|My first gear lead, Teton Canyon, 2010|
Photo: Jack Cohen
Right now, my most common belay partner is my friend, roommate and co-worker Austin. After work last Thursday, we rushed out to an area called Midget Widget. It's a funny little crag, almost as short as the 28-foot wall where I do my routesetting. It's got one incalculable advantage over the gym though-- it's the only crack climbing we have.
Oh, the flow of climbing vertical cracks-- so delightful, even though my trip to Devil's Tower this July humbled me something fierce. (see A Minor Epic)
After messing around on the easy route for most of the afternoon, I spotted a crack that I had never seen before and she was gorgeous. Far taller than her peers, she swept up a right-facing corner with flirtatious grace. The orange sunset played across her and I felt myself inexorably drawn in. Austin finished cleaning the easy route and I racked up like Minnesota Fats. We were losing daylight.
The route started out steep and blocky, but I cast off, confident I would be able to find gear placements. 15 feet later I placed a good nut and an OK #2 Camalot.
I moved up another body length, checked for placements and found none. I reached for good holds (if a little sandy) and kept moving. The climbing was great; hard enough to be interesting, but still very controlled. I have no idea of the difficulty, but I might give it .10a.
Two body lengths later I was forced to the right around a blank section. Still no gear.
Three body lengths above my last piece, I traversed back to the left, hoping to see the mouth of that beautiful crack. I looked up and saw nothing but a few little pockets. I looked down and saw my little yellow cam placed sickeningly close to the ground.
Firmly in the groundfall zone, unable to downclimb to safety, I channeled my inner Alex Honnold and pushed on.
40 feet from the ground, I finally sunk a bodacious #3 into the beginning of the crack, and began apologizing profusely to Austin. I found a big ledge where I could sit down and told him I would never do that to him again.
Yes, I know you've done way bigger runouts and I just need to stop being a baby. But this is the 21st century, gawshdarnit, and I'm not English.
Would I add bolts to this nameless strumpet? Naw, I'm not that big of a jerk. (Also, I have no idea how to install a bolt.)
Am I proud of this little lapse in judgement? Definitely. In the year that I've been climbing gear routes, this is the most intimidating and difficult that I've done, and to do it as a pure onsight makes me feel warm and bubbly inside. Or maybe I just pooped a little bit while pretending to be Honnold.