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.

Day 43: The Joys of Moderately-Sized Wall Climbing

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.

Day 41: Boogie ’til You Poop

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: