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Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 7, 2007 - 06:34pm PT

“I know the crack peters out just above that roof up there”, I told my cousin Dale, looking up and left and then back at him as a cold gust of wind dried the sweat on my forehead. “But I’m sure it begins again just a little higher! There’s got to be some face holds to connect the two.”

Dale nodded. His thin sun browned face was impassive as he passed the gear rack to me. “You may be right,” he said after a minute.

"I’m sure…” I began, pushing a stray strand of blond hair back from my face and chewing impatiently at my moustache.

“But it’s going to take some time to piece it together and we’ve got a storm coming on,” he cut me off, holding up his hand, pausing, and then continuing. “We could follow Table ledge to the left here and be off The Diamond before the storm hits,” he said, his sinewy arm indicating the direction he wanted to go.

Table Ledge is a catwalk some three feet wide about 300 feet below the top of the sheerest facet of Longs Peak. Fifteen hundred vertical feet of granite, The Diamond, as it is known to climbers all over the world, gazes out to where the Colorado Rockies give way to Kansas and the plains that stretch beyond the curved horizon. From our perch, the perspective was the reverse of the one early settlers confronted as they struggled to cross the continent and found the mountains a barrier to their way west.

At the moment, the inevitable afternoon thunderstorm still hadn’t breached the high peaks and the plains were clear, shining in the noonday sun as far as the eye could see. Directly below us, Chasm Lake at the base of Longs was an obsidian oval flecked with gold. Miniature icebergs, like blue-white sedans, broke off from the edge of the Mills Glacier at the foot of the Diamond, floating motionless in the black water. Beyond the lake, past the jumbled fields of boulders and below the zone of green, treeless tundra, wooded canyons channeled its runoff down steep ravines, the water bouncing from rock to rock until it finally joined the Big Thompson River near the summer resort town of Estes Park, then headed for the flatlands and, eventually, the Atlantic.

It’s pretty as hell up here. It occurred to me that if Jenna, my live-in girlfriend of six years, could see it, we wouldn’t be fighting like we had been the night before. "I don't want to be a climbing widow anymore", she’d told me. "You never seem to act much like a widow when I’m gone", I’d said, referring obliquely to the way she tended to handle our “open” relationship. She never seemed to be alone for very long.

We’d gone back and forth on it for hours, finishing off a bottle and a half of Merlot in the process. It had finally ended when she’d asked me what I loved more: her or climbing. Without missing a beat I’d assured her that I loved her more than anything, looking into her deep eyes, black as night, and touching her beautiful black hair. That had settled the argument anyway, and we’d made love to Jefferson Airplane’s version of, “Give me a ticket for an aeroplane….Ain’t got time to take a fast train….”

“If we go the way you want to go, we’re definitely going to get dumped on,” Dale said, bringing me back to the business at hand.

The image of Jenna faded quickly as I ran down the situation in my head.

Dale definitely had a point. It was 12:30 p.m. on an unusually warm July afternoon. The temperature had dropped some ten to fifteen degrees with the approaching low pressure; the afternoon thunderstorm was right on schedule. The view west from where we were was blocked by the mass of 14,353 foot high Longs Peak, but for the last half hour we’d been hearing the ever-louder rumble of thunder as the storm marched up the western slopes of the range. Worse, the lightning flashes were close enough now that as Dale and I looked up to the top of The Diamond while we debated which way to go, the summit and outcroppings around us were etched sharply against the darkening sky with every flash.

“I have that appointment early tomorrow, John. I can’t spend the night up here,” Dale warned, squinting east and looking back at me grimly.

There was a burst of white light and the smell of ozone. A few seconds later - too few - a huge roll of thunder ran down the mountain like a freight train.

“You’ll make it,” I assured him, feeling the static in the air charge the hairs on my forearms. Not that it was an appointment that he wanted to make. Sitting across a divorce lawyer’s desk from the woman you’d married and trying to figure out the least complicated way for her to leave you didn’t sound like much fun to me. And I knew it wasn’t going to be much fun for Dale.

He shot me a skeptical look, sniffed and glanced up at the clouds. It was true that we didn’t have much time before the storm would hit, and it wouldn’t be good to get caught up here in hail and lightning. But it wouldn’t have been a problem in the first place if Dale had moved his ass a bit on the climb up to this point.

