In the Zone

by Bob Ternes

Swoop Gimp or Be Dust (VI 5.6 A2+)
Zion National Park, Utah


This is a trip report of the route 'Swoop Gimp (or Be Dust),' which is located approximately 700 feet to the right of the base of Moonlight Buttress, and carries the 'rating' of 5.6 A2+ VI.

BTW, I've been climbing alot with Rick D (the Gimp), and he was talking about the rating being A2+, and how he sandbags everything to be A2+. He then asked me why I climbed Swoop Gimp, basically why I chose it.

I said feebly: "Because it was only rated A2+."


I really figured out that I was in the Zone when the cop asked me to get out of the car with my hands in plain sight. Up until that point, I had been coasting along the two lane highways of northern Arizona at speeds sometimes doubling the posted limit. I really love to speed, and the previous year, I had topped 120 miles an hour on these same roads. Then, I had gripped the wheel with anxious hands, feeling every bump in the road as if it was one less obstacle between me and Zion. It was exhilirating to see the reservation blur by as my partner told me Indian ghost stories. Going 100 over crapped out highway whoop de doos was exactly the kind of foolish fun I enjoy. But I was stealing those speeds, and there was clearly a line I felt that I was crossing.

This time, though, as I stared in the white hot spotlight of the cruiser, I felt as though going abnormally fast was my birthright. Up until the incident with the cop in Fredonia, I had relegated speed limits to the same people who I would later find choking Zion. Gaping scared people who are desperately averse to living life and taking the chances necessary to achieve something beautiful. I knew I was not one of them, but I felt their pull, like a dent in the space-time fabric of ambition, threatening to let me slide into lifelong complacency and insulated fear. So I got back in my car, tossed the ticket in the glove box, mainlined more caffeine and sped it out, a la Kowalski, up Highway 89A.

I got help hauling loads to Swoop Gimp from Brent Edelen, whom I had met the previous year after I did Sheer Lunacy. Brent had just done Lunar X, and we and our respective partners spent a great night tossing back Coors Gold in the back of his VW Microbus. Brent's nickname is 'Shag,' so named for his resemblance to Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame. This year, I saw Shag and his cohorts despoiling the Visitor Center parking lot with their tangled wall gear. I got the Swoop Gimp topo, and told him my plan. Seeing as how he was stuck there until his friend Jack got some legal issues sorted out, he offered to help me get the first few pitches up.

The first pitch, a 5.6 diagonal finger crack on a ramp, reminded me why I was soloing in the first place. About three months ago, I broke two metacarpals in my hand when I was playing rugby, ten minutes into a game with BYU. However, I waited till the forty-minute half until I decided my hand was too bad to continue. By that time, I had fractured the bones so badly that the nurses in the Emergency Room were congregating around the x-ray like it was Gray's Anatomy. One even compared my breaks to those suffered by some lost soul he treated who tried to dismantle the engine of a bus, with his fists, while tripping on acid. Due to the seriousness of my injury, I was still unsure whether my hand would function well on a wall. Forcing a partner to accept the possibility of bailing on my behalf went against my standards of good conduct.

I reached the belay and looked back on the string of pieces that I had clipped. I noted that even though my shaky reintroduction to climbing had occurred on 5.6 terrain, I had still depleted even my monstrous wall-rack's repertoire of pieces from thin fingers to hand. Shag jugged, happy to have enough pieces to prevent him from having to lower out until the final runout around a big flake. Instead of simply freeing up the flake, he did some trick by lowering out on a hook, then snapping the hook off once he was back on his jugs. Some lame trick, I thought. Thankful of Shag's assistance and his belay on the first pitch, I let him lead the second pitch as a gift.

