By Jim Herson
It is highly unusual for a climbing partner to request, in this case plead, for anonymity in the weekly trip report. But then Rob Moellering is a highly unusual man.
Rob walked straight out of a Nick Hornby novel. Rob's relationships really do rise and fall with the woman's CD collection. Rob, the insufferable idealist, recently bagged his cushy job to live the life, traveling the world to exotic locales, meeting wildly diverse people and climbing non-stop. In Rob's case this takes the form of weekly schleps through Oakdale with the same ratty SF climbing crew. Between Oakdale junkets Rob's honing himself for his two year climbing road trip by watching non-stop directTV baseball. Rob assures us that this is the year for his beloved Red Sox Apparently it's best to start a long road trip broken hearted?
The hot Valley forecast made suffering on the Captain a painful certainty. So we toyed with the idea of checking out one of the new stellar lines on the Incredible Hulk. Jeff Schoen and I froze out there two weeks ago but we had a blast on one of the best back country routes anywhere, Sun Spot Dihedral. Guaranteed to freeze (having packed no warm clothes) while being in the worse shape of my life made a stout back country route seem less appealing. So we headed to the Valley to fry.
Rob has never climbed El Cap and is apparently determined to keep it that way. He was psyched to try though and by way of training has been "bouldering a lot in the gym lately." The scent of a certain lack of big wall hone made jugs and a trail line seem like an attractive nuisance for Rob to tangle himself up in. So we bagged them and brought a Tiblock for backup. We moved slow but steady to a pitch below camp IV on the Nose. We were having a grand time and it felt great to be back on the Captain after 15 long painful months. And then in one 30 second gear exchange Rob managed to impart more bad news than I've heard in all my years of climbing combined.
"Rob, I'll need the nuts for this next bit."
"Uh, we don't have any nuts."
"Yeah we do."
"Would that be a biner of RPs you used on the anchor at Dolt?"
"You might be interest in knowing that those are still on the anchor at Dolt."
It's always painful when the explanation confirms your worse fears. Like explaining the $422 billion actual deficit being less than the $445 billion projected deficit as proof of successful Republican fiscal discipline. Rob's elaborate explanation about how he figured the RPs belonged to someone so he left them was not comforting. It was true though -- they just happen to belong to me.
I took inventory. With two TCUs and two cam hooks the great roof might be spicy but passable so with the usual Coalition of the Willing quorum of one we continued our attack.
"Uh, Jim, you might be interested in knowing that I'm out of water."
"No you're not. You had two liters."
"Uh, I was just taking little sips."
"Apparently lots of little sips"
Even our most scientifically challenged leader would have to concur with the vast majority of climatologist that things were about to get HOT AS HELL!
I took inventory. I had most of my liter left so we were in for a brutally dry, hot afternoon and a hell of a long night, capped with a deadly drive home. It's been done before. Fortunately Rob hadn't a clue about what was about to hit him and I could think of no particular reason to enlighten him. So we continued up.
"OK, when you start cramping just use the Tiblock."
"Uh, Jim, you might be interested in knowing that I forgot the Tiblock."
"Actually Rob, I'm not at all interested in anything else you might have to say. Just put me on belay."
The folly of my bonehead unilateralism was immediately driven home when I arrived at camp IV and put Rob on belay.
"Uh, Jim, you might be interested in knowing that I seem to have misplaced my climbing shoe."
With my remaining few synapses now fried I entered an oddly peaceful state. I rapped back down to find Rob looking less than the embodiment of the big wall alpinist standing there with his velcro climbing shoe stuck to his back.
The climbing literature is fairly unanimous about turning it around when your climbing partner starts wearing his climbing shoe on his back. So bracing for the inevitable juvenile "flip-flop" name calling I decided it was time to cut our loses.
In a spin that would have made Karl Rove blush, Rob seriously suggested he was pleased with the turn of events as he would now learn how to extract oneself from El Cap with a single rope. I assured Rob that I've never down climbed El Cap with a single rope because my partner tried to wear his climbing shoe on his back.
Rob's self-esteem was having a tough go of it. He didn't give me much to work with but I tried my best to comfort him. My first attempt might have fallen short though:
"Hey guy, cheer up. It's not like you had the climbing shoe pasted to your forehead."
On the way down a party asked if this was my first time up El Cap. This might have tweaked me in my former life but today I was grateful
"Yeah man! I've been bouldering a lot in the gym lately!"
Although I'm normally too cheap to leave gear on down climbs today it wasn't an issue having foolishly left Greg Murphy unsupervised during the last gear sort. I had no gear left to leave although I did have to part with one 12 year old biner and a 10 year old sling which of course was painful. When we arrived back at Dolt and retrieved the RPs we found some water. We considered heading back up and finishing the route but decided our friendship would definitely not have survived. The water seemed to have rejuvenated Rob. Rehydrated, the old bold and fit Rob was back in rare form yelling as I lowered him to place my down climbing gear:
"Watch me! I'm feeling strong. I'm running it out!"
But we survived -- a fate, you can be sure, that won't be shared by the Red Sox.
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