Thanks people of the Access Fund, and the talented duo Fitz Cahall and Mikey Schaefer for including me in the Open Access Project. In this video I tell my story of an accident that I had in Red Rocks Nevada in 2006. My rappel anchor failed and my partner and I fell nearly 50 feet. There are a lot of significant details on either side of that event but my point for this post is that many positives came out of that experience. For example, I was able to return to Red Rocks with Mikey and Fitz, tell the story, pose down for charity and sing the gospel of supporting anchor replacement in land management policies and, moreover. supporting the work of the Access Fund.
My climbing life is blessed. That was a constant thought after my first climb in Patagonia turned out to be an ascent of Fitz Roy (via Mate Porro y Todo Lo Demas on the North Pillar aka. Goretta Pillar) with my dear friend Kate Rutherford. After years of talking about going there I was finally there, basking in the sun in town too shattered from our 4-days out to do anything but lie around, ice my body and try to appreciate instead of letting my mind think about the continuing good weather and summoning the energy to try something else.
Kate wrote up a little notice right after Fitz Roy and included a few with photos on her blog: http://katerutherford.com/?p=841 The trip was Kate’s sixth season in Patagonia and I felt very grateful to the seasoned tour guide for showing me the ropes.
Thanks to the YouTube phenomenom, The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger, many more are familiar with the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom. In summary (insert Randall’s flamboyantly gay voice in here), “The Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit.”
Inspired by such displays of ferocity, I’m probably not the first climber to yell up to a partner on a sketchy lead, “Be a Honey Badger!” If you’re run-out on poor gear and still choosing to commit to the next moves, I find Honey Badger (HB) tactics a perfect antidote. From that decision point on, drop the worries, tap into your ferocious nature and unleash the scream/grunt/squeel. There’s even benefit to dominating like a HB on safer climbs. Knowing when is an appropriate moment for “The Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit” powers to spring forth, however, is vital. Some climbers seem to embody the HB spirit on all occasions, perhaps with a recent break-up (ahem…) under his or her belt, and this can spell unnecessary trouble. Most of us, however, need to develop our HB spirit. All of us need to discern when it is appropriate to deploy.
I had the opportunity to practice my honey badger skills in the Black Canyon this fall. The atmosphere and type of commitment faced in the Black has made it one of my favorite places to climb over the years. I was excited to give Kate a tour for her first trip there. There for 3 days, our primary task was to shoot 2 days worth of photos with Chris Noble for a book on top-end female climbers in North America. The most challenging part of this assignment was figuring out how to rappel into the routes with Chris so that he could shoot us from above while we climbed up towards him.
On our first day we rappelled into The Free Nose (Grade V 5.12c R). I found the top of the route okay and lowered myself over a steep roof. With 2000 feet of air beneath my feet and the river, I spun beside a loose, chossy corner pulling 600 feet of static rope out of a bag in tangled webs. This wore on me quickly and by the time I reached a fixed anchor I was in an unpleasant state and unsure which anchor we were at. I looked up and decided that the dihedral would shoot nice photos. When Chris and Kate arrived at the anchor I told them I’d just climb the dihedral. Thankfully Kate has been climbing with me for a long enough to sense that my better judgement was being eclipsed by something else. She spotted a pin up and right and suggested another option, than my ferocious HB stare was suggesting. I was then able to understood where we were on the route and we lowered further to shoot photos on a more aesthetic section of the route. Chris was pleased with the images and we considered the day a great success.
The second day we shot Tague Yer Time (Grade V 5.12) on the other/south side of the canyon. In hindsight we wished Chris had stayed on the North Rim and shot photos from a perspective looking across the 1/4 mile-wide chasm at the wall. While the route is the Black’s most popular 5.12, I’d forgotten how slabby it is and with the strong sun/shade lines Chris wasn’t pleased with the images and began ascended his rope to the rim instead of shooting a few of the upper pitches.
