The setting sun cast a soft yellow light across the hills of the Pinnacles National Monument and the shadows from hundreds of craggy formations were slowly crawling across the still green valleys and ridges. If you've ever spent any time at the Pinnacles you probably know that sunrise and sunset bring this already surrealistic environment to a roiling boil of hard shadow and soft color. I was perched on a small ledge 75' off the deck on the east face of the Hand peacefully watching about thirty vultures slowly making giant circles in the light blue evening sky. When the vultures start their daily dance in the evening thermals it's usually the signal to start wrapping it up and if you time it right the vultures will be waiting for you in the parking lot. They like to sit in the trees and watch as the invading force of climbers and park users pack it up and give the park back to its rightful owners. Of course for us it wasn't going to be like that, but this night was special. It was special because I was getting ready to climb a face that I had been dreaming about for at least six years. But it was also more than that - it was the fruition of an impossible dream, the culmination of three years of work and stress, twenty hand drilled bolts each of which represented a plethora of climbing lessons and to say I was a little emotional would be a gross understatement.
I was verging on tears as Kelly pulled the rope tight and gave me the go ahead to start climbing. I climbed slowly, relishing every second. I felt like a junkie watching my stash slowly dwindling and fighting the angst of impending withdrawal. I was greedy and didn't want it to end. It was one of those perfect moments when nothing could be better. I must have spent thirty minutes climbing that face, caressing the rock, sneaking a peek at the gaping maw of exposure unfolding beneath me and just trying to enjoy all that I missed while bolting on lead. The wall goes from vertical to horizontal quite abruptly at the top and I stood on the last footholds, looking at Kelly in his purple shirt against the evening sky, feeling unfettered love for this man, this moment and all that we had shared on this wall. It was quite an apropos moment for a route called Love Line. The descent involved a rappel and a fourth class scramble during which Kelly stopped, looked at me and said "dude this is how we're getting off of our route". It took a minute for the true meaning of what he said to sink in. We were actually walking off. Which in the grand scheme of things meant we had actually topped out. Which meant we had actually finished the route! Grinning like kids in a candy store we congratulated ourselves again.
The sun had set and we had thirty minutes to make it back to the car before the ever so friendly NPS would cheerfully write us a ticket for having too much fun in our park. Though exhausted and emotionally drained we ran all the way back to the car giggling like little boys trying to get home from the candy store before Momma whooped their ass. The vultures were still waiting in the trees when we got to the parking lot. The true guardians of the park watched from the branches above as two giggling boys jumped into the last car and boogied home leaving them to do what ever it is that vultures do at night.
The story actually started about eight years ago. I was a neophyte climber bumbling my way through what I affectionately refer to as my suicidal years. Low on experience and high on myself, I spent about two hours looking for the start of the Salathe Route on the Hand. I circumnavigated the formation at least twice, my nose stuffed in the guidebook, tripping over rocks and bushes and fully missing the now quite obvious fact that the route started about a hundred feet over my head in the notch between the Thumb and the Hand. At this point in my climbing career looking at a topo was about as useful as taking your wallet to the crags. In other words there was, of course, a miniscule chance that it would come in handy, but more than likely you would be better off leaving it in the car. I can't remember if we actually did the Salathe route that day, but more importantly I remember standing under the overhanging East face and wondering why in the world no one had put up a route that went from the base to the top of this magnificent wall. In retrospect I realize that a seed had been sown, a seed that would take years to blossom and would teach me more about climbing, myself, and adventure in five days spread over three years than I would accumulate in the next six years.
Over the next few years I climbed a lot. I acquired skills (Hell, I could even read a topo!) and with those skills came confidence. After the confidence came boredom. One Spring I tried to do every route on Discovery wall the two exceptions being February Fools, a vertical scramble through a giant poison oak bush and Coffin Nail, which scares the living shit out of me for some reason. My thirst was getting harder and harder to quench. I gazed at the vast expanses of unclimbed rock and the seed that had been planted years past started to germinate. It soon became obvious that I had to taste unclimbed rock and I knew exactly where that rock was going to be. The Hand was calling. With nothing more than an idea and the bliss of ignorance I set out to get the tools and skills I would need. I had become friends with a group of Santa Cruz climbers whom had actually done first ascents at the Pinnacles and I exploited their knowledge extensively. I'm sure I annoyed the heck out of them as I followed them around asking stupid questions about hooking and drilling. It seemed fairly straight forward, you just hooked onto the rock with this metal hook thing and drilled a hole with a hammer and this chisel like drill thingamajigie. Then you pounded in the expansion bolt and bingo you have pro.
