Day 55 (July 29): Home Stretch

We climbed the morning of July 28. I got in some final moments of self-berating and crying, and sent a 5.11b on my third go. Mico attempted a “top 100” 5.13a titled “Ibiza.” My theory is that there are more than 100 climbs that round out the top 100, a rating the guidebook uses in place of five stars. They make an effort to spread the “top 100” throughout climbing areas in Squamish, and preference climbs that are “unique” for the area. Like the word “interesting,” “unique” is a rather bland word that can mean a good deal of other words. Sometimes unique means good or special, but just as often unique can mean atypical or strange.

We drove back to Seattle, stopping in Vancouver for ice cream and dosas. The ice cream place, La Casa Gelato, serves 238 flavors of ice creams and sorbets. They serve everything from the mundane–chocolate, mint chip, vanilla–to the utterly bizarre–garlic, spicy mango, cherry cotton candy. I sampled what amounted to many scoops worth of sorbet. Then, drowning in a sea of ice cream choices, I played it safe and paired an iced coffee sorbet with a chocolate one. Mico boldly paired spicy mango with cannoli ice cream, a combo he maintains he does not regret.

We read about the early east coast rap scene and the evolution of sampling on my cellular device as we drove down to Seattle. On arrival, we were greeted by the entire Suzuki family. Though it was pretty late, everyone was wide awake because they’d recently returned from Japan. We had a lovely breakfast with bacon and coffee, and cleaned the car in the morning. In the afternoon, we went raspberry picking with the boys while Chiaki and Keiichiro finalized the purchase of their ridiculously discounted minivan. Though Keiichiro works for Amazon, his true passion is haggling with car dealers. His face lit up when he talked about the prospect of spending an entire Saturday at the dealership. He says his goal is to reduce the dealer to tears. In the evening, we had an indoor barbecue and played Settlers of Catan. Mico is incredibly kind and attentive when he interacts with old people, children, and dogs. However, this did not stop him from mercilessly taking advantage of the boys while we played Settlers. After a late night nerf gun fight, we went to bed so we could get a few hours of sleep before our 4am airport trip.

 
 
 

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 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. 

Days 30-32: Eating as a Full-Time Occupation

Turns out a life that consists mostly of rock climbing, hiking, and sleeping on the ground promotes weight loss. Over the course of the past month, we each lost 5-10lbs. Boy were we about to make up for lost calories. After driving for basically a day with a 3 hour nap break, we arrived at Grace’s house in a lovely suburb of Seattle. In preparation for meeting her family, I brushed my hair (more akin to preening at this point) and clipped my fingernails. We arrived on the fourth of July (day 30 of our trip) and were welcomed with a washing machine, hot showers, bowls of orzo salad, and freshly baked brownies. Thus began a life of leisure and extremely large quantities of food (mostly in the form of snacks from Trader Joe’s). We walked around Pike Place and ate food (steamed pork buns, cherries, and tamales); we drove to the beach, spent 30 seconds in the water, and ate food (mangos, cherries, figs, and peaches); we walked to the park, played spades and a weird twist on the drinking game cricket involving frisbees and water, and ate food (sesame sticks and peanut butter pretzels). We ate food as we watched Mean Girls (Mico’s first time. He didn’t enjoy it because it reminded him too much of high school) and Pulp Fiction (he enjoyed this much more). We got Vietnamese food before attending a Seattle Mariners game, and we got ramen after we went climbing at a local gym. We were having such a good time hanging with Grace and Sylvan and eating that we ended up spending an extra day in Seattle. We skipped town early on day 33 of our trip and, sporting a new 10lbs of training weight around our middles, headed up to Squamish, so Mico could begin work on The Opal.

 
 
 

Day 29: Face Value

Ceri loves the limestone cliffs of Ten Sleep Canyon. Short and tall, slab, vertical and overhung, pockety, edgy, and cracky, the cliff bands of bighorn dolomite that line the canyon provide endless possibility of adventure.

On arrival we saw a dirty green subaru full of unkempt youth circling around the ten sleep campsites. They drove up and down the road, stopping in front of white camper vans. Quickly they’d creep from their vehicle, glance around, and then dart into the depths of the sites. We naively assumed they were looking for bears. We’d seen one earlier, we were sure of it. Driving north out of the canyon a large black loping furry mammal trundled through the tall grass on the right of the road. Large, like a refrigerator or perhaps two harly davidsons. It was big and we were frightened so we drove on, eyes glued to the road.

We met a women. She was tall, slightly chinese, and in need of a shower. A vagabond we thought. As a friend of a friend we got to know her better. She likes whiskey and offers it around at the end of a hard climbing day. Once a masters student at UCLA, now a climbing celebrity, she’s an organizer for all things women + climber. On her off days she produces films professionally with three close friends.

