1st August 2016 — “Well it’s your lead” Megas says as we deposit our gear at the base of Index’s Inner Wall. Above us two classic lines split the immaculate, albeit mossy granite. I’ve done them both: Toxic Shock and Even Steven, but that was years ago. Sydney and I came here and led the former and hung a top rope on the latter. Not much has changed in the ensuing five years. I still rarely pass up a free top rope and will often take the easy way up to hang a rope on a hard one.
“I’ll definitely go for the yearly red point burn on this thing” Matt chimes in. “I unsent it a few weeks ago.”
“Yeeaah” Megas continues, “it looks sweeeeet” he says in usual Megas stoke fashion.
My mind is awash with thoughts. I had just taken a top rope lap on a bolted face climb, that honestly, was well within my range. Never pass up a free top rope, I had thought. The voice on the other shoulder however quietly reminded me of a blog post I had just been composing. Mistakes had led to gains and even failures had been positive. I thought of trying harder and a quote I occasionally despise “if not me who, if not now when?” And Megas had basically told me it was my turn. Sack up Spaulding, I thought. Even if they were going to lead it anyway. You won’t send, you are “off the couch” climbing; it’s hard.
I could just lead Toxic Shock. At 5.9 it is a classic and worthy ascent and it would be my lead. My eyes, which had been glued upward, through all of this, began wandering left. I wander that direction and check out the lie back 5.9 start. Try harder, a voice inside says. Better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for a lifetime. Send it on top rope, what do you have to prove. The voices get louder and more forceful before being drowned out altogether by real voices “Are you getting on Toxic Shock?” a newly arriving party asks.
“Nah” I say in a moment of weakness. “We’re going to do this one” gesturing to the thin finger cracks splitting the steep, clean face. The voices quiet down. I grab a rack, arrange it on my harness and tie in.
The first several meters are nothing but a hand crack and I silently hope it is the crux. The good stance at its top begs me to stay, but I know I can’t. So instead I make excuses by putting in gear. First I clip the fixed purple TCU. Then above it I take up a good finger slot with a blue one. And just to complete the line, I stem up a meter or so, stick in the yellow and down climb. That eats about five minutes or so and I can see below me Matt patiently belaying, he is sitting, after all. He is probably tired of my shenanigans. “It is all in the stem” Matt yells up. Earlier he had said it is a crack climb that doesn’t climb like one. I suspect I won’t be jamming a ton, besides, I see nowhere for my feet to go. I stem off the jagged pointed rock that will impale me when I fall and launch upward. A few moves of finger jams and sloppy feet have me hanging off a manky jam, shoving in an orange TCU. Somehow I remember to breathe.
Thin but ample protection coaxes me upward, reassuring me in a dubious, sweet talking kind of way. “I will protect you” it seems to whisper in a creepy, Gollum-esque [creaky?] voice. I make short moves, trying to be thoughtful. Matt’s words about the crux hang over me like impending doom: “I think the bottom section, off the pillar, is the crux, but a lot of people find it hard to hold on at the top.” Above me, the top looms. Short moves, good gear. Too much I think. Too much holding on to place gear. I feel a burn creeping into my forearms. I look down. I torque my toes and plant them deliberately. Still going. A short move. I feel the rope behind my calf. Hold on, don’t let go. I shake it out looking at a hard move on a thin, green Camalot sized jam. I stick it, but don’t know how. “Look for the jug over the lip” Matt yells up. My hand slides open but I will it shut. I need something big, size matters. My hand ignores me again, I reach down, pull up the rope and clip it into a yellow Camalot. Size matters. Now the hold. I search above, find the jug and clasp on.
Below I hear the chorus of encouragement, not just from Megas and Matt, but from the other three on Toxic Shock. I beach whale onto the ledge, my pride sufficiently wounded, stand up and clip the anchors. “Well, fuck”, I think in classic Jared style “don’t have to do that again.”
Featured Image: Matt Hartman on Even Steven, Index, WA