1995. A smoky teahouse somewhere in Nepal.
“You mean Chris McNamara?” my buddy Matt said. “I heard he has beaks for fingers and cam hooks for thumbs and a lemur’s tail.”
“Is that how he climbs so fast?” I said. “Cause he’s really ripping it up right now.”
“For sure, and he’s only like sixteen or twelve or something. I heard he has the wingspan of Dikembe Mutombo.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Honestly I don’t either,” Matt said, “but I think it’s really long. He was made to climb big walls.”
“He seems pretty badass at it.”
“He climbs em and he’s always gonna climb em. That’s the life. I bet ten years from now all we’re gonna be reading about is Chris Mac climbing this and Chris Mac climbing that.”
A toothy Sherpani with blue jeans and headphones checked on us and went back to the kitchen. Matt sipped his yak butter tea and I looked at some Norwegian girls.
“Oh, and this other thing I heard?” Matt said. “I heard Chris Mac got this girl pregnant in Coarsegold and she had the baby and when the kid came out it was a spider monkey on crack.”
Present day. Mosquito Cove outside ZNP.
Matt’s diesel Dodge Ram roared into sight and did a dusty bootlegger into our campsite. A little unnecessary. I coughed while he dismounted. His truck had handicapped plates, which he said were from the previous owner, though you couldn’t be quite sure.
“I got it!” he shouted. “The final clue!”
I wanted to keep reading my copy of Nub: The Tommy Caldwell Story
but figured I’d humor him. Matt had a piece of paper with him. He was real giddy about it.
“I know where he went.”
“Who?” I said.
“Chris Mac,” he said. “Remember? The baddest of the baddest who just one day disappeared? And you and me have spent all these years, like ten years searching in vain. Until now.”
I rearranged myself in my Crazy Creek, because those things hurt your traps after a while.
“These are critical points of plot,” I said. “It’s good we’re talking about them so the reader knows what’s happening even though technically I would know exactly who the hell we’re looking for and that makes this whole exchange kinda grating.”
“Nothing, bro. Lay it on me.”
So he took a huge breath and told me how he was over trying to shoplift a book from the visitor’s center when he saw the hottest girl walk in and she was carrying a haulbag that was all scraped up
and so he—I said he could skip ahead a little if he wanted. So he told me how Chris McNamara, right before he disappeared, did a new route in Zion called Drop Zone. And this was the topo to Drop Zone. So.
“So that’s it?” I asked.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and gazed at the topo and I figured I’d do the same. Just your ordinary topo, some lines on a paper. Hard to think it was the Answer. Huge blade rack, though, that was promising.
“I guess we gotta climb this route,” he said.
Present day. Angelino Wall, ZNP. This is our second present day, which is my bad, because that’s pretty confusing. This is actually a presenter day than the first one, but I called that present day and I can’t call this “three days in the future” because then how confused is everybody gonna be.
Drop Zone (Chris McNamara, Dougald MacDonald & Jessica McAlba, 1996.) Turned out this action was located on the Angelino Wall. I’d never heard of it. Some folks also call it the Apex Wall, and I’d never heard of that either. It’s right above the NPS housing in Zion, which is kitty-corner from the NPS command bunker, which is under the NPS doomsday machine. Lately I’ve heard one guy on the Internets calling this the Brangelino Wall, really hoping it would catch on. Drop Zone looked like an okay route, some junk lower down, and looked like some loose rock, but the meat of the route—three pitches of thin seams—were mind-blowing. One of these pitches climbed through a monstrous varnished scoop called the Sandstone Tsunami, and man did we like the sound of that.
“I say we push it and get it over with,” Matt said.
I said I agreed. And that’s how we got it on.
Upon the undertaking of an epic mountaineering objective, teamsmanship and intrepidness are of the utmost, not to mention sobriety.
Eight hours later we were at the top of pitch two and we decided to change tactics to an almost more heroic strategy: sieging the crap out of this McMomma. The problem, which really came out of the blue at us, was that this shizz was hard. The rock on this pitch was like a loaf of monkey bread left on a counter for a month and then rubber-cemented to other loaves of monkey bread with some Pop Rocks in between. You know rubber cement, with that little brush and kinda makes you high.
This pitch was composed of rock similar to the volcanic rock that made up the plaster of paris volcano I made and erupted to some acclaim in Mrs. Ziemkowski’s first grade class. Sorta gooey like that.
Bomber anchors, boys! Thanks a McMillion! (Proudest drilling ethic I’ve ever seen. Eleven pitches and I think 11 holes.)