The third day Kate and I wanted to approach a climb in a more typical Black nature. You know, descending to the bottom of the canyon and climbing an entire route up to the rim. I chose Qualgeist (5.12c R). Chris rappelled with us down the Cruise Gully but this time he shot from afar and Kate and I were able to focus solely on climbing the route and subsequently our Honey Badger skills.
Qualgeist is a risky route and it baking in the sun as we scrambled up some 4th class to its base. We hugged shade at the start of Ament’s Chimney and Kate began climbing in the sun, getting a taste of Black heat mixed with prickly bushes bushes and a dirty crack. She returned to our anchor and stayed closer to the chimney. Mid-pitch she made a wise decision and built a belay at ledge with a large flake. Thankfully, the shade arrived and I began the next pitch in cooler temps. A run-out slab led back into the chimney and I clipped an anchor with a double length sling and continued. The crux pitch began with a thin face with a 2 bolts on the left side of an exposed arête. I paused at the 2nd bolt, intimated by the thin, powerful move ahead. I climbed up and down a few times, testing a variety of sequences before I felt like the I could make my best guess. Pausing again at resting holds, I shuddered at the thought of a fall once on the other side of the arête. I tried to rationalize the safety of the fall. I would fall down first, along the steep face of the other side of the arête and then I would swing back and left across the face towards the final bolt. Honestly I wasnt sure how safe the fall was once around the arete but I knew there was a 3rd bolt somewhere up there and the immediate moves felt intimidating but protected enough. I completed a few desperate moves towards the arête and letting out a focused yell as I pulled around. Steeper, yet more featured, I was able tic-tac up the right side, clip another bolt and find a stem-rest farther up. Smaller gear placements on the steep face lead to a roof with body-size detached block that I hung from until I could heel hook and get a hang jam over and behind it.
“I’m a f*cking honey badger!” I yelled down to Kate.
Sustained and technical climbing continued above, and the rope drag was pulling my harness below my hips by the time I reached the anchor. Cotton-mouthed and shaking, I smiled from ear to ear as I belayed Kate up one of the more wildy, exposed pitches I’d climbed in the Black. Was that an appropriate time to be fully and fiercely invested I wondered.
Kate got into a her groove with the Black as we swung leads up the remaining 6-pitches of cerebral run-outs with moments of splitters. I was happy to present her with the experience of topping out on the rim in the dark, close to camp and early enough to enjoy beer, dinner and campfire tales with fellow climbers, Jeff Achey and Steve Levine.
Obviously, honey badger is an evolving and perhaps trash bag term at this point. But I think it’s an important component of hunting for personal power. There are times to be fierce and there are times to be gentle and we each practice trusting ourselves to make the appropriate decision at a given moment in time.
(Istanbul airport: confronting a daze with a tiny cup)
Nik and I are en route to Kyrgyzstan, and it’s Big Walls or Bust!! $600 dollars later in excess baggage fees, we meet up in JFK airport within the hour and then it’s Istanbul to Bishkek. On these trips with major logistics, is the mantra ‘one thing at time’ or ‘one thing after the other.’
Pre-Kyrgyzstan, I want to thank the many people who have shown their support or shared stories with me in preparation for this expedition. Your enthusiasm deepen the connection of this trip to the spirit of adventure. I’m so grateful to be able have adventures, to confront unknowns and give my effort. Why Kyrgyzstan? Well, my answer is made up of a bit of the Sir Hillary ‘because its there.’ The rocks look surreal so I must go see for myself. And also, the objective is a logical step–a place that will certainly challenge me and yet I feel like I have been preparing for throughout my illustrious climbing and traveling career.
I’ve never been to Central Asia, let alone climbed any big rocks outside of the States and Canada. So while more seasoned adventures tell me it’s straightforward and “not Pakistan,” the adventure feels big and real.
