Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Climbing: Splashless Leap into Twilight Zone

Please add me to the list of men and women who onsighted Twilight Zone.


I took a leap. After all, I am a gym climber and here is the apparent evidence.


I don’t know what got into me — when it comes to leaping over anything, I’m usually like this:




No, no leap please. I’ll just wait here, because I’m too afraid to end up like this:




But on this Sunday morning at Arch Entrance Station by my favorite luxurious heated restrooms, when my partner D stared at the cuts in the back of his hands, which were dragged through Meat Grinder the day before, and decided not to go practice wide at Reed’s as he had originally proposed, the idea came to me. How about we go check out Twilight Zone?


At that moment, when I said that, I didn’t even know where the climb was. Of course, I had heard of it before. It’s famous. How else could you explain the multiple long discussions and reports found on the Internet? Scroll down to the references and see for yourself. I was aware of the Road to Twilight Zone  thread, but I had not studied it. Really, what’s the point of asking for the road to Russia when you are no where near Sarah Palin’s house?!


Oh, don’t get me wrong; I was interested! I just didn’t plan to lead it. I don’t like to take, on rope or on gear, on top rope or on lead. I could go through 21 pitches at Arch on one day, and I did, without a take. While some people might call me weak for not pushing myself hard enough, I drove home smiling and satisfied. Yes, I climb within my comfort zone, and my zone and Twilight Zone have no overlap, or at least so I believed.


Being a gym climber (did you click on my evidence???), I’m terrified of leading on gear, even though when I am unfortunately put in the position of a trad lead (like when I’m climbing with someone), I sometimes pretend to run out just to hide my overwhelming internal fear. I might only lead 5.9’s, but I can follow 5.11’s, right? As Clint Cummins famously said, which I heard from Mr. Mud, “Everyone looks good on TR.” That’s it! Maybe my road to TZ is I need to find myself a TR.


Well, only one person I know and have access to whom I can think of might have done it. So, one day when I met him in the gym for a session (need I remind you again? I’m a gym rat), I dropped hint at him. “So, have you done Twilight Zone?” “Yeah.” “How was it?” “It’s good.”


I waited. And I waited some more.


Is that it? “Yeah” and “It’s good.”  That’s all?  I was totally expecting to hear “Do you want to get on it? I’ll take you up it” ? It did not come. But being a sensitive and sensible partner, I dropped the subject. A TR was not offered, so a TR was not to be had.


Fast forward to this Sunday morning. A short approach led us to a non-descriptive spot on the trail, which I had taken a few times to get to the most popular cragging area at Cookie. As a matter of fact, we were almost there. D pointed up, “there it is!”  I looked and looked, and then squinted. I thought I saw it. Well, this photo was taken when D started the approach pitch. Can you see the famous, or infamous, climb up there?


IMG 0748


You can’t see the crack from the road, nor from the popular cragging area because it’s tucked away inside a dihedral. And you still can’t see it well standing under the trees. The climb looks elusive and mysterious.


Earlier in the morning, once the words Twilight Zone were uttered, I tried to search for beta. Without the Internet, all I could find was what was in Supertopo guidebook, “Today few people climb this route because it is just too darn hard” and what was on my downloaded Mountain Project app. It showed the links to the Road to TZ thread as well as the Offwidth Tips thread. I desperately wanted to click them, but the clicks went no where. It was a good thing I did not read the threads until after because this was offered in the Tips thread:
Develop a list of ascending difficulty of the following climbs: Pharoah’s Beard; Secret Storm; Moby Dick left; Rixons East chimney; Cookie Center; do Ahab a few times; Edge of Night; Absolutely Free right; Peter Pan; Peter Left (first pitch is offwidth); Slack left side; worst error both sides; Hourglass right; Narrow Escape; Crack of Despair; Crack of Doom; Lost Arrow Chimney. If you can do these reasonably well and still want to do TZ, you are ready.
Apparently, I was not ready (my resume was pretty empty), but I didn’t know that, did I?


But then, as I can see now, almost every page of the discussion, there are old timers reminding people they did it back in the day sans cams, or even free solo’ed it. So, it’s easy right? Who knew what I would have felt had I read the threads before the weekend. Regardless, at the time, I was adequately equipped with the bliss of ignorance.


