Every once in a while you come across one of those routes where mystery and self induced hype come together in a kaleidoscope of self doubt. A route where history and reputation have a way of working their way strait up the a*# of your dreams and goals forming an itch you dare not scratch. For me, that itch came one day while reading the elegant words of one of my influential heroes, Tom Higgins.
You can read his tale here: http://www.tomhiggins.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4&Itemid=20&limit=1&limitstart=0
Our morning started out as any, late, tired, and in question as to what the day was to bestow. Several stops to check the guidebook in relation to what dome we were parked in front of lead way to settling on climbing something on Fairview. The two routes which account for probably around 90% of the climbing on Fairview were out of the question. Classic routes mean one of two things if not both to me, crowded and easy. I was looking for something more. Several route possibilities passed through the list until our indecisive minds finally decided to walk the base until we arrived at Mr. Toads Wild Ride which we were reluctant to climb.
Rob, my Irish partner and I (whom I've dubbed Irish Rob or Mc. Patty) arrived at the base of the Regular Route to count upwards of 15 people in various positions along the length of the route bumbling their way up mimicking a line not unlike one you'd find at the D.M.V. In an uproarious moment of mochrie and arrogance we found ourselves in thanks that we were blessed enough that we would never be forced to climb under such confined circumstances. The whole meadow was at our disposal... so we walked on.
We didn't get far before we were at the base of a grassy left facing corner that stretched toward the sky until it was abruptly capped off by a menacing improbable roof. Surely a route here would be contrived or well beyond our meager abilities. Looking through the book and pondering our options I quickly saw A) "Fairest of All". The words " a frantic frizzle of footwork" popped in my mind (from Higgins short essay) as I pondered the previous days accomplishments. You see, the day before we spent the last few hours of daylight climbing on the Apron in Yosemite Valley. Another route I felt I had no business on, Anchors Away always felt like something I would be stupid to even consider. I'm no Stonemaster and I sure as hell ain't no Shultz. Runout slab is for hardmen of yesteryear, but "trad" climbing isn't about gadgetry and safety, it's about the adventure and just saying "yes". So I clipped a bailbiner to my harness and started up thinking, I'll go up as far as I can, then lower or downclimb if I need to. What's the harm in that? Next thing I knew I was clipping the anchor having just sent one of the best pitches of my life. YES!
Drunk on the previous days accomplishments I decided to say "yes" again. So I started up the corner not knowing what lay ahead. This, after all is a Higgins route, and was climbed in the early 70's. Who knows how hard the climbing really is, how runnout or let alone the condition of any fixed protection that may be in place. Adventure is what I came for, and it isn't an adventure unless there is some level of uncertainty... right?
The corner system started out easy, so easy infact that we discussed the possibility of running up this route, coming down and having enough time to run up something else. That illusion quickly faded as the corner turned into a difficult, bottoming lieback crack which was a menace to protect. Then the realization hit me, Higgins, Kamps... oh sh#t.
Now I was on a face route disguised as a crack with psychological protection mere inches away from a bolt. All I needed to do was step up on one little glassy knob to clip. How hard could .10a be anyway? After the clip I breathed a short sigh of relief before I spotted the next bolt. A mere 15ft to my right guarded by an orange polish I knew all to well. A Fancy Frizzle of Footwork brought me to the next bolt. This is what I was after, this is climbing.
Now I was looking up at an improbable looking roof with the relief that my patty partner was up and I could sit back and enjoy the show. When route descriptions are vague, second guessing is the norm. "Up and somewhere left there Rob". Robs a good guy, he's the kind of guy that looks up and says "I don't know, looks sketchy" and then does it. A rare breed in the climbing world, very rare. Even more rare is what happened next. I'm telling him, looks easier here, no, try that way etc... You see, Robs on the sharp end, my beta doesn't mean sh#t to him. He goes high and finds good feet but no hands, steps down a few feet then finds good hands and no feet. Go figure! After a bit of the Robbins shuffle he decides to just go for it. Stepping out on the only foot available I quickly watch as it disintegrates beneath his foot. Looked like he stepped on a graham cracker it did. Oh yeah, he's coming off. I brace for the impact pulling several armleingths of rope from my belay device and watch as his first piece pops sending him down a little further. On routes like this, you instinctively back sh#t up before "going for it". He did this and I'm glad only his backup failed, ha.
After the little mishap, Rob blew up the pitch in good style building his anchor on one of the last good ledges we'd see for a while. The next two pitches linked easily with a 60m rope with little rope drag. Rope drag really isn't a problem when you're just dragging a rope up behind you. It's those darn clippy things that create drag. Oh well, I came here to climb not fuss around with widgets so the anchor came quickly. I had plenty of gear to play around with options for an anchor, problem was the anchor didn't give me much options to to play around with it. Two hollow flakes and a small ledge... good enough.
Rob was up next, a beautiful dike lie ahead and a wall too steep to see where what went. There's bolts up there somewhere, start climbing and you're bound to run into something somewhere. He did, 35 year old bolts with 35 years of exposure and 35 year old ratings, Ha ha! A few moans, a few whimpers and sounds of regret and the rope started moving again. Linking the next two pitches I gathered as the rope kept paying out. Good move as we got a late start and the sun was starting to make a dive for cover.
I knew the route made a traverse, but what lie ahead I had not expected. An improbable traverse lead by skirting appearing and vanishing sloping ledges in a dance of up and down movement free from the worries of too much gear placement. Oh well, at least rope drag won't be an issue and there isn't too much bird poo like the Gram.
Starting to link the next pitch, my rope got instantly sucked up rounding the corner and I decided to make an exposed hanging belay at the end of the traverse. This means Rob gets the crux, damn.
Now, thus far the route has produced good bolts with the exception of one pitch (pitch 5 in the book) you'd think this, the crux would be protected by shineys like the rest. Not the case.
Fortunately that bolt was after the crux, but by no means are you out of the woods after it. I can't see whats going on up there. I feel the rope pulling, going slack, pulling again. I hear take followed by slack, slack, slack, and visa-versa always followed by a few choice words. Then the rope shoots up just as the sun is falling behind the last hills and I hear the word "safe". That's the patty's word for off belay. He doesn't know he's saying it half the time because here in the U.S. "safe" sounds alot like "slack". Problem with that is, "slack" sounds alot like "safe" if you know what I mean, and he knows it. Fortunately I feel the rope start tugging and I know I'm up. A quick little corner and I find myself at a steep blank headwall. First bolt is no problem, some history book sized ledges and a few handholds but then nothing. WTF?
I see he went left, but how the hell? I step up on a small edge and I see it, a small crimp followed by another, and another. These aren't knobs, these are edges, thin but edges you can actually grasp, then I slap for a desperate last crimp only to realise its hiding a bucket jug behind it. Wow, this route really does lend it's self to climbing. I unclip the last bolt from what appears to be a soda can sheepishly carved to resemble a Leeper hanger and make some wild lieback moves up a corner to a fair distance of face climbing before reaching the anchor.
The sun is well behind the horizon and it's time to get moving or benighted we will be, without a jacket, matches or any such amenities. Wouldn't want to be caught in that position, Ha! Just then the sky explodes in alpine glow lighting the path to the top. Out of the bowl we simul climb to the summit in the peak of purples and pinks which great us like an applause from the heavens themselves.
So much doubt, so much second guessing yet this route seemed to lend its self to us each and every step of the way.
This route must truly be the Fairest of All.