Preface (Careful now, this one's long. And beware --> not necessarily in chronological order)
My friends! The rumors of my death at the hands of the stone have been greatly exaggerated. Verily there was suffering, injury, even death on highway 120 -- the Valley is a wild place, and sometimes she must take a life. At times we were sunburned, dehydrated, airborne, scared
sh#%less, crying sad, chaffed, cold, stiff and sore (use your imagination), felons, and drunk (wonder if that had anything to do with the others??). And I wouldn't trade any of it for the world. We suffered through record heat and were literally baked on the rock, me with 3rd degree burns on top of 3rd degree burns. "No thanks Chris, I don't need any sun block today. We'll climb fast." We met colorful people, ate more colorful food and saw much wildlife -- coyotes, 5-year-old-child-killing deer, a wolf, a marmot, and a bear cub.
"Hey Chris, check it out, a bear cub!"
"Cool, let me get a picture."
"Hmmmm, I don't know."
Fabio:" Uh.. let's get the f@!% out of here!"
So, without further ado, let's get started!
After Six (5.6) or After Seven (5.8)...........Beers?
Our first attempts at climbing were way-laid by some unforgiving Burger King E.
Coli special that Chris had on the way to the Valley, which left his intestines somewhat drained. But by Monday we were on the rock. Being our first day, and Chris's very first time at the granite crags, we decided to tackle some easier routes which would allow us to acclimate to the delicate foot work necessary on valley climbs. I decided to jump on After Seven, an enjoyable 5.8 right off the trail, and then to follow on up Manure Pile Buttress on After Six (5.6) a cruiser route. After Seven proved to be a little more difficult than I remembered --> I was confused and shaken when the protection ran out, and I had to make a few face moves to regain the crack up above. Only I couldn't see where it continued above. Right or left?
"Awww, poor baby," I said to myself. "Just climb it, you wussy" (My internal dialogue is not always constructive, but it seems to work.) So after a sit I did. Problem was we had two people ahead of us and three behind us. The leader ahead reeked of alcohol, and Chris had seen him and his partner toking up on the ground. His partner was some valley local boulderer, about 18 yrs old, and had no idea about multi-pitch climbing. The leader behind us was belaying his team with a combination of hip belays and munter hitches, and had no clue how to constructively talk to his female partner in an encouraging manner. The third person in their team they had just met the day before. Sketchy group that.
So with all of this going on Chris and I cruised the route. Thoroughly enjoyable, especially the last pitch, where you pull up onto the table top on top of manure pile. I was a little tense on the fourth pitch, where the pro runs out and you have to move onto 5.5 face holds. Somehow I missed the 5.3 section and got on the 5.5. It wasn't bad until 15 ft up when I popped in a #5 HB, climbed 5ft above, and watched it pull out. Oh well. Easy climbing, fantastic views from 6-700ft up, and great weather.
Ken was a hardman from Boulder. He had a lean build and an easy manner, standing about 5'8". His grizzled features surrendered themselves to round, baby blue eyes that had all of the energy and excitement of a five year-old on Christmas morning. Ken would be in Site 3 with us at Camp 4 for our entire stay. "You know, every 4-5 years or so, I get my finances together and take about 6
months to a year off. Sometimes it goes to 2 years. But you gotta go back sometime, can't let everything fall to
sh#%, knowwhattamean?" Ken wore the same t-shirt the whole time he was there, until his rest day. It was white (or rather was ply white at some time in 1976) and had the picture of a big heart, with two cartoon
Dalmatian pups rubbing heads. In neat cursive above their heads read "Puppy Love."
'Nuff said. "10a offwidths, those are my favorite. Yeah, once I had a girl. Oooh, she was a beauty.
Taught her how to climb. I took her up 65 10a offwidths at Eldo [Eldorado Canyon] and she climbed everyone of them, but didn't really enjoy
'em.. Then she talked to some of my friends and told them what I did, and then she left me. She was a beauty. 20 years old, and I was 40." "So what do you do for a living, Ken?" "Maintenance Man."
Ahh, yes the maintenance man. Readily disposable work.
I remember coming back to camp one night and seeing Ken standing there at the bear box, wolfing down some food. I had been dinking a little, partly cause I had just pitched off of Reed's that day, so I made some small talk, relating my air time. He wasn't wearing his usual hat and looked so much older with his male pattern baldness. He also had a desperate yet unfocused look in his eye, and could barely speak as he
ram-rodded this white bread sandwich into his mouth. He also seemed to be shaking and limping around as some wounded animal would. Earlier I had seen him as lithe and fit, but now he looked diseased and lame. He wished me a nervous goodnight, hobbled around the camp some more picking up his things, and then stepped outside of the camp, passing between two pines. I watched as the bathroom light fell down
across his frame as he moved into the darkness, until finally I could only see his lower right pant leg. Then I heard the zipper, and the subsequent splash on the pine needles. The splashing ended, the zipper went up, and then the pant leg was consumed by darkness. That was the last I ever saw of Kolorado Ken.
Actually I saw him the next morning in camp, but I though that the above ending would have been more dramatic. We need more people like Ken in the climbing community -- willing to take on any partner, always sharing his knowledge and experiences, always celebrating in your own accomplishments, and fun to talk to.
"You have a drinking problem, Mr. Hat!" ("No I don't Mr. Garrisan. Bartender, another Cosmopolitan, please!")