Wish us luck and thank you friends and family for the support and good wishes. Eric Decaria, I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to share all the beta you accumulated of the area. Thanks for hooking us up with gear we are missing (like an aid rack!) and telling Nik to wear a helmet. Many thanks to Christian and the people of Outdoor Research for sponsoring Nik and I, thus easing the financial burden of flying half way around the world. Osprey–we look like seasoned and styled world travelers with your shuttle bags. La Sportiva–we will try our best to stick to the walls. CocoHydro–I’m already drinking the “chronic powder” on the plane and can’t even remember the names of that other electrolyte stuff I used to drink. Kep, your balls are certainly with us. Metolius, Sterling Ropes, Black Diamond, Petzel, we’ll put the gear to test.
Finally, thanks Nik for going on an adventure with me. Your motivation to climb comes from a pure and perrenial source. I hope your joking about not bringing a helmet (sarcasm is hard to read in a text and now that I’m sitting across from him I don’t really want to know the answer). Oh and thanks big sis for your amazing world traveling advice to “hide the homo.” And Lizzy, my stronger kins….love.
Good job Nik actually writing something about our climb up El Cap last June 2012. We had a fulfilling adventure and I even had some fun in the mix. Perhaps my favorite non-climbing moment was sitting in the portaledge on our third evening. The sun was setting and we’d just freed the hardest pitches of the route. Nik turned on his IPhone and speaker and we proceeded to listen to his new favorite podcast. The subject happened to be women talking about their masturbation preferences. A perfect combo to hanging 3000 feet off the ground as the sun sets and birds ride thermals up and down and around the wall.
Anyway, El Corazon was by far the hardest route I’ve climbed and I was contented with my effort (sticking with it for 4 consecutive days) and achievement (freeing the whole route and leading several of the 5.13 pitches clean).
Nik sent the Prophet! I think the Wonderboy is outgrowing his name and I now pronounce him the Propheteer. We spent the last two days climbing the route from the ground. His hard working days (fixing and mini-tractioning the route) leading up the effort coupled with an indomitable level of psyche paid off. Nik floated most of the climb his first try. The pitch with the sideways dyno gave him trouble and he had to figure out a variation around the dyno that gains the remaining boulder problem at the pitch’s end. He’s calling it “the devils reach around.” The A1 beauty pitch looked like 5.9 as he sent it, placing all the gear on lead (I think except for the first and last piece). At the pitch’s end, Nik kept screaming “I’m a Terradactyl!!” A moment to appreciate. I’m inspired by Nik’s positive ways of operating in life and thankful that the timing worked well to support Nik on this effort. The route does remind me of the Black Canyon–lots of face climbing with flexing flakes and serious runouts. The A1 beauty pitch, however, with a 1/2 inch splitter meandering beside a knife edge arete, is surely at home with any classic line on El Cap.
This morning, I descended down the east ledges and Nik is currently still rapping/cleaning up his fixed lines from the route. I hope the last few days are acclimating me for climbing here. I have two weeks and I feel ancy to get going with trying an el cap route i have a remote chance to free. What’s new? Im also feeling physically and mentally worn down which is a difficult place for me to be as I’m ever impatient to let myself rest! So I have some choices to make…. In terms of a route, Nik and I are deciding between el corazon and el niño
Everything went free– the route and the gear. Study this pic (photo to come) and then make your way to the base of the Hallucinogen wall in the Black Canyon. After some inspired ledge scrambling, a new OR centrifuge jacket (men’s small) and a timex watch (that i have now abandoned twice in the bowels of the black) can be yours! Then go free climb the Hallucinogen wall. It’s incredible and I appreciate what a satisfying all out effort it required from me. Here’s a link to a Rock and Ice blurb about Brad Gobright and I completing a 3rd free ascent.
Really just go and get near the wall and your sure to score something for free. The aid climbing party unclipped Brad’s #4 camalot from the pitch 15 anchor bolt that we intentionally left it on during a reconnaissance. I guess they thought it was free.
