“Man that line is awesome” I say to no one in particular. Of the king lines we have seen this one has by far drawn me in the most. Guarded by a bit of loose choss and then an off-width, the long beautiful crack rises magnificently up a left facing corner to the top of the deep red, wingate buttress.
“It is the best line on the buttress, that’s for sure” Tony concurs as we lean on a boulder at its base.
“If its not done, I’ll do it next time I’m here” I offer, deferring to the hour and process involved. That we are thirty plus river miles down stream of our put in on a relatively remote and difficult to access section of Labyrinth Canyon on Utah’s Green River and I don’t really know when the next time I will be back are the white elephants of the conversation. In the back of my mind a quote my brother used to say tickles my conscious: “If not you who and if not now when?”
Ken sidles up next to me as he starts packing his gear. “You should do it now.” He is reading the back of my mind and his cheshire cat grin belies his motives in egging me on.
“Well it is late… and I would need someone willing to do two pitches with me.” My excuses are lame and lack conviction.
“Tony will belay you,” Ken adds, volun-telling Tony. “And what, it is like fifteen minutes through the off-width and then maybe another half-hour up the crack and through the roof” the grin continues; he knows he has me. “If you don’t look you’ll never know” he says, feeding my own words back to me, “and if you don’t know, you can’t sleep.”
“Alright, I’ll do it.” I stand up and grab two number six Camalots and put them on my harness. We search for some bolts and rig up a tag line, rack and rope. Ken, the devil on my shoulder, scrambles up some 5th class chossy tower to snap some photos and Tony gets set to belay.
After delicately maneuvering through some loose blocks and choss I am at the base of an imposing slot. I reach back onto my harness and slide the #5 into the crack. It clangs around uselessly. “All-righty then… numero seis it is” I say, once again to no one in particular. I push it high and launch upward, fist stacks and arm bars propelling me into the unknown.
Eight days earlier, at a campsite outside of Moab, UT, our group of seven gathered for the first time. With three of us hailing from Bishop, CA and four of us hailing from Lander, WY, there were new faces all around. All told we comprised what might be the most ill-suited group of climbers to ever set out on an expedition to this desert crack nirvana. The expedition’s brainchild, Anne, was suffering from a solid case of elbow tendinitis, which had recently been exacerbated by jugging lines in Zion. Trish had an ACL injury and had just been able to get a cortisone shot. Scott was still dealing with the fallout from shoulder surgery seven months prior and was experiencing constant low level pain whenever he climbed. Ken was allergic to splitter cracks. Anna had an infection in her pinky toe that had been aggravated by a stint crack climbing at Indian Creek. Tony had rolled an ankle and was hesitant about climbing. Oh and then there were the two dogs: Emma and Henry. One with the nervous energy of a tweaker, the latter having the laziness of a stoner. Despite most of us being strangers, our ability to not take ourselves to seriously bonds us quickly, forming a solid group of gimps and wimps.
Anne’s research and organizational leadership of the expedition had yielded the seven of us and also a fleet of canoes, equipment and a shuttle with a driver. The following morning we are up early and meet up at Coyote Shuttle and begin unpacking and then repacking our gear.
“You taking all that shit?” Jesse, our gruff, white haired shuttle driver asks. “You ain’t never going to fit all that shit into a canoe.” As he struts around the driveway, ineffectively leading the loading process, his experience and opinions begin to cast doubt on our packing scheme. Anne thinks it will all go in. I am doubtful. I spearhead the charge of cutting some items, well aware that this desert rat has packed more than a few canoes. Jesse’s demeanor has swiftly made it quite apparent why, as part owner of the company, his pleasant and attractive better half answers all the phones and makes all the reservations. None the less, we are quickly out of Moab and en route to our put in from where over eight days we will float 45 river miles, climb, and explore our way back down towards Moab. Soon enough though we find Jesse’s views and gruffness to be part of the package and begin to enjoy the character.
We float down river. We look at cracks and we get inspired. Boating straight is hard when constantly spinning, turning, looking and using binoculars.
“Shit I can’t keep this boat straight. It’s hard to steer when I have two hands on the binoculars and I’m not paddling” I say to Tony, who is patiently paddling while we meander from side to side down the river.
“Yeah, the way y’all are traveling you’ll do about fifty river miles today” Ken chimes in from somewhere.
The days are filled with floating, climbing, endless banter and scouting.
The green brown water, calm and smooth reflects the wingate walls rising dauntingly into the cloudless desert sky . “Hey check out that crack” someone yells, pointing river left.
“On that prow.”
“Looks like an awesome hand crack.”
“And look at that prow of red rock two buttresses over” I chime in .
“Shall we pull off and scout”? someone asks. We pod up and decide to go for it, thus initiating our second scouting mission of the day.
I scramble up the chinle making a scout of the cliff lines with my a pack, water and camera, and am soon finding seam after fucking seam. I move on disappointed in the prow of red rock. There are a few plausible lines tucked in above a pour-over and I spy some chalk on an otherwise unremarkable crack. Soon I see Tony glassing a splitter finger crack. We join up and discuss the merits of what we have seen. One o’clock finds us back on the beach. The group process yields a collective desire to stay so we line the boats up to a good sandbar, unload and get set to climb. Ken grabs his camera and heads off to the rim to find some good panoramic shots of climbers and the Green. I organize climbing groups. “Hey, who wants to do what?” I yell to the other five.
“I’m a wicked good belayer… maybe even an A-layer” Anna offers up.
“Great, I’ll climb with you” I say, quickly hopping on the offer of an good belay.
“Anne and Scott, you two were interested in the long splitter. Why don’t you two team up?” I suggest.
“Yeah, that sounds good” Scott responds
We choose objectives and gear up. Soon enough, before we are even packed, a whoop comes down off the rim. We look up to see Ken high above us as we lounge slothfully on the beach. “Shit we should probably get going.”
At the base Scott ropes up for what is perceived to be a long hand crack splitter and I tuck around the corner and gear up for a #3 to #6 corner in black rock.
Several hours later two new routes have been established. I finish drilling the bolts and rappel into the growing dusk. Below, Scott and Ken man the ground.
I touch down and pop my scorching belay device from the rope. Above me lies 55 meters of mostly good wide hands and fists, guarded by 15 meters of choss. The supposed hand crack, long and beautiful from the river, just another classic desert pitch up close. I drop the heavy rack of 4s, 3s, and 5s and give Scott a high five. “Thanks for leading the hard, scary shit and leaving the good stuff for me” I say, grinning from ear to ear, referring to our group effort ascent.
“Thanks for finishing it off” he replies.
We pull the ropes, coil them and descend into the darkness of the canyon.
To be continued…