As I hung from the drilled pins, I noticed a party crossing the river. I also happened to notice that the bolt leading from my belay to the pitch two crack was shit. It was one of those cast iron jobs which probably come in a big box marked 'Garden Use Only' and even homeowners shy away from when they put up big trellises. Laden as I was with a bolt kit, I pulled out my funkness and just gave the thing a small, trial whack, thinking I'd bend it out a little and pry it out with a Lost Arrow or something. My 'trial whack' promptly broke the shaft and gifted me with a vintage Leeper hanger. As I was sinking its replacement, a 3 inch Rawl, the previously waterborne party was fast approaching. Burt and his friend planned to climb Swoop Gimp in a push, and were now gearing up for the 5.6 crack. As Burt's partner placed gear, I was amused to see that every single piece that he placed was the exact one I had put in those spots. My conversation with the boys below took my mind off belaying Shag, who was quite happy to lead one of the finest pitches on the route. Once finished, he rap cleaned, leaving enough gear to save me, and eventually the other team, the otherwise free-hanging jug up pitch two's steadily overhanging wall.

The next day found me meeting Burt and his partner at the base. Having done the crux pitches through the night, they bailed after a bitterly cold dawn wore them down. Talking to them made me realize that I only had one bathook for the route, to which Burt responded by lending me a Talon, as well as a Fish hook for big features. After I asked him to leave me a note on my car with his address, I thanked him, wished them well, and started hauling. My late start meant that I got my bag up to the top of pitch two at around 2 PM. My goal of getting two pitches in that day was impossible, although the imminent and immense satisfaction of pitch three was paramount to any schedule I might have blown.

It was at this point that I started to Zone out again, especially when I stopped really worrying about anything. Not just anything in particular, I mean anything. Although my mind was racing at all times, it was that kind of comfortable superfluous brainstorming I normally can only enjoy when I'm lying in bed, past ten miles on a road run, or when I haven't eaten for a while and I'm working out under the sun.

Pitch three starts out with a continuation of the crack from pitch 2. When the crack ends, a line of bolts spreads out the face up and right, towards a big alcove. It was on these bolts that I realized I had fucked my belay system, which centered on an unmodified Gri-Gri with back up knots. Unfortunately, I had also tied into the end of the line. Still more unfortunate was my sudden realization that between my gri-gri and my tie-in, the 'free' end of my line happened to run under the belay at some point. I was faced with a huge "Z" of rope tying me down, which went from one end at the belay, through the pieces, to me, and then from me straight down to the belay and back. Although I would have been able to rappel down to the belay to unstick it, it would have taken time, and I would have wanted to lower off of gear better than the stuff I was standing on.

So I untied from the end, and let the rope go, which resounded with a gigantic bullwhip crack to mark its fall. So when I tried to pull the rope up, and it was STILL stuck, I knew that it was tangled not simply in the belay but in the looped sling I flaked it out in.

I started shouting "FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK" and pulling with all of my might, jerking, yarding on the rope, in a tug of war with my own belay.

Finally my rope came loose. It is not until I rapped down to free the bags that I noticed that my pulling and jerking somehow unclipped part of the looped sling, freeing me. The carabiner just hung there, a mute reminder of the necessary precision of soloing, and a symbol of the potential time vortex I had just evaded through chance. What dumb, idiot luck, I thought.

Back on the bolt ladder, you eventually gain a last bolt with a sling on it. Then, it's like someone just got tired of putting in bolts, and you make about 5 or six bathook moves to a big mantle onto the next belay. Standing in aiders, it is an awkward mantle onto the shelf, which is guarded on all sides by roughly sloping corners. I suddenly realized that this was the move where Burt told me he had simply unclipped from the aiders and mantled over them. Great advice, I thought, especially since my daisy biner was locked between my aiders and the wall. I pondered the mantle for probably 15 minutes, when I remembered that in addition to climbing out in the sun all day, I truly had not eaten any food since the previous night. That explains why my mind is racing. I thought about food; the super-Saharan dryness in my mouth, however, would have made eating the Clif Bar in my pocket feel like deep throating a splintery walking stick. While I sat on this shitty bat hook and considered eating the Clif Bar, I still had this mantle to do, with about 20 feet between me and the last string of bolts below. My thoughts drifted, and I wondered what it was like to see me from the road below, a little, immobile speck moving with invisible means. I was in the Zone.