A trip to the hardware store netted me a beautiful two-pound sledgehammer, which I promptly taped a runner to. Smiling ear to ear I surveyed my first piece of "real" climbing gear. The drill was a little more problematic, but I found a woman whom was adamant that her husband would never need a drill and I was way more than welcome to take it. With the drill came a few bolts and a hanger. Man, all I needed now was some rock! As the clock struck 10:30 that night, I found my self scrambling around on the Santa Cruz Harbor jetty looking for the just perfect boulder to drag home and start my illustrious first ascent career on. Living in an apartment building has many draw backs and not being able to hand drill holes in a boulder on your living room floor at 11:00 P.M. is just one of them. The next day I came up with some lame excuse as to why I absolutely had to leave work early and rushed home to drill! I filled that poor boulder with holes, banging relentlessly on the poor thing with my two-pound sledge and I'm sure causing quiet concern amongst my neighbors. Being a full-fledged expert now, I lined up a partner and set out to put up a practice route.
My Brother Chris was my first victim and on a blistering October Day we set out from the parking lot to make a route. We didn't get far. In fact, we never made it past the Tourist Trap. We spotted a short face, which in an ignorant bliss we didn't realize was tucked between two protectable cracks. I hooked and banged my way up that short little wall all day long while my poor brother just sat there in the blistering sun holding the rope. One anchor bolt was all I could muster before I gave into exhaustion, dehydration, and the ridiculous two-pound sledge. I called it a day and as a reward for his patience I insisted that my little brother have the first lead. After we both led the route we dubbed it the Wee Little One and started the short walk back to the parking lot. In the next year I would learn that my route was considered an abomination by some of the climbers doing first ascents in the park. A short letter war was waged on the Friends Of The Pinnacles web page and I slowly began to accept the folly of my route. Which is short, contrived (you have to consciously avoid the cracks while climbing), has been led without the bolts and is in one of the few places in the park that has party size restrictions. Could I have fucked up any more? Well at least it was bolted on lead. As luck would have it the moves are actually good and enough people were climbing the route that my critics finally abated their threats to chop it. But regardless of the fallout, I had accomplished what I set out to do and I now felt ready to attempt the East Face of the Hand, which was a big leap to say the least.
My next victim was a local Santa Cruz climber named Lou Renner. Lou makes his living running a successful guiding business and has an impressive record of FA's in the Alps and the Sierras. What I didn't realize was that Lou is better on snow and ice than he is on technical rock. When we finally made our way to the base and I showed him the wall I wanted to climb his reaction was a little less than enthusiastic. As it turns out he thought I was the expert and I thought he was the expert. This was turning out to be a classic case of the blind leading the blind and a grand adventure in the making. The wall is around 250' tall and overhangs about 30' at the top. It also some how manages to support large sections of dangerously loose rock and the route finding alone was out of my scope of experience. Basically we both realized that we were in way over our heads, and yet we forged on.
Drilling the first bolt is always a little nerve wracking. What you do is find a little pebble that's just high enough off the ground that if you deck you'll only break your legs, set your hook on said pebble and try to slam in a bolt before it breaks and deposits you back onto flat ground. On Pinnacles rock it's a race with bad odds. Lou being the vastly more experienced climber flatly told me that he wasn't drilling any bolts until we were high enough that there was absolutely no chance of decking. As it turned out I did hit the deck while drilling the second bolt. I guess I lost the pebble race on that one. Shaken up but unharmed I immediately jumped up and found another pebble to race. The third bolt found me stuck to the wall with a tangled spider web of daisy's, slings and hopelessly stupid gear that would only hold my weight if I pulled on it in a certain direction. To top it off there was a lot of soft rock around that would not support a bolt and the only good stuff I found required me to drill from a very awkward position as I had to be constantly pulling on the gear from a left orientation. It actually took me two hours to drill the hole and my illusions of grandeur were crashing to the ground all around me.
