East Face of the Duck
F.A. July 24, 1994
Pat Brennan and Bruce Bindner
Pat Brennan has backed down. Lowered slowly off. A #6 Friend remains up in the offwidth roof, behind a chockstone 40 feet above the Talus, in a dihedral black in the shadow of dawn. Pat's lead was halted when he could not let go with either hand to remove the friend to protect higher moves. He apologetically hands me the sharp end of the rope. I got a bad feeling about this.
Today we're attempting a new route on the East Face of The Duck, a spire located across from The Incredible Hulk in Little Slide Canyon out of Bridgeport. It's our last day here, with no new routes so far.
Our dreams for a first ascent on the East Face of The Turret yesterday were broken when we found an ancient, 1/4-inch rusted bolt halfway up our beautiful 5.9 twin crack system. Disappointed, but still enjoying a classic line, we finished the route, and scheduled the Duck for today, our last chance to bag a "first" this weekend.
We head duckward on Sunday morning before hiking out.
I tie in. Six inches of space between abrasive, lichen-infested, flaky sheets of rock, the offwidth mouth accepts my arms up to the shoulders, chews them, threatens to spit them out. I wallow up the leprous monster, stopping just below the roof to study the situation.
Already, blood trickles down forearms shredded from the flakes of rock lining the crack: Feels like shards of splintered diamonds embedded in my flesh. I'm awake now.
I gently push the huge friend up, through the crack behind the chockstone. Still clipped, with the runner snaking out below the chockstone, I cannot move up without unclipping from the friend, which is the only fitting protection that I have.
Teasing another runner off the shoulder, I clip into the piece with this new connection, unclip the old runner and drape it around the chockstone, converting this frightening obstacle into a fixed protection point. The #6 friend remains with me.
Fiddling done, all that remain are crux moves. I layback off power arm-bars, toes stemming out to a shallow groove above the level of my head. Reach a chalked right hand above the roof, to crimp an edge that had to be there, and crank over the lip onto a tiny wrinkle of a foothold. Retch, mid-pitch. Hamburger arms.
Twenty feet higher, no additional pieces in place, I decide to drill a bolt, ostensibly for protection, but really with the thought of bailing out. Tap, tap...
Ping...ping....ing...ing... OOPS. There goes the drill bit. NOW what am I going to do?
Climb on, dumbazz. Find some narrower places for the meager 3.5 friend and #2 BigBro that are left on your rack. Scour the slightly-overhanging walls that encompass this huge corner, seek edges for fingers and toes, and squirm back into the still-chewing six-inch dihedral. Bitter. Black. Offwidth.
Adrenaline surging, I cower beneath another frightening roof. Far below, beyond this insanely steep shadowed corner, distant sunlit pines stir in a slight morning breeze. Strength gone, little desperate whimpers bubble out, as feet scrabble for purchase in the shade. I look to the side for a place to stem, and then, feeling foolish, step across into an easy staircase of holds up to the spacious belay ledge. I sit down on a natural stone bench in the sunshine, shaking and pale from the adrenal injection this coffee corner has provided. "OFF BELAY!!" I'm definitely awake now. Instant Espresso -- 5.10c.
Five more pitches of virgin rock follow: Offwidths, wildly wide chimneys, a lethal, flaky unprotected 5.7 face; Finally I quiver over the top of a loose, grainy, incredibly steep hand crack through a headwall. Forearms and skin destroyed, I flop belly-first onto another spacious ledge. The headwall is a gripping cadence to a classic Sierra desperate. We connect with the regular route, a summit pitch protected by two unpleasantly shallow TCUs.
We'll shake hands at the top, drink the last drops of water. We will rappel, break camp, hike out in the late afternoon, stop for pizza then blast homeward, wide-eyed behind the wheel into the wee hours of early Monday morning.
At our widely separate houses, still wired, we will stare at the ceiling in the darkness, remembering, until it is time to drive to work in the bright new sunlight of another perfect day.