Realizing that I was too much of a complete chickenshit to pull the mantle simply on bathooks and ballsweat alone, I placed a long standard angle into a scar I noticed in the sugary rock above. It was actually further from the alcove, but it might offer secure pro as I mantle up and blow it, I thought. As I drove it in, its increased working diameter met no increased working resistance, so increasingly, I knew I was working with crap. I decided to prolong the agony by placing a piece in the wide crack that led into the alcove. Although it was only a foot and a half further into the move, it would mean semi-solid pro and the chance to step up from a less awkward position. Since I had left all the big pieces at the belay, I placed a #2 Camalot in the umbrella position, gently configuring it on the only two bulges in the crack small enough to accommodate it. As I gently leaned into it, I calmly accepted the fact that the next crunch coming from the settling cam would indeed throw me into the slowly darkening abyss. Ten minutes later I had lowered out the haulbag and was cleaning pitch three, enjoying a very serene sense of accomplishment.

When I cleaned up to that last angle before the mantle, though, my rope suddenly shot diagonally right for the 15 feet to the anchors. I knew that simply cleaning the pin while I sat on it would slam me sideways, and give the rope a sporting chance to kill me while running over the lip of the belay ledge. So out came Shag's hook trick to save the day, and using my hands, out came the angle like a toothpick from an olive.

I slept in the alcove, eating ravenously and dreaming crazy dreams about streams, laden with coal dust, running through houses, and military subs sunk in coral beds, only to be stripped of their mil-spec radioactive Chouinard 5" bongs by bounty hunters. Strange dreams.

The crack on pitch four was beaten out. It was bad. But first, to get to the crack, you had to nail out the bottom of the alcove, where I placed a four-pin belay, before committing to the 40 or so feet of hooking above. Bathooks led to features, interspersed with two bolts so far out of the wall that I used nuts to sling them like rivets. Standing on the last bolt, I could feel, but not see, just the bottom of the first scar. A blindly placed, and perfectly seated, Number 7 Offset opened up the crack above to me. Above, however, I encountered a few scars where I was truly at a loss. To have opened a new rent in this already vanquished crack would have been criminal, but the nailed out scars would either take a birdbeak in their base or a shifty pin stack in their eye. They were so soft and pockety that using cams was asking for trouble, and tri-cams were equally out of place. Reluctant to nail, I experimented with placing my first Stopperhead. I selected a just oversized nut, placed it in a scar, and gently tapped in in with my hammer. Although it had the brimstone smell of a bad copperhead placement, I bounced it, and ended up placing a couple more in similarly bad scars. Two equalized birdbeaks got me past the last difficulties and to the belay.

It was on the upper section of that crack that I realized why soloing was so cool. I did not care how long I took on a placement. I didn't worry that the ineptitude, trepidation, or other fault of a partner, real or perceived, would gum up my perfectly working wall system. There was no break in the system, and my actions smoothly flowed from climbing to cleaning to hauling to climbing ad infinitum. When it got dark, I slept, and the warmth of the morning sun prompted my movement. At times, I would suddenly speak in a voice so distant and faint it was like hearing myself on the other side of a prison phone, like I could see myself in county blues, gloves and blackened hand and helmet pressed up against the plexiglas, and suddenly I'm climbing again. I smoothly hook on blank sections, and placements where I would have called for slack or tension I just climb on through with no mind of the line, not thinking about the fall, I just don't want to loose this placement and break this perfect rhythm. I am no liability but to myself, and I feel no loyalty but to this climb. The two-man system was clogged with formality, and soloing was the perfect way to climb. After a while, I was so Zoned that belay 'turnovers' happened with as much volition as travel in a subway.