The first bolt taught me that you can trust the hook, the second bolt taught me that you can't trust the hook and the third bolt taught me that sometimes you won't get a good hook placement. The fourth bolt taught me that sometimes you can just sit on your butt and watch someone else do the dirty deed. By the time Lou finished his bolt the vultures had begun their evening dance in the thermals so we packed it up and headed for the car. Lou was leaving for Chamonix next week and we made plans to come back next season to work on the route. As it turned out Lou would never make back to the Hand to work on the route. You see he's one of those "real" climbers who likes to make big plans for big climbs, months in advance and crawling around on an overhanging clump of mud is not his idea of a big climb.
After a year of waiting for Lou to find a spare day, I realized that I needed another partner. My list of prospective partners had a grand total of one viable applicant. As luck would have it my friend Kelly Rich was the perfect man for the job. In fact when I described my project to him he knew exactly which wall I was working on. He explained that he had been drooling over that line for years and yes he would be stoked to have a chance to work on it. On our first day we added four more bolts and with only about ten feet of climbing before we reached the ledge we had picked for the first anchor we noticed the vultures were doing their daily dance in the evening thermals. It was time to pack it up and hike back to the car. That night I stayed up late writing about my experience.
Oh my god, I just got back from one of the most intense days of climbing in my life. I saw god and he spared me! On 12/15/99 Kelly Rich and I set out to finish a route I started a year ago on The Hand. Kelly has been involved in many FA's at the Pinnacles and I was stoked to have his breadth of experience for the rest of the adventure. The route, Love Line, attacks a moderately overhanging 250' wall on the East face of The Hand. Standing at the base of the route we looked up and tried to map out the next fifty feet that would lead to the cozy looking alcove that was obviously our first objective. The last bolt timidly sat in its hole at the bottom of a steep bulge that was alarmingly devoid of cobbles. I had been carrying around the weight of that bulge for over a year and I was quite ready to crack its secrets.
When I started up, I had a feeling that Kelly would be disappointed if I hung on the last bolt (he has a bad case of climbing ethics) before launching into the unknown, but I had no intention of battling my way through the infamous bulge without at least a little inspection. I had already popped a knob and whipped onto the last bolt a year ago and I knew that Kelly had no idea what it was really like up there. We bickered about hanging on the bolt for about one minute and he refused to give me tension. I really wanted to go past it with out hanging, but was way too intimidated to seriously consider it. I offered to lower off and let him have the next bolt but he declined. I clipped a daisy into the bolt (fuck you Kelly Rich) and proceeded to map out the sequences to my next hook placement and ultimately the next bolt.
The wall is fairly steep there, and the moves are complicated - I thought around .10c Kelly thought .10d. I crossed my left hand to an incut side-pull got my right foot up and reached for a decent pinch with my right hand. From there it's either a bump or a cross to a great side pull and a decent stance unfortunately too low for the next bolt! I then made a long reach with my left hand to another pinch got my feet up and crossed my right to a large sloper. Then I got my left foot up and dead pointed to a great knob with my left hand. Yes! I was ready to start drilling. Unfortunately I was using a Yates adjustable daisy and had neglected to extend it after clipping it to the last bolt. I couldn't get it to reach the fucking knob! I had two options - either climb down to the last bolt or at least to within jumping distance and extend the daisy hanging on the rope or try to manipulate the buckle with one hand. It took me somewhere between five minutes and five years to extend the daisy with one hand. I fired in (read as at least forty minutes+) a 3 3/4 " rawl wedge anchor and lowered off. Ha ha now it was Kelly's turn to host Love Line.
