I’m about 800 feet up Moonlight Buttress, one of the most classic and iconic big wall free climbs in the world, at the crossroads between a dream and disappointment. This world famous route has been climbed no falls, first try only a hand full of times, and it’s looking like I might be joining the club…but I’m starting to bonk. I’m seeing spots and to emphasize the thread I’m hanging by, my left forearm cramps when I clip into the anchor…Not Good!
I unlock my hand from it’s clenched, clawlike position and pull some clif blocs out of my pocket. I chase a couple blocs down with the last of my water, and then lay my head against the thousand foot tall, red sandstone cliff for a moment, waiting for the calories and electrolytes to do their job. There are only a couple more 5.12 pitches to go, but with no idea what to expect, and very little in the reserve tank, I know that a free ascent is far from in the bag. This is probably the best multipitch sandstone climb in the world and to walk up to it and climb it without falling has been a dream that I’ve entertained for some time, but deemed highly unlikely. Some really great climbers have come one fall away.
I do have experience on my side, I tell myself. In the last five years I’ve spent a good deal of my time in Indian Creek near Moab Utah, a downright mecca for sandstone crack climbing. During my time there, I repeated countless hard cracks and even put up a few testpieces of my own, and with each day in the creek, I got a little more proficient and a little more in tune with the subtlety and some times pure thuggery of climbing these unique parallel sided “Splitters.” “How are you feeling,” my fiancé Nelissa asks me, snapping me out of introspection.
I lift my head slowly from the wall. I can feel the blocs and water doing their job. I slowly open and close my swollen hands without them cramping! This is encouraging! I quickly organize my gear for the next pitch and then with renewed momentum I set off. I practically jog up the vertical finger, and before I know it I’m twenty feet above my last piece, and looking at a huge fall, but I’m feeling pretty locked in!!! The last hard pitches are a blur. Nelissa Yells up words of encouragement, and I climb beyond my ability, an experience I’ve had before on big climbs. “You’ve come this far,” I tell myself, “Now it’s time to be at your best.”
As I move up this huge majestic wall, almost outside of myself, I am overcome by a wave of pure childlike joy. I’m thankful for my rope and think of young Alex who climbed up here without one. I love the desert, I love climbing, and this is as perfect a moment as I could as for! “WOOOHOOOOOO” I yell as I clip into yet another anchor.
And somehow, through a mix of good fortune, hard work and years of experience, I stand on top of Moonlight Buttress, without a fall! I couldn’t be more psyched. Nellissa and I share a clif bar and then head down the trail, with thoughts of burritos and margaritas luring us on!!!
A couple of months ago I had the extreme pleasure of repeating Moonlight as a free climb. Moonlight buttress is probably the single best sandstone bigwall freeclimb in the world and to manage to scrap up it first try no falls was one of the highlights of my year, and sharing it with my bride to be made it even more special.
Thursday, December 2, 2010