Finally, a break from our sport climbing bootcamp. Last Friday, Jesse and I navigated to the coast and met my sister in Girona. There are layers of history of this city, with medieval architecture being most evident. Exploring places like this make Europe such a treat for an Coloradan who thinks 19th century buildings are old.
We met Naomi at the train. Jesse was psyched to finally have a drinking bud. I was psyched to play storm the castle (in my new skull cap) with my big sis. I’ve missed her so.
More photos to come.
Jesse and I were getting little snappy with each other. The cold nights and mornings in the tent and an accumulation of a couple inconveniences got to us. Our water bottles are freezing. My thermarest has a hole. The sport climbers cooking next to us are uptight and Jesse has no one to drink with. I forgot my climbing pants and bought a pair for over 100$ which I later realized I couldn’t highstep in. Kryptonite.
You’re not supposed to suffer on a sport climbing trip right? Everything is more expensive than we anticipated and after hemorrhaging oodles of money a poverty cloud settled overhead and began to dampen our Spanish fiesta. Well, enough of that shit. We’re in Spain and are going to enjoy it. We’ll save money where we can and spend it when worthy opportunities arise. We’ll be intentional with our spending.
Yesterday, we began to remedy our inconveniences. We bought a proper fry pan and a box of veggies. We took showers. I fixed my thermarest. Things started looking up. Today, water bottles were frozen but we woke up cheery and talking shit to one another in proper brother/sister spirit. I cooked a egg and veg heaven of a breakfast and we went to our new favorite crag. We’re in Terradettes and the crag Paret de las bruixes is loaded with long 12s and 13s. We brought both ropes this time to compliment our selfish needs, packed a big lunch and our novels. We suntanned with the 20 other sportwankers milling about the base. It is frightening stepping far away from the crag’s base. Not because of a cliff’s edge. The leave no trace ethic apparently doesn’t exist in Spain and it is difficult to avoid stepping in human shit when I go for a pee.
Today I sent my first 8a! I surprised myself by putting the route to rest on my second go. Called “El Latido del Miedo, it’s a 30 meter route up tufas and such things, the beautiful line seems like many of the others. I’m so psyched I get to climb here. I don’t know if I’ll focus on redpointing much harder than 13b. We’ll see. I will certainly try routes that take more than a couple goes but I want to keep the pressure low and sample a few zones in this sea of Catalan limestone.
The day ended with Jesse and I each giving a full effort on routes at our limits and attaining onsight glory. From now on, we’ll try to keep the energy positive over here. Thankfully, we are on a pretty posh sport climbing trip and there is much to be upbeat about. In Jesse’s Colorado slang, “The hiking boots are out and the spainard’s warm ups are getting crushed.”
Its 10 at night and Im sitting in cafe. Okay it’s a restaurant. But it’s Spain and cafe sounds better. Jesse and i just stuffed our faces after our 3rd climbing day. Best food yet. White asparagus with ham. Chicken soup. Salad. Chocolate mouse. I can’t undertstand Catalan to save my life.
On thursday, we arrived Barcelona and explored a beautiful city as much as we could for one day and in the fog of jetlagg. We walked. Through the parque buell, taking in gaudi architecture, to the sagrada familia church. Through a series of subway mishaps Jesse lost lots of money and I tried not to laugh at his poor luck. He has since gotten his chance to laugh as I forgot my climbing pants and impulsively bought some overpriced European pants. The pants seduced me with their very euro knee and butt patches and closefit (that I thought I though Lizzy would finally approve of). BIG mistake. They have stolen my power to high step and bridge and hence are now my kryptonite. I still think they look good but their days are numbered (photo to come).
As we arrived armed only with the general areas that we wanted to climb, i knew much of the happenings on this trip would inevitably be unexpected. Everything is working out splendidly so far and I’m pleased with our ability to free form and attract good things. More to come.