(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
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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."
"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...