He’s my cousin and I love him dearly. We’ve been climbing together for a decade, since I was 15 and he was 20. As boys, our fathers had taken us to the Grand Tetons where they were friends with some of the Exum climbing guides. It was there, summer after summer, that we had developed our love of the sport and honed our skills and styles. Styles that could be as different as night and day.

A physicist by profession, Dale is a cautious climber who likes to analyze every move. I’m careful, too, but I really wanted to complete the new route we were trying. We’d already managed seven 150 foot rope lengths of excellent and difficult climbing. The line of cracks we’d been following continued up through the roofs 100 feet above us. Only two more pitches, the first obviously hard, but the second looking quite reasonable, remained between Table Ledge and the deep satisfaction of establishing a climb that people would enjoy for generations to come.

When I’m motivated, I can move fast, never sacrificing safety but efficiently devouring long stretches of rock. I thought I could lead the last two pitches and complete the new route in just about the same length of time as it would take us to traverse off Table Ledge.

“Look, Dale, if we hurry we can get up before the storm,” I said quickly, stepping along the ledge, the gear on my harness clanking. Dale squinted, frowning, I knew that look. I almost had him. He always looked like that right before he gave in to something that his scientist mind didn’t like.

“John, I looked across at that blank area between the cracks above the roof from D1 when I climbed it last week. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack…”

D1, which stands for Diamond 1, was the route by which the first ascent of the wall was made in three days by Bob Kamps and Dave Rearick back in 1959. Their effort had earned them accolades in the local papers and a secure place in American climbing history. In the 17 intervening years, climbers had pioneered ten more independent routes up the face, and I was determined that today we’d be completing the eleventh, and the first new climb to be done using only free climbing techniques, without pulling up or standing on protection devices, using only the natural rock hold for our hands and feet.

“I know, I know! I heard you,” I growled impatiently. “There’s no protection and not much in the way of holds, but what the hell? We’ve come this far. I don’t want to bail without at least giving it a try! Let me must go check it out. If it won’t go quickly, I won’t waste time. I’ll rap right back down,” I told him. It would only take me a couple of minutes to go up, check things out. If it wasn’t happening, I could rappel straight back.

Already the storm was causing our metal climbing hardware to buzz softly and the hair on our heads as beginning to stand out with static electricity as the first gray clouds began to pour over the top of the mountain, swirling down the face and enveloping the two of us in thin mist. Dale looked back at me with a look I knew well. I’d been seeing it since we were kids.

“All right, go ahead,” he told me, his jaw muscles flexing in his attempt to control his rising frustration and anger at my obsession with completing the climb. “But when you see that it won’t go, get back here double time and maybe we can make it down before we get struck by lightning.

I nodded smiling. “All right then,” I said, readying myself. A second later, I signaled, “Climbing!” and began the ascent.

“Lonely days are gone; I’m a goin’ home….”

Dale immediately fed me rope around his waist as I took off up the two inch wide crack. The hand and foot jams were bomber, no problem, until I reached the ten foot roof, where the crack flared to four inch fist sized. It didn’t look easy, but it definitely wasn’t going to be impossible. A bead of sweat ran down my temple.

Unfortunately, we had no gear large enough to fit the wide crack for protection. I fingered through my gear by touch as I examined the crack. The last piece I could arrange before committing to climbing upside down under the roof was a #4 Hexentric where the roof abutted the main face.

A blast of thunder shook the rock as I clipped my belay rope through the carabiner attached by a sling to the Hex and committed to the roof. Jamming my fists into the horizontal crack, I moved my feet up as high as I could on the face, tucking my hips up into the corner formed by the roof and wall. Eventually, though, my legs dangled free for a moment or two, nothing but 1200 feet of thin air between me and anything solid, before I levered them up and torqued my shoes into the crack.

Moving fast to avoid pumping out I made a series of quick jams of my hands and feet and progressed toward the edge of the roof, until suddenly my left hand slipped from a jam just as I’d snagged a book sized flake protruding at the very lip of the overhang with my right hand. For a second it flexed, giving under my weight, ready to pop. I sucked in air through my teeth, moderating the jolt of adrenaline that threatened to destroy my focus, re-set my left hand jam so I could take a little weight off the flake, and torqued my feet tighter in the crack.

