Day 53 (July 27): A Change of Pace

Post-Opal, we were ready for a change of pace. We briefly discussed booking it to Smith in Oregon to finish out the trip, but quickly realized most of our time would be spent driving. The best we could do was drive north half an hour to the Cheakamus area. Unlike most of the climbing near the Chief in Squamish, Cheakamus consists almost entirely of sport routes. Mico was able to revisit and ultimately send a 5.13 he’d tried on a previous trip. I proved to myself that, while I can usually do all the moves on a 5.12a climb, I’m still not a 5.12a climber. We met a local named Dale, a large, barrel-chested dude who, in peak condition had climbed 5.12 while weighing somewhere between 215 and 230 lbs. For me, a woman built more for rugby than rock climbing, this was inspirational. I’d thought that all people who climbed 5.12 and above were of a naturally stringy build.

That night, our final camping dinner, we tried to finish most of our food, but failed when it came to consuming a tin of canned mushrooms and bamboo shoots, our two worst food purchases the entire trip. They were slimy and chewy in all the wrong ways. Would not recommend to a friend, or even a recent acquaintance. We spent the evening talking about friendship and fears. Though I’d joked about some of my fears in the past, I think this was the first time Mico realized they were serious concerns, that I am someone who will joke about the things that cause me the most pain. Perhaps this is an indication that I need to reevaluate the way I express myself if I want to be understood by those close to me.

Day 52 (July 26): In Which We Prove Unsuccessful at the Basic Task of Giving Up

You thought we were done with The Opal, didn’t you? Actually, to your credit, you probably didn’t. You’re a smart reader, and, if you’re reading this, there’s a 99.9% chance you know one of us personally and a 75% chance you’re a member of one of our nuclear families. For a while, though, I think we’d convinced ourselves that we were done. I was still entertained by the first three pitches of The Opal, mostly because I was laboring under the idea that through enough repetition I would eventually send the second pitch (the 5.12a layback). The moves that had seemed impossible when I first began now felt doable, though they still involved a large amount of sweating, no matter the external temperature. I was at a point where I was only falling twice on the pitch (usually once from fatigue and once due to inattention). This probably had a bit to do with improved technique and familiarizing myself with the pitch, and a lot to do with the fact that we’d tied off the second rope at the top of the third pitch, so I was no longer climbing with a rope in my pack. Mico was bored of climbing the first three pitches now that he was sending all three consistently, but was still struggling with the fourth pitch. We were running out of time in Squamish, and there were many other rocks to be climbed; why continue beating our hands against a wall?

On some level, it’s the kind of people we are. The ability to beat your hands and head against a wall for a sustained period of time and enjoy it is an ability that proves quite useful in the Ivy League. I think we also felt that, while we’d given it a good go the last time, conditions had been less than ideal. Hopefully, the time we’d taken off had given the wall time to dry. There was no rain in the forecast, so our only limiting factor was daylight. We also realized that the grant Mico’d received to climb The Opal required action shots of him on the wall. We didn’t have anything that fit this description, so we were going back up The Opal whether we liked it or not.

The days off had not made The Opal any drier. If anything, the wall was even wetter than the day we’d climbed it in the rain. How this sorcery was possible was entirely beyond me. Maybe the water had pooled at the top and slowly seeped down the climb over the course of the week. The black algae coating the wall had rehydrated, and was now thick, spongey, and very slippery under foot. The night before, Mico had asked me if I wanted to lead the first pitch. I said “yes” without hesitation, which seemed to surprise him. One of my goals for the trip was becoming comfortable enough placing trad gear that I’d be willing to fall on it. With 4 days left in the trip, I decided that now was the moment to become comfortable. What was the worst that could happen? Probably death. Or maybe life-altering injury. Below is the tearful goodbye I recorded for my parents.

Mico also documented what, at any moment, could have been my last moment.

And below that is a video of me decidedly not dead at the top of the first pitch.

