by Amanda Tarr
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
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
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
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