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.