A flash of lightning lit the roof in ghastly, clawing white.

Pulling as much weight as possible on my feet in the crack under the roof, I hung from the flake and gingerly reached up and found another jam in the crack above the roof for my left hand. With a maximum effort, I swung my feet free of the crack and pulled myself upright on small footholds at the very lip of the overhang. Wedging my right hand into the narrowing crack higher up, I stabilized myself, blew off a deep breath, and laughed.

Not enough time, huh? That Dale! It’s good to be cautious, all right, but, man, sometimes you just have to go for it, and this was great climbing, bold and beautiful! I whooped out loud.

A large raindrop splashed the rock next to my left hand, darkening the lichen covered granite in a small, jagged oval.

“Hey,” Dale called out to me. Now that I was over the roof, we couldn’t see each other very well. Leaning back on my best handjam, I gave him the thumbs up with my other hand, took a few deep breaths and started up the continuation of the crack, which gradually pinched off to nothing more than a seam. Because the crack flared and was shallow, I couldn’t get any anchors in and protection was impossible to arrange. I got about 20 feet before the crack ended altogether. Another fissure started about 15 feet higher. All I had to do was get to the bottom of that crack and go straight up lower angle rock. Easy.

The only problem was that between me and the next crack was fifteen feet of sheer, featureless stone with about as much to hold on to as a polished marble headstone. If I’d had a hand drill and expansion bolts with me, I could have simply bolted my way between cracks, but to Dale and me, that would be cheating – side stepping the challenge.

“John!” Dale thundered up from below the roof “The shit’s about to hit the fan!”

I looked up. Damn! The summit of Longs Peak was swallowed in cumulonimbus clouds. The storm was definitely upon us. Gusts of wind seemed to be coming from all directions. A flash of lightning blasted the top of Mount Meeker to the south. I held my breath and counted. Everybody knows its bad luck to breath while you’re counting lightning. One, two, thr—KABOOM!

“I’m outta here, Dale!” I shouted, as another large raindrop splashed on the rock next to my foot. So far the rain hadn’t really let go, but it was only a matter of time now.

I looked down to study the rock and tried to remember the sequence of move I’d made to reach this point. It was kind of like playing chess, backwards. Difficult, but I’d trained myself to downclimb for just this kind of situation. Reversing the climb, I found gravity sometimes assisted in the moves and sometimes made it more difficult than in ascent. The mechanics and leverage of using the same holds in opposite sequence is different when you’re moving with gravity rather than against it. The forces applied to the hand and footholds can be greater with the momentum of downclimbing.

But I really wanted to get down before the storm actually hit. Rain, hail and graupel is bad enough on a perpendicular rock face; lightning, with water pouring down a strand of rope, is an absolute menace. A nice, inoffensive length of dynamic kernmantle nylon line can become a hot wire, conducting thousands of volts straight to the hapless victim. The climber’s lifeline becomes the instrument of his execution. Vertical cracks in the rock running with water can be just as effective in delivering a fatal jolt. A bolt striking the summit of Longs can run down the entire length of The Diamond.

The rain hadn’t hit by the time I made it down to about ten feet above the roof. All I had to do was continue back the way I’d come, but I couldn’t. The move utilizing the flake at the lip of the roof that had allowed me to climb onto the face had been barely possible going up. It looked damn near impossible to reverse, especially since I’d be reaching down to foot level, matching my hands on the loose flake, and dropping all my weight onto it. I seriously doubted it would hold.

The storm hit. At first it was just a nasty little spit of rain mixed with the swirling winds, nothing but a hint of the energy that was so obviously stored in the black heart of those clouds, but I was unnerved. I couldn’t go up and I didn’t think I could go down. My nearest point of protection was 20 feet away back under the roof. The holds were getting wet. My left leg started to sewing machine as I clung to small, sloping dimples in the rock. Shaking, almost out of control, my mind raced over the possibilities. A big gust of wind hit me and hailstones hammered my head and back like handfuls of marbles flung by a strong armed bully. My left forearm was pumped with lactic acid and rapidly becoming useless.

