When I feed the rat it keeps wanting more, but funnily enough, when I don’t feed it the rat doesn’t die, it simply goes dormant waiting for the next nibble. Then it awakes, as ravenous as ever.
“Are we taking the dogs?” I ask, kneeling down to pat the two dogs sitting in camp.
“No, I think I will leave them here with Scott” Anna replies. I stand up, shoulder my pack, turn and wait for Anna to do the same.
We hike up stream and then uphill. We navigate up the loose scree, talus and boulders and sometimes it is one step up and two steps back as the loose, red soil, and sandstone boulders slide down the unstable surface. The west face of what we have been calling “The Boobs” is in the shade and the “cleavage” of the formation looks dark, black and foreboding.
Anna, myself, and five others are in Labyrinth Canyon on Utah’s Green River. For the last six days we have been floating the river in canoes and climbing the cracks that split the steep, red, wingate walls that grace the sides of the canyon for tens of miles. We are camped below the Green River Towers and today our objective is to summit one of the northern towers.
“So I am happy to lead all, some or none of this route” I say as we stand at the base and peer up at the flawless corner crack shooting straight up the black, varnished rock. “Do you want to lead any part of it?” I ask.
“Well that seems like a bad idea” Anna replies in her usual dry tone.
“Alrighty then” I respond as I pull the heavy rack of gear from my pack and start clipping the large number six Camalots onto my harness.
In expectation of flailing I wrap my hands with tape and then set off up huecos (big holes) in soft rock. Above, the initial finger crack in a black corner goes smooth but soon a difficult corner has me scratching my head. After a few minutes of contemplation I palm some loose paper-like flakes of rock, make a high smear with my left foot and belly flop unceremoniously onto a large ledge. I take a breath, stand up and take stock of the wide corner above. A section of fist stacks leads to great feet and face holds and I easily slide in a large cam. A little more thrashing and wiggling and pulling deposits me onto a large sloping ledge. I build an anchor and put Anna on belay. Despite the squeeze and awkward lieback Anna manages a few smiles on the pitch and sends it in good style.
“You got me?” I ask Anna.
She looks at her grigri. “You the man, I’m the hand. You are on belay.”
“I’ll probably bump this number three a bit when I start” I say gesturing toward the cam in the anchor. I disassemble the three piece anchor, bundle up the cord and clip two of the cams onto my harness. “Climbing” I say and shove a foot high into the three inch crack. Above me the impeccable corner cleaves the smooth black rock for thirty or forty feet before bending out of sight. My hands slide insecurely into the fissure and I hear the velcro on my shoe come undone as I twist my foot into the crack, searching for purchase. I reach down, grab the Camalot and move it upward. Soon a rhythm is developed and I am floating higher into an ever widening crack. The insecure wide hands become tight, secure fists and then unconfident and difficult hand stacks, but the climbing never becomes desperate due to face holds that appear fortuitously at the right time. Before long I find myself wedged securely into a squeeze chimney and looking at a nice hand crack partitioning the face. A thrash and a wiggle has me hanging off a fist jam and then working up the slammer hands to the choss covered ledge. “Lots of loose rock up here Anna” I yell down as I make my way onto the ledge. My momentum slows and my awareness becomes razor sharp. A “thank you” floats up from below and I gingerly tip toe through the soft loose rock. Cautiously I tap, test, and try each foot and hand hold. Progress upward has slowed to a glacial pace as I navigate the unstable rocks. I stem over and around the most suspicious looking ones, place a few pieces of protection and step up onto the ridge. I peer over the other side and let out a whoop. Spying the anchor on the east side of the formation, I clip a quickdraw into then climb up onto the summit, having fed the rat for one more day.