“The only way of finding limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke
Saturday August 11th 2018
I woke up at 4:30 am eagerly awaiting my 5:30 am alarm. I laid in my sleeping bag, half awake, half asleep, dreaming of the day ahead of me. We plan on climbing a massive face, for what we assumed would be the first ascent on a massive slab of granite.
Noah’s alarm started to chirp. It was slightly ahead of my watch and I didn’t care. As I crawled out from under our cozy tent, I was greeted with a Wisp of fresh, brisk Air. I gazed up at the last fading stars, and turned my attention towards the silhouette of our climb.
“Soon ill be on the top of that” I whispered.
After a warm bowl of cereal and a half liter of hot tea, Noah and I began charging towards the base with our guide Greg, paving the way. Greg is an immature 55 year old Canadian, with better fitness than most 20 year olds. He loved climbing while humming Canadian folk rock songs and frequently joked about his “alpine ducks”. He set a pace that was barely slower than a jog. We maintained that pace for almost an hour, until the terrain turned into 3rd class, forcing Noah and I to slow down. Yet Greg was still trekking as urgently as before. I would occasionally stop, to embrace the majesty that was this mountain. As the morning light began pouring into the valley, the shadows gradually retreated, exposing the wickedness of this mountain. The top of the face turned into a rich orange, clashing against the royal blue sky.
Noah is a 16 year old from Greenville, Maine. He’s a mature kid with a similar physique as myself, so we climb in a similar fashion. He’s a basketball player who recently got into climbing through one of his older brothers. Noah enjoyed baking, Riddles, and was a master card gamer. As sweat began rolling down our faces, the route/climb became slightly more obvious.
Suddenly, Greg halted to admire/examine the climb ahead. He probably wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for the class 4 down climb in our way. We put our harnesses on and allowed Greg to belay us as we down climbed into a valley of boulders. Then, after some good-ol boulder hopping we reached the base of the first pitch. We arrived at 8:20 am, after an hour and a half of hiking.
Greg tied into the sharp end and began to climb as he sang a tune from his favorite Canadian rock band, “Tragically Hip”. The first pitch was a smooth 5.7 that climbed about 120 ft. high. The Belay ledge was comfortable as we anchored onto a pancake flake of granite. We reclined back as Greg continued to lead up the mountain.
We Were glad that it was comfortable for this second pitch took Greg about an hour before he had an anchor built. “Both on Belay!” he shouts. This pitch was about 5.8 / 5.9 170 ft. At the top of the pitch we found Greg had anchored onto a large spruce tree on a tiny ledge. The tree took up so much space that Noah and I had to practically sit on top of one another.
After some snacks and water, Greg literally climbed over us and began to lead again. While he was climbing, I grew alittle bored. So, in an attempt to entertain myself, I threw a handful of grass off of the ledge… instead of falling to the ground, the grass actually flew straight up into the sky, as if gravity suddenly ceased to exist. The wind and the mountain collaborated to create a wonderful updraft! I turned to Noah and demonstrated my discovery. The wind blew his mind (no pun intended). We then began to test the updraft’s strength by throwing heavier pine needles and eventually full on sticks. It was truly a wild and counter-intuitive site to see. We would throw it right off the ledge and then almost immediately look up, as if it were a pop fly.
After a short amount of time Greg called down to us again and we began the third pitch. It was a short 70 ft. climb that had some challenging 5.9 moves. We soon arrived to a larger edge which was home to another spruce tree. This tree was much larger, and fortunately the ledge was too. Surely the remarkable updraft carried these trees up 300 something feet while they were mere seedlings. Nature is wild and beautiful.
We belayed about 170 ft. of rope out for Greg as he kept telling us about how great the rock quality was and how bomb the holds were. He was as joyful as a kid in a candy store, if not more. I started to understand his giddiness as I climbed. This forth pitch was an incredible 5.8. The quality, and quantity, of the rock was amazing while the holds were simply bomb. We followed an ideal sized crack all the way up to a comfortable overhang where Greg had us on belay.
We felt as though we were almost towards the top. Mainly because Greg guestimated that it might be 5 to 6 pitches, and we were just beginning the 5th. I belayed and watched Greg go through some difficult moves as he clung onto some seemingly sketchy holds. Soon Greg disappeared over the above ledge. We could hear him hooping and hollering while he climbed, claiming that he could see the entire valley. We thought we were close to the summit, but Greg kept climbing and climbing. The ropes were extremely twisted and tangled, so as Greg climbed Noah and I worked hard to manage the giant pile of rope spaghetti. Greg stretched the entire rope out and soon we couldn’t hear him responding to any of our calls.
Noah and I must have been sitting on that little ledge for two hours. Chatting, playing with the occasional updraft, and growing anxious. Finally, we heard a far away Greg call out to us, and Noah began to ascend. The First few moves were challenging 5.9+ material. Noah and I had to coach and cheer each other on, we otherwise might not have made it. The holds were small but it was a really awkward corner to climb. To complicate matters, Noah was cleaning Greg’s protection gear placements, when it should have been my turn. This only meant that i should of been climbing in front of Noah. Since he was cleaning, he would climb at a slower pace whereas i would be climbing quicker. Since he was in front of me i had to slow my pace. Sometimes cling to the wall, calmly waiting for Noah to retrieve a piece of gear, so that we could continue the climb.
After a challenging crux we reached a simple 5.5 gully and a pleasant 5.7 crack before finally reaching Greg on a large grassy ledge. At this point we were on relatively level ground, where we felt comfortable enough to come off of belay and walk upwards about 15 ft to a more optimal anchor location. We had an incredible view, be we were not near the summit.