“John, you all right?” I heard Dale, faintly. He could just glimpse parts of my back and head over the lip of the roof and he could probably feel my dilemma through the rope. I hadn’t moved up or down for some time and, in the situation, he knew that meant I was in trouble.

Right now he would be preparing for the worst, checking his belay anchors, taking in all the excess slack in the rope and preparing to pull in more if I came off to reduce the length of my fall. He’d be scanning the rock below the roof for any projecting features that I might hit on the way down. He’d be ready to let rope slide through his belay system to soften the catch. Along with the built-in stretch of the 11 mm dynamic rope, this tactic would lessen the chance of injury to me.

Like I said, he’s a slow climber, and cautious and deliberate sometimes to the point that it drives me crazy, but there is no one I would rather be caught out with than Dale.

With a few deep cleansing breaths, I brought myself back under control, closing my eyes and willing my body to relax into the kind of state you can only feel in a situation like that, totally prepared and alert, yet flowing and fully responsive. I’ve been able to achieve that state of mind since I was young. I practiced hatha yoga as a teenager and I would often sit out in the woods, breathing slowly, until all the sounds around me came into focus and big I became little i, a small, sentient fragment of the universe connected to everything.

More rain and hail and graupel – half rain and half hail. Things were really opening up. Lightning parted the sky in all directions and thunder boomed out, seemingly from the middle of my skull. For a second I imagined the look on Dale’s face, then put that image right out of my mind. There would be plenty of time to deal with that later.

I opened my eyes and looked at the flake I had used on the way up. Suddenly, I envisioned how to use it on the way down, seeing in my mind the various steps and movements it was going to take to get back under the roof without ripping the flake off the wall. It had seemed a little unsteady before, but with careful use it had held. I was sure it would hold again on the way down if I could throw a quick hand jam into the crack at the overhanging lip and use that hand as a sort of decelerator to break the downward momentum before my weight came fully onto the flake.

I began to lower myself along the crack, one step at a time, until I could reach down and barely touch the top of the flake with the tips of the fingers of my right hand. Testing the flake with a little outward pressure, it didn’t seem to be too loose. Perhaps I had misjudged it on the way up. Maybe it was actually quite well attached.

Anyway, I had no choice one way or another; I was on my way down. Once I was under the roof, the hail wouldn’t be a problem.

I prepared for the downward swing, which would have to be precisely executed with nearly frozen fingers. Focusing on the spot in the crack where I would have to jam my hand as I fell past, I stepped into space, for a moment virtually weightless. My aim was right on. My left hand slipped into the crack at the lip of the roof and fit perfectly. I crooked my elbow a bit to absorb the fall and my right hand grabbed firmly onto the flake. For a tiny moment I almost thought my plan had worked. But my cold, wet hand in a jam that should have been solid slid through as though it was covered in axle grease. My full weight shock loaded the flake in my right hand and, with a shoulder wrenching jerk, my flaky little friend and I parted company with the mountain.

Airborne! A shot of adrenaline hit my system like a powerful electric shock. Time compressed itself. With acute clarity I saw my situation. There was momentary gut twisting panic, but no urge to give up. Lightning flashed over my left shoulder. I looked down into the onrushing void as air hummed past my ears.

A good kernmantle Perlon or Nylon line is called dynamic because it’s meant to stretch up to 60% in order to absorb the shock of a fall. The descent wouldn’t be arrested until I fell below the roof and all the slack in the system between Dale and me was taken up and the rope through the carabiner on the Hex at the juncture of the roof and the wall below it was loaded. I fell 20 feet below the roof before any tension came onto the system. By the time the slack between Dale and me was taken up and the rope stretch was complete, I had fallen another 20 feet. Finally, I felt the fall bottoming out.

The only thought that came clearly to me at that moment was the memory of my good friend Jed Harker’s funeral years earlier. Jed had been in a very similar situation climbing in the Wind River range in Wyoming, taking a dive from over a roof and being slammed back into the wall when the rope held his fall. He was unlucky and hit the wall head on. The impact snapped his neck and his partner had to tie his rope off to the belay anchors and go to him. Jed died in his arms.

