Climbing, my one true love. I recently discovered that climbing is not about about accomplishment, exertion, flow or anything pleasant in life. I used to enjoy the satisfaction of working out hard moves or the concentration to control my fear. This is no longer my climbing reality. Climbing is now only about inflicting a huge amount of suffering on myself, so that when I return to my mundane world, I am temporarily content with my mediocrity. I know this because it is only when I leave the confines of my futon and turn off the televison that I go climbing. The rest of the world works long hours so that they can enjoy this leisurely activity, but some sort of genetic mutation caused me to be unsatisfied with this, so that is why I climb. It is only to be reminded of the glory of television.
In order to maximize my suffering while climbing, I climb with my friend Sydney. Sydney is twice my age, eats mostly Long John Silver's Fish and Shrimp combos, and carries with him a tape deck that blasts mindless trance music on all our expeditions.
A typical day with Sydney is a thirteen hour lesson in absurdism. On any day while we are hiking to the crags, he shouts "Allah Akbar" throughout the approach, experimenting with pitch, length and volume. He informs me that he learned this while watching a documentary on TV, that Islamic "priests" shout this for hours as the sun comes up and it is also used as a war-cry. His shouting is accompanied by the thumping of the tape deck, usually playing the same tape.
On a day not long ago, Sydney desired to lead the first pitch of a local moderate favorite. Weighing in at a stout 5.8, the first bolt is maybe twenty-five feet off the deck, extending to the right of the start. But today, Sydney has no intention of running it out to the first bolt. He has brought his 12 foot extendable painters stick with which he plans to stick clip. You will likely have done the math and decided that this leaves about thirteen feet of unprotected climbing. Sydney has no intention of risking himself in this situation either. On lead, he makes two placements before foot marker number eight. Five feet above this, he tells me he is getting pumped (time elapsed 20 minutes).
"Back off and rest," I say.
He tells me he is gripped. "I'm going to fall," he says.
I get ready for him to pitch but miraculously, out come the skyhooks. With two skyhooks set, Sydney beckons me to hand him the stick clip. I oblige, and now armed with the stick, Sydney realizes he cannot be both on belay and stick-clipping the first bolt at the same time. He extends the stick to me, and orders me to attach the second rope. After securing my partner, I unclip from our station (atop a pillar) and walk down to uncoil the rope. The rope has been in a cactus. There are glochid (small, irritating needles) all along the rope, now in my palms. I return to the station and attach the rope. Sydney hauls it up, and discovers the little demons. Upon this, he drops the stick and rope and shouts "There are fucking needles in this rope! Fuck, I dropped the stick."
Sydney is full of incredibly helpful snippets of wisdom like this.
I sit there, longing for my television, then untie and retrieve the stick and rope from below. By now, a crowd has grown at the nearby boulder and they watch in slack-jawed puzzlement as this climbing Bubba hangs on the rock, shouting orders to flip the cassette, while his belayer repeatedly climbs up and down a small stack of pillars below him and techno trance blares through the canyon. One of the onlookers even snapped a picture that I tried to ignore. A few minutes later, the stick-clip is made, and I then pay out lead rope while taking up the toprope as Sydney makes the two moves to the first bolt all the while praising climbing as a fun sport. Clipped to the first bolt, he uses the stick clip to set his next piece of protection in the crack above him.
"I love leading on toprope" he tells me, amused with himself. Slowly proceeding to the top of the first pitch, he racks up a hefty two hours on belay.
The next pitch of 5.9 climbing is mine to lead, and starts with a traverse about thirty feet to the right, and then moves up on easy rock to the top. I uneventfully lead the pitch, and while Sydney is following, he insists he cannot do the moves and forces me to use the twin ropes. (Sydney doesn't like to trail the rap rope, so when I am ready to lead, he praises twin rope technique until I agree to take both ropes) He yells to lower him across the traverse and keep strong tension so that he doesn't have to climb much. I should not have reinforced this behavior at this point, because a few weeks later, I end up hauling him up a pitch of a climb he insists he cannot do. Weeks before this, he forgot the poles to our tent and we constructed an elaborate rope support that provided gross amusement to the retired camp host.
But this day is not the story, that is merely a typical day's activities. This exceptional day, we planned to do five pitches of moderate climbing after a grueling 3.5 hour hike to the base. Sydney insisted he would lead at least two of the pitches, and secretly brought along my brand new daisy chain and aiders to ensure his success. His sustenance for this day of epic climbing was two Mountain Dews, a gallon of Gatorade, a Guinness stout, and a Butterfinger (he talked me into carrying the full gallon of Gatorade, and stashed the other stuff as he pretended to look for sunscreen) - this was in addition to his day-before-the-climb carbo load of LGS Fish and Shrimp specials plus three doughnuts his girlfriend had bought. He later explained to me that he had seen on TV a few years back that hardcore endurance athletes eat diets very high in fat . Sydney has the habit of eating nothing but filth, and then bonking early in the day with rampant fits of paranoia.