I started pitch five at 2:30 with every intention of finishing it well before dark, and with time left to cruise up the next "easy" A1 pitch. I topstepped the anchors, and seated a cam in the only crack I saw. I weighted it, and the big block it divided from the wall started moving. I calmly unseated the Blue FCU, sat back, and pulled out my drill to get around this thing. No sooner had I rapped on the drill a few times than I saw the bathook holes up and to the right. I checked the previously unconsulted topo and saw the "loose" note and the bathook dots. I felt like a fucking idiot and put the drill back, instantly sorry for my insolent impatience.

Higher, some ramp walking led to the business: 30 feet of baby aid led to a chimney above. As I neared the chimney, I looked into its maw and saw a crack running its entire left wall. Awesome, I thought, since it meant that I could aid it, instead of freeing it with a full wall rack on. Two and a half hours later, I neared the top of the 30 foot squeeze chimney, physically drained and cursing the birdbeaks, cams, and any other gear which had but the slightest protrusion on it. The chimney exits out a superb roof, which itself neatly segues into 20 feet of baby aid. These easy moves invite you to the spacious, sandy belay ledge. Cleaning this pitch by headlamp, I saw that in the 40 feet below the totally unpro'd squeeze chimney, I had placed only 5 pieces in the soft red rock.

That night, I heard screaming from some yahoo girls in the parking lot. It was the kind of sound you would expect to hear coming from a girls' choir coming across a bear eating a baby. And they kept doing it, apparently marvelling at the unparalleled ability of their impudent lungs to shatter the peace of the canyon.

In kind, I replied with a "SHUT UP" at the top of my lungs.

They stopped. Something bothered me, and I turned it off.

After I got down, some guys who were on Spaceshot that night asked me if I was the one who had yelled at the girls. I told them yes, and they immediately broke out laughing.

After sleeping a quite well, I woke up with the austere desire to summit. Listening to some LA techno on my walkman fired me up, and I got on the next pitch, which topo-wise, was quite similar to the last pitch, A1 crack to squeeze chimney. To access the crack, I had to walk about fifteen feet to the right of the belay, and start up a dirty, thin crack. If I had a partner belaying me, I would have gone up the face a little to access the crack higher up. I thought that the face above might be quite receptive to a free attempt. But partnerless, and unwilling to risk a long fall right off the belay, I ponied up to the right off the long ledge. In a thin, dirty, semi-rotten crack, this meant nailing. I probably could have done it C2, or C2+, with lowe balls and camhooks, but I wanted something semi-secure, so after some really thin 00 and 0 TCU's, I tapped in a #1 or #2 Lost Arrow. In addition to security, I could not leave the TCU's below, because they were too far off the belay, and forcing the rope on an edge. Not wanting to overdrive the pin into the shoddy rock, I slightly undersized it and deftly put it in to the eye. Although I bounced it, as soon as I got on it, the eye shifted down half an inch and I felt very, very heavy, and very, very lucky that I didn't just take the fall that complete failure would have doomed me to.

Being 15 feet up and 15 feet to the side of a belay, with the rope running over an edge and a ledge below me, I could not stop these words from running through my head; "massive bleeding, femoral artery, bleeding, femoral artery."

It was with great physical calmness that I reached up and drove my only option in, another LA in an identical placement. I clipped it with a perfect length sling to the other pin, and reached low to take out my last daisied piece, a 0 TCU in crap rock. Higher up on the pitch, all thoughts of terror left me as I climbed an orgasmically fun, edge-enhanced kick-back off-width in the full light of the sun. One more hell-to-haul 5.cake pitch put me on top of a huge pedestal, contemplating the last aid pitch and its mediocre bottom anchor.