Bracing myself as well as I could, I tucked my head under my arms and slammed into the wall with my shoulder and ribcage. It knocked the wind out of me and my consciousness was reduced to a few flashing sparks in a pitch black tunnel. I sagged in my harness and swung limply against the storm slickened granite of The Diamond.

“John! John! Are you okay?” I heard Dale shouting from somewhere below, but the connection was faint at first.

The storm was upon us now and I was son fully back in my cold, aching body. Lightning flashed in every direction, illuminating the roiling dark underbelly of the maelstrom. We were being pelted with an unholy mix of rain, hail and graupel. The sounds of the storm were almost deafening, like sticks of dynamite exploding next to Niagara Falls.

“I’m a goin’ home…”

Slowly and wincingly, I drew a breath, than another. Nothing seemed broken. I prodded myself here and there, poking gingerly with a finger I discovered I had cut in the fall. My harness and gear rack were covered with blood.

“I’m all right! I’m all right, Dale. Just belay me back up to the roof and I’ll set up a rappel and be down in a minute!”

“Well, hurry up! What’re you doing messing around in a storm like this?” Dale answered in a sardonic voice, obviously relieved but letting me know that he was totally pissed.

Messing around. Oh yeah, I love to mess around on steep, exposed rock faces in the middle of lightning storms. I mumbled to myself as I clipped directly from my harness into the anchor, tied the haul line I’d been trailing from the back of my harness to my climbing rope and set up the system for rappelling down to Dales stance. After the fall, he didn’t have enough rope left to lower me all the way back to Table Ledge, so rappelling was my only recourse.

A flash of lightning lit up the sky uncomfortably close and a simultaneous clash of thunder exploded like a bad day at Los Alamos somewhere about five feet over my head. I clipped into my rappel lines, unclipped from the protection and slipped and slid back down the ropes to Dale, removing the protection I’d placed in the lower part of the pitch as I passed it.

The moment I touched down on Table Ledge, I felt my muscles jerk as a relatively light surge of current from a lightning strike at the summit zapped through the rope.
Dale, who had seen me nearly be flash cooked by the streak of electricity, shouted “You all right?”

“Yeah, I’m okay, I told him.

Once he saw the truth of this statement, in spite of a little blood – which he’d seen plenty of before – Dale reverted to being soaked through and miserable, and a little of his anger showed in the dark hollow of his eyes.

“What the hell happened?” he growled.

“You were right, Dale. There are no holds up there… Sorry.”

To his credit, Dale refrained from saying “I told you so.” He wanted to, he really did. I could see it in his eyes. But he didn’t indulge himself. We’d been climbing together too long for that and we both realized the seriousness of our current situation. Any bickering would have to wait until we were down safely, and by then it would be too late. Dale was too self controlled to let his feelings out after the fact like that. But he’d still have them; it had always been like that between us, an efficient but edgy partnership based on a sort of grudging mutual respect. Like two avid fishermen, one who ties flies and stalks his prey in small mountain streams and the other who prefers fighting tarpon with heavy tackle from the stern of a boat on the open sea, we shared a love of adventure in the outdoors, but brought different skills and attitudes to bear and carried home different treasures from the experience.

Dale knew I knew he was mad, but we both knew that didn’t matter. We were a good strong team.

“Well, let’s get going. It’s going to be a bitch getting down,” he said.

“My baby, she wrote me a letter…”

-Jeff Lowe

Baba re-formatted for easier reading

Aug 7, 2007 - 06:52pm PT
Great story. Real puckerstring clincher. The only thing wrong is the Merlot. Too sophisticated.

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2007 - 07:40pm PT
Maybe Gallo bergundy, Ouch? It's one of my only attempts at fiction. Something's just not right for me. Kind of stilted, writing to an audience that includes non-climbers. The merlot detail is a good catch, though. Thanks.


Aug 7, 2007 - 07:42pm PT
Now lemme see here ....

John and Dale? Huh?

So the forecast is for rain tomorrow afternoon. Get your ass in gear Jello, we're going up!

There's a big ass roof up there too and it's got a nasty run out and fortunately I nominated you (Jello) to lead it.

