Cap, three or so days later, but I’d learned some valuable lessons. Gene and I talked it over, and we would take a rest day, repack and then attempt a shorter big wall route.


Al Smith III said...

getting stoked for CZ vol 3 doggie dog!

married to the ground said...

same here! enjoyed reading that bit about your trip. :-)

Blog Archive