Leaving Llamaland

by Amanda Tarr

Leaving Llamaland
Zion National Park, Utah

Two final sixteen hour work days and the end is finally in sight. It's been six months. Virtually no climbing and my burnout index has been off the scale.I've been working weekends, just trying to make up for my apparent inability to accomplish anything. A self perpetuating cycle which just serves to send me to the point of wanting to sell all my possessions and hit the road. But I lack even the ambition to do this. So with the product demo burned onto a CD for the tradeshow, I throw all my gear into my truck and head west.

My mind drifts between thoughts of the mass overhaul I want to do of all my code and vague musings about whether or not I still remember how to climb. Sometime around 2 am headlights are blurring and dancing and I pull over to snooze in the front seat of my truck.

Midday in Zion, and it takes me an hour and a half to get my bivy permit due to Memorial Day crowds. I end up parking half a mile from the trailhead and shoulder up the first of the day's two loads. The crowds on the trail make my mind drift back to my cow town upbringing. Where are the cowboys who usually keep the herd moving? They stop right in the middle of the trail to converse, and I can't get around to the left or the right. My shoulders are screaming. Stress. I take a deep breath. "Excuse me please." "Huh? Oh." I can't wait to be up above the crowds.

I pull out the binocs and try and reacquaint myself with the line I startedearlier this year. The familiar cold fear of the unknown creeps up my spine. I don't really know how some sections are going to go. Things look a little looser than they did a few months ago. How on earth am I going to get down from this thing? The route appears to overhang for at least 50 percent of the pitches and rappelling would be a horrendous involved process.

I'm always struck with an acute sense of loneliness immediately preceding a solo ascent. Standing there with the binoculars in my hands amongst a crowd of people telling me that I can't see the deer from where I am. There's no understanding. I want to tell someone how scared I am, but out of the thousands of faces clogging Zion Canyon, there's not a single familiar one to relate my feelings to. The only thing to do is try and get some sleep.

And as it turns out, I get a bit too much sleep. I oversleep the alarm, possibly an artifact of my months as the quintessential programmer; heading off to bed as the sun comes up, stumbling into work as everyone is going home to their families and friends.

Hump the final load up to the base and I'm climbing. The day's climbing varies from beak seams to squeeze chimneys, and both pitches take one of everything on the rack. The end of the second pitch marks my earlier highpoint, and I clip the anchor with great ceremony to amuse myself. From here I'm going to have to drill every belay.

Two whole pitches and No Stuck Haulbags. I toss and turn a bit, my nerves still have my mind racing. But eventually I snuggle up to my food bag. Wonderful thing about soloing with a double ledge is that you can just pile all your junk into bed with you.

I wake up as the sun is igniting the summits of the higher points along the canyon, and suddenly a big grin splits my face. I'm home. All my life support systems are suspended around me and I'm back on one of those adventures I used to dream of as a kid. Used to go out and pretend I was an explorer. My poor little sister would get dragged along as my "navigator",and we'd sail the swingset (masquerading as a pirate ship) around the backyard for hours, not allowed to touch the grass. Gotta watch those alligators.

Beautiful friend crack leading out a roof, and some discontinuous and slightly loose features up to another perfect belay ledge. Magically, there appear ledges at all but one belay, and each new pitch is full of little surprises.Another shallow crack emerging just as the one I'm follow peters out. Perfect hole in the middle of the face looks like it was created to be exactly the size of a 3/4" angle.

I'm not sleeping as well towards the top. High winds repeatedly lift up my ledge one night and I remember my dreams with perfect lucidity. A friend of mine from the Quake community is selling custom Quake wigs, designed to improve your playing ability if worn religiously. Feeling obligated to support him, I am stuck wearing this hideous Elvira wig around town. Later on that night, the Doors decide to reunite and need me to be the lead singer. (Good Gracious! Talk about music inducing seizures in 70% of the population...)

I can't make fists anymore and it's taking longer every morning to motivate.It just so happens that the one short section of drilling I have to do to connect features goes through a roof. My kidneys cry out in vehement protest when I step up to drill each new hole. Tensioning off on my chest harness alleviates some of the pressure, only to strain my rotator cuff tendonitis."Ok, I want off now," I whine. But somehow I know in the back of my mind that each little extra bit of suffering is going to make it all the more satisfying later on. What a strange pursuit we have.

Not sure if it is the geography, or just an after affect of El Niño, but the entire cliff is permeated. Drilling every belay bolt, I pass through about 1/8" inch of dry rock to mud underneath. Mixed blessing, however, because many pins clean with my fingers, saving me a lot of extra elbow grease.

Last night on the wall proper and my hands hurt so bad that after 2 hours I still can't sleep. I take a Vicodin, and end up dreaming that I'm at a big science fair. Miraculously, I've invented a perpetual motion machine.

Morning comes and I start up the final free pitch to the summit. Midway, I encounter the most curious geological specimen. There is a 6' x 6' block,perched precariously on 2 1' in diameter round rocks, which in turn are sitting on dirt on a ledge sloping at least 30-40 degrees. Hrm. And it's right in my way. Amazingly, there is a beak crack, about 3 feet long, right out where it needs to be to keep me and my rope away from the "wtf block". It's followed by a beautiful offwidth, probably only 5.7 or 5.8, which I of course aid.Mere body lengths from the top, the crack fills with loose blocks. As if Someone From Above was trying to convert me to a sport climber, the only option to reach the summit is to pull out onto some beautiful overhanging huecos in the iron hard varnish. For just a few feet, I feel like a complete hero, pulling 5.7 sport moves, wall rack over my shoulders, with my haul and tag lines falling 50m straight to the belay. And then I'm drilling the summit belay. Setting the drill on the rock and twisting, I start the hole without even using the hammer.

I actually open my mouth and try and say "woohoo". But having not spoken for5 days, all that comes out is this pathetic little peep. What a let down.

I ferry gear over a fixed line to the one flat spot in the middle of the summit slab. Everything is inclined at about the angle of the Flatirons, part slab, part sand, and part manzanita. Spending the rest of the day leaning against a tree and reading, I can hear the concessions stand at the lodge calling out order numbers. "Pay you double what they are giving you for that chili dog," I say out loud.

The descent is anything but trivial, but somewhat tedious at the same time.I end up fixing a line end to end, tying it off at intermediate locations to an occasional piece of gear or a bush. Walk back on a tether, and then I pick up the haulbag and carry it across aided at times with an ascender or a rappel device. Walk back 1 more time and belay myself back across. Eventually I run out of traversing options and begin the first of 800' of rappelling to the ground. As soon as I get close enough, I tie my 60m lead and haul lines together and go to the ground. After the rope stretch pulls through my device, I have 3' left. Lucky me.

And so it's over. I've just got to jug back up in a couple days, drill one last anchor and I can come home. Back to the day to day. Back to the computer.But I leave with a sense of peace that I haven't been able to find anywhere but on a big tall rock, and I wouldn't trade this new carpal tunnel syndrome or any of my other little scrapes and scratches off for anything in the world.

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