The only thing that died on the pitch was Mico’s yellow Metolius cam, a piece which I’d tried to eliminate earlier in the trip by getting it very stuck in the rock. I was foiled that time by Mico who managed to extract it. This time, however, there was nothing to be done. I’d placed the yellow Metolius right before I attempted to pull the corner, the crux move for me on the pitch. I hastily stuffed it at an awkward angle and prayed it would hold as I threw my left hand out for a jug sidepull around the corner. My left hand came an inch short of the jug I was aiming for, and I fell. The force of the fall jerked the piece to the side, bending some of the wires. When Mico pull the cam out of the rock, all the lobes were fixed at slightly different angles. Through this experience I learned that 1) trad gear allows for some margin of idiocy when placing, 2) a nut would have been more appropriate in that situation and likely would have survived the force of my fall better, and 3) a yellow Metolius cam retails for roughly $60.

The next couple pitches were a battle against the black algae. Both Mico and I fell on the second pitch, so by the time we got to the bottom of the fourth pitch, it was clear Mico was going for the summit, rather than the send. You can see the opening moves of the second pitch here.

After a few attempts, Mico finally succeeded in stringing together the lower crux sequence of the fourth pitch. His arms were shaking. He looked ready to peel off the wall at any moment as he climbed, but he was able to push through the muscle fatigue of 52 days on the road, keeping his hands and feet on the wall in an amazing display of willpower. He came up short of the hold at the top of the second crux, and had to repeat the moves a few times before sticking it. Having completed the two cruxes, though not in sequence, he made it to the top of the fourth pitch and, for the first time, set up a belay station. It was now my turn to climb to the top of the fourth pitch. I was excited to cover new ground, but also anxious because I’d be aiding my way to the top (pulling on draws and other gear attached to the wall in order to skip moves that were too difficult) while climbing with the heaviest pack I’d ever had (rope plus two liters of water plus all our food for the day). Moves on the pitch that I’d completed with relative ease in the past were now a struggle. I aided whenever I could, but sometimes the draws were too far apart and I had to pull on the thin, sharp holds that gave the pitch its grade. I fell a lot and cried in frustration, feeling weak and useless. In these moments, I was reacquainted with the fact that The Opal would have been a lot easier for Mico if he’d had a stronger partner. I reached the top of the pitch exhausted, with obvious tear tracks on my cheeks.
“Are you okay to continue?” Mico wanted to know. No, I thought. No, I do not want to limp through another two pitches at my max (5.12a and 5.11d). I can’t. I want to go back to the car and wallow in self pity. I said none of this because getting to the top of The Opal was Mico’s goal. He’d been so patient this trip, climbing 5.6 multipitch trad routes so I could practice gear placement, giving me long belays as I freaked out on 5.9 trad or fell repeatedly on 5.12c top rope. I’d held him back in many ways on this trip, but getting to the top of The Opal from here was within my power, so I said, “yes.”

The next two pitches were scary runout sport climbs, a mix of face and slab. Mico did not send them cleanly, and through this experience learned that one should not leave the last two pitches of a route unclimbed until the last day. I aided and cried my way through the last two pitches. As I pulled draws, I marveled at the 20ft spacing between bolts and Mico’s courage. By the time I reached the top of the climb, feet numb with pain, dripping a mixure of sweat and tears, I’d decided that I was not cut out for rock climbing. I don’t know what Mico felt in those moments at the top. Maybe some sense of accomplishment, some disappointment too. He says it’ll be a while before he’s ready to try and climb The Opal again. His main concern at the top was whether our 70m rope would allow us to reach the bottom of the 6th pitch (we left the second rope at the top of the 4th expecting that we only had 35m repels ahead). We were climbing on his new bipattern rope and had crossed over from one pattern to the other while on the 6th pitch, an indication that it was longer than 35m. Thankfully, rope stretch allowed us to make it. This was the first time I was fully able to appreciate the use of stopper knots.