We pulled the rope; he tied in and started up. Somewhere between the first and second bolt he mumbled something about "harder than it looked," at the third bolt he was softly cursing, and by the fourth he was asking for tension. Ahh vindication is sweet! After a short rest and sequence mapping he launched off and clipped the fifth bolt. Then without resting he headed into the great unknown. "Yo Kelly maybe you should put a bolt in!" "Just a little farther", "uh Kelly that's a pretty good run there", "can't find a decent hook placement gotta go farther", "fuck dude that's a bogus fall!" Bang bang in goes the next bolt in half the time it took me. Which kind of bummed me out because I thought I would get to eat lunch while he drilled. Oh well. I lowered him off and pulled the rope. Now it was my turn to host Love Line.
I cruised past the fourth bolt got a good shake at the fifth and headed out to Kelly's run out sixth bolt. I got another good shake at Kelly's last bolt and, determined to make him proud, launched off to place what we thought would be the last bolt before the alcove we were aiming for. What looked like well-featured slab from the ground turned out to be overhanging and rotten! Scared out of my wits I made some hard to remember fairly strenuous moves (.9+/.10-) to a cantaloupe sized knob and a comfortable stance (I'm using the term stance loosely). I promptly told Kelly that I was putting in a bolt right here! "Dude if you put it there we'll have to put in another before the alcove", "too bad! I'm already out farther than I want to fall." I learned a long time ago that when I'm on lead I'm the boss and fuck the bum clipped to the anchor telling me what to do! Unfortunately upon closer inspection I decided that the knob I was on was not worthy of hooking/holding all my weight.
I spied another great knob about eight feet higher and started trying to figure out how to get there. The rest is very hazy but I remember getting my right foot up really high and doing one of those kind of sideways mantel things off of my hand hold then getting my left foot up almost as high as my left hand reaching high with my right hand and still not reaching my objective. At this point I'm completely committed and looking at least a thirty footer. Fuck me what now! I uttered a short prayer trying not to omit any Gods or Goddesses that I've ever heard of and jumped! Yes! I stuck the knob and better yet it held! "Please God, Please God, Please God" I wrapped a sling around the knob and slowly applied my full weight to it. All was well as long as the knob held. I was now somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet out slung to the wall on a questionable knob and trying not to look down. Unfortunately my eyes kept glancing down at the ridiculous amount of rope that led to the last bolt. I was wasting time I knew that I was in peril until I got the drill in at least an inch and clipped it. Bang bang I chipped away at my peril in what seemed like fractions of an inch per hour. I was high enough that I wouldn't ground, but at the least I'd probably break an ankle. The relief that I felt as I finally clipped the finished bolt was most definitely worth the harrowing odyssey that necessitated it.
After Kelly got another bolt in that evening we both took clean runs to our high point. The vultures paid no attention to the two tired humans as they made their way back to the parking lot, but they may have noticed the small piece of shiny metal that hung almost half way up the East face of the Hand.
Fast forward to one year+ later and the rare day when Kelly and I both have a free day to work on Love Line. A late start from Santa Cruz complicated things in the parking lot at Bear Creek visitor center. Chastised by an unfamiliar ranger in an orange safety vest for just stopping in the road and looking for an empty parking spot left us both wondering if we were even going to make it out to the Hand that day.
Mixed emotions swam around in my head, as I knew the next lead on Love Line was mine and the run outs had been torturing my mind for over a year. In fact I was quite worked up about it and a small part of my mind was very secretly relieved that I wouldn't have to lead it today! But alas fate would not let me off that easy. It was actually half my fault 'cause we saw some climbers walking up the road and I stopped to give them a ride, hoping to garner some good parking karma. In a bizarre and almost mystical set of circumstances we snagged a legal parking space right out from under about twenty desperate climbers who were hoping to avoid the long walk from the Chalone Creek overflow parking lot. Arggg! I guess today would be the day.
The walk out to the Hand went fast and smooth and I soon found myself roped up ready to climb. Upon inspection of my impending doom I was relatively sure I wouldn't get killed, but I haven't had medical insurance for ten years (basically since I dropped out of society and started climbing full time) and even a broken ankle would be suicidal on some level. To say the least the all too familiar demons were running amuck in my head! "Fuck it, I'm out of here!" I heard myself say, as I was clipping the first bolt before I was even on belay. I was freaking out and 5.9 felt like 5.11.