Once we arrived at the climb, Sydney insisted I snap multiple pictures of him at the base of the climb, in addition to a picture of him in a gripped pose on the 20 degree slab below the climb. From his insistence of my camera positioning, no doubt he will Hang this photo sideways so he appears in a more flattering position. The first pitch of the climb was a beautiful crack system that went up excellent granite topped by a 20-30 foot traverse under a roof. Upon Sydney's coercion, I placed extra protection on the traverse so as to avoid a catastrophe. This, however, was in vain because as he followed the traverse, he took extra precautions and skyhooked across. Once he reached the belay, he replaced all my cams with tri-cams and ancient hexes (which I refused to carry) to make a station more suitable to his liking. The second pitch was again mine ("I'll do the third") and above the crux move, I kindly placed a piece with a four foot runner so that my partner might avoid any technique or effort on his part. I was greeted with a luscious belay ledge with a small tree for my efforts. Sydney followed uneventfully (except for huge amounts of tension) and thanked me greatly for my kind aider sling.
After a short intake of scenery (it was starting to get windy), I was off on the third pitch that traversed left 40 feet and then continued up on 60 feet of sparsely bolted slab. I carefully traversed left, placed a piece, then found myself at an old piton in a crack.
"How is it?" he asked.
"It looks good," I replied.
"Good, tie off to it, I'm taking you off belay."
"I am taking you off belay."
"I have to poop."
Little known to me, Sydney's intestines had been slowly pressurizing for the last two hours. He informed me that he was two hours behind his regular time, and his unpleasant state required immediate action. Sydney disappeared for about ten minutes, but when he returned, the wind had wafted a horrible notice of his success in my direction. I was greeted by a suddenly cheerful Sydney who placed me back on belay, much to the relief of my calves. I finished the traverse, then continued up the face. The climb was bolted in 1/4 inch bolts, which had been kindly replaced with 3/8, and I clipped three of these. The bolting team had evidently missed the fourth bolt, as all that was left was a 1/4 bolt with silicon caulking ensuring its strength. I hesitantly clipped this bolt, and shakily continued up. A few moves up, I spotted a huge half-pad ledge that was going to save me.
"Watch me," I said.
Sydney responded by stating that his poop has created a mini-ecosystem as the flies land on the poop, and then lizards come out and eat the flies. Carefully I went up, then breathed a welcoome sigh of relief as I grabbed the savior hold. At this point, I should like to comment on Sydney's belay style. Sydney has the gift of keeping moderate tension on me when I am on easy ground or clipping a bolt, but when I say "watch me", he pays out a few feet of slack. As I crank up my right foot, my left pops and I go yelling down a thirty foot cheese grater. As I fall, I instantly become conscious that I am falling onto a quarter inch bolt, and also conscious that my palm is being removed as I attempt to prevent my face from hitting the slab. When I stop, I look right to see Sydney, grinning happily at the excitement. (much like on TV). The bolt held, but I look down and see blood pouring from the new wound in my hand. "Put some chalk on it," Sydney advises, and I am left with a blood-chalk pulpy paste where my skin used to be. Sydney lowers me, and I doctor my hand with what supplies we have. A horrible stench jars my memory, and I look down and see an immense brown-black spray of sludge all over the ledge below us (which happens to be a key hold for the second pitch).
We decide to bail and after cleaning the third pitch, Sydney kindly rappels first so that I can remove the belay. I offered to rap first as it was his poop that made the belay so unpleasant. "No way, I've been breathing it longer than you have." Sydney mutters as he prepared to lower. I rap to find Sydney drinking his beer and looking through the provisions in my pack. We gather our gear and retreat beaten to the car. I put in my Radiohead CD, which Sydney quickly removes to make room for "Transmissions from the Planet Dog".
On the drive home, I make my tally. We bailed off of a completely casual climb, fouled it for any other parties wishing to do it, took lots of pictures, listened to the same tape 14 times before the batteries died, and I had completely reminded myself of why I hate climbing. When I got home, I curled up on the futon and drifted off... basking in the radiation of my faithful Television - my true love.
NOTICE: Some minor aspects of this story have been embellished, but it is largely fact, and I heed you to watch for Sydney at your crag.