The rest of the rappel was uneventful. Mico reclimbed the fourth pitch while I took photos. We walked down the south gully for the final time that trip on tired, shaky legs.

Day 49 (July 23): Tug Munchers

July 23rd began like any other Sunday. The alarm went off. I was mid dream. Ceri rolled over, shook me awake, and I got groggily up. The day continued with breakfast, oatmeal because it’s fast, and then an early start at the Smoke Bluffs. Ceri wanted to fall on trad so we choose an easy to protect 5.10, Flying Circus, but, given its popularity there was a line. We moved on to Crime of the Century and then later returned for her successful attempt. There was a little hiccup up as she fussed with gear nearly 2/3rds up. Stressed, fearing for her life, Ceri plugged in a yellow alien (choose your own adventure yellow alien or yellow alien), made two moves, then popped in the yellow metolius. I thought, now that’s silly to place the same sized gear within a 3 foot span. A few feet higher Ceri had a fright. No gear would go in. The red alien was too big and the green was too small. The orange and blue metolius wouldn’t fit either. Ceri started shaking. A bystander would think she was doing an Elvis impression (video), her legs twitching uncontrollably. At that point my frontal lobe connected elvis legs and no gear, she was terrified. “Use the black nut!” I shouted. It’s the same size as the yellow cams, the cams that fit in cracks that fall between green and red aliens and blue and orange metolius cams. She slid in the black nut clipped a carabiner, sighed a little, and continued to shimmy up the wall. That was how our Sunday started.

A little later we found ourselves racing back to O’siyam park in Squamish. We had a 1pm tug of war team selection and rules meeting to attend. Ceri and I formed a partnership as team Light Weight. We’d be randomly paired with another, hopefully larger male-female team, and, legs willing, tug our way to victory to win one Maxim 70m rope each. At 12:49 we parked and walked, with a bit of a hop in our step, to the park where we checked in and found shade near Cynthia’s LYO dried fruit’s tent. There we ate and scoped out the competition. Ceri saw this big girl with good strong legs. “We want her,” and then “Maybe not,” she said as the women walked from the tall burly red headed man (not Will Stanhope, he’s too skinny) towards a smaller, thin, one. It was unclear who this gold standard tug of war machine was partnered with. Was it the other, gold, maybe diamond standard male or the bronze?

Teams were drawn. Tug Munchers was paired with Pull My Finger. The audience let out a groan. The two biggest dudes, the burly red head and another shaggy man Ceri deemed The Hulk, were paired together. This meant Ceri’s friend, the gold standard tug of war machine with arm and leg muscles, was (i) with the biggest dude and (ii) now our enemy. The officials conferred. They looked at instant replays of the team draw (was it rigged?), checked body weights, considered bell curves and percentile graphs. A new rule was made: Tug Munchers and Pull My finger could not partner up. Tug munchers got a new partner, team Light Weight. Yes! Whoopy! We got the best team! Our Aussie and New Zealand teammates, Shane and Victoria, were gold standard for sure. Maybe we weren’t but that didn’t curb our enthusiasm. Like us, they had looked up tug of war strategy. We’d put our best in the front (Shane) and then Ceri in the back. Victoria and I would go in the middle.

We saw 7 matches before our turn. Strategies ranged from coordinated tugs (effective most of the time), alternating line ups (only one team used this), pulling with the arms (not so great), and lying down (perhaps a result of slipping on the grass).  It was our turn. We lined up, set our feet, and pulled. I’d like to make this sound dramatic, like it was 50-50 for a bit or maybe there was some grunting, but we just walked backwards and sealed our advance to the semifinals. That match was pretty much the same and finals was equally boring. Matt, Victoria’s boyfriend, summed it up well, we had “the biggest girl legs”. That was crucial. Then we had the biggest guy and a lot of focus. My legs weren’t the biggest. I think I was about average.

