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.
With Ben and Sylvan gone as of Day 42, we no longer had an easy excuse to avoid projecting The Opal. We also realized we only had 12 days or so to send the route, and there was no way we’d be able to spend all those days climbing. We were running out of time. We decided to alternate 2 days on The Opal with 1 day resting until a) Mico sent the route or b) we ran out of time. I was losing some hope because we didn’t seem to be putting in the time required to send such a daunting project, and after 3 days on the climb, Mico had yet to make any vertical progress.
Today, however, marked a turning point in the climb. Mico aided through the crux section at the bottom and climbed up to the second major crux near the top. Having climbed most of the pitch and identified the sections that needed serious work, he graciously let me top rope it. I was super excited. The holds on the wall were small enough and dirty enough that from the belay ledge I could really only imagine what he was climbing. I worked my way up to the first crux and was able to confirm that the dyno he’d been trying repeatedly without success looked truly impossible (pulling off a tiny edge with his left hand, rocking onto a right foot that was way too low to be of much use, and jumping for a generously sized, slopey ledge that looked much farther away on the climb than it had from the belay ledge. “This is psychotic,” I told Mico as I halfheartedly lunged for the ledge. I suggested he try using a gaston to the left of the bolt and give up on the dyno. In Mico’s defense, he’d already come up with this idea, but had initially rejected it because he didn’t think he could hold onto the holds. I was not suggesting anything to him that he had not already thought of. Mico is a climbing genius. All I did, as a person of very average climbing intelligence, was prove to him that I could hold onto the holds, suggesting that he could also hold onto them and probably even move off them. With this tenuous spark of an idea, we lowered to avoid rappelling in the dark, and made plans to test it out the next day.
Sadly, my phone ran out of storage space before I could explain my personal connection to the climb formerly known as “Boogie ’til You Puke.” It’s 5.11b offwidth, which ordinarily would be a red flag that I shouldn’t even attempt the climb (on top rope or otherwise).
Before I arrived in Squamish, the word “offwidth” meant little to me. It meant a crack that was wide enough that I couldn’t use fists to climb it. What was the big deal? Oh my God I was so wrong. I’m not the strongest of climbers, but I can send most 5.10b climbs on the first try. Split Beaver, a seemingly friendly 5.10b offwidth, is one of the three climbs this trip that I got on and bailed off of because I couldn’t finish it on top rope (the others were 5.12s) Offwidth now means sticking random body parts in a crack and flexing them, praying they stick as you feel yourself sliding out of the crack, hearing your flesh tear as you detach from the wall. It means wedging your knees in the crack side-by-side, feeling momentary relief because the sliding has stopped, only to have that sense of peace turn to despair when you realize the way you’ve wedged your body parts, while it’s halted your movement downward, prevents all upward movement. It means working really, really hard, sweating and grunting, and abraiding every surface of your body in exchange for a vertical gain of zero inches.
So why was I getting on Boogie ’til You Puke, a full number grade above the offwidth I’d bailed off of, a climb I’d watched Mico reach the top of after spending 1.5 hours belaying him, a climb Ben and Sylvan (both stronger climbers and especially stronger offwidth climbers) lowered off of after making it 1/3 of the way up the wall? I was desperate. The video Sylvan showed me, Boogie ’til You Poop, had scarred me. Since watching that video, every time I’d start climbing a route, I’d be overwhelmed by an intense urge to poop. It didn’t matter if it was a single pitch route or a 13 pitch route, the feeling would stay with me until I was back on the ground. At first I thought I was just timing my poops badly with when I was choosing to climb, but as the feeling became a perennial part of climbing no matter how many times I pooped immediately before a climb, it dawned on me that I had a psychological issue on my hands. The theory I developed (based on a thorough grounding in psychology thanks to my degree in Film and Media Studies) was that the video had made pooping myself on a climb seem like a very real possibility (previously I’d only been vaguely aware such atrocities could happen), the only way I could get over this fear that was giving me the psychosomatic urge to poop was by making it to the top of Boogie ’till You Poop without pooping.
With no alternative, I wedged myself into the smooth, wide chimney that slowly dwindled to a disgustingly sized offwidth. I chicken winged my way up the offwidth for a while until it dwindled to a size that rendered this impossible. It was here that Sylvan and Ben had lowered, and it was here that I’d planned to throw in the towel, consoling myself with the thought that I’d successfully exorcise a third of my demons. After watching me struggle for a while and prepare to give up, Mico, knowing how important this climb was for my sanity, suggested I try laybacking the crack. If nothing else, climbing The Opal repeatedly has given me the chance to hone my right facing layback technique, exactly what this climb necessitated. This can’t be any worse than the second pitch of The Opal, I reasoned. This thought, combined with the need to exorcise my pooping demons, pushed me to the top of the climb.
An incoherent, sweaty mess, I reached the anchors of Boogie ’till You Puke, and felt a cool breeze lifting my sweaty locks and purging the psychosomatic urge to poop from my body. Healed, I lowered to the ground, ready to begin climbing in Squamish with bowels on solid footing.
