Topic Author's Original Post - May 17, 2008 - 09:15pm PT
The train I'm riding nowadays is just this side of fifty. The short side? The wrong side? The South side. Trying to recall some of my misspent youth I agree to become an aid climber and accompany my friend Bart Cannon aka: Barto on a quick spring trip to Devils Tower to do some aid routes. I put one thirty foot pitch under my belt to scrape off a little rust and deem myself in shape. There sure is a lot of bullshit you have to bring on an aid climb!
We ball the jack across South Dakota and its cold and windy. We crash in a rest area from the interstate and sleep off the road.
We wake to monochrome morning. The sky is touching bottom and the grey takes off the horizon. One dimensional life. Semi trucks driving off the end of the earth.
We make the Tower about 11 and we get worthless advice from the rookie climbing ranger. Some day he'll make it but for now it costs us.
We decide to aid the Southwest Direct-5.11.
Its been twenty years and I had forgotten some things. Like how crude the scramble was up to the climbs. Did I really used to scoot up this stuff thoughtlessly? Effortlessly? Man I was gripped.
Bart leads the epic 5.7 first pitch and I stagger up it in my fossilized blue Robbins boots. I had to scrape the mouse sh#t out of them but they stil fit-sort of. Climbing in these things was like being Frankenstein. Even so, I look cool in my 30 pound aid rack. Too bad some bastard had to free this- it would have been fun to nail it- I can stil hear Pagel scolding me.
The weather is deteriorating all around us but we decide to lead up with the idea if it starts to rain I'll leave a piece and lower down.
I lead off place the first piece and then it all becomes so very, very, familiar. My old friend the elephant is back and he is parked on my chest. I begin to despair and I think of how Bart can climb and climb and climb unfazed. How? I place another piece and think of my friend Thom Nephew who has this fantastic animal energy and only goes up and up. The next piece and I remember Kevin Fosburg falling on One Toke Over the Line and using the fall for motivation and all I feel like doing is crying and I put in the next piece and remember Steve Araiza taking the final lead on the Leaning Tower because I ask him to even though its my turn for the sharp end. I place the next piece and think of all my friends who always got it up and kept it going and I realize that its over for me. I'm not going to do this anymore.
I love the climbers-the best people I ever met, the life-what could be cooler?, the stories-"so there I was...." The scene, the dirt, the look.
I no longer have the nerve to lead. As I realize this, the sky opens and it starts to rain, and then thunder, and then hail, and then snow. So I start to down aid because I'm on cams and I'm too cheap to leave those behind and then it REALLY.....starts......to......RAIN.
The epic retreat is negotiated without a problem until I hook a carabiner and in trying to free myself I tweak muscles and cartilege under my ribs. To quote the lady ranger "you guys sure looked soggy". She should have seen my underwear.
Day two- it snows 2" and that's that. We walk the tower trail and it is beautiful. I want to go ski.
Day three- we go up to aid a route called just a jog. Thin blades and rurps. Bart is on it and my job is to hold a rope. I have a blast. Many hours of one figure on a landscape. The climbing is slow and confusing. At one point a Rurp pulls and Bart is held by two tied off, nested, blades. The climb is going very slowly and so I enter into a zen scene. It is beautiful.
I have been belaying so long it feels as if i can untie the rope and walk vertically to the next pitch. The falcons, of route closure fame, fly by. As does the day.
I watch a group climb the Southwest Direct and in the course of their descent, I see how really big the Tower is as they do their 60 Meter rappel and they are dwarfed by the columns.
Bart tops out and we head down.
At the base I look up to see a climber on the McCarthy West Face Route. He looks like so small. Freeze frame it, because twenty five years ago, I was that small and even though I doubt I'll do it again. Once upon a time I did.
Bitter sweet story Hobo. Sort of like "No country for old men", not a clear ending, although more clear than some claim. I guess there are at least two ways to know you've climbed your last climb. A decision that stands firm or terra firma rushing.
Really fine piece of writing. Spare, heartfelt, images gnawing against thoughts, patches of the peace of understanding. Love the horizontalness of getting across Dakota, where monochrome accentuates the feel, goal of getting vertical still over the horizon.
On the far side of 60 and haven't been to the Tower yet and still keep wanting to go and even though I'm climbing a lot I keep waiting for something to trip me up cuz the train's got miles on it, and feeling so grateful when it keeps pulling down and hungering for more.
Your 12-year-old will probably change everything. Setting TRs and pretty soon you're climbing just to demo a move, then snap awake to realize s/he's belaying you and maybe it's wiser -- for the example and from the physics -- not to peel just at the moment.
My 12-year-old got up a 5.8+ last summer, but only cuz her girlfriend came along and they pushed each other thru repeated falls and trading tries and I just sat back and held the rope. In 2 weeks she'll launch onto her first multi-pitch.
Menawhile, my 15-year-old has unexpectedly returned from surfing to climbing. I didn't push it or even suggest, but there he is with a renewed gym membership and wants to show me the V4 he just worked. I'm thinking Snake Dike.
Thanks DR I think the only times I ever felt confident climbing was when I was in really great shape-about two decades ago. Maybe the title should be no sport for old men.
That said I'm looking forward to doing some easy stuff with my guys