February 13, 2006

Carla the Stripper

I’ve been called out on not having anything about climbing on my blog yet, so I thought I would share a story of one of my first-ever climbing experiences at Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon.
It was a spectacular March day, more than 70 degrees with sunny skies. I think it was Walter and I’s third weekend in a row. We left late on Saturday night, and slept out under the stars (it was frickin freezing, frost on the bags). Walter wanted to drive to the end of the road to camp, so we ended up sleeping pretty much in the middle of the road. We woke up super early, and drove to the park, the first ones to arrive at 7 am.
Per usual, we warmed up on 5 gallon buckets, a huecoed out, beautiful 5.8 that Walter normally climbed barefoot. Spreading out the old windsurfing sail Walter employed as a rope bag/tarp/emergency shelter in a pinch, we climbed Buckets and the 5.9 next to it. In typical Walter fashion, he gathered up the flaked out rope in the sail (which is, I might add, full on 80’s colors, white with pink and turquoise…and who knows what other colors. But I have no room to talk with my anodized turquoise/magenta quickdraws, aptly nicknamed the Duran Duran draws), hobo style, over his shoulder and proceeded to practically run to the next routes while I’d barely begun to unlace my shoes.
Eventually we made it to the Phoenix Wall, where I had never climbed. The texture of the rock is different here than in much of the park, my fingertips were trashed after only 3 routes, the hardest of which was a 5.11 something, the crux a nasty bulge to pull over near the top. Having nearly killed (an exaggeration, but scary nonetheless) Walter the weekend before in Cocaine Gully because I was not anchored down while belaying him, and was dumb enough to sit about 20 feet from the wall while lowering him on TR, I decided to anchor into a tree for this route, as Walter had never led it before and well, it just looked heinous. He pulled it off without incident though, which meant I had to lug my butt up it to clean it.
At this point it was about 1:30, and the park was a zoo, filled with all the weekend warriors from Bend and Portland. We had already climbed about 7 routes, more than most people do in a full day of climbing, but Walter thought we should hike over to the Marsupials on the eastern edge of the park, a couple of miles away from where we were. I was tired, but couldn’t resist the challenge.
Once in the Marsups, we climbed a newer route, grade 5.10 something called “The Edge of the World.” Because it had this heinously exposed traverse that was awkward, and just plain nauseating, we re-named it “Edge of the Hurl”, and demoted it from a 3 star route to a 0 star route in the guidebook. From here, we hiked up the hill to climb the 3 beautiful, but juicy, routes on the backside of Brogan Spire. By the end of the third, an overhanging 5.11b, I was totally wasted. But, since it was still daylight, we weren’t finished quite yet. Hiking down the hill, and doing a little class 4 scrambling, we ended up on the north side of the Spire, where Walter proceeded to do a one-move wonder short pumpy, boulder problem-esque little route that I don’t remember the name of, next to Tuff Shit. Thinking we were surely done, as we had about a 45 minute hike out, and it was growing dusky, I started to take my shoes off, completely exhausted but satisfied with a great day of climbing. Walter had other ideas. Just down the trail from us, there was a multi-pitch 5.7 called Carla the Stripper. I started to object, but Walter argued before I could utter a peep, “Val it’s only 5.7!”. I later learned to just say no to Walter, as advised by all of his friends, but at the time I was still naïve, and easily persuaded due to my enthusiasm for climbing.
Walter set off, and I wearily belayed him, thinking about how insane this was. When he got to the top, he pulled the rope, I tied in and started climbing, knowing full well we would be rappelling in the dark. This little 5.7 felt like a 5.10 to me, or worse, and it took a lot of effort to make it up, even on top rope. Once I got to the top, as the last vestiges of daylight dwindled, and Walter said “Ok Val, now, here’s what we’re going to do so we don’t have to set up 2 rappels. You are going to traverse over to the Tuff shit anchors, I’ll keep you on belay, and when you get there, you can just clip in, pull the rope and belay me over.” “Why me first?” I asked. “Because, you are already tied in”, he answered. So, I was going to