Now aren't you glad I'm this nice compassionate guy.

Anyways after mom sees this story our/your climbing daze is over.

And: this? "meat that moment" + "Dale, who had seen nearly be flash cooked by the streak of electricity"

All in all your story reminds us all of those times when when all that sh'it was cuttin loose and we too thought our goose is cooked.

Cheers man ......

Aug 7, 2007 - 07:46pm PT
Just funnin' about the wine. If this is fiction, somewhere in there has to be a couple of bodies that SAR later notices they have holes in them that don't fit the shape of pitons and one has odd bite marks in various places.

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2007 - 07:48pm PT
It's fiction, Werner, based on a little bit of truth. There's some of me in John, and some of George in Dale, but a mix of other folks, too. And the climb is just dreamed up for the story, but could be real on that part of the diamond.

Thanks for taking the time to read it.


Aug 7, 2007 - 07:57pm PT
I know it's fiction and I put you into the story (in my response) for old times sake bro.

I know for fact you miss it and I really want you to be there.

That's why it's your lead man ...... :-)

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2007 - 08:08pm PT
Thanks WB. "Got me...?" "Sliming." "Slime on", you say.


right here, right now
Aug 7, 2007 - 08:23pm PT
I was going to say the names were wrong and that Jeff & George would make it work better.

There is something about the plot, the signposting and the delivery that doesn't form a compelling roundness to the tale; but I don't do that well and I don't understand the mechanics so I can't constructively advise.

A minor glitch occurs each time you say "I thought", perhaps an unnecessary phrase, it sort of hangs.

I find terrific imagery here, hewn to a very tactile and palatable form, as seems to be one of your strong suits.

‘Missed seeing you this weekend at Vedauwoo: I was on the injured reserve and we could have pal’d around together, taking photos and cheering the others along up their routes.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Aug 7, 2007 - 08:26pm PT
Since you asked, here's what's wrong

When a story is formatted for this medium, you need line breaks for paragraphs or it becomes a solid block of text that's hard to keep your place in. Hurts the mind and eyes to stay with.

So break it up.

Like this




so it was written, so it was done. Peace

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2007 - 08:38pm PT
Good comments, Tarbaby. Gives me a new way to look at the problem.

Sorry to be a no-show last weekend. This ice tower project and prep for OR this week have enveloped my life like a cloud rolling up the valley till the fog's so thick you just have to sit down and stay put until it's clear enough to see the ground in front again.


Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2007 - 08:40pm PT
Good point, Karl. I just cut and pasted from word and it ended up all dense like that. I'll go back and make it easier to read.

-J e l l o

Aug 7, 2007 - 08:44pm PT
Jello said: "I'll go back and make it easier to read."

Why you rap bolter, you ...... hee hee

right here, right now
Aug 7, 2007 - 08:55pm PT
That was probably a better place for you to be after all Jeff.

I'll take another stab at some lit crit:

This is a short story. I bet you have read Jorge Borjes? Largo introduced me to his work and I know Duncan likes it. Borjes does short stories which are like sleight of hand, in that you are merrily reading along enjoying the set up and then he slides the punchline in and you don’t even see how he did it. You read along for a couple pages and then presto! The story has taken wonderful shape and it vanishes: very clean.

Here’s another thought. “The Last Dive” is a story about a father and son who die as a result of a deep wreck dive. You know from the start what the outcome is and you read along nevertheless, with fore knowledge in no way spoiling the journey. To me that is a standard technique (flashback), but when it is done well as it was in that book it may hold some insight as to proper form & construct. Your story could be organized similarly, or at least holds some foreshadowing.

I read a very compelling piece of lit crit by Jeanette Winterson called “Art Objects”, which thoughtfully assayed the strong suits of various heavy hitters and I really felt she shed light upon the task.

Gym climber
San Fernando Lamas
Aug 7, 2007 - 09:37pm PT
Obviously, you need to alter the dynamics of the personal relationship. If you do so, then I forsee movie rights and big $$$ in your future.

Think Brokeback Mountain.

The tagline: They saw, they conquered, they came.


right here, right now
Aug 7, 2007 - 10:04pm PT
Cheese Wanda.

