Speed Gumbies

(bivy, we don't need no steenken bivy)

by Eric Coomer

Lunar Ecstacy (V, 5.10, C2+)
Space Shot (IV, 5.8, C2-)
Zion National Park, Utah


Another pint of courage had me sold. "Let's do it Geoff. Forget the pigs, the ledge. Hell, let's not even fix!" The words slurred from my marbled mouth, but my brain hadn't quite understood the full meaning. We were both well on our way to a good stupor and it seemed like a plan at the time.
Crossing the river at 5:30 in the morning the plan suddenly seemed very wrong. The cold desert morning air was playing havoc with my bare legs. Finally on the other side, I realized we should have brought something to dry off our feet before putting our wall boots back on.
We reached the base just as the sun was poking over the other side of the rim. I had never been to Zion before and was inspired by the spectacle. I was also dead tired. We had already flipped for the first block so I settled in for belay duty for the next five pitches.
"Hi, you guys doing Moonlight?" a hope-filled expression filled his face.  

"Fixing on Lunar?" still a bit of hope left.
"Where are your bags?" just on the edge of despair.
"We're doing it in a push."
"Fuck!" no hope left.
We had beaten them by a mere 15-20 minutes. They had two choices -- stare at our asses all day long, or bail.
"You guys ever do a push before."
"Nope." I was reduced to monosyllabic responses as sleep was rapidly overtaking me.
"You think you'll make it... uh... I guess you wouldn't be doing it if you didn't."
"Sounds right."
"Off belay!" Geoff yelled from above. 

By the time I cleaned the pitch, Geoff was already part way through pitch two. We were moving caterpillar style in hopes of gaining some extra time. A gri-gri is your best friend at times such as these.
The other team stuck with us till the top of pitch three. They would fix and return the following day. They knew they were beaten for now. Geoff continued up passing a party just a half pitch above where they had bivied the night before.
"Thanks for letting us pass."
I tried desperately to get some more sleep knowing my block was coming up soon. It wouldn't be cool to bail before I even lead a pitch. So far the climbing didn't seem too bad, but the sandstone was a bit unnerving. Off-sets were strangely digging themselves a nice groove in the soft rock.
I watched Geoff move off the ledge onto the old A4 pitch. Hope the rivets don't blow. It would be an ankle breaker for sure.
"Hey Geoff, if you peel, just remember to push out." I didn't want him landing on my head. He made good work of it and finally it was my time. As I pulled into the belay a quick time check showed we were about an hour or so behind where we wanted to be. Nothing catastrophic but it was time to move.  

Time to move. It sounded like a plan. I moved up the next easy pitch leapfrogging green and yellow aliens in rather poor style. I was just not used to sandstone. I had no head for it yet. I was wishing I had the first block ­p; it seemed to ease in to it a little smoother. The plan didn't quite come off on the next pitch either which some consider one of two cruxes. I worked my way delicately around a detached block that would surely kill both Geoff and me if it ripped off. Finishing the final free moves in stiff boots was no joy either.  

The rack was a mess by this time so I spent a few moments trying to completely reorganize. We had only two pitches to go but the last was definitely the crux. First though, I had to deal with more unprotected free climbing and the sun was just setting. I waited for a real belay not wanting to deal with a clove hitch on the 5.8 moves in the approaching darkness.
When the day had started, I figured 15 hours for the route. I neglected to take into account what happens in the dark. Suddenly time pours like molasses ­p; sticky and slow. Everything takes just a little longer to accomplish. I also forgot to take into account the fatigue factor. Halfway through the last pitch I found myself in truly rotting choss. This was now sand climbing with nothing resembling stone at all. It was pitch black and the temps were dropping. More free climbing brought me to yet another rotting corner.
Finally I was on the last ledge before the summit. In my befuddled mind I couldn't quite make out where the exit was. The last 30 feet is supposedly the crux so I knew I wasn't looking for something totally obvious. I decided on a thin crack out to my left. Ultimately, this was the wrong choice. A half dozen sketchy moves above the ledge I was looking at a nasty ripper as I worked through more choss. I was moving at a snails pace now. I was also hurling a constant streak of expletives at no one in particular.
I was stuck. Nothing seemed to work. There were no more cracks, nothing even remotely free climbable.There was no bolt as shown on the topo, and a mere 15 feet above I could see the branches of a bush poking over the edge. That must be the top. More cussing. I'm sure the guys bivied below were either highly amused, or scared to death for what tomorrow had in store for them. I hung there for over an hour trying to work the final moves. My body was completely depleted. My mind was no longer functioning and I had no jacket on. The shivers over took me like a train wreck. I could not stop shaking.
Sometime after midnight, it finally dawned on me. I grabbed the hooks and started to get to work. I needed to stop shaking if this was going to work out. I calmed myself and drew deep breaths until my body finally stopped the convulsing. Set a hook, get in the top steps, do another. On the third hook I was finally near the bush and less steep ground. Balancing by grabbing a handhold above I almost pitched as the whole thing became detached. I windmilled my arms desperately trying to hold on. I did not want to find out what would happen if I blew it onto the less than stellar pieces below.

Time to free climb- the inevitable taut rope, stuck hook and dead bush offered the final adventure before I spilled myself on flat ground. I hadn't heard from Geoff in hours. He was probably sleeping down below if he could through the cold. I needed my jacket badly. I tagged up the bag as Geoff methodically cleaned the pitch. We had been climbing for 19 hours.
The walk down the paved trail wasn't quite as "easy" and "quick" as I had been lead to believe. I'm sure most of this was due to the constant hallucinations of a sleep deprived day. Schlepping ourselves along the road we realized just how hard it is to hitchhike back to the car at 4:00 in the morning. Back at camp we had just enough reserves to pound a couple of celebratory beers before the coma of much needed sleep overtook us. I woke up using the crushed beer can as a pillow sometime late the next morning.
We spent the entire day playing redneck campers. Well, literate redneck campers. Gear was strewn all over the campsite. Pots, pans, food, a case of beer and a scrabble board. Constantly napping in between placing words and trying to figure out if we had another wall in us. Geoff was starting a new job and the original plan was to tick off two routes.
Nothing was decided that day. The following day we tried to clean up a bit, both ourselves and the campsite. We drove down to have a look at Space Shot. One party was finishing up, one was half way done and no one was fixed. It was definitely a sign. Back at the site we crammed down dinner and re-racked the mess of gear.
This time I got the first block and quickly worked my way up the free climbing on the first three pitches. As the moves became difficult, I was glad I opted for a real pair of climbing shoes. I switched over to aid mode for my last pitch of the day. I was now more used to sandstone and the climbing was significantly easier than the previous route. We were right on time when Geoff and I switched over.
I kicked back and settled in for a nice noon-time nap as Geoff realized we didn't quite have enough rack in the larger sizes. He leapfrogged his way up the next four pitches as I occasionally heckled him from below. Cutting loose from the far side of Earth Orbit Ledge over the abyss that fell away a thousand feet below was quite a rush. I think this part is even better on the follow. You step from flat ground out into the gaping maw- instant and total exposure. I wished I had a lump of coal; I could have been the first human diamond factory.
A quick handshake at the top and we were off for the descent in much better spirits than our last foray into a one day ascent. We hit the car just after dark with a near full moon rising. Two beers stashed under the seat sealed our celebration.
Now it's time to climb some granite...

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