For the curious, less suggestable beings who want to see the video that started it all:
We’ve frequently been asked if we are actually having a good time. I believe that our friends and family see our posts and wonder: What is it really like? Are they filtering their posts? Do the bad things come out? Are they hiding anything? Do they make up the good stuff?
I’d like to address this issue. First, the great bed bug incident, Day 13, was a total hoax. We just found a look-alike-bug, got Ceri worked up about something Trump said, and then boom, a story in the making. Similarly, the vaseline spill, Day 21,was faked. It was really just water and poor lighting conditions and another Trump-ism. And lastly, that early morning drive after only a few hours of sleep, how do you know it wasn’t just late at night? Or right after sunset for that matter? All the “bad” things that have happened are fabricated. We just throw them in there to make it seem like a real trip. And the good stuff, it’s fake news. FAKE NEWS! What actually happens, the gross, sweaty, yucky mundane stuff that you can only guess at, we will lay bear. You get to see what really happens.
Multipitch Climbing: Peeing, pooping, living is a challenge. Take your life and now tether yourself to a vertical wall. You feel like a dog on a leash or a baby in a harness, except there is no owner or parent to make food or pick up your poop. Instead you’ve got this big granite wall that’s either too cold or too hot, too steep or too ledgy, too sharp or too smooth, to be comfortable. Poop, and it stays in your pants. Ask for a sandwich, and you get a pinecone.
Camping: The only thing worse than Camping 24/7-55 days a year would be 24/7-365. Every day you wake up, pack up your room, do your day, unpack your room, go to bed. After a dirty day with your granite babysitter, you get to go home, pull your kitchen out of a box, cook dinner, then put your kitchen back into a box, put that in a bigger box alongside the box for your living room, bed room, and parlor.
Hair: I will liken hair to the bristle’s of a brush. 10 days without washing, my hair was a soft bristled brush. At that stage I could have sold my mane to a car dealership, for I am sure that they would use it to wax and polish car doors. After about 20 days, my bristle hair reached a point unsuitable for polishing. The stiff strands were more akin to a natural fiber brush, good for light cleaning applications. At day 35 my hair was so stiff that, with great effort, I cut a strand and used it to pick the lock on our car. Looking ahead, I imagine that my hair will be used as a replacement for rebar in poured concrete construction. Renewable and non-toxic.
Ceri: Smelly, dirty, grouchy.
Me: More smelly, more dirty, more grouchy.
Sylvan and Ben rolled into camp late Saturday night (Day 34) and brought with them energy and enthusiasm. Over the last few months they planned a week long trip to Squamish. They knew a week wouldn’t be enough to pack in all their adventures so they decided to share. Perhaps together the four of us could have a summer’s worth of adventure within only a 7 day span. Sunday we climbed at the Smoke Bluffs. I’d sworn never to return to the crowds and death by top rope that lies in wait at the bluffs, yet Sylvan and Ben had a plan. Three climbs they said, Flying Circus, Crime of the Century, and Split Beaver. Two long delicious finger cracks and one hands to off width crack. Arm bars and finger jams awaited. While the bluffs weren’t high on my list, Ben and Sylvan are. We followed them, like chicks trailing a chicken, through the maze of crags that make the bluffs and found that our routes were free.
On Tuesday we climbed Angel’s Crest with Ben and Sylvan. The name meant nothing to me, it was just a climb that they’d added to their tick list. Now it’s a 13 pitch 5.10 on an arete formed by the North Gully and The Sheriff’s Badge. Ceri lead pitches under 5.10 and I lead the 5.10 pithes. Well, except for the 10c slab/crack that she unknowingly climbed. Uh-oh. But it worked well. No falls. Complete success (unlike on Vector when ceri took a fall/slide off a vertical hand crack onto the crag below). There were a few hairy parts. We lost the trail to the Acrophobes, two spires mid route, the first which we later successfully climbed then rapped off the back. The 3rd class high exposure that followed was mildly traumatizing. Unfortunately no photos or videos of this climb. We kept our hands on rock/rope. You’ll have to settle for another pre-opal video. Tomorrow we go back for the third attempt. Hopefully the first three pitches will be climbed without falling.
It takes great effort to accomplish hard things, sometimes more effort that you’re capable of. The Opal is rock-hard proof of this. I thought climbing 5.11 was challenging. I didn’t realize how much harder it would be when climbing with a backpack filled with a 70 meter rope and water for the day. I thought 5.12 layback sounded nearly impossible but couldn’t have imagined how hard it would be on a route that appeared not to have been climbed since 2015, where ever foothold on the pitch was coated with black algae. I witnessed my first ever fall on trad gear when Mico’s foot slipped (before this, I’m not sure I truly believed the gear would hold). I thought bolted 5.11 slab would be a little more possible for me until I realized we had to downclimb the 5.11 slab and watched Mico fall repeatedly on a single section. I don’t know what the last three pitches of the climb are like because we didn’t make it that far. The plan is that once Mico sends the 5.13 pitch, I’ll ascend on a fixed line, and we’ll finish the last two pitches together. I’m confident that Mico will be able to send the entire route if we put in the time. I’m less confident that I’ll survive the experience, but that’s part of what I like about climbing–the chances it gives to surpass your own expectations.