It was on Scott’s list. It was his goal but I didn’t really mind doing it either. Standing at the base looking up at the first pitch of beautiful, low angle liebacking and face climbing I could feel the apprehension building. The good climbing was protected by the scary looking 5.9 slab moves up into the flake. Unprotected. We each knew it was the mental crux. The head game.
“What about using our 8.4 tag line for double rope technique?” I ask with the thought of climbing up left and then traversing right. “It would cut down on rope drag and give us some protection.”
We start unpacking and getting harnesses on. “Well…” I state. The obvious question needing not to be asked. We both know he who leads the runout first pitch gets the crux off-width pitch.
“I don’t mind giving it a try” Scott says “not promising anything…”
I sense a desire, a strange fleeting desire, it’s origins uncertain. “I’ll do it, but I don’t mind doing the rochambeau.” I state, sealing my fate.
“It’s yours if you want it” he replies.
I rack up, he flakes the ropes. I leave the small pack and the big gear for him to wrestle with and cast off upwards, if slightly left of the original line. A purple Camalot and then a yellow TCU both with long runners. I move right smearing and tiptoeing, grateful for the security of the double rope. “Alright, watch me here…” I move up, then back down, afraid of commitment. Then up, latching on to the chalked up crimps. Feet smearing on the desert varnish, reaching for the edge. With two hands on the decent edge, my breathing is measured and focused through pursed lips. I smear my feet and reach up to sink less than the tips of my fingers into the flake. I switch to a side pull, my breaths the loudest noise in the canyon. Good feet. I stand up and fiddle a #5 Stopper behind the hollow flake and then a #7 above neither of which inspire confidence. My breathing slows down and I realize the hard part is behind me… at least until the last pitch.
Three and a half more pitches of sustained 5.10 climbing, each of us doing our share of the work lead us to the bottom of pitch five. Runouts, nice cracks, flares, good edges, smears and bomber anchors are standard on each pitch. We routinely comment on the standard Red Rock fare of patina edges, face climbing and varnished rock. We admire each other’s leads. We swap the pack and the big gear, handing if off as a grim reminder of the crux in store for us.
At least there is a good ledge at the bottom of pitch five. I don’t have to feel rushed, pressured by the thought of my Scott in an uncomfortable hanging belay. He moves over, offering me the good seat as I climb up from pitch four. “Nice work” I say, commenting on his cool head and clean climbing through the last protectionless 15 feet. “Not sure if I could have done that.”
“Take your time” he says as I clove hitch into the anchor. I glance upward, first quickly then with more of a study. Face climbing, then a hand jam, which means yellow Camalot. I look at my allotted gear. Two large 6″ camming devices and two #5 Camalots. In addition, a #4 Camalot and a double rack of smaller pieces. Plus I spy a bolt on the pitch. “Never met a bolt I didn’t clip” I quip to Scott.
And then I am off, up the face, maneuvering across the desert varnish and sharp, positive edges. I try to stuff in the #2 Camalot. No avail. A #1 goes in smoothly though and I am protected. I find good rests as I launch up and through the wide parts. A #6 Friend goes in easily and is unwittingly left behind, my intent to walk it forgotten in the struggle. The awkward lean of the crack does not lend itself to standard off-width techniques. I am soon outside the crack, edging, smearing and desperately hand foot matching, ratcheting my body slowly upward. A good rest and a bolt clipped. I move into the crack and my thrashing and wiggling propels me upward. Slowly. A tipped out #5 Camalot above my head and deep in the crack. I find a good ledge inside the crack which allows for a brief respite from body tension. A small edge here, a puffed chest there, and no small amount of friction allow me more upward progress. I plug a #6 Camalot in and slide out of the crack into a stem. I look upward, my feet smearing on hope and stem wider and initiate another hand foot match on the right wall. I look down through my legs and watch Scott taking it all in through the lens of my camera. I stem more as the slot narrows and I am able to slide in another cam. Then a tight hand jam. My last red Camalot goes in perfectly and I make face moves to a stance on a ledge with a wide slot still above. I move up with ease and more confidence now, the only thought running through my mind is don’t blow it now, you don’t want to have to do this again. One last run to the anchor, across some unprotected face, varnished edges and I am clipping the bolted anchor. “Fuck yeah.”
“Nice work” floats up from below, “nice job.”
I clip the bolts, tie the knot and slip the clove hitch onto my locker. “Bleay off Scott!” I shout down and start pulling up the line.