But there is a relational theme there Jello.
I don't know if you ought to leverage, expand or highlight that aspect; maybe.
Keep on writing man.
Gunks Guy

Trad climber
Rhinebeck, NY
Aug 7, 2007 - 11:33pm PT
Hi Jeff,

I assume you want some constructive criticism not just a bunch of Ooooh aaaah, that’s great man. If I’m wrong, stop reading now. Otherwise, be forewarned, I have struggled with fiction myself and have taken a few courses, but I am not particularly good at it. On the other hand, I have read the books and even if I can’t get the damn stuff to flow out of my pen, I can often identify what I like (or don’t) from what I read.

To begin, I thoroughly enjoyed your recent post of “A Solid Companion”. I found it engaging, entertaining, well written, and gripping.

On the other hand, fiction is a different animal. We as readers are receptive to a good tale that we believe is true because of the fact that we believe it is true. The truth adds an element of believability and certainly adds urgency. You, as the author, don’t need to construct “real” characters because we already believe the characters to be real. Fiction is different.

This is a short story. You need to be ruthless in your devotion to economy. If a sentence doesn’t relate directly to the story and move the story forward, you need to cut it out. For example, the stuff about the characters romantic relationships seemed extraneous.

Good stories usually have an identifiable conflict. It could be between John and Dale. It could be between John and the mountain. It could be between John and his demons. It could be between John and his girlfriend. Etc…. Whatever it is, you as the author should know what it is, if not when you begin writing the story, the certainly by the time you are ready to publish it.

For a story to be satisfying, the conflict usually results in some change, some growth, some epiphany in the protagonist. Perhaps John develops a new respect for Dale’s cautious ways.

For a short story, it is important that you introduce the conflict early; preferably in the opening sentences. This allows the reader to become immediately engaged.

It did not seem to me that you identified your audience with enough clarity. In particular, I think you need to decide if you are writing for climbers or non-climbers. Then you need to keep that focus in mind; in particular when you are editing. Having attempted climbing fiction, my experience is that it is much easier to write it for climbers. On the other hand, I have found that it can be incredibly powerful to let go of all the detail that a non-climber wouldn’t understand and instead focus on the experience and the emotion.

Something to be aware of when you are writing in the first-person as this story was. To the extent that you introduce conflict, readers tend to be mistrustful of first person narrators since they have an inherent conflict of interest. That’s one of the reasons, but by no means the only one, that much popular fiction is written in the third-person.

I hope you find these comments helpful

Best regards,
Walt Heenan

Trad climber
New York, NY
Aug 8, 2007 - 12:06am PT
I didn't realize it was fiction, and was totally "there." When I saw the name "John" referring to yourself....well, I thought that was weird.. Now I get it(sometimes I can be slowwwwww).

As for short story - it says Chapter One - so that's not a shprt story. But....I know nothing about the mechanics of writing. So - can't iffer any help. Exvept to say that I DID really like it, and the story drew me right in. Nice work Jello!

Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 8, 2007 - 12:32am PT
Excellent feedback, Tar. I will open Borjes again to refresh the memory of what good fiction is like to read.

Walleye, I'm sorry if you have been misled all these years into thinking that a gamay beaujolais is a good choice for real climbers. Hope this doesn't retroactivly color over a lot of good memories with a dark patina.

GG, your critique is easy to absorb. I do want this sort of feedback, as I know things aren't working quite right here. Writing about the reality of an actual climb, comes easier to me than communicating the essence to those who haven't experienced it.

On the other hand, Happi has it right,in that this is not a short story, but the introductory chapter to a novel. It's meant to lead into the book, where the love interests (the women and the mountains) will come more into focus, and conflict. The arc of the story is book-length.

About ten years ago I was asked by an agent to develop a book based on a real life experience, that got into all the technical aspects of climbing, while telling a compelling story. This chapter is part of a 100 page rough treatment. I gave up on the project after realizing I didn't have a clue how to pull it off.

I'm still anxious to learn, though.



Social climber
No Ut
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 8, 2007 - 12:39am PT
By the way, Wantafucya, there is a bit of homosexual activity later on, if that sort of thing does it for you, just not between the main characters.

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