You may be thinking to yourself, what’s all that junk balanced above the intrepid leader’s head? Well, that’s just Matt, first of all, and above him is the Sandstone Tsunami! Bwahaha! Oh, lower? Yeah, that’s a bunch of loose blocks all Jengaed there waiting for some clown to stuff in a 3 McCamalot. Which is just what he did, while the whole thing snapped, crackled and popped like a . . . I don’t know, not sure what the right simile is. We moved the belay to the right and to the left and back to the right and trust me when I say many sandstone blocks of the smallish appliance size came out of this bad boy. Not toasters, bigger than that. The topo called this the “Was A5, Is A1” pitch, presumably meaning it was more chockfull of death blocks when they did it and they trundled most of it to make it “safe” and if that’s the case, imagining what it was like on the FA gives me ball trouble.
You ever look at your pictures after a route and think, who are all these people? They look familiar but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t having that much fun.
Focus you must.
Hang ten, bitсhes.
Now here’s an interesting little number. Who wants to guess what this feature is called? I’ll go first. How about Super Terrific Fun Time Ledge! Bzzzzt. How about Horrorfest at McMidnight? Closer. It’s called Thank God Edge, an astounding clever name when you’re reclining on your couch with the topo and slightly less so when you have to tweedle out there with that void under your jumblies. That thing gets smaller and smaller and then its gone . . . but then you go up! Up the pitch the topo calls “A3 pins & 5.8R.” Yipe! And the only thing that keeps you going is the prospect of spraying yourself silly once you top out, assuming you live. And you do live! And also top out. Except not really, it’s the sort of route that kinda slabs over and you’re still manteling and pulling free moves through the shrubberies and your ropes are caught up on everything and the pig won’t move
, dammit, and my crap your toes hurt. But then you’re done.
That’s how we did it. We shook hands and looked at the lights of Springdale and a faint cheer rose up from the NPS compound, where the tools in their olive-green bathrobes had been watching our progress through their sniper scopes and basking in our late-night Rammstein serenades and the booming cannonades of the occasional sandstone mini-fridge. You’re so very welcome, dear tools. No charge. In fact, we’re happy to pay you
for a show like this.
The morning after the second present day. Summit of Drop Zone, ZNP.
When we awoke from our shivery dirt naps, we could’ve sworn there was something we had to do. We packed the bags, headed for the raps. There, we remembered: the quest. Instead of down, we went up. Up vast grainy slabs, through thickets of manzanita and prickly pear. The sky darkened, turned green. Brimstone filled the air. Finally, at the brink of a bottomless chasm crossed by a rickety bridge, stood an withered old man.
“So,” said the old man, “a great wall climber and an internet spraylord and a Jedi knight approacheth.”
Matt said he was pretty sure who was who and I did too. I called dibs real fast on that Jedi thing. Matt said we were looking for Chris McNamara.
“First answer me this. What . . . is your name?”
“What,” the old man said, “is your quest?”
“You know what,” Matt said, “if we’re gonna come all the way up here and treat you like some kind of wise man, why don’t you put the effort in and come up with some of your own material. Don’t rip off classic movies.”
“Yeah,” I said. I can be pretty tough when other people start it first.
“And that’s another thing,” Matt said, turning to me. “If you think I’m excited about your little TR here, well, think again, bub.”
“What’s with all the attitude all of a sudden?”
“Don’t make me look like an ass. And don’t make it seem like I got a big man-crush on McNamara or something.”
“And don’t just fill up the whole TR with pointless dialogue, like people will read all that crap. They just want pictures, they’re stupid. They want climbing porn so just give it to them and leave me out of it.”
A little more timid I said, "Maybe you could ask your question and we can bail."
“My pard is right,” Matt said. “Just tell us what we want to know and we’ll let you get back to…whatever it is you got going on up here. Where’s McNamara?”
The old man stroked his beard. His curled fingernails clicked on each other.
“Ah, yes. Many years ago two others visited me here. One was very young, the force was strong with him.”
“That’s the one. Where’s he at?”
“Ahhh. Well the older one walked away with the bags. He walks among you still. But the child . . .the Chosen One, he walks no more. He has sprouted wings and now he soars.”
The Conqueror and the Conquerees.
The FA and a topo: http://themountainworld.blogspot.com/2005/12/memory-lane-drop-zone.html
Props to Chris and Dougald. No smart-assed appendices and/or slandering of uninvolved big-name climbers will be included herein.