Racking up for the approach pitch, D, not feeling the bliss,  repeated, “if you don’t feel like doing it, you don’t have to. We can do something else.”  That was different from the day before. Yesterday, I took it as a sign that after we pulled the rope from Red Zinger, it magically landed at the base of Meat Grinder. Guess I should do it. After D told me the story how he took a nasty fall on his previous attempt that led to a visit to the hospital, he offered, “if you are not sure about leading it, I’ll lead it for you.” That gentlemanly offer almost moved me to tears. Today, he offered to walk away from Twilight Zone, both of us. (I just got his email confessing, ” I was petrified at the thought that I might have to go and rescue you in the Twilight Zone.” )
But little did he know, I’d entered The Zone!


Soon, I was staring up at the pitch from the belay. A gaping slot looming above me. It was beckoning. I racked up. “Are you sure you want to carry that camera (phone) in your pocket? I can carry it for you. Leave anything you don’t need/want here.” I thanked him, but kept the camera. What if I encounter a beautiful bug on my ascent? I don’t want to miss a photo of it. But I forgot to take a photo of the climb above me given the close distance!


I took off. The weight of the heavy rack on the sling across my neck was soon lifted. I was in the Zone.


– Oh yes, this section is just like that PG Sunnyvale crack # 107. I can do it. Up ward.


– Hmm… is this section overhanging? Yes, it must be! I’m going to fall out of it! But wait, pause, or freeze! See, that PG SF Crack #84 is overhanging too. I can do that one, so I sure can do it here. Up ward.


– Darn, what’s this? A restriction! I can no longer slide my way up. Hmm… it’s a tricky spot. Just like on that PG Sunnyvale Crack #112. Hmmm…. I have an idea! Pretzel my arms this way, turn my heel 270 degrees, extract my knee from below the restriction, fold my body at waist 180 degrees, place the same knee above the restriction. Just like what I would have done in the gym. Up ward.


– Wait, what’s that sound? That’s the sound of my breathing! That’s not good. I should not be breathing so hard that I can hear myself. Here, a knee jam, and hey, there is an edge out there for my outside foot to push on! A strenuous rest, but a rest nonetheless. Breathe, quiet, breathe, quiet. Okay, wake up. Up ward.


– Does anyone stem this thing? They must be 6’5″! With half of my body still in the crack, I turn my neck 190 degrees backwards without breaking it. I’m not seeing any foot holds or even just slopers. But the vision at the corner of my eye might be compromised. Regardless, I feel secure in the crack. When in doubt, offwidth it. Up ward.


– Hey, what is this? A perfect hand crack! I’m almost at the top. Stem, mantle, I step onto the grassy top feeling light.


I am at the top! Really?  I *am* at the top!


After clipping into the anchor bolts 30 feet back on the head wall, I extended my belay to the edge. This time, I remember to take a photo downward. You can barely see D on the belay ledge below.


IMG 0749


I could see D fighting most of his way up. Oh I heard him too. Don’t think he knew I was observing him, but I saw him look up and then shake his head, a few times. I got self conscious, “is he hating me now?” Finally, he joined me at the top. Not via the girly stemming and mantle moves that I did, but a different style. He gave me permission to show his belly flop technique. His legs were still dangling in the air.


IMG 0769


Then he high-five’d me. Okay, he didn’t hate me after all. Thank you, D! Now, would you mind giving me a quick TR belay on Elevator Shaft since that’s where we’ll rappel? You don’t want to do anything else at Cookie? Let’s go set up a top rope at Generator. I’ll do two laps on it, left side and right side in.


So, that’s what I did. I took a leap into Twilight Zone.


Oh, you say that’s a dive. But in Chinese, it’s the same word for leap and dive: 跳。Trust me.


I tried to take a selfie at the top with the climb in the view, but my body failed to bend backwards. So, here I am, at the top of Twilight Zone. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Please excuse my offwidth hair. When you rest your forehead in a crack for balance, it tends to mess up your salon tended hairdo. But that’s not important. This is what I wanted to show you: Inch by inch, I will get there.


 IMG 0779


Parting words: Yep, that’s right. Forget about all above what you just read if you haven’t already. Trip reports are nothing but chest thumping self glorifying spray. Why else do you think we climb anyway? (I’m not the first person to ask that question.) There was no leap, and there will never be a leap. Anyone tells you different does not have your best interest in mind. Inching along forward or upward, and sometimes even downward and backward, is the only way to get you to where you want to go. Get moving!


Signing off,
-Mei, the mudworm


Twilight Zone (58 posts)


Twilight Zone trip report by Paul Jacobs and Bruce Bindner

My Supertopo report