A one bolt anchor off of a huge ledge is just fine if you are with a partner, but I figured that I would have felt really stupid had I fallen and ripped that one slug, so I put in another fat 3 incher in right next to it. The next pitch saw me step off a pile of blocks and make three hook moves on the stratified, partially eroded desert varnish to hit the first good gear about 25 feet off the deck. I just cruised the rest of the pitch, placing perfect gear, including a tri-cam which used a conveniently natural hole on one wall of a crack for its tooth. I had about 2 hours till sunset to solo the last two pitches, both class 4's with hellacious hauling.

On the first class four pitch, I made the mistake of going for a pine tree straight up, rather than one off to the side. That error was compounded by the fact that I trailed the haul line, rather than just climb up with it on my back and toss it down. Needless to say, I spent about an hour climbing up, then over, then trying to get the rope into a plumb line down to my bag, which itself was compounded by a few stubborn trees which had their own ideas about my rope's ownership. By the time I hauled and got the back up to the walkway around the tree, I was spent and unwilling to try the last pitch. I unfurled my bag, and felt strangely vulnerable sleeping on flat ground, where animals, at the least, could pass. My perfect closed wall system was now open, and it felt weird.

It was a quite good thing that I waited until morning to climb and haul the last pitch; hauling, I had to rap down twice to free the bag, and one 15 foot section demanded that I jug with the damn bag on my shoulders. Reaching the top, I felt like a cosmonaut in orbit, since I knew that this was the most pleasurable moment, with a most arduous descent awaiting.

The trip down the Angel's Landing trail was, at best, a study in human indignity. Although some kind twentysomethings helped me bring down my ropes and ledge, the pig still weighed around 100, maybe 120 pounds. I mean bigtime heavy. Even my 90 pound pack going up into the Sierras was a charm compared to this. With every stupid question from a tourist, and every befuddled stare, I became more and more ornery as my body was wracked by the most intense pain from my bag. The worst thing about the tourons' comments is that my hunched profile, racehorse breathing, and distorted visage were all clear indications of my agony. I finally answered people as I felt they needed it.

"How long did you guys take???" ----- "Do I look like two people?"

"What were you doing???" ---- "Scuba diving."

"Did you pitch a tent up there???" ---- "Pitch a fucking tent? WHAT?"

Finally I got down, got back to my car, chilled a beer, and sat at the pullout, admiring Desert Shield and Spaceshot. A party was just starting Disco Inferno, and I suddenly was overwhelmed by euphoria. I looked over at my route, down at my hands, and I couldn't help but think that there was something wrong with me, that what I did, a simple ascent of some rock, could make me feel this good.

"There must be something wrong with me, that that can make me feel this good." The phrase became my mantra.

Back at my Jeep, true to his word, Burt had left me a note with his address, so that I could send him his gear.

"Yo Bob, Well, I hope you topped out on the Swoop Gimp. Thanx to my Hooks! IF you send them back to me I will mail them back COD. It was a gift. Have them, use them, Love them HA! But if you can, email me and tell me about the Gimp solo."

I ate two dinners that night and slept in the it-floods-you-die BLM campground. The next morning I woke up, got in my car, headed south, and consistently broke the speed limit on the way back to Phoenix.


Recommended Rack:

Doubles/Triples small cams
Doubles on big cams to #3 Camalot
I got by with one #4 Camalot
Double (triple better) set of small nuts, including offsets
2-3 beaks and rurps
A small selection of KB's and Bugaboos
5-6 LA's, no bigger than #4 or #5.
Z-Nailers might be useful for blown out scars
Doubles on baby angles, singles up to 1", maybe some sawed-offs might be useful???
Two talons, grappling hook, and skyhook (mine was thankfully filed to a point)
You might want to duct tape a hook for pro on pitch 4.
Fish hook useful
3 Rivet hangers

Solo hints: Before pitches 8, 9 and 10, drag your bag as far as possible to the right on these ledges to facilitate hauling. On pitch 9, solo with the rope on your back, and set up your haul after reaching the tree. Pitch 10 hauling sucks like late night TV: you know it's going to be horrible, without being able to do anything about it. You might just want to rap down and jug loads up.

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