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Day 48 (July 22): A New Hope

The first thing Mico did after quitting The Opal was shave the “beard” and mustache he’d been growing. He hadn’t touched a razor to his face since the beginning of the trip, so this was kind of a momentous occasion, a rebirth of sorts. He didn’t have a razor of his own, so I let him use the pink one that had been languishing in my toiletry kit. I wanted to capture the whole event on film but was limited by lack of storage space on my phone and my subject’s lack of enthusiasm.

The Arcteryx Academy was happening in Squamish that weekend, so we declared the day a rest day and headed into town. We met up with Mico’s friend Cynthia who was hawking freeze dried camping food at the gear fair. I spoke with a 5.10 rep who told me the rapid decline of my pink anasazis was likely due to a manufacturing error and would likely be covered by the warranty. We did yoga in the park to loosen up our limbs. Mico engaged in a dodgeball game with many other grown men, and a handful of women and children. As compensation, he received a 5.10 hat and much needed clean t-shirt. The Squamish farmer’s market was taking place next door. We took advantage of this, purchasing potato thyme sourdough bread, maple candy, and chipotle yam hummus. 

In the evening, we returned to the Arcteryx Academy to see the results of a photography challenge and listen to live music. While listening to the music, we observed a lanky ginger moving through the crowd with a lager in hand. Periodically, people would stop him to shake hands or get their picture taken with him. The lanky ginger was none other than Will Stanhope in the flesh. I told Mico I’d give him $20 if he went up to Will and asked him for his shirt as a memento. Mico had other, more mature ideas. In 2015, Will Stanhope climbed The Opal (evidence of this can be found in the form of a photo on Will Stanhope’s personal website). If anyone in Squamish could provide us with the beta to unlock the 4th pitch of The Opal, it was Will. With this new hope, we spent the next half hour plotting the best way to introduce ourselves to Will while following him from a distance. Again, I offered Mico $20 to ask for his shirt, but Mico did not feel that this would be the best introduction. We observed Will purchasing another beer and making out with his girlfriend, but had yet to come up with any good ideas for an introduction. Our opening came when we saw Will talking to Cynthia. We walked over, greeted Cynthia rather awkwardly, and then Mico turned to Will and asked him about The Opal. The conversation went something like this:

Mico: I’m trying to climb The Opal.

Will: Huh?

Mico: What’s your beta for the lower crux on the 5.13 pitch?

Will: Huh?

Mico: The fourth pitch.

Will: Is that the hardest one?

Mico: Yeah.

Will: Uh. I don’t really remember… I think you just gotta bite down on the holds and go for it.

Me (in my head): This could describe the beta for pretty much any climb on the planet.

Mico: So you dyno for the hold out right?

Will: Maybe. Yeah.

Mico: I think I’m too short for that move.

Will: We’re like the same height.

Mico’s eyes are level with Will’s shoulder. Will is quickly losing interest in this conversation. We thank him for his time, say goodbye to Cynthia, and speedwalk to the car. I am reminded of a piece of advice from the talk Hazel Findlay gave the night before, “don’t ask for beta.” Hoping is a sad, sad business to be in.

Day 47 (July 21): Mission Accomplished

Conditions were less than ideal. It had rained the day before, so the wall was a little more slippery than it had been on previous days (the wall smelled like tide pool because all the black algae on it had been rehydrated). When I reached the top of the first pitch, Mico informed me that he had to poop (though I hadn’t experienced the urge to poop on a climb since making my pilgrimage to the top of Boogie ’til You Poop, I could still sympathize with Mico’s pain). Wet conditions combined with a strong urge to poop would have caused me to throw in the towel, but Mico is pro. He’s able to set all these minor to major annoyances aside and focus on the climbing task at hand. He sent the first three pitches, and got ready to tackle the fourth, the 13a crux pitch. Because of his progress on Day 44, we hadn’t been speaking in terms of if, but when he made it to the top. Before we started, Mico announced that this could be our last day on the climb. Before he started on the fourth pitch, we put all the stuff we wanted on the upper pitches of the climb in the smaller of our two back packs, planning to leave the larger one with the excess gear at the top of pitch three. After instructing me on how to tie the second rope to my haul loop, Mico began the fourth pitch. The first third of the climb consists of fun moves off ledges that I am capable of doing. Mico cruised through these, making his way to the slopey ledge at the base of the first crux of the pitch.

