Alright, so you've read a few of my stories about climbing, well here's one by my friend Mike Bolte, who one day swung leads with me on Reed's pinnacle. I love his story...
The Murder of the Possible
by Mike Bolte
Looks like a nice weekend in the Valley. Campgrounds are STILL full on the weekends even though it is into the end of October. Roll in late Saturday afternoon and run over to do the Jam Crack Route before dark. A.K. is pretty new to climbing, completely new to cracks but fires up the 5.7 first pitch no problem, and handles the 5.9 second pitch with just a bit of cursing and the odd ``watch me''. It felt pretty easy leading.
P.D. shows up after dark and we discuss options for Sunday with one of us making the brilliant observation that since highway 120 out of the Valley is closed because of a rockslide this might be the opportunity of a lifetime to go do Reed's Direct without having to stand in line. Hmmm, we look at the map in the back of Meyer's and Reid's guide and it doesn't look like much of a hike up 120 although it is kind of hard to say for sure without any indication as to the scale of the map.
So, Sunday morning, nice sunny day, combine all our big Friends into a monster rack, stride up the road to below Reed's, and do all the usual stuff scoping it out. Looks like a pretty long pitch, looks way steep, looks like lots of structure in the crack for good feet, looks like alot of people bail off a nest of slings about 2/3 of the way up. It is always fun to do a long considered classic - I am getting stoked.
Pitch 1 is a straight-in, steep, 5.9 crack that fires right up for maybe 40 feet, then it curves over left for another little bit. First move turns out to be kind of fiesty to lead, long reach from the side of a flake to blind-place a Friend, same long reach to get a pretty solid hand jam -- I do it and swing on it. Once oriented facing the crack, its perfect hands and toes. The crack widens to fists, then just as it is getting to be a pretty ugly offsize it curves over and a few layaway moves make it to the belay ledge. A.K. liebacks the whole thing and comes up puffing, P.D. zips up and starts making noise about how steep pitch two looks. He's right of course, but I'm thinking it looks pretty reasonable up close. It is supposed to be a long series of 5.7 moves with few rests, but how hard can it be to rest on solid 5.7 jams? We recall the guy we saw at Indian Rocks the previous year who was doing harder problems than we were going on about how strenuous this pitch was, but I recall reading somewhere that Robbins third-classed this back in '66. We recount the rumor that Peter Mayfield led it with no pro while guiding, fell off at the top, had the rope jam and came out with no worse than a broken ankle (or two). Werner Braun supposedly free-soloed it every day for 2 years (or maybe it was 20 years). All these possibly incorrect, and certainly irrelevant, stories aside, PD feels like a 5.9 climber this day and figures this ought to go. To me, planning to get comfortable against this tree and mostly worried about a possible stiff neck from having to look up to get early warning of dropped gear falling toward my head, it looks pretty straightforward.
P.D. is not one to hang around losing his mental edge and once racked up he sets his jaw, points out that the rack weighs a ton, and fires away. A bit of awkwardness to start, but the first 10 feet tell pretty much the full story. Good hands, great left foot jam in the crack/corner, very little for the right foot on the face, killer pro with big stuff. You could actually sew this up with the old \#9 hexes. It is steep -- the rope is hanging down free of the rock, gear is swinging back off P.D.'s butt. Forty or fifty feet up P.D. grabs the wrong size Friend, then grabs another wrong size, finally gets one in and announces (calmly) that he is going to hang. In 15 years of climbing with P.D. I've never seen him back off of his 1970's ethics and attitudes. No chalk, no tape, no lycra, no aid routes. But, after a good shake out he is off again, confidence a bit shaken too. Another 20 feet, good Friend placement, hang and shake. We try to decide just what kind of frigging around we are involved in and aren't quite sure. Not workng out any moves on tension so this doesn't seem like real dogging. We decide to give our own tag to it --- wimp-sieging. P.D. works his way up, hanging when his arms get to the point where he doesn't trust them, with the odd section providing some interesting variations to the repetitive jamming -- a way-out-there swing into a lieback to avoid a place where the crack goes fist-sized up high, a wild step-across near the top to avoid more fist crack.
It turns out that this is not the fastest way to climb, but it does getyou to the top and after awhile P.D. is up there hollering about what agreat crack climb it was. A.K. looks pretty doubtful about the air aspectof this second pitch, but goes for it making good progress for about fortyfeet before going onto tension, then coming down - mostly just psyched-out I think.
My turn, I am looking forward to checking this out. P.D. is a better face climber than I and is always in better shape, but he hasn't done much real crack climbing. I am thinking it might turn out to be a piece of cake if I remember to rest on the good feet (foot) and solid hands, and don't hang around on marginal jams. Swing up into the crack -- it feels great. Lots of different sizes within any 10 foot section. From any solid left foot jam, place both hands up high in the crack, smear the right foot on the face, lean back on the hands to get a little purchase for that right foot on the vertical wall, and go high with the left foot to another solid jam. First pieces clean no problem, but when I get to the ones that P.D. had been hanging on some are deep in the crack, some are welding in and I discover why P.D. was getting tired. In some strange way this crack would almost be easier to third-class than to lead. While you are moving everything is OK, but stopping to fiddle with gear tends to put alot of strain on your forearms because of the steepness. I hang once to try and get out a \#1 Friend that got wedged way back there, but otherwise climb free to the mass of rap slings 2/3s of the way up with my forearms screaming. I too clip off on the slings, completely flamed, and shake out. After a pretty good rest I am off again. I get to where the crack widens, shudder at P.D.'s ten foot layaway on wasted arms, and go deep in the crack for solid fists. Blow out one more time a move shy of the first good rest, then relax at a ledge with only twenty feet to go. Here you can continue up a fist crack or take a dicey step left with no hands (yow) and climb a small dihedral. Unfortunately P.D. made the step and placed a piece in the book out of reach of the fist crack. A bit of moaning and some unkind thoughts and I'm up shaking P.D.'s hand. We shake our heads and comment about how nice it was to have no witnesses. After sitting a bit and appreciating how nice it is to have to whole place to ourselves on a sunny Fall day, we wander over to check out the rest of Reed's, stare down that deep, narrowing chimney, and contemplate what an awful way that would be to die -- dropping 50 feet and wedging down there.
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