The PitchI am starting to catch my breath. From forty feet below me, my buddy yells “great job man” but it barely registers. I am to caught in moment and place, outside interference isn't getting through. I look up and notice birds diving, pitching, and rolling with help from invisible drafts of air coming off the yellow-white granite walls above. My feet are comfortably perched on a large crystal which is protruding from the granite. One hand is locked in a crack while the other reaches for a cam. Below me I see blurred images of trees and boulders, almost to small to distinguish one from another.
I have just finished climbing through one of the tougher sections of our climb. It is a forty feet diagonal up and left from our safe 'island' perched precariously on a sea of vertical stone. This island is a small ledge that stretches out eight inches from the wall and is two feet wide, placed over six hundred feet above the valley floor, just enough room for two pairs of shoes. This was the high point of the previous rope length of climbing, which had been completed by my buddy. He built the anchor in the crack and was leaning back over the abyss below us with all his weight, trusting the few pieces of protection placed in the rock.
It is nine in the morning and we have been climbing for three hours already. Our route, now getting some sun, starts to feel less frigid. Stopping spots now are more comfortable and don't require a jacket. My hands aren’t constantly numb any more.
At this tiny rest stance reaching for a cam, I realize I had just put a piece of gear in the rock ten feet ago. If I protect this climb with a piece of gear every ten feet I'll run out of gear before I run out of rope, not to mention having enough gear to build an anchor when I find another lofty perch. So for now, even though I'm a little on edge, I'll have to rest with the slight risk of a long fall.
I look out at the sky to the East. The weather looks good, really good. There are a few white wisps that pop up here and there in the ceramic blue sky and disappear without a trace. Nothing that looks wet, or worse yet electrical. The lightning won't start up until two or three this afternoon. If it comes sooner as it sometimes does, it'll come from the west. Right now and for the rest of our climb we won't see any part of West, ensuring us that if there is early electricity we won't see it until we're in it. “Sky looks good, eh?” my buddy says as he notices my lull in progress and eyes toward the vertical horizon. “MAGNIFICO” I exclaim to everyone, knowing that we are the only ones for miles in this isolated wilderness.
Having caught my breath and ready to see what's next, I continue. Up a perfect white dihedral, looking like an open book where two rock slabs meet at a ninety degree angle. This is easier terrain, strait up. I fiddle with a cam and find its home in a crack, link some webbing to it and connect it to my rope. This is a comfortable position to be in. If I were to slip and fall I would only fall a foot or so before the cam caught my rope. The unnatural thing is leaving this spot. I have to go, but something inside invites me to stay. My mind wins, and I climb another fifteen or twenty feet where I'll repeat the internal struggle. Not telling myself that for every foot I climb above that little aluminum life vest, I would fall two.
The movement now seems fluid; there is rhythm. I lose track of almost everything and am reined back in by a faint shout. I would have no idea what was said if I hadn't been in this position a hundred times with the same partner. I was running out of gear and the faint cry rising over the wind was my buddy probably telling me that I had thirty feet of rope left; it seemed to be about that time.
Placing the bet that there was a good stance within twenty eight feet, I climbed further. After fifteen feet there was nothing, twenty nothing except another faint cry. He had to put the knowledge out into space that I had probably only ten feet of rope left. There was no ledge but a good, solid place to set an anchor. In three minutes I have two cams and a nut set in a crack, another thirty seconds and I've got a long piece of webbing connecting the gear, ten seconds after that I am connected to the anchor and bringing up rope, my feet with no place to rest.
I am able to pull in about eight feet of slack until the rope is taught and I hear another unrecognizable moan which is my buddy saying “that’s me”. I take a loop of rope and hitch it to the anchor and yell “you're on” in a rhythmic manner that will be recognizable even if it is indiscernible. In exchange I hear a moan of two syllables, “thank you”, an established way to communicate that he has received my message. I now expect to wait anywhere between five and five minutes and twenty seconds until I hear another two syllable moan: “Climb-ing”. Six minutes pass and still nothing. Is the wind to strong to carry voice? The rope is still tight so he obviously isn't climbing. I wait impatiently and with some slight anxiety I check the rope tension to see if he's moving. Nothing yet.
Whether there is communication from now on or not we both know that he is safe to climb. My only job is to keep slack out of the rope. Finally I hear the low and muffled two syllables. I yell back in the same extending and dragging manner “Climb-on”. Bit by bit I take in slack and within twenty minutes my buddy is ten feet below me with all the gear I had placed in the rock.
Both now totally hanging from the two cams and stopper we switch roles, we briefly check in to make sure things are going smoothly. We look at the weather again, conferring about where the route goes and wondering about the next few hours to the top and the couple of hours back down the other side. As he leaves the anchor I have a chance to really look around. There really is no better place to be.