My favorite part of watching someone talented climb are the moves that look like sorcery. I have no idea how Mico manages to pull off the two mediocre holds at the base of the first crux, yet somehow he does and is able to hike his feet up to some pitifully small footholds. As according to plan, Mico did this first move and proceed to the 1.5 moves of right-facing layback. He looked really strong; there was no hesitation in his movement. The next move requires reaching out for a sloper with your right hand. It was here Mico paused. And continued to pause. Finally, he started to move his right hand toward the hold. At that moment, his left foot popped off the wall, followed closely by his entire person. As he fell, he yelled a four letter word beginning with “f” that I will refrain from printing here in case there are children following our blog. He then proceeded to repeat this foul four-lettered word five times before falling silent.  He was thinking hard; this much I could tell. What he was thinking was beyond me. If it had been me, it probably would have been something like “I am the worst. A pox upon me and all my relations. I am a disgrace to my ancestors and any future life partners or cats I ever have.” However, as I said before, Mico is a class act when it comes to climbing, so I imagine his inner monologue was something a little more positive. After hanging on the rope in silence for some minutes, he got back in the wall and attempted the move a second time. This attempt went much more poorly than the first attempt. He instructed me to lower him to the belay ledge, so he could eat, pee, and regroup. On the next attempt, Mico punctured his index finger on one of the holds. He taped up, vowing that this was his final attempt. As he made his way to the ledge below the crux, it began to rain. We knew there was a chance of rain starting at noon, but figured it was always safe to bet against weather people. As I noticed the first drop, I looked down at my watch. 12:00pm on the dot. For once the weather people were right. The smell of tide pool grew stronger. Despite dwindling odds, Mico made it through the 1.5 layback moves, reaching out toward the sloper before falling on the foot match. Instead of lowering, he aided his way through the section and continued to the top of the climb. At the top, he told me he was going to pass the rope through the chains and pulls the quickdraws as he lowered. We would not be coming back.

Day 46 (July 20th): No Climbing

Sunday the 16th was easy. We slept in, waved bye to Sylvan and Ben, went up three boulder problems in Pemberton, picked and ate hundreds of berries, and played Scotland Yard with Vic and Deborah.  Ceri was Ms. X, and while wily, we caught her around move 36.

Monday and Tuesday were big climbing days. Wednesday we rested, had fun at the grocery store, packed our bags for an early Thursday ascent, and prepared a pre-climb meal of vegetable lentils flavored with the bacon substitute salt cured pork. The bacon look alike contains over 2000 mg of salt in 1/5 a package. We added 1/2 package to our lentils, about 130% our DV of sodium a piece. 

That night I didn’t sleep well. Perhaps it was excitement about the climbing day to come (last attempt on the opal?), or maybe a caffeine high from the earl gray tea and cup of coffee, or the brief period of rain. None the less, we cut down on salt pork. Only 1/4 cube a day or about 50% DV of sodium each. 

The lack of sleep and sporadic rain showers meant we called off our climb and went for a steep hike to wedge monte lake and to the theater to see Spiderman. We recommend both, the lake to those who like steep hikes and mountain views and the movie to pretty much anyone. Some photos on instagram and videos below. 

Day 44 (July 18): Before the Storm

Things were looking up indeed. With the new beta, Mico was able to do every move of the lower crux section and successfully did the hard move on the upper crux. We were highfiving ourselves as we rappelled that day. We’d take the next day off and rest up, so Mico could send the route the following day, Day 46 of our great adventure.