traverse this exposed ridge, having no idea where the hell I was going, completely dehydrated and exhausted, practically in the dark? At that moment, I was pretty sure I was going to die. But I felt that I had no other choice, so I timidly starting walking. Luckily, I found a bolt to clip into about halfway over, so that if I fell while downclimbing to get to the Tuff Shit anchors, the swing wouldn’t be quite as bad. By the time I found the chains, it was pretty much dark. Walter headed toward me, and I wondered if he had his headlamp with him. Once he arrived, we set rappel and I went first. It was interesting, in the dark. I never would have admitted it at the time, but it was actually quite fun. And no, Walter did not have his headlamp for the rappel, but did have it in is pack. I did not have mine, but ever since Carla the Stripper and the midnight rappel, I have always carried one with me.
Hiking back in the dark would have been straightforward, but Walter wanted to take a short cut, so we ended up cross-countrying it to get to the Burma Road, walking straight downhill and crossing a huge dry irrigation ditch. The rest of the hike is easy, and you think it’s gravy…until you get to the part where you have to climb out of the river canyon to reach the parking lot. The trail switchbacks its way up the hillside, not normally difficult really, but after an epic day like ours, it was brutalizing.
My car was the last one left in the parking lot. Walter climbed 13 routes that day, and I climbed 12. Because Walter is an engineer, and German, he actually calculated our average grade for the day. I can’t remember it now, but it was high, 5.9 or 5.10a maybe. I was more amused by the fact that he actually spent time finding the average. I’ve never been so tired, and the next day, I couldn’t actually open my hands at all!
That would be my last trip with Walter until late fall. He was off to Everest Base Camp in April for 6 weeks, and I would have other things going on. He did point out to me that in three days that March, we climbed about 33 routes, which provided me with an excellent base for the season. I look back on that now, and I miss those days. I really did live for climbing, and had an undying enthusiasm that would be quelled only by injury; I developed severe tendonitis in both elbows the following November, and haven’t been able to climb that hard since. Most people say I did too much, too soon, but I have a tendency to disagree. I was passionate, and I loved every minute of it. Had I just dabbled, kept my climbing on a schedule, it might not have been so fulfilling and rewarding. Throwing myself into the sport saved me from other things going on in my life, and being a reasonably capable beginner motivated me to continue pushing hard. It also gave me a confidence and belief in myself that I needed at the time to figure myself out, and get to the point where I could accept myself for who I was.
I still climb, but last year’s season paled in comparison to my first. I was forced to take it slow, be patient, allow myself to rest in order to ward off bouts of tendon flare-ups. I started climbing with the BOPS (Bitches on Pitches) all women climbing group based out of Redmond. I have better learned to relax, to laugh, and that it is ok to be a part-time climber if that is what I need to be. Carol Simpson, co-owner of Redpoint Climbers supply and First Ascent Climbing Guide Services, is a real inspiration to all of us girls out there. She has been climbing for 20 plus (??) years, is as enthusiastic and motivated about climbing as I was my first season, and is amazing to watch as she floats up the rock. Most of all, she has fun out there, enjoys a beer afterward, and is always psyched to be out there. In a male dominated sport, it is refreshing to see a gaggle of gals queuing up on some heinous crack in the Lower Gorge, cracking up over some dirty joke that Carol or Steph has just told. It is a reminder that, ultimately, this is why we climb. Because we love it, no matter how difficult or easy it seems at the time, or how hard we are pushing ourselves, we love feeling the rock at our fingertips, seeing the ground below, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with reaching the anchors. Even in the dark.
Photos, top to bottom: Smith Rock State Park, Walter and me at the base of 5 gallon buckets (Nov. '04), Walter carrying the sail hobo style, Me, on Blue Light Special, The Shipwrecks (Nov. 04), and Walter, Trout Creek Cracks (June '04).

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