Pitch 6 seemed much easier than the 5th. Greg was climbing at a quicker rate than before. Still, it took him awhile because he stretched out another 200 ft of rope. Noah and I were thinking “surely this is the last pitch”. We were stuck with summit fever.
While waiting we reflected on how amazing it felt to be on this ledge. We assumed that we were the first people to have contact with this part of the mountain, and the first people to have the amazing view that we had. We really could see the entire valley with the winding river. I was scouting out good fishing spots when Greg suddenly shouted. It was time to climb again.
The pitch was a 5.7 but it was full of loose rocks. This time I was cleaning the gear and we were climbing in proper order, so Noah was climbing above me.
“ROCK!! ROCK!! ROCK!!” He screamed.
I stopped moving and stared straight into the granite while I was pelted by a few golf ball sized rocks on top of my helmet. “Sorry!” he called out, but I didn’t mind, its part of the sport.
Once I made my way past the gravel and reached the top of the pitch we realized that we still were not on top and Greg had us anchored into a small, yet healthy-looking, tree. They taught us that if we were going to use a tree as part of a natural anchor then it must be larger than your average thigh, healthy, and well rooted. This tree that Greg was using, was no larger than my forearm, didn’t seem well rooted. But it was healthy…ish.
Greg kept us on belay while we climbed a little past the anchor so that we could build a better one. Noah and I scanned the granite, looking for any crack where we could place some gear and build an anchor. We were taught, that if we were going to build an anchor using the gear then we would need four gear placements, and that is a complete / safe anchor. Well… we only had one small crack that would host a cam.
“Give me the .4” I said.
Greg handed it to me and I placed it in the wall. “Hows it look?” He asked. “Its good…. I think?”. Greg then carefully untied himself from the little tree and traversed over to examine my placement.
“Oh, that would hold an elephant” he claimed.
So now all three of us had practically all our weight on one tiny cam.
After we settled in to the new “anchor” we had a chance to look around. What we found shocked us. An abandoned cam, stuck in the wall. Turns out, we were not the first people with this view.
Maybe our climb was still a first ascent, and maybe someone got the cam stuck while repelling for fun. But we were certainly not the first people to be out on that ledge. And Honestly we’ll never really know.
Anyways, Greg began to climb. We were now working on the 7th pitch. Noah and I started really experiencing symptoms of summit fever. We went alittle crazy, making jokes that were hilarious yet absolutely bizarre. The jokes, don’t really belong in this story, just know we felt like we were going crazy. As amazing as the climb had been, we were exhausted. We gave out about 190 ft. of rope before Greg gave another holler down. Then I started to climb the 7th.
It was an interesting pitch because it was easy until we came upon a small claustrophobic chimney. I shimmied my way up as fast as I could then sucked my gut in to reach back out onto the face of the rock. It was a wicked tight squeeze, especially with my attack sack on. But I managed to fit. After a couple easy ledges I once again found Greg belaying. This time most of his gear laid off to the side…
We finally reached the top.
I yelled with excitement down to Noah, so that he knew we were at the end of the climb. Then I took in the view.
Overwhelmed with pride and a nice sense of accomplishment, I beat my chest mimicking the rhythm of my heart beat.
I Am Alive.
I began naming people worth dedicating the climb to. Nanni, my grandmother, along with my other grandparents. My Mother, Father, and Siblings. My friends that I’ve had since elementary school, as well as my friends that I met in college.
Soon Noah was beside me. “Its really beautiful up here, what a perfect day” he said.
The climb ended at 6:30 pm, we had been on the wall for 10 hours straight. And now, we had to walk off. Greg was already scouting the spillways for a convenient / Direct path, yet nothing seemed entirely safe. Instead of repelling down class-4 spillways we decided to walk off the back, then hike around the mountain.
As we walked along the ridge I was captured by the 360 degree view of Wyoming. We could see all the way down to the grass basin from which we came, 2.5 weeks prior. Then on the other side, we were able to look down into the valley where we awoke about 12 hours ago. Off in the far distance we could see a glimmering lake where we will be picked up in 3 days. The sun was gradually setting behind the mountains in the west. Once again, it painted Rich orange and Royal Blue colors. This time it was eye level and on the opposite side of the valley.
Those views would not last for much longer since we had to submerge into a rocky gully, beginning our descent. It felt like a race against time since we wanted to be back at camp before nightfall. However, It was an extremely slow race. The slope was steep third class, with giant loose rocks all around. At one point Noah mis-stepped onto a relatively small stone, which then cascaded into a rock fall lasting a minute… maybe more. As the roar of the rock stampede echoed through the mountains it became blatantly clear just how dangerous our descent was.
Methods of maneuvering down included tip toeing, butt scooches, and the occasional shoe ski…which was actually quite fun. With one foot planted under my butt and the other firmly plowing ahead, I could maintain a safe speed to slide down effectively.
Eventually we came across a massive tree log, next to an incredibly large, gorgeous, yet lifeless tree. Greg looked up at us with a childish grin, then promptly kicked the log over. This resulted in another 30 second rock slide roar. Then over the next hour or so we found the “tiny” splintered remains of Greg’s antics.
After the long walk down we raced to a river where we desperately drank the water and washed our faces. We were off the massive mountain and on the trail towards base camp. The sun was giving us the last of its light as we discovered the trail. Soon enough, arrived back at base camp where we were welcomed by a fire, food, and friends. The descent took 2 hours, as did the approach.
The entire adventure was 14 hours. We hiked up 1000 ft. for the approach, climbed 1200 ft, then hike/slid down it all.
Now I am hooked to this beautiful sport. May many more multi-pitches come my way. This Was perhaps the most Epic day I’ve ever had. I will surely remember it for the rest of my life.