Thursday, March 15th, 2012

How did he learn "the ropes"? — The early climbing days

On the forum, a user by ID CruxLuv started a thread, How did you learn "the ropes"? It lured many interesting stories out and are all worth checking out. (My lame story is in there too.) But I just wanted to repost Mr. Mud's account of "the early days" because I found the story very amusing and inspiring. Here is his post in its entirety.

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Below is a quick write up of some of the early days of my climbing. I did not spend much time proofing this since I am short on time.

My first time using a rope was the main face up at Castle Rock. Not knowing what else to do we took 1" webbing and wrapped it around our waist a few times. That did not last long. For top rope anchors we just used lot's of knots. I think this scared someone more than they could manage so they showed us how to tie a harness and how to make a water knot of our anchors. My partner quickly bought a harness and I found a swami on sale. We eventually took a class at Indian Rocks located in the East Bay foothills. Do not know how we survived that initial break in period.

I climbed for at least six months in running shoes before picking up a pair of Fires. Crappy fitting shoe for my foot but wow what a difference. Within the first year I ended up going to Yosemite with a guy from work that climbed but spent most of his free time in a kayak. From there we ended up going to the Pinnacles and that was it. The place just hit a chord with me, I was not able to stay away. Went there every weekend in the Fall, Winter and Spring. Sometimes during the week and a couple of times before or after work ( I have pretty much always worked in Mountain View).

My first wall was the Nose on El Cap and a true adventure in every way. We had the official Hall Bag From Hell that a friend of mine sewed up the week before. It was made of black cordura with red 1" tubular webbing. The 1" webbing shoulder straps were pure mind numbing agony after 100 yards. The haul bag was so flimsy that it would wrap up and hang on every tiny little over hang. It was heiness, slow, maddening, epic fun (for me anyway). Fortunately we brought a full roll of duct tape because at least half a roll was used to tape up the holes in the haul bag at the end of each pitch. By the time we topped out it was mostly duct tape and beginning to actually hold its own. The haul rope was my lead rope which was some cheap ass 45 meter thing that came up short on a couple of occasions. Food, Powerbars had been out a few years and I was still psyched on these things so I insisted we buy half a case and go with that. Water, well I had read some story of Harding doing a wall with 1 liter of water a day or something, so that was it ( My partner snuck in some extra so we ended up having about a liter and a half of water per person per day). Weather, absolutely fantastic 100+ degree heat wave. It was so frigging hot the Devil himself turned on the AC. After lift off we actually had The Nose to ourselves. The start, we had no idea about leading the first four pitches then hauling. We lead and hauled the first four pitches then bivied on Sickle. The rack, lot's of stoppers and a little over one set of cams. I dropped about a quarter of the rack, on the second day, when the webbing came untied on my Alpine my harness (remember the self ties gear slings on those, they stretched).

Toward the end of the second day we were moving a bit slow as we approached Dolt Tower. I was trying to figure out what to do as I did not have enough rope to get to the anchors and I had spun around mid pitch so the haul rope and lead rope were all messed up. A rescue helicopter flys by and is hovering around behind us. I finally turn around and look and they are signaling if we need help and my partner is obviously saying yes. I flip them the bird and wave them off for a few minutes before they go away. After way to long we get to Dolt, my partner, well this is a good opportunity to introduce my partner.

He came up from Mexico and spoke very little English and really struggles to comprehend what I have always tried to pass off as Englis. In some ways it was really bad and in others we were blessed. The thing is he was running out of time on his VISA and really wanted to climb El Cap before he went home and finished his degree. He was really struggling to find someone that wanted to go up there with him since no one understood what he was saying. We climbed together for a couple of days before I figured out he wanted to climb El Cap. My time was running out as well so we were co-dependent partners. For a warm up we went down to the Cookie and climbed the Nabisco Wall. That is when I found out his longest route until then had been a short two pitch climb and he was some what scared of heights. With short climbs the lack of communication was not to bad. On El Cap we would just yell at each other until we got frustrated then do what ever seemed right.

Well back to day two. We made it to El Cap Tower, he was to tired to talk me down at Dolt and even from Dolt the nice size and comfort of El Cap Tower is obvious. Once on that big ledge we were both to tired and hungry to argue so we ate and dropped of to exhaustion. I was up at first light it took no time to rack up since we did not have much. He wanted to go down but we continued. I really think he was just to parched to talk all that much. The heat was unreal. The walls were mostly empty. In later years I was shocked to see people all over the place. The were two guys over in the middle, somewhere by South Seas. They were easy to pick out since one guy had a big sombrero. I still remember throughout the wall hearing gals laughing and splashing down in the Merced. Back then you could park right next to the river below El Cap and there was a rope swing. We could see that big splash, here the gals laugh. Somehow we made it to Camp 5.

