TWILIGHT ZONE 5.10d
August 5, 1994
Paul Jacobs and Bruce Bindner
"This year's crop of kisses is not for me... for
I'm still wearin' last year's love...." (Billie
Sport climbing is the rage. Most folks I know
spiel a rap about crimpers, side-pulls, drop-knees,
dead-points, even figure-fours. As I tie into the
rope at the base of Cookie Cliff in Yosemite, I
reflect that one of my few loves has always been wide
crack climbing. It's difficult to find partners for
cracks where one wears padding similar to that of a
Hockey Goalie, and the most elegant movement is a
strenuous, desperate thrash.
Oak tree ants run a highway from branch to
granite, fascinating me, while above, Paul Jacobs
negotiates an overhanging, loose hand crack. "Watch
me!" floats down.
"No problem. I got you." I glance momentarily up
to where Paul is light years away from his last
protection, one foot swinging a barn-door arc in the
shadowed evening air. No problem. He'll handle it,
somehow. He always does. (I hope.)
The ants are unconcerned, furiously transporting
the last segments of a dismembered beetle across the
rock. Most of the beetle is gone when "Off Belay"
echoes down from above.
I sigh and heave another full rack of huge
protection onto my shoulder. Above Paul, the fissure
widens obscenely to just under body-width. No body
part will fit. At least, I reflect, this monster
won't be loose and grim like Instant Espresso two
weeks ago. I still bear the scars on my forearms
from the roof on that climb.
Paul's pitch is a signpost to the void. At one
point, my foot peels away from the rock and I barn-
door out of the corner, hanging only by jammed hands,
one foot kicking in the shadowed evening air. Whew,
glad Paul was watching me there!
Above the belay, I lead slowly up the crack,
savoring the last 30 feet of easy moves to a nest of
horrifyingly loose, garage-door-sized flakes. I test
each in turn, drumming a tune on one-ton granite
blades poised above Paul's head. I stand on the
guillotine with the nicest harmonics, set an 8"
piece, and begin to climb for real.
Twilight Zone is a one-move climb. (one move,
repeated without respite for 120 feet: Pick your nose
with the pinkie of your left hand. Pinkie still in
your nose, raise your elbow to the level of your
face. Now, spread your fingers as wide as possible,
with the left thumb pointed toward the ground.
Insert that arm, still in that position, in the
crack, and you are doing a chicken-wing. Problem is,
the chicken-wing move doesn't work in this crack. My
right hand alternately claws the edge of the crack,
or splays out to small edges on the face, or fumbles
protection. Right foot does one of two things:
Scrabbles against vertical edges far outside the
corner, to my right, or pops off unexpectedly,
repeatedly, eliciting small screams of terror in the
deepening twilight. ) The move gains six inches. 119
1/2 feet to go, 239 repeats of the same, one move
that doesn't work.
The sunset is invisible and forgotten. As I
reach the top in the early evening, head exploding in
pain, the world fades into a dim twilight of misery
and success, ants, oak leaves, dust and solid
anchors. Paul guides my rappel back down the
Elevator Shaft to the ground, and shepherds me out to
the car, staggering toward darkness and a campsite
full of friends.
We stand in darkness at the car, almost done
puttering gear. The smell of formic acid is
overpowering, and I brush hundreds of ants off of
Paul, who is standing like an ant-bridge between the
ground and the berry pie on the hood of the car.
"That is one of the hardest things I've ever
done" says this 5.11-5.12 climber.
I brush off a few more ants.
"Thats OK, its a pretty casual technique, once
you get the bugs out." I smile past my headache,
reach back, and ease the berry pie out of ants'
reach, into the trunk.