Sport Double Pitch
The winter of 2006 brought a lot of snow and moisture to the desert goodness of Smith Rock. Moisture is a good thing. Especially for a desert. But it is the antithesis to the climber. Wet rock is as much fun as bottle of Jack Daniels sitting in the middle of the floor at an AA meeting. Water and snow are for alpinists, you know, tough, brave folk. Rock climbers are the putzes who simply struggle up sheer faces of rock...so..they...can...go...right...back...down. Yeah. Paint has more purpose in life.
Steph had roused my ass out of my winter slumber a few weeks into February and brought me blinking and shielding my eyes from the sheer brightness of the new-found sun. Winter was breaking. She had dumped an amazing amount of snow on us through the few months draping the Three Sisters and surrounding mountains with blankets of deep drifts and shoulders solid with cornice. It had been a record year for snow both in how early and how much. The ski hills had been incredible. But it meant that climbing at Smith Rock had been...limited.
The first weekend of March brought 50 degree temperatures, a blazing sun and clear blue skies. Steph and I got out early and did some fantastic warm-up climbing on Tuff it, Lion's Jaw and Light on the Path. Brian "The Stem Master" Lantzy got out a wee-bit later. Evidently, the Stem Master had been at the Redmond Outdoor show and spent a significant amount of time at the Johnson Sausage stand...right next to the beer garden. It's never polite to ask a hung-over man how many beers he drank anymore than it is to ask a woman her age or her weight. Needless to say, the Stem Master showed up with a touch of green and wanting more to sleep on the rocks than to try and scramble up them. I hadn't got my lead head together and wasn't doing any leading, letting Steph and the Stem Master be my rope guns.
The Stem Master warmed up on Light on the Path and started eyeing the leaning crack leading up the middle of the Morning Glory wall. This corner splits the Morning Glory wall from the gaper-ville on the left to the more moderate climbs on the right. Zebra Seam clocks in at 5.11d and has been said to be the most sustained .11d in the park. The Stem Master had climbed it before, but he said he wanted to give it a go today. I hadn't ever been on it. Steph looked at it with the warmth you normally show a psycho ex-girlfriend when she shows up at your wedding. I was soon to find out why.
Steph and I got the Stem Master to his feet and stumbled him to the base of the route. He shimmied up the climb without issue, sending with style and the euro-chalk blow off the finger-tips at the crux. He pulled through the moves, stemming out wide onto nothing nubbins and stepping up quickly with long strides and pulling himself into rest positions and gathering his spinning, pickled head before quickly moving into the next steps and holds. I lowered him down where he quickly grabbed his throbbing head and my GriGri to give me a ride.
I pulled on my shoes, noting the way the edges were peeling from the tips and the general misery they were in. Definitely time to get a new pair. And whereas I would love to blame all that happened next on those shoes I don't think I can in all good conscienceness. The Stem Master looked me sly in the eye and gave his sage advice "Step up and move quickly. Don't test, don't weight, place your feet and go."
I roped up and got myself into place, grabbed some rock and pulled myself up. That was about the only successful move I did. What took place next was recorded into the annuls of what had to have been the most pathetic attempt to reach a set of belay bolts in the history of Smith Rock. There was technique not seen done so poorly since William Shatner performed Rocket Man. I did the climb like a dislexic stutterer trying to recite Shakespear while suffering an epileptic fit. The Stem Master kept trying to shout encouragement and beta up at me, but my body wouldn't obey. I reached up into the small corner and grabbed at the crack, failing to get my sausage fingers any purchase. I fell again and again and again, ripping another fresh layer off my finger-tips and looking down after each fall at the meager progress I was making.
About halfway up I was cussing and grunting and flailing and making my failure a general knowledge to the small crowd gathering to watch. The Stem Master had mentally moved on, but was still physically holding onto the belay. I think in his pure embarrassment for witnessing my climb he was forcing an out-of-body experience so he could later tell everyone he knew nothing of the scrambling puker, nor where the scrambling puker did the scrambling nor where he did the puking. By the time I reached the third to last bolt and what seemed like a few wonderful hours, I felt my stomach stirring. The pure physical exertion was causing the rumblings to start churning into a boiling mass within my belly that was threatening to spill over.
The only thing I had eaten all day was dried mango. Now, dried mango is extremely yummy. Sweet, delightfully chewy and explosive on your toungue filling your mouth with pleasure. Not so much when it reverses course. I felt the gags, felt the rising tide of bile and then: release! I started spraying the rock with orange gibblets that splashed 50 feet below me. I looked down in time to see people fleeing in all directions to get out of the way of this vomit waterfall. It was like someone threw a packet of herpes in the middle of a sex orgy. The Stem Master looked up and shook his head in shame, not moving, knowing as the belayer he can't run. Not saying he didn't want to. I heaved and blew chunks for what felt like hours, emptying myself again and again in front of a gathering crowd of people worried and disgusted at the same time. I ended up dry heaving for a few more hours, trying to yell "LOWER ME!!!" but having that turn into another body-wracking wretch.
After an eternity, I stopped and looked back at the rock. I knew I had to finish. It was the only way to save face. My mouth tasted like a skunk had left a scented package in it. My fingers were shredded and throbbing, gleaming pink in its epidermal newness. I gathered what I had left and struggled up the last 15 feet, cursing myself and my utter inability to climb even though I had been doing it for three years now. I yelled out to be lowered and tried to see how much I had splattered on my way down. Needless to say, I was met with a lot of laughter, smiling and shaking of heads. The only thing to do at that point is to smile back, shake my head and laugh. Steph got to go next, and she not only had the difficulty of the climb, but a few of the good holds had gibblets on them, and she avoided them at all cost.
I later found out one of the people watching, laughing and shaking his head was none other than Master Alpinist (and current Golden Piton Award Winner) Steve House. I talked to him at the Inclimb Rock Gym a few weeks later. Much to my surprise, he laughed about it and called it impressive to see someone finish it after all that. I still want to know: how much would it impress him to know I did the same thing on Monkey Face? I bet this type of appreciation doesn't have longevity and the "impressiveness" fades after the first few times you see the person blow chunks on your favorite routes.