Readers Blog

Consolation Prize

Posted on: July 1, 2008

At four pitches up I’m miserable, the Fruit-Cup wall is a water fall and I’m a sitting duck. It’s not raining but it’s so windy that the water cascading down the overhang below me is arcing out and over me making me pull my hood over my helmet and duck down in a feeble attempt to keep the water out.

I look up squinting my eyes; Ryan’s up there somewhere but the fog blinds my view 20 feet up. I see the rope jump around in the mist and I pay out more slack. The wind is so fierce that it makes talking pointless so I pull out my hand crank radio and turn up the volume; George Thorogood chimes in singing about more whiskey and I couldn’t agree more, but looking down I realize the whiskey is well out of reach in our haul-bag and just turn the volume up some more and try to tune out my surroundings.

I slosh around in my stance and laugh about our situation: we’re perfectly miserable but perfectly safe; our anchor is bombproof and our haul-bag is stocked but Cannon Cliff is dishing out another brutal beating and we’ve casually parked ourselves on the worst part of the cliff.

The wind picks up so I crank the radio some more and turn the volume up, but it doesn’t help. My jacket snaps with each gust and I look around; from 600ft bus sized boulders in the talus field look like treasure chests, but the darkening clouds farther up the cliff look as big as ever. I feel real insecure hanging here but it’s all mental, I try thinking about other things to get my mind off of the exposure but all I can think about is the first time Ryan and I climbed on Cannon.

At that point three years ago trad Climbing was totally new to me; Cannon Cliff was nothing more than a mountain but the ominous wall looming over you when you start is hard to ignore. I had never done a climb over 100 feet let alone 1000 but before I knew it we were five pitches up looking at the remnants of the old man of the mountain. Up to tat point the climbing had been easy but spectacular.

After pitch five that things began to fall apart. Ryan left the anchor and didn’t stop until the rope ran out; when he finally gave the tug signally me up the sun had set, the wind picked up and clouds moved in like clockwork. I gingerly worked my way up the face noticing the rock quality deteriorate at each passing foot. When I got to Ryan’s stance I noticed he seemed uneasy. “What ever you do don’t weight the anchor,” he said. I look around speechless. Ryan explained that the anchor wasn’t worth a damn and that we were off route.

“The Old Man must have torn the upper pitches off,” he says pulling the gear off my harness, re-racking.

“We’ll just have to keep climbing.” Ryan stepped off the belay ledge and onto unknown territory. “We’re bound to run into another route.”

I continue to let out slack as Ryan climbs, above him is a series of ledges each about 4 feet high. Ryan manages to mantle over the first ledge and places his first piece of protection; he clips the rope and quickly gets over the second ledge. At the third ledge he pauses, at this point he’s 20ft above his last piece of gear and 50ft from the anchor. I shiver in my stance as Ryan shakes off and moves up to tackle the third step. He pulls up on the ledge trying to swing his right foot over, but just as his foot leaves the ground a refrigerator sized block crumbles under his weight. Ryan screams as he rides the block down the second step and I duck into the fetal position and grab onto the crack the anchors set in to shield myself.

The sound of microwave sized blocks skidding off the rock above my head makes me faint, but seconds later the barrage ends and I’m still on the ledge. I look up as the dust clears and see Ryan getting back on his feet, his eyes are wide and as he steady’s himself I can see his hands shaking violently, he notices it too but does nothing to hide it. It’s while I’m looking at Ryan that I realize something’s wrong with our anchor; the crack the gear was placed in crumpled as I gripped it and the gear had fallen out. I looked up at Ryan and decided not to tell him figuring he had enough to deal with and decided to replace the gear myself. I slotted the two friends and looked up towards the clouds praying Ryan wouldn’t fall because all the held us from the harsh realities of gravity was a crapping red tri-cam and two horribly placed friends (the first two trad placements of my career).

The minutes dragged on and I shivered some more, constantly looking down at the cannon parking lot where Ryan’s Jeep was in plain sight. All I wanted to do was sit in that junk car, but here I was stuck on this terrifying position. I thought we were doomed, but as my hopes dwindled I heard I triumphant scream from above; Ryan had made it to solid ground.

Looking back up the Fruit Cup wall I no longer felt as miserable, I’m soaked to the bone and the ropes are gushing water, but at least I’m clipped into a bomber anchor. I crank the radio some more and turn the volume up, smiling; “Free Bird” is playing and for a brief second the sun peaks out from behind the menacing clouds. I let out a sigh of relief and thank god for Cannon Cliff, because if it weren’t for it, I’d still be a boy.