Southwest Face 5.10c
Trip ReportThe Psych Must Flow
He who controls the psych, controls the universe. The psych can let you see the future. If you immerse yourself in the psych you can navigate spacetime. I'm not sure if it turns your eyes blue. Mine are, but Jared's aren't- so this remains unsettled.
Certainly the altitude has something to do with the fact that we have commandeered and altered the prose of Frank Herbert for our own needs. We drove up from sea level the night before. It is now 11 AM last Saturday, and 4 hours after leaving our car Jared is leading the first pitch of the Harding Route on Conness. It is wet. It is hard. This is our first time out here.
I never met Warren Harding. When he passed in '02 I was graduating college and had never heard of him. I started trad climbing 3 years later. Today I would be addressing him many times in the first person.
Now I have an ok rock resume- I've climbed the Rostrum several times, and climbed the Crucifix this year. I've done plenty of 5.10-5.11 climbing at altitude, including Western Front on Russell, and the Hulk 9 times one of them being an onsight of Sunspot Dihedral. Nothing too special but I was unconcerned and quite ready for a long 5.10 route with a big hike. I wasn't quite ready for Warren Harding (or Galen Rowell for that matter) at 12k feet. Supertopo says "The offwidth makes this climb just a touch harder than the Incredible Hulk's Red Dihedral." That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read in a climbing guide. Red Dihedral is SO much easier in every imaginable respect.
By now I have seen the iconic photos and heard some of the iconic stories of Warren Harding and also Galen Rowell- many through this forum reminding us of the treasured resource that hides under the taco dog and pony show. As I find myself liebacking hard over and again to finish the crux 2nd pitch, a glimpse of Mr. Harding 53 years ago flashes in my mind's eye. The psych gives me a window.
That was unexpectedly physical yet delicate, and intimidating for 10c, but unquestionably a classic 200' pitch of free climbing. After leading through the P3 squeeze (I later discover you should stay outside at a moderate grade- oh well) I'm now charging up the perfect hands on P4 and then worming into the offwidth. I am grateful we brought the #6 as those star drives are- well- I'm sure I don't have to tell you. Tenuously stemming out left through the business I'm left staring up at 30+ feet of unprotectable larger offwidth. Really I'm pretty sure I would pull the 2 star drives beneath me in a fall, and the #6 is 8 feet below that. What ensued was an experience that I can't quite summarize- falling not an option, breathing so hard I feel like vomiting, can't go too slow for fear of fatiguing, can't go too fast because I might have a heart attack. I give Warren a new middle name. He is now Warren F#@king Harding and I am talking to him using a monosyllabic language of grunts, strained exhalations, and growlings from the deep. I make it and the psych flows down several new channels.
Jared links the next two pitches. The 10b traverse is exciting as we are both slammed into an altered state from the altitude and the sustained climbing, but Warren F. Harding doesn't care. The "5.8" chimney has a very very difficult several feet of ow/flare.
As I follow I am no longer the painter, but just the paintbrush. Hurting, tired, just pulling the moves by the skin of my teeth. But now Warren and I are friends and I can can just use his first name and little chuckle when addressing him. After 800+ feet of burly in your face rock wrestling, the climbing starts to flow with the psych. No more squeezing- just clean hands, fingers, and stemming on perfect alpine granite with amazing position in 2 long pitches to the top. A worthy reward. We summit exactly 8 hours after we started- drunk on altitude and exertion.
The light is perfection and I have to stop taking pictures as the sunset is devastatingly beautiful in all directions. We have the place to ourselves and the experience of wandering through a wonderland of colors, ridgelines, peaks, and dropoffs we have earned to keep for ourselves.
We are not special, but we are still the lucky few. Traveling over and through this route I now have a deeper first-hand visceral connection with history, and with hard individuals that paved the way for my experience. The gratitude and beauty nearly bring me to tears. Reinhard Karl said "What can this rock give you?. . . . Nothing. . . . and what will you hold in your hands on the Summit? I can tell you now: nothing. It’s all lunacy."
I beg to differ.
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