In Tensleep, we’d heard that locals sleep late and spend long afternoons on the south east facing walls. While partial to this shade searching, we were tight on time and planned to make the most of every day. On our first day climbing we selected a small shady out of the way wall. Our first climb was an easy five ten up horizontal pocket bands. then a slightly harder ten using underclings and side pulls. More fun but fewer stars. While Ceri was leading the third route, a hard eleven arete, sounds of civilization, clinkying metal and janglying chains broke through the bird calls and bear growls of the forest. Oh yes, the serial killers had final found us. First their dogs appeared, one, two, three, four and finally five knashing hounds rounded the corner of crag. Their handlers appeared, six in totally, two where just there for the show. They tried to play innocent, which climbs did you like, what do you reccomend, how about this one? But then they asked about the festival, are you going? Growing up I was taught not to take candy from strangers, look for their lost dogs, or get rides in their cars, especially if the windows were painted out. Here they were offering a festival, great food from a cart, a raffle, silent auction on climbing gear, live music, fire works, and painted out vans galore. Ceri and I decide we had to outlast them. No way could we go back to the car, they’d follow us. We continued to climb.

Later Ceri led 12a, this one with four stars. Yet where ever we went, who ever we spoke with, they all ended their convesations with “Maybe I’ll see you at the festival”. How did they know I was going? Whats with this maybe, like maybe you’ll last that long? It was a cult we determined, a dog loving, thrill seeking, gear giving, climb climbing cult at which we would be initiates (hopefully) or ritual sacrifices (more likely).

Day 15: Double or Nothing or Ice Cream

We went back to the aircraft carrier boulder to see if our stunt doubles could finally send the V6- and V11 boulder problems they had been working on respectively. It would have been the hardest boulder problem either of our stunt doubles had ever sent outside. Mico’s stunt double had been one move away from sending, so there was a lot of hope there. All he had to do was catch and hold onto a rather sharp lip after launching himself from shitty little crimps with less than ideal feet. My stunt double had some extra work to put in but miracles are always possible, that’s what makes them miracles. We got a late start (characteristic of our time in Leadville), stopping in town to pick up a Leadville sticker for my beloved sister. By the time we got to the boulder, we had two hours to warm up and finish the problems before we had to leave for Denver to visit Mico’s geat uncle. We tried so hard and got so far and kept pushing back our departure time. We kept trying to bust through that ceiling, but by the time 2pm rolled around (an hour after we said we’d leave), we had time for one last attempt. I, though a move closer to the top, was still nowhere near sending. Mico, after exhausting all methods for reaching the lip statically, had resolved to try the jump and hold on really hard method. He went for gold, launching himself at the lip, and managed to grab it with his left hand. He held on for a fraction of a second while his legs swung out and I prayed for a spotting miracle, before slipping off. Safely on the ground, he was clutching his left hand, admiring a medium-sized flapper on his middle finger.

Because of his perfect genetics, this was the first flapper Mico’d ever gotten, a testament to the sharpness of the lip. Lesser humans would have been ready to throw in the towel, but not Mico. He wanted to give it one more go. Unfortunately, we had just finished our roll of tape. All the tape we had with us was on his and my hands. Stellar, supportive, beneficent, goodlooking person that I am, I immediately volunteered the tape on my hands. It was a shirt off my back moment. If he sent the problem on the next attempt, I would have felt like I’d just sent V11 as well. If this were a movie, this would have been the moment where everything came together, and against a ticking clock and bleeding hand, Mico sent. Sadly, there was no camera crew; everything in this blog is mostly nonfiction. His final attempt was unsuccessful. My spotting, on the other hand, was very successful. We got back in the car to Denver, pausing only at a supermarket for lunch where we each purchased a tub of ice cream. I did a good job with my pint of chocolate sorbet. Mico, however, struggled to finish his quart and a half of Reese’s peanut butter cup ice cream and had to throw in the towel somewhere around the quart mark. We think we’re going to give the ice cream a rest for a little while. Consuming it in such quantities is very exhausting.

Day 14: Pig in a Can

Please excuse the lapse in posting. It was difficult to keep up the blog while Mico was recovering from his severe bed bug mauling. We concluded that the source of the bed bugs was likely Mico’s sleeping bag. He’d received similar bite marks before on other backpacking trips but, perpetually riddled with bug bites as he is, he’d never thought much of it. We isolated his sleeping bag in a large black trash bag and went to the local consignment store to buy him a warmer, less vermin-infested bag. Over the next few days, we continued to find isolated bed bugs on our things, but Mico’s now no longer waking up with new bites on his legs, so we’re hoping that did the trick/biding our time until the eggs hatch. After a somewhat disappointing day of climbing (Independence Pass climbs seem to be rated with a rubric similar to the Yale grading system, so we kept ending up on four star climbs that probably only deserved three), we returned to our base outside Leadville to drown our sorrows with food. We had lovely spam pizza. Turns out the veggie slicer we got can turn spam into pasta form.