We had just returned from Camp 4 with a mighty buzz on, after having just seen the ludicrous FireFall movie at the Amphitheatre, and after having uncovered some skeletons in the mental closet of this Austrian actress who didn't believe in true love. As we stumbled back to Camp 4 we passed the ranger kiosk. Inside hung the holy grail -- an NPS Ranger Cover (hat). But where was the owner? I ranted to Chris. "When I was in the military we wouldn't be caught dead without our cover! What the hell are these dirt bags thinking?" I had to have it to prove some ridiculous point to myself. Chris wasn't talking me out of it either. I strutted over to the shack. Darn all the windows were locked. Plus, I was standing there under no fewer than two 100 watt lights. Hmmm. AHA! -- not all the windows were locked. I tried to lift the window on the building's door. It gave slightly, and then up it went. I lifted it enough to get my hand in so that I could open the door from the inside. In a second the cover was in my hand, the door was closed, and Chris was telling me to put it in the car trunk, like some dead body. I thought "That's a great idea!" and there it went.
I woke up the next morning and the very first conscious thought in my head was "YOU FRIGGIN' IDIOT! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT FOR?! HOW OLD ARE YOU?" So I went to the trunk and fished it out. It was nice, with a heavy leather band etched nicely with the NPS logo, and
tassels. I walked over to the kiosk where the ranger was now posted, and handed it to her
saying, "Hey, I found this in the parking lot. She gave me a confused look, shrugged her shoulders, then
said, "Oh, OK." And that was that. No damage done.
Astarith, the Austrian Actress Who Didn't Believe In Love
The obscenely ridiculous Fire Fall movie had just completed. The narrator was Huell Howser, who talked exactly like Lon Solomon, Pastor, McLean Bible Church ("Not a sermon, just a thought"?). Anyway, all of the families filtered out and there we were -- Live Hard, Vaquero, Astarith, and lots of alcohol. Chris went to use the bathroom, and the two of us got to talking. As Ken would say, "Yeah, she was a beaut, knowuttamean ?" Her cinnamon complexion, gentle lips, chocolate brown eyes, and smooth figure instantly put me at ease. Well, that and the six pack of Sierra Nevada, but whose counting? After a "Cheers" and "Salud" the conversation got heavy. We talked about Bubba's indiscretions and Hilary, about
Arnold and his hometown in Austria, and how the locals like him cuz he's a momma's boy, we talked about cheating on your lovers, and about Mother/Son, and Father/Daughter relationships. She seemed to see Hilary as amazingly strong, and saw Big Bill as doing something that all men do, cannot help but doing, and doing something which women need to overlook and forgive. The needle then slid across the record player and I started. "Wha? What are you talking about?" She went on to explain that love dies after a time, and when you are old you cannot possibly love your mate the same as you did when you first met, for the rest of your life. This girl was
single-handedly destroying any hope that I had for life. Chris seemed mildly concerned. "No," I jumped in without
asking, "You do love the person the same, it just changes, matures, goes in a different direction." She wasn't impressed with my attempt at sensitivity. We then went into 'hypothetical' situations, which as most of you know, are never hypothetical in conversations such as these. She offered that if her husband cheated on her she would basically forgive and forget, and seemed to be seeking our approval, which she did not get. By this time we knew that she was married, and as she finished this sentence, the husband walked over. I tried to make out his face, but it was buried in the cumulus cloud layer above. Fortunately he sat down, and I thought I was looking at one of the Huber brothers. He and his partner had been climbing Astroman free. Turns out they bailed after 3 pitches, the husband saying in broken English that his partner was in a bad mood, and that they weren't climbing well, so they bailed. Astarith went to use the bathroom, so fortunately we were able to turn the conversation to climbing, and keep things light. This guy's English was not nearly as good as his wife's. She returned, we chatted some more, and then they were off, holding hands as they went. "Don't you see!? Her husband cheated on her and she was venting to us, trying to rationalize it. It was clear as day." Chris said. I thought about it. "Oh, I just thought she was making conversation?" "No, man, that was fucking weird, she's screwed up." I capitulated to Chris's view as we walked back to camp, thinking how sad it must be live with that.
Nutty over Nutcracker
When does it end? When I get to the top of this climb, dammit. Alas, it wasn't to be on this day. This was the first day of the record Valley heat, where the thermometer was tipping near 100. The air was so dry we were raisins after a short while. I took my favorite variation, up the 5.9 crack. It's gained by
scrambling up a slab a la Carderock to a small ledge. Basically just pin scars for about 20ft, then the crack opens a bit and the last half is some great 5.8 jamming. Performed much better on the route this year. I down-climbed some to add some gear, but no sits, no falls. And the feet are thin! You really have to seek out those diorite patches so you're not scumming your feet everywhere. I sweated so much it was stinging my eyes and blurring my vision, as well as dripping onto the inside of my sunglasses. I think I'll come back in the Fall.
Live Hard sent the second 5.7 pitch (he was climbing Seneca 6s until he came to the Valley) with no problem. It gets a little awkward at the top, sort of Joshua Tree like, stemming a smooth corner, pushing with the palms of the hands as much as with the feet. We arrived at the platform, and I tried to convince Chris to send the third 5.7 pitch as well, but I gave him bad beta, telling him the belay was farther up than where it actually was. Sorry. I was mistaken. Since he was unfamiliar with the route (as was I, obviously), Chris decided to give the pitch to me. Some thin 5.7 fingers on a lieback went by, and the pitch was rather uneventful. But by the time that Live Hard reached the belay, our shoes were literally melting and our feet with them, as well as being dehydrated. So we decided to bail, rather than risk making dumb decisions because we were thirsty. The rappel went smoothly, and we had beers in hand in no time.
Next episode -- 'Kary the Bartender', 'Next Exit Gas, Food,......and MURDER!', 'IronMan Steve
(aka Jimmy Steele)', 'Airborne on Reed's', 'Half-Hearted on Half-Dome', 'Gayblade Phil', and MORE!