I remember him splitting a liter of water. Trying to make sure we both got half. A couple of drops back and forth. Like some kind of life altering experience. The problem for me was I had decided to eat my one can of tuna fish. I was so parched I could barely talk. Anyone with half a brain would have realized the dire outcome of such an action. That tuna fish stuck to the inside of my mouth and went no where. Out of desperation I tried to swallow. This compounded my predicament by gluing my sarcophagus closed. I was watching in a slow agonizing death spiral as my partner meticulously divided the water. I was gagging and trying to ask for water, I could not breath, my eyes were starting to water over. A final act of desperation I snatched a bottle from him. It was all in slow motion. I can still see the shock and anger on his face because a single drop of water missed the bottle I grabbed.

I quickly gulped some water to free up the tuna fish and the result was an explosion. The coughing fit was the size of the route we were on as I sucked in oxygen, water, and mashed up tuna. After sometime I regained my composure and looked over at my partner. He had not moved since I grabbed the bottle. Same expression, still holding his hand out. Just looking at me like, why on God's good Earth did I come up here with this guy. I pleaded for more water but that went no where. I finally settled back picked tuna out of my nostrils and tried to look like I was a real wall climber. Little did I know at the time that being in the state that I was, I looked the part. We both did. Totally dysfunctional, filthy, hungry, thirsty, tired, pissed off, and at that moment just happy to be where we were, on a big ass wall, in the middle of the adventure of my life.

We finally topped out and made it down. We got lost coming out of the woods and I swear ended up half way to Camp 4. On the seemingly endless trek back to my truck taking turns with that hideous hall bag, a car came by and my partner put out his thumb. I figured I had to be hallucinating since it pulled over. A little tiny compact that was half full of crap. My partner started talking to the passenger and the driver of the car, the passenger and myself just stared. None of us had any idea what he was saying. But it was obvious he was happy and grateful. After a bit my brain kicked in and I said thank you can you give us a lift to El Cap Meadow. They kind of understood me, we were both kind of babbling. After there initial shock of hearing "English" they hurried us in. We got in the back and the passenger pilled our gear in on top of us. Soon all the windows were hurriedly being rolled down as even I, in the back seat, realized the the stench of the two of us was of another world. Soon at my truck they kicked us out babbling and gleefully extolling our exploits and begging for water.

We quickly drove over to Degnans. Knowing it was late and that they would most likely closed I drove took every chance and drove fast. When we got to Degnans they were closed. So we just stared. We should have left since the place was deserted escept for two lone guys cleaning up. But we could not bring ourselves to leave. After a bit one employee notices us and starts talking to the other. One guy cracks the door open and asks if we were looking for food and we both respond with a loud raucous yes, my partner is was trying to claw his way in. After a bit of "No Really we are Closed" the guy in the back asks if we just climbed El Cap. I square my shoulders just a bit and answer yes. He then asks "Did you guys just get off the Nose"?. I straighten up a bit more puff up and grow in stature by at least 4 inches and 20 pounds and very proudly answer yes. The guy looks me square in the eye and says, "You guys were slow", SAR has been watching you. I shrank down in my squalor and dehydration and looked at the ground. He must have seen the rebuff cuz they let us in, at which point we bought every thing we could afford including a quart of Gatorade.

I drank a ton of water but did not piss for close to two days. We were both broke, but happy. We pulled off the impossible, conquered daemons, cheated the devil, amused the Fates, proved ourselves right, and others wrong. I was thinking of going back to work and he was thinking of how he could get back to Mexico. I do not know if he realizes just how thankful I was to have him as a partner. He pulled of an amazing feat by climbing El Cap with untested gear, with a half crazed, rabid, temperamental, white trash redneck. I screamed, yelled, threw temper tantrums, dropped his cherished hand made Made in Mexico cams, cursed all Gods real and imagined, and ran shit out way more than any person with my abilities had any right to do. He put up with it all, I may have been the motivational force but he was the Rock of Gabralter. I did receive a couple of stern lectures. I do not know a quarter of what he said, but 25 years later I think I have an idea. But, we topped out. It was an experience that will last us both a life time.

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I should point out that Mr. Mud went on and made many impressive climbing achievements. For example, he did the Nose (the route in the story that is one of the most prominent wall routes) in a day twice including once with Cathrine who was at our Yosemite wedding. He did the Northwest face of Half Dome with Steve in 18 hours car to car. He did Astroman, one of the most famed free route in Yosemite, countless times including the two times he did it with me. But it's always the memory of the early days that keep coming to you, isn't it?

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