Amped out of my mind I found myself at the stance before the technical crux quite quickly. It was coming back to me now and with the bolt somewhere between my knees and my belly I felt fairly safe. I launched into the crux sequences with growing confidence. My left hand is crossed onto the small but incut sidepull, my right foot is planted impossibly high and I'm ready to make the hard pull up and right to the good pinch which is the exact middle of the crux. I'm feeling a little heavy and curse my self for being fat, old and lazy. To top off an already too perfect moment I heard Kelly sheepishly say "dude we have to have a picture of this historic first ascent". As the true meaning of his words sunk in I looked down in dismay to see him twenty feet out from the cliff, back turned to me, rope gracefully arcing from the belay device to the ground and ever so slowly to the first bolt, and him rooting around in the pack for the camera! Beautiful I think and fuck you is what I say. Kelly snapped a few pics of me 5.10 posing and I gratefully finished the crux sequences.
Since the stance at the crux bolt is non-existent I didn't dally long before launching into the first run out section. I was pumped pretty good and lamenting about being fat when Kelly reports "uh Stevi we have a problem". Since I was concentrating on getting to the stance in the middle of the run out I didn't respond to his great news. After an all too quick shake I looked down to see what the latest fuss was about. I wish I could say that I was a good sport about it but truth be told I was steamed to say the least. As it turned out the haul line had looped around itself and snagged the hammer, the drill and the bolt kit! All in all I was carrying an extra twenty pounds. HA! I knew I wasn't fat. I'm four feet from the next bolt, forteen feet above the last bolt, pumped and moderately stanced, and Kelly explains that I'll have to down climb until he can reach the mess and untangle it. Grrr This is going just great! I opted to climb to the next bolt where I clipped and lowered. Well, I see, this wall isn't going to give up her treasures that easily. A quick temper tantrum while Kelly pulled the rope and I was ready to go.
As I looked up at this wall I had dreamed about for almost three years, I relived the epic story of every bolt placement, the laughter, the horror, the awesome walks back to the car in the late evenings, the love for my two friends Lou Renner and Kelly Rich, all this I saw and I knew this was it she was going down now. My ascent was flawless. The love of life was coursing strongly threw my system and I was on fire.
The crux was behind me before I even knew it and pow I was clipping the bolt after the first run out. The second run out lay before me. This was the actual moment I had been dreading but in my heightened state the bolt seemed to almost reach out to me. The bolt it self seemed to turn into a white rabbit (oops wrong story). Eighteen feet is only a few moves, right? Well, I guess if the moves are BIG! Strangely enough I can never clearly remember the actual climbing in that section. I have vague glimpses of grasping large holds, making big high steps pushing hard, reaching, pulling and clipping. But the mental crux of the route never clearly defines herself after the actual moment. Nonetheless I had clipped the dreaded bolt and was ready to make some anchors. The next bolt was moderately close and on merely vertical ground so I made haste getting there. A few unexpectedly difficult feet brought me to a beautiful alcove and a no hands drilling stance. She was done!
Either I'm incredibly lame or the rock on the Hand is incredibly hard because it took me three plus hours to drill the anchor bolts. Fortunately the first pitch anchor alcove is quite comfy and it was not an unpleasant three plus hours. Kelly had tied me off to the first bolt and a bush and was wandering around the base while I sang almost every song off of Jimi's "Axis Bold As Love" Album to the rhythmic pounding of the hammer. Eventually I was ready to bring Kelly up and he made quick work of the pitch. I was seriously blown from the ten thousand plus hammer blows I had just struck, but Kelly was fired up to launch into the second pitch. The alcove, dubbed the Love Seat, is quite luxurious. It has a very nice square block to sit on which puts the anchor bolts on a horizontal ledge at your chest. It's kinda like sitting at a desk. My plan was to eat and drink while Kelly started the second pitch. With all my supplies laid out on the desk top in front of me I gave Kelly the go ahead to start the second pitch.
