Sat in a dinner in El Portel trying to get on the web as stuffing my face (my second lunch of the day), the aim to write this blog and get get some carbs in for tomorrow. My dreams of soloing Zodiac keep being derailed, and instead of starting that tomorrow I’ve agreed to climb El Cap in a day (via Lurking Fear) with 12 year old looking Calum Muskett; putting aside my solitary and harsh dream for something more human, and maybe more fun (well cat 2 fun). If we pull it off that will be 2 grade V walls in three days (a fair trade for Zodiac maybe).
Yesterday I woke up at 4am beside two strangers; Andy and Stefan, the big wall virgins. Menna had spotted them on the DMM website, two super keen students training for Yosemite, both with big wall dreams. Watching their videos I was impressed with both their enthusiasm and sense of fun, hauling bags and sleeping in a portaledge in the quarries, reminding me of how I did many of the same things. In a bit of an impulse I emailed them to wish them luck, and said as a bit of a throwaway that ‘maybe we could team up and do something’ knowing that only being in the valley a week I wouldn’t have time.
I kept and eye out for the guys, and saw all their training had paid off when they climbed El Cap in the first week via Triple Direct. People often talk the talk about just arriving and jumping on the captain, but few do, and even fewer stay on to the top! Andy and Stefan did.
With a hour of arriving in the valley I’d bumped into the guys, and as soon as they said ‘we’ve been waiting for you!’ I’d hoped to spent three days resting then go for a one day solo of Zodiac, but now I realized I’d have to put my own project aside, and just do something with Andy and Stefan, otherwise I’d just look like jerk. But what to do?
Only the week before I’d had a long email from my friend Paul Tat, one of the few people who seem to put up with my Howard Hughes tendencies to lock myself away. Like a true friend Paul never stops knocking.
“Yosemite sounds good, El Cap in a day, as long as you are being you and not chasing the dream, being you alongside the thousands of other people climbing El Cap…and then getting old and infirm, watching rather than doing. The things we do in life…., the shit things we do…., drink too much tea and all that. Like you, I have had a lot of intense climbing moments when you have been there frozen in time (so it seemed) unable to move because you imagined that if you did that was it, you would fall to your death, hundreds of feet onto some rocks that had been innocuous enough earlier walking over them but would now smash every bone in my body. No-one saw me unable to stop myself crying with self pity, so scared and angry. Then calmness really comes and you climb, I survived but learnt nothing and can’t joyfully share those memories with anyone, not like all the great times Angela and I have had together doing stuff that stressed us but wasn’t going to kill us, shared experiences that live on for us. I like sharing, intensity is for losers. What you do works, get hold of some novices and have them along to complicate but share the scene, meanwhile you are soloing??”
I looked at these two guys, who if they had been dogs, would have had their tongues out and tails wagging and thought about Pauls words. I have never climbed with these guys, they had been novices only a few weeks before. What to do?
“Fancy having a go at the West face of Leaning tower in a day?”
Leaning tower is a grade V (5.7 C2F) wall, 11 pitches long and SUPER STEEP (it’s said to be the steepest wall in North America) and usually takes three days. I’d tried to solo it in a day in June and had bailed from pitch 7 so knew the start, but even so, doing it in a day with two young strangers?
“Wow that would be cool!” they both said.
And so at 4am the alarm sounded and we step off, me re re-leading the 7 pitches I’d climbed before in the dark, feeling the jet lag still and a bit of flu. Doing the route in a day would either kill me or cure me. “We have to get down in time for a pizza” become our motto, a crazy idea really as just staggering back to the car at 4am should be good enough for us, but then maybe the magic of Yosemite - the possibility - was in us. Passing one party (we had just woken) we pushed on up the wall, but by 10am I was beginning to feel the strain, but didn’t want to hand it over to these guys, after all they been more used to doing three pitches a day only a week before, but by 12am I was done. The guys jugged up and I handed over the rack to Andy and he was off, shouting “Ropes fixed” only 45 minutes later. Stefan’s lead came next and off he shot up yet another steep crack. Sitting there watching them work so hard I had a real sense of pride in both them and myself, that what you believe in people, and commit to them, they can do the most amazing things. They trusted me enough to trust my belief in them.
A few weeks ago I decided that I had to start dealing with certain issues in how I viewed myself, and my relations with people around me - my demons. I made a list of the things that I thought I could deal with, and one of those was to give myself as much trust, respect and hope that I gave others, something I had become so good at over the last two years. Each time I set the bar impossibly hard for others, and said “Jump - I’d know you can” people always did, in fact most times they never even saw the bar. But I do - for me the bar is aways there. For me it is un-jumpable. But I have to change that.
And like all great speed ascents, the power and the energy of our combined desire and friendship suddenly had us at the top, and not in the dark, but less than 12 hours since we began. A huge thunderstorm was rolling in, and we had a difficult and dangerous decent to do, but instead of worrying we looked down and Andy said “three and half hours till the pizza deck closes!” and we set off like friends who’d climbed together not for hours but decades.
As for making it down for the pizza? Of course we did, and after Andy said this had been one of his best days of his life ever, I thought it fitting to pay for it too, because their belief in me had made this day one to remember for me also.
A Snickers bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram