By Jim Herson
Theory suggests that a million monkeys furiously pounding at their keyboards will eventual produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Bolstered by these odds I returned to the Salathe.
Last year, thanks to Bill Wright and Jeff Schoen's good cheer and skillful support while heroically doing all the heavy lifting, I got high on the Salathe Headwall twice before melting on one day free attempts. And although on the last attempt I was looking down at the Headwall anchors, as opposed to being able to clip them, it was clearly time to move on and regain some perspective having let the obsession strain a good friendship. Of course nothing trumps perspective like the faint pinkish tint of a home pregnancy test. Although I've never met a deadline I couldn't slip there was no denying the finality of this one. But rather than dwell on the end of life as we know it I chose to embrace change. I would not squander the precious few remaining months and so after six months of moping and weight gain I went roaring back to the Captain desperately trying to tidy up some unfinished business.
Winter is long and hard in California, at least for those of us with an overly active warped mind in an old, broken down, inactive body. Not actually climbing anymore frees one to cook up some fairly wild stuff.
In danger of actually sending the route it was obviously time to significantly up the ante. Desperate, I came up with the "all-free" Salathe ascent -- both parties free every pitch carrying or hauling their own weight, unsupported and no cache. It was indeed a long and harsh winter.
And it would have stayed the harmless pipe dream of the delusional had not Justen Sjong moved to town. Justen would be the perfect partner for this madness and so I quickly signed him up. Justen and I complement each other well. Justen is a tall, blond, friendly kid. I'm a short, dark, bitter old man. Justen has infinite strength and flawless technique. I have swollen knuckles that slot like a set of hexes. We worked the Headwall some this winter until I became too depressed about my total lack of strength and fitness.
And then last month Peter Coward momentarily let down his I'm-sooo-done-with-the-Salathe guard and I instinctively struck. Actual fitness has never been a consideration when a great partner is game for the Salathe. So Peteman and I headed up the Salathe, each carrying our own pack. It was a blast with both of us doing lots of good free climbing and although Peteman proudly sent the Half Dollar wearing a pack he did weasel out of the soaked and disgusting sewer pitch by jummaring the upper bits. Things went well, sending P19 while once again being rejected by the Teflon Corner which was wet but that was hardly the problem. We tooled along having a grand time until I completely and totally bonked falling off Sous Le Toit, P27. 10c poppycock! Totally spent I could barely aid off. So much for climbing with a pack and the "all-free" pipe dream. Hopefully Justen will find a more worthy partner for this one. Anyway it was lots of fun with just the standard almost-lost-my-partner thing on the descent. Well to be honest it was a bit disconcerting to watch Peteman wildly careen out of control down the East Ledges Water Slide with my gear in his pack. Fortunately he didn't sail over the lip and in just a few months he'll be able to walk unsupported again.
My disappointment over being too feeble to climb with a pack paled in comparison to Derek's.
Derek Powell's excessive excitement over Anne's pregnancy had little to do with his primal desire to babysit. Derek's naivety, while endearing, has been key to my Salathe obsession. While I couldn't possibly calculate the amount of heavy lifting Derek has done on this route I can recall the low point of our Salathe journey. That would be the time we drove out to Pleasantan so Derek could push the van around Trader Joe's parking lot. Once started, he jumped in and we drove home. Anyway silly Derek was under the illusion that with two kids I would finally leave the Salathe and him in peace. True enough -- but he tragically overlooked the tiny window left to my climbing life.
Fortunately Derek could teach Sherpas a few things about good cheer under crushing loads and so once again Derek got out the jugs and happily went to work. While fun as always with some good climbing I again completely and totally bonked off Sous Le Toit. This time in the grueling heat, both completely dehydrated, we staggered down the East Ledges at 1am to a very worried Derek's girlfriend Ginny who was having a harsh introduction to "El Cap time" (Anne no longer frets as long as I make it back by Tuesday.)
The following day I got up at 6am to bail on Mt Watkins with the hyper energetic Bill Wright. Thank goodness the approach was washed out so I had an out as I was toast. Bill was sympathetic to my broken down body and after a slow start while we waited for the shade we spent an excellent afternoon on the always stellar Crucifix.
While the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of Apartheid were noteworthy and might have caught some by surprise, nothing could have prepared one for the truly unimaginable: Jim sucking up to Greg!
Greg Murphy and I reached detente years ago when thanks to Greg's incessant and infuriating banter I was able to first redpoint the Headwall. It was a glorious moment -- although rigorously denied -- when Greg arrived at the anchor and for the briefest of moments might have been humbled. Greg claims it was only the wind -- it was a 37 degree howling snow storm after all -- but in my heart-of-hearts I know I heard Greg mumble "nice work" before launching into his usual searing critique of my dicy placements and lousy anchor. And so I would spend the rest of my adult life abusing great partners only to come painfully close to redpointing the route while Greg would only remind me 2-3 times a week that when I got serious about the Salathe to give him a call. That faint pinkish line changes one's perspective indeed.
Anyway scientific curiosity got the better of Greg and me when we endeavored to compare and contrast the Tracy Monday morning rush hour commute with its grueling Friday night counterpart. Sure enough the Monday morning Tracy commute is way stout and yet altogether different from the maddening Friday night brawl in which manic, strung out climbers wildly weave their way through the pack of tired, worn-out masses. Monday morning on the other hand is the deadly and surreal combination of the well rested and well caffeinated hoards going bumper-to-bumper with that same pair of now comatose, whipped weekend warriors who just hours prior had wobbled their way down El Cap. Contemplating sunrise while fighting Tracy morning traffic after 26hrs on the go was a bit of a let down to an otherwise outstanding weekend of cragging.
After an in depth study of central valley Friday night traffic flow (2hrs from Menlo Park->Pleasantan!) we enjoyed the typical slow Sat morning smoked salmon and latte breakfast. I jugged a pack to Heart for the next day and then toppled over when Greg handed me the pack for Mental Block! With a rack 10x the size of my biggest big wall rack [#5(2), #4.5(2), #4(4), #3(3) camalots!] I barely made it to the base. Had it not been for the mosquitoes ferocious prodding I would have collapsed.
Despite his constant whining and self doubt Greg expertly navigated this wide testpiece managing to weld in every damn piece of gear. By the time I jugged and unstuck all the gear I was spent. My hands were raw after spending most of the afternoon smashing a 10-lb rock against an over camed #5 -- something not always recommended by gear manufactures but hardly noteworthy for Greg's rack.
We crawled back to the van and collapsed for the day. Failed to get to sleep early, up at 3:30am, and climbing by 5:20am. Greg followed the Freeblast moaning about his torched elbow and then jugged with the pack from Heart to Long Ledge whining about his torched elbow and "jugging pinky." It wasn't cool but with a good breeze it was quite reasonable. Almost went for a 50' ride on the Teflon corner slipping on the runout, soaked, mossy, exit, but saved it otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. Of course the 10c dripping sewer pitch was by far the most gripping and difficult free climbing all day other than the crux of the Salathe, the 10c P6 slab move.
Greg was messing with me all day. He was quick, supportive, cheerful and encouraging. It totally freaked me out. It was no falls to the base of the Headwall where I was going strong on the opening moves when suddenly I broke, exploded off and demanded to know "who are you and what have you done with my partner?!" It was too unsettling so I just french freed to the top.
We wobbled down the East Ledges, stopping to admire Pete's skid marks, and drove out of the Valley around midnight. I have no recollection or idea how we made it intact to Buck Meadows where I finally had to pull over and crash for a few hours. We woke in time for an in depth analysis of peak Tracy Monday morning traffic. It's hard to imagine a more deadly situation. Nevertheless the pure weekender ascent now includes two rush hours and at work, though by no means conscience, by 9am.
At the entrance I had stopped and checked in with Anne knowing I couldn't possibly wake her as she hasn't slept in months having vicious pregnancy insomnia. Greg, however, couldn't risk waking Annie and didn't call as sleep is such a precious and rare commodity around the Murphy/Kersting household. Alex, their psycho 3yr son, had an entirely different take on mom's need to sleep and woke her at 4:45am. That gave Annie a good 2hrs to contemplate single parenthood before Greg came stumbling in.
Life is funny. One moment you're sitting in Berkeley sipping lattes between Ashtanga Yogo and Pilate class when the phone rings and the next moment you're humping crushing loads up the East Ledges for some psycho. To be sure Deb Wolfe will now be carefully screening her phone calls. Anyway last weekend we hiked up and rapped into the Headwall. Unfortunately it was unrealistic glorious weather. The only difficulty was unsticking the jams as conditions were so tacky. It was productive though -- I dialed the Headwall and Deb has been reinvigorated and motivated for a lifetime of sport climbing.
Originally I was going to rap in and finish the "free ascent" but I still have this quaint notion of starting on the ground and staying in the Valley during a "free ascent". So assuming Anne's contractions stay well spaced and one of you big hearted speedsters will step up to the plate and give Derek a well deserved break I will be gunning for it one last time next weekend. The smart money is on the poetic primates completing Shakespeare well before I clip the anchors.
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