The Hand has a very hard matrix and a very generous sprinkling of absolutely giant cobbles strewn across its steep East Face. And this is about all that the first and second pitch share in common. As you step left off the Love Seat ledge you leave behind the relatively moist (by comparison) environment of the lower half of the route. You leave behind the gray green lichen and rounded nature of the cobbles edges. You rise above the protection of the surrounding hills and the vista dominated by the sky, the Frog and lots of bushes. Here the environment is more arid, the lichen is a bright and lively chartreuse and a energetic red-orange that attacks individual cobbles creating a very colorful and generous supply of clearly defined holds for the vertical adventurer to choose from.
Besides the prospects of the second pitch you are rewarded for the first pitch's effort by a stunning panorama of all the Pinnacles major formations east of the Hand, which is pretty much everything! To your left lay two major drainages the Neglected and the Deserted valleys. They funnel down from the high peaks directly towards the Hand and from this vantage offer all their mysteries and secretes to the observer. Elusive formations with names like Rubble Wall, The Gargoyle, Little Mustagh can be visually explored by someone with time on their hand(s). If you know what one looks like you can even make out the Unmentionable (Hint; you might have to squint real hard). Pipsqueak Pinnacle, The Anvil and The carousel are all exposed, as are parts of Discovery Wall and the Monolith. The Reservoir is at your feet and stretches east to the Dam where tourists and climbers can be heard quite clearly from your lofty perch. And of course Tibercio's X, The Sisters, The Hatchet and all the formations east of the Dam are laid before you as jewels in a wilderness showcase. All this beauty and my lunch spread out before me was a dream that could only be interrupted by that annoying tugging on the rope and Kelly's droning triad about paying attention while he drilled.
As usual Kelly had fired in his bolts faster than I expected and was ready to come back to the ledge. Which, of course, meant two things - one I had to pay attention to get Kelly back to the ledge and two I was expected to head out and place a bolt or two. I secretly had no intention of drilling any holes, but I donned the kit and hammer any ways. The exit moves off the ledge are harder than they look and spooky. A reachy clip protects the first .10a bulge that gains access to the surrealistic ramp that heads up and left. From the safety of the anchor I thought Kelly's bolts were a little too close together but upon testing the climb itself I found the second bolt a welcome friend. After passing the bolt I pawed pathetically at a large chartreuse hold, trying to make the climbing look next to impossible and looked over my shoulder at the vultures' evening dance that I had been watching steadily grow to a crescendo for the last hour. "Getting late Kelly, we better boogie".
Kelly was a little disappointed as he was leaving for Indian Creek in a few days and actually had plans of finishing the route that day. I on the other hand had other projects in the Pinnacles to while away my time with. We rapped off the new anchors, which was nice because up to this point we had been bailing off of some run out bolt or other. Back at the car we bid farewell to the vulture guardians and drove into the soft evening light and put "Love Line" on hold for a couple more weeks. As usual we were accompanied home by the warm glow of satisfaction and the tingling excitement of true adventure.
It seemed an eternity since we had last worked on Love Line and in fact we both had an eternity's worth of stories to share on the drive and walk out to the Hand that day. I had been tirelessly hiking every square foot of the Pinnacles searching for quality rock and had lots to report. I had climbed a new crack on Discovery Wall, started a heinous route on Kesprik's Rock and discovered an actual quality bouldering area. Kelly told me all the details of the lightening strike and subsequent rescue off of North Six Shooter Tower of our good bud Peter Carrick who lived but suffered third degree burns over a large percentage of his body. We chatted nonstop for hours and before I knew it I was Pawing at the same chartreuse hold I had faked an impasse at weeks before.
Previously unclimbed rock at the Pinnacles demands your utmost attention and focus and our conversation abruptly ceased as I latched onto the previously unreachable and infamous chartreuse hold. Maybe we were both a little more hardened from our adventures over the last couple weeks, whatever it was the bolting went fast and smooth that day. I got two more bolts in on the initial traverse, which left Kelly with the vertical forge into the rotten band.
In his usual style he authored the first spicy run outs of the second pitch. Climbing straight up from the fourth bolt he fired a spooky .10a section fairly high above my last bolt and ran another few feet of easy climbing to a large knob he described as being "just like a cone head from the old Saturday Night Live Show." From there he traversed left directly through the rotten band. This section is characterized by extremely easy, though tenuous climbing on large and scary cobbles many of which are as big or bigger than watermelons. And, of course, you are accompanied by Kelly's signature and mind bending run outs. The traversing nature of the pitch was making it increasingly more difficult to regain the anchors after each successive bolt and a comedic engineering feat of Tomfoolery rope work brought Kelly back to the anchors and put me into the hot seat.
Again I was psychologically blown and had no intention of placing any more bolts. But, the cursed vultures were nowhere to be seen and I had to think of another way out my mission. Yow! Kelly's first bolt of the day was a doozy. I found my self jumping for and pulling hard on a giant watermelon, with fractures all the way around it, way too far above the last bolt. The conehead hold brought short relief as I looked left and wished I had brought my binoculars to help me spy Kelly's next bolt. I tip toed through the minefield of giant cobbles, which has the un-nerving affect of constantly forcing you to look at your feet thus bringing into view the rocky streambed two hundred feet below. Which wouldn't be so bad except that at one point you can't see the bolt below or the bolt above and under those circumstances even 5.6 cobble hopping can be forlorn experience. I silently saluted Kelly's testicles and clipped his last bolt, took a deep breath of relief and looked up at my destiny.
Holy macaroni! Well at least I now know why Kelly was being so nice to me and giving me with that "fare thee well old friend" kind of look. A hefty bulge guarded the exit from the rotten band and I was expected to either run it out to and over the bulge hoping for sound rock and good protection or ever so carefully push another bolt into the mud and then fire the bulge with the added confidence of a crappy bolt. The good news was that I had every right to and Kelly had no objection to my procrastinating another day. The bad news was that I had to live with that death row mentality for another twenty-four hours.
Walking back to the car, Kelly sensed my depression and tried to console me by saying that the next thirty feet of the route "will be the best climbing that Pinnacles will ever offer you." I knew in my heart that he was right and some small part of my spirit grasped onto that thought as a sailor would a life preserver in stormy seas, but the overwhelming majority of me wondered if I would live to appreciate my next thirty-feet. Which of course was ridiculous because you could never deck from up there. Actually there's absolutely nothing to hit if you did pitch even if you, God forbid, pulled the crux bolt. But alas when the demons are loose in a climber's head every slip is a near ground fall and death is always just one step behind you.
I didn't sleep well that night as every creak and groan of our old house jolted me awake from the same fucking nightmare. Repeatedly I awoke clutching my pillow just as my hook was slipping and grinding on the rock and I would look down to see great coils of rope furling and flapping around me not a bolt to be seen just me the rope and the ground and the wind I mustn't forget the wind. I hadn't eaten much more than a couple of beers that night and the next morning I was too worked up to eat breakfast. I was sitting on the front porch soaking up the mid-morning sun when Kelly's car cruised up my street. I could tell from the look on his face that we both felt like shit and the day was going to be all work. Our usually buoyant conversation was curt and strained as we struggled with a few awkward attempts at levity. After that most of the drive and walk was punctuated by silence and my new mantra of "the next thirty feet of climbing will be the best that Pinnacles will ever offer me". A phrase I'm sure that Kelly was wishing he had never enlightened me with. Before we left the upper lot I signed the register with our destination and the words "Big day, late start."
Kelly led the first pitch. He was fast and efficient and I was soon at the Love Seat sorting out the junk in preparation of my final destiny. I chanted my mantra one more time and left the belay with a "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" kind of mentality. At some point I just let go of the fear and decided to enjoy the climbing. Whatever the outcome I was going to make the best of what I was doing right then. With my new attitude I quickly found myself clipping the last bolt. In my mind I wanted to go straight up and tested the moves a few times, but I was stopped on each attempt by some psychological inability to make a dyno to a knob of unknown integrity. After my futile attempts to go straight up I explored the ground a little further left. And this netted me an interesting hook placement and the crappy bolt I was so looking forward pulling the bulge on. After gingerly pushing the Rawl 4" five piece bolt into the dried mud I was dismayed to find that I couldn't get the bastard to tighten. Great, so now I had a really long and strong expansion bolt literally buried in mud and to top it off it had no real pull out strength because the fucking thing wouldn't expand! Given more time I may have screwed with it or even drilled another hole, but instead I opted to believe that it had at least a couple of falls in it. A quick verbal check into the quality of Kelly's last bolt and I was off.
Up and down and up and down I went from the two sloppy pinches at the lip of the bulge. The rock here is covered with dry flaky dark brown lichen and it showered down upon me as I desperately raked my hand across rock above the lip searching for hidden holds that would link me with the jugs to the right. So much lichen was coming down that Kelly asked what the hell I was doing. You can always tell when I'm scared because I won't answer any superfluous questions. I would rake until I pumped and then down climb to the last stance, shake out and then go up again for a little more lichen shower. This was getting ridiculous I wasn't finding the link to the jugs and now I was getting pumped quite quickly. On my last try I pumped almost immediately and was ready to test the crappy bolt when out of the blue and quite of its own volition my left hand snaked out in a brilliant dead point to a cobble that had been previously hidden by my tunnel vision. Time slowed as I helplessly watched my naughty hand cutting through the air towards its mysterious destination. Will you stick you naughty hand or will you force me to test Mr. Crappy Bolt? Wham! Time speeds back to normal and my hand automatically wraps around the deep incut on the backside of the incredible mystery jug. "Ha-Ha it's a super jug, a true thank goder, Hee Hee Ha Ha I stuck I stuck, Kelly it's a miracle, ya gotta keep going left damn that's it!" Kelly heard some muffled exclamations and braced for the fall as I worked on getting my feet over the lip so I could rest my still pumped arms.
Once over the lip I found myself in a merely vertical field of cobbles of truly epic size. I slung the nearest beach ball and started exploring for good rock with sharp blows from my hammer. Instead of the snappy sharp report from the hammer blows I was expecting I was greeted by the hollow and sickening thud of hollow rock. Bang bang my shining moment was quickly dissipating with each hammer blow that announced the less than satisfactory rock quality. The reality of my situation was making it self quite clear and though he couldn't see Kelly could hear exactly what was going on. I heard him say in a sheepish and fare thee well old friend kind of voice "not good huh?" Damn it, here I am in a field of rotten rock ten feet above Mr. Crappy Bolt hopelessly looking for some good rock. Why? Why does this always happen to me!
But wait - I'm saved. I've found a small three-inch square section of rock that at least sounds solid. For a minute I actually considered slapping in a bolt that would for sure hold body weight and lowering to the safety of the Love Seat. But my conscience and Kelly's urging forced me on and upward. My next best bet was a cluster of basketballs another ten feet up. The climbing was obviously easy I just needed to calm my nerves and that ol' Mr. Crappy Bolt was not helping the calming process. I looked around for supplementary pro and spotted a killer little crack between two deeply imbedded cobbles a little ways below me. Well bad pro is better than no pro I said as I seated the nut as hard as I could with the hammer. Onward and upward I charged and I soon had the last bolt in.
The summit was just one slung knob and thirty feet of 5.6 climbing away. I tasted it, I wanted it and I told Kelly I was going for it. Kelly objected and explained that I had put in two bolts and it was his turn to climb. I told him the summit was right there and I wanted it bad! He countered with the fact that if I topped out without tagging the anchors and pulling the rope we wouldn't even have an official red point. In the end his logic beat out my summit fever and with one more longing glance at the summit I lowered back to The Love Seat.
Kelly was stoked - he had an incredible first ascent laid at his feet on a golden platter. The crux bolts were in place and all that was left was one slung knob and a stroll to the summit. I can't take away from Kelly's final lead that afternoon; in fact it was one of the best leads I've ever seen. I gave him a hug and wished him luck as he left. It was all up to him now and he performed flawlessly. He pumped, he rested, he tackled the runouts with tempered confidence and though there was a tight moment at the bulge he pushed through with an excruciating moan that made my arms pump. I was so proud of him, of us, and all that we had accomplished. Muffled screams from the summit marked the fruition of all our work and dreams. The hammer blows that followed were both a blessing and a curse for though our adventure was at hand it was also over.