Saturday, December 15, 2012

Flirting with Dreams in the Valley of Stone

Flirting with Dreams in the Valley of Stone

Yosemite Valley, CA
October 2012


    "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

I grew up in the traditions of western science and puritan pragmatism.  Success is earned through work, luck is the sum of preparation, a penny saved is a penny earned, etc.  Claims that the universe provides if we ask, attributing benevolence to the cosmos, the nebulous idea of “oneness”…this all neatly fell under the “new-age” label.  Experiences in my journey as a climber are forcing me to challenge that paradigm. 

Waking up in Camp 4 the morning after climbing and descending Half Dome, I pulled on slippers and a puffy jacket, staggered to my bear box, and huddled in a lawn chair nursing a mug of coffee and a bowl of oats.  Still exhausted from the Half Dome mission, I was aware of basic sensations: my chilly hands welcomed the warm mug, my back was a sore slab of meat, my thighs throbbed from my knees to my groin, tenderized by the 5000 feet of vertical ascent and descent the previous day.  I stared blankly at a squirrel sniffing at the lid of my food box which I’d failed to properly shut.  The sonic soup of Camp 4 bubbled all around: the hiss of propane burners, the clink of aluminum, garbled voices in English, Spanish, Czech, Swedish, German…, the drone of motorcycles, dumpsters slamming, garbage trucks backing up…I soaked in middle of it and took stock.  I had accomplished a few goals, I was tired, and I didn’t have any partners or any real plans.  The prospect of another week in Camp 4 spent hovering like a raven around campsites and the message board scavenging for partners didn’t seem very enticing.  Maybe it was time to move on; after all, I had food, wheels, and some cash still.  I could pack up today and leave for the solace of the road.

But in my gut I knew I wasn’t quite done.  There were things I came here to do, goals built upon four years of dreaming.

In the midst of these thoughts my compadre Jim wandered over with a cup of coffee, wondering how Half Dome went.  Before I could respond we were joined by a European-looking man who I vaguely recognized.  He greeted us in familiarity but I could not recall his name or where we’d even met him.  As conversation unfolded I started connecting the dots: a brief exchange in the parking lot, talking beta on Half Dome, the Nose.  Standard fare.  A question shattered my thought bubble, thickly accented, vaguely German:

“and you, what are your goals?” 

“Nose in a Day, or Astroman,” I heard myself say.

Anton (ah! That was his name) introduced himself; his partner had just returned to Sweden, he had another week or so in the Valley, he was entertaining those goals as well.  Soon we had topos out, discussing beta and tactics.  Have you short-fixed before? No, me either.  A Dolt Tower run would be a good idea, to see how we work together.  Unfortunately the sky promised rain the next day and regardless I was too sore to walk further than the bathroom.  We agreed to rest and maybe do a little free climbing together tomorrow, weather permitting.  A clever idea flashed in my mind.  Have you climbed The Moratorium?  It’s a fun 3-pitch crack climb, not committing.  I had a score to settle with that route and had been trying in vain to rustle up a partner for 2 weeks.

The Moratorium

Despite tender legs and a sporadic drizzle Anton and I climbed The Moratorium the next day.  I felt solid, psyched to finally send the crux, until I got to the glassy corner and found the key fingerlocks seeping wet.  I understand some people can crank through it in this state but I’m not that strong, although getting on the rock with Anton was promising.  He is a strong crack climber, a rare commodity in Europe, and we grooved well together.  A taste of hard free climbing excited something within both of us too.  Hiking down in the drizzle we agreed that after much time monkeying around on big walls what we really wanted was some good pure free climbing, so we tucked The Nose onto the back shelf and began to focus on preparing for Astroman


I still harbored doubt that I could climb Astroman, but I committed to taking the preliminary steps.  My friend Chris Barlow, who regularly sends 5.13, warned me, “before you even think of climbing Astroman, you need to CRUSH the Rostrum, I mean top out and want more.”  Returning to the Rostrum would be a logical step; besides, it was unfinished business.  Anton had also climbed it once and fallen several times, so we quickly agreed to rest a day and return for a redpoint attempt. 

The Rostrum

It was one of those days that remind me what a whimsical gift it is to be a living breathing human being in this wild world of cliffs and trees and sky.  Once off the ground we hit a rhythm and flowed through all the route’s demanding features: the delicate 2nd pitch step-over, the sustained corners, the powerful fingercrack crux.  Soon I was racking up beneath the offwidth which had shut me down so hard several weeks before, and neither of us had fallen yet.  I knew if I could send this pitch we’d have it in the bag; in the midst of the wide gash I was firing hard to stay in but I simply refused to fall.  Perhaps it helped that Rob Pizem, a prolific desert crackman and author of many inspiring routes, just happened to be in the party ahead of us and cheered me on from above as I cranked heel-toes and arm-bars up the offwidth. 


Reaching the anchor, only two steep pitches remained.  Anton, following, also sent the offwidth pitch (earning him massive bragging rights over his Swedish cohort at Camp 4).  I blasted up into last headwall pitch riding a cresting wave of confidence.  I wish everyone on earth could share that experience: cranking up overhanging fingerlocks and hand jams with 800 feet of air whistling beneath my legs, the cliffs saturated in the crimson glow of the setting sun.  There was no question of falling, I was a creature that moved upward. 


As dusk fell Anton led the final offwidth and I followed him to the summit, where we high-fived after a quality ascent and were surprised to find that we weren’t spent at all, in fact we were jonesing for more.  Basking in the elation of our team send, I remembered Chris’ words and a shiver trickled up my spine; we were ready for Astroman.  I gazed at the darkening horizon, mountains fading into obscurity beyond, unknown. 


I tend toward the analytical approach in my climbing, but while analysis is productive during rest and preparation, it becomes an obstacle during the flow of movement.  Preparing for Astroman, I accepted two things: that I had the physical ability to climb it flawlessly, and that if I let my mind drift into its usual pitfalls—hesitation, focusing on fear, seeking comfort—I would fall.  I knew that regardless of the confidence of preparation and the doubt of intimidation, once on the rock I had to let go of both fear and expectations and let my body flow.  We decided to break the climb into blocks favoring our respective strengths.  As the Western crack climber, I would lead the Enduro Corner, the Harding Slot, and the fist crack high on the route; Anton, representing European face climbing prowess, would lead the Changing Corners and the final infamous runnout pitch.  Thus prepared, there was nothing to do but begin. 


Looking back across innumerable days past, the day Anton and I climbed Astroman stands out like a single shaft of sunlight in a forest.  From the moment we left the ground we moved upwards with purpose and belief.  The climb unfolded before us, offering exquisite cracks around every turn.  My experience leading the Harding Slot was so intense that it took me several days to begin understanding what happened.  I am still learning.  Somewhere in those 1100 feet of steep cracks I encountered each dimension of my raw self: stamina, fear, joy, love, rage, despair, hope.  At the end of the day, Anton styled the final pitch, boldly pushing through the runnouts, and we stood on the summit of Washington Column watching the sun set over El Capitan.  We’d free climbed Astroman; I’d fallen twice and Anton once. Content, we watched the light fade over the valley, savoring the last sips of our water before beginning the descent. 




The next morning I rolled out of my tent, stretched, and felt the leaden soreness of my back and limbs.  I surveyed the daily Camp 4 hustle and let loose a thick, contented yawn; I was done.  I had now accomplished everything I came here to do.  I ambled over to the Swedish camp with a mug of coffee and joined Anton in cooking up a royal breakfast, entertaining the Swedes with harrowing tales of Astroman and basking in the revelry of our ascent.  I began to think of moving on; I had only 4 days left before visiting my family on the coast, I was sore and depleted from a week of hard climbing, and felt generally content about my Valley season.  I half-heartedly organized my food box, tinkered with sorting gear, but something was nagging at my brain, preventing me from packing up.

I have never been successful at fooling myself.  Passing a Big Walls guidebook lying on the picnic table I knew what was still missing: that elusive gem, The Nose in a day.  When John Long, Billy Westbay, and Jim Bridwell first accomplished this goal in 1975, it rivaled the greatest climbing achievements of all time.  Since then a NIAD ascent has become such a benchmark of big-wall competence and stamina that it has become a well-recognized acronym (as if climbers needed to become more cultish and nerdy).  The first dozen or so NIADs were climbed by only the world’s elite crack climbers, but as gear, tactics, and general skill base has improved over the past 35 years, hundreds of “recreational” rock climbers have managed the feat. 

Still, I did not seriously consider myself ranked amongst the NIAD class of climbers.  It’s just so damn big!  Staring up at El Cap from the meadow and thinking about ascending that vertical ocean of granite in just one day seemed ludicrous.  After all, it had taken Jim and me three days to climb it before.  Granted, we were hauling, we were both free climbing, yada yada… despite all the things that made our ascent slow, I still couldn’t visualize climbing all that terrain in one day.  The goal of NIAD hung just over the horizon of possibility, like a peak beyond the next ridge: something to admire, to daydream about, to make small preparations for a serious effort next year.

Once the seed of a wild objective takes root in the malleable tissues of my brain, nestled amongst Spanish verbs, constellations, trig equations, the location of my car keys, the minor pentatonic scale, mineral classifications, daily reminders to floss…it nudges for attention like the rest of its neighbors.  NIAD is big, but not in a realm completely beyond my experience.  In the Black Canyon of the Gunnison I’d pulled off a handful of Grade V free climbs in the realm of 2000 feet, all within 12 hours or so.  These were big days, tiring for sure, but not unmanageable.  For NIAD we would use speed tactics too, methods I had yet to learn, but I could put in some time learning to short fix, maybe make a few training runs up sections of the route, and build towards a one-day ascent next season.

I resumed packing, contemplating a long-term training plan to gain the skills and stamina for a future NIAD, when my phone rang with Jim on the other line.

“Brother, you wanna go for Nose in a day?”

I froze.  Seriously, what was going on around here?  I gave him some noncommittal reply about resting a few days and strategizing.

“Naw we gotta do it tomorrow.  I’ve gotta get to the Bay Area by Friday.  Just rest real hard today, you’ll be fine.  You down?”

I stared at the phone.  I was sore and exhausted from most arduous rock climb of my life the day before, not to mention 4 other strenuous climbs in the past week.  My body needed rest, a couple days of lying in meadows and eating and full nights of sleep.  I’d never short-fixed, just examined diagrams.  I’d rope-soloed only once for a few bumbling hours.  I didn’t even know if I could physically do that much climbing.  This was ludicrous.

I have always held great respect for rock climbing’s pioneers.  Today rock climbing is a mainstream sport; it can be completely safe.  With Supertopo guidebooks, beta sprayed all over the internet, cams of all shapes and dimensions, cell phones, satellite communication, bolted anchors, etc, a party of intermediate climbers can control all the variables in a rock climb except for their own performance, effectively reducing the level of adventure to background noise.  With prior knowledge, plentiful modern gizmos, communication, and escape plans, we can box an entire 2000 foot cliff conveniently into the comfort zone, scaling it in security before sunset and returning to the order of daily life.  We’ve learned how to turn adventure into a workout, and while it fits well into a calendar, there’s something essential missing.

The climbing pioneers are set apart because they were willing to launch upward into chaos.  They were engaging in adventure, really coming face-to-face with fear of the unknown.  The first generation of Valley free climbers were teenagers and college dropouts who were willing to risk injury and sometimes death to test the radical new idea that a human body could free climb these granite cracks.  Steve Hong climbed sandstone cracks in Utah, pounding hexes into splitters with a hammer for pro.  Leighton Kor, Ed Webster, Earl Wiggins, Jimmy Dunn and crew spearheaded the era of “a rope, a rack, and a shirt on your back” in the Black Canyon, re-writing the rules that said you needed fixed ropes, ascenders, and several days to climb those formidable walls.  These climbers all had their epics and close scrapes, but they had the courage to push forward into the unknown, again and again, just to see what’s up there. 

The phone was still sitting in my hand.  “Drew, you there?”  Would the pioneers have waited until their preparation, training, and strategy guaranteed success so completely that they had nothing to be afraid of?  There had to be something to be said for just stepping out in faith.  After all, we didn’t make it out of Africa because we followed the example of other apes at a safe distance.

“Aw hell, let’s go for it.”

“Nice, I knew you’d be good for it.  Let’s meet this afternoon and talk strategy.  Eat your bananas.”

I brewed another mug of coffee and sat heavily in my chair.

Our strategy was simple: we’d lead the same blocks we did before so we’d be familiar with the terrain.  We pared down the rack to essentials and gathered a handful of bars and gel packets while debating the virtues of 4 vs 5 liters of water; neither would be enough but we couldn’t carry more.  We scrutinized Hans Flourine’s Speed Climbing! book, discussing where we could use each other as counterweights through the pendulums, a strategy that looked good on paper but we’d never practiced.  After a brief discussion we decided to take just one rope; a second rope would allow us to bail from any point on the route, but we both knew we climbed better when committed.  Would Jimmy Dunn bring a second rope? Hell no.  That night our gear sat ready next to the tent, alarms were set for 3AM, and I tried in vain to sleep.  I haven’t been kept up at night before a rock climb since my days of cutting my teeth on multi-pitches in Colorado.  The hulking mass of El Cap loomed over me in the stuffy tent, oppressing my thoughts.  What the hell was I trying to do?  Who was I to attempt such a massive goal?  The image of us dangling from our single rope on the upper ramparts of The Nose at night, dehydrated, depleted, and helpless, plagued my mind until the alarm went off at 3 AM and it was time to shut up and pull on the man-pants. 


There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of scrambling up to the base of a rock climb in the close silence of night, not knowing what the day will bring but beginning it with a full head of steam anyway.  The rhythm of short-fixing and rope soloing is very enjoyable; we remained in constant motion for hours at a time.  Somewhere about midday, as I climbed familiar terrain towards the base of the Great Roof, it dawned on me: we can do this.  A Russian team let us pass them on the Great Roof pitch and I hauled up his gear on my ladders, tied off the rope at his belay, then launched into free-climbing up the Pancake Flake, intent on keeping momentum despite the full heat of the day.  My second lead block continued through the Changing Corners; we had 4 strenuous pitches to go but my energy was wilting under the intensity of the sun.  At a gear exchange I pulled up our backpack to snag a goo packet and a few gulps of much-needed water and continued up.   


After scrapping up a handcrack on what felt like my last reserve energy, I mantled onto the Camp 6 ledge dry, panting, and totally worked.  I fixed the rope for Jim and was relieved to be forced to wait a few minutes for Sam and Will, the other party doing NIAD that day, to climb the Changing Corners.  4 PM, huddled in a scrap of shade on Camp 6, is the most exhausted I have ever been on a rock climb.  I had only one more lead in my block.  You can always do one more.  Jim jugged up onto the ledge, handed me a goo packet and started racking me up.  Despite an overwhelming desire to lie down, once my fingers and toes were on the rock, my reptilian brain took command and I was leading again, flowing up the rock like this is all I knew how to do; I was a skeleton and a nervous system that ascended, I had no other identity, no past or future.  After a sun-dazed blur of motion I clