Thursday, April 12, 2012
The route wasn't supposed to be that hard. It was a 4 pitch cruise that has been called one of the best routes in Big Cottonwood Canyon. So, on a sunny afternoon my buddy Nathan and I hiked up the casual approach expecting to walk up the climb as part of a pleasant mid day jaunt. The route meandered up the "Outer Corner" of the Jesus H. Christ on a Bicycle wall near the lower portion of the canyon where upon reaching the top we would walk around the easy way, off the back side and down a ridge and back to the car. Climbers are often called the conquerors of the useless. I would agree except I never feel like much of a conqueror but rather more often of the useless.
Nonetheless, we each pulled out our racks at the base of the route and our equipment combined to make a heap of gear. The collection of Spring loaded "cams" and stoppers that represented years of gear obsession and money spent by both of us was more than I was used to on most other routes. Heavily weighed I set off first. Nathan was caring for an injured wrist and a twisted ankle from a recent fall and he reminded me while I was still standing on the ground the reason for all the gear was to "place early, place often." Delicately I would pull a piece of gear from my harness and position it into a crack in the wall. If I were to fall off, the piece would support the rope which Nathan held with his belay device. The more frequent the gear, the sooner the belayer is able to catch the climber in a fall. I pulled myself into the crack that began at the ground. It was the first move on the first pitch.
We worked our way up the route together. I brought him up to my belay stance, then he lead and brought me up. "Good lead," we would commend each other. Always we insisted that the other had lead the hardest portion of the climb. On the third pitch the crack turned slightly overhung in a corner that resembled the inside of an open book. It was my turn to lead again and I reached up into the crack. My feet slipped and my fingers screamed for traction but they held. I quickly ran my free hand over my harness for a piece of gear then blindly shoved a medium sized cam into the crack above my head. There was no time to inspect the placement, no time to ensure it would properly hold because in a fluid and swift motion my foot slipped free, my hands gave out and I fell out of the crack and into space. The rope tightened and caught me in mid air. 200 feet above the ground I dangled free from the wall with my rope neatly threaded up through my last piece of gear. Nathan looked on with a smile.
It was why we climbed. At the top we grabbed hands happy to be at our highest point. Our simple jaunt pushed us both and reminded us that nothing in nature is ever as simple as it seems. It will never be conquered. We made it to the top of the ridge in the most aesthetic way we knew how and began our walk down. Our actions, we were assured are never useless.