The Essence of Lost: A Climbers Perspective

The route is somewhere in there.
The route is somewhere in there.

“I suppose that kind of looks like a large pink rock scar up there? No, no. Actually, come to think of it, this entire damn slab looks like one big cluster of pink rock scar. Who wrote this route description? There are 3 right facing flakes in front of me. Which one is the right one?”

Frustration slowly sets in as I stare at the labyrinth of rock taunting me from above. I try to yell down to my partner to get any help I can from below about which direction I should climb. Wind and moving water erodes the sound of my voice as it travels to my partner and I watch as he sits confused, trying to yell back at me. I remember what the guidebook said about this pitch, but there’s a chance I read it wrong I suppose. I know I’m going to have to make progress soon I just hope it’s not into some X-rated garbage.

I shuffle my feet around on good edges and shake them out, the lactic acid seeps through the cells of my calf muscles like sap in a tree. I change which hand I’m jamming with constantly to keep one arm from getting too pumped; all I do instead is just pump out both by sitting there longer. Every time I remove my hand from the crack I chalk it up. I could go through a whole chalk bag at a rest. Constantly chalking up seems to be the only remedy for a strained mind while assessing the situation I am getting myself into. A crack in the cuticle of my right middle finger is bleeding softly; I dip my hand back in my chalk bag to bandage it.

I figure I have nothing left to do now but find the path of least resistance, move by move, to reach the belay. I move up the dihedral a few more feet until it ends and I’m forced onto what appears to be a sparsely protected slab. There is a short horizontal to place gear in. I take advantage of it and slot a cam; the lobes retract and sit funny in the shallow fissure. I shake the cam around and change its position at least four times before I decide it will at least do something, then I continue climbing. Meanwhile my partner sits at the belay below with his head down begging for me to speed the hell up, I’m sure.

Upon reaching the belay I sit down and take a deep breathe, the pitch is over. Now to build an anchor. There are a few thin cracks for gear; I try to place several different pieces in one until I settle on placing the piece that seems to be the least dangerous. I place a positive cam above it and then place another nut above that seems to be solid enough. I pull the rope up through all of my pieces below, an added twenty pounds it feels. I put my partner on belay, give three tugs on the rope and a thumbs up to let him know he can climb. Now is the easy part, I numbingly pull rope through the ATC and stare off at the powdered blue view ahead.

When my partner arrives he tells me of the mistake I made below on the face, he points out the obvious depression I should have followed. It all made sense. That’s the funny thing about being lost on a climbing route; it is not necessarily that you are lost in the accepted definition of the term. You know exactly where you are in relevance to your home/camp and you know exactly where you are on the horizontal field of a map. The issue is that you don’t necessarily know how to get back to your home in a safe and/or fun manner. Rappelling mid-route isn’t exactly the most fun way off the cliff, even though it is sometimes necessary to save yourself. On the other hand when you get a day to go climbing and hope to do a fantastic route and instead end up gardening an intentionally forgotten route, it is discouraging. We put ourselves through it though, because it is part of the game.

Now it is my turn to belay and I watch as my partner sets off for the next dubious map of discontinuous cracks. Mr. Rossiter your 1990’s hand drawn topo’s are one fantastic piece of art that I cannot make any sense of from time to time. I watch him climb and we hold conversation for a while until he gets too high for easy listening. I sit back in my harness and let the webbing cradle my thighs as I gently swing left to right and listen to the waters below. I understand sometimes why Belaggles exist, I refuse to give in yet, Fritz Wiessner wouldn’t have carried such a thing up a classic multi and I won’t either. Twenty years old and I already have a stubborn old timers view, I shake my head at my nonsensical musings.

My partner yells down to me, “Do you know where to go after the detached block?” His voice trails off with the wind as it reverberates down to me.

“The guide says go left to the dihedral!”

He looks around, “It’s pretty blank getting up to it!”

“I don’t know what to tell you man, there’s little bags of sand tucked in all these cracks!”

I sit back in my harness and close my eyes for a second. The heat is slow roasting the skin on my neck. I feed rope slowly and then take it back in as my partner moves up and down trying to find his way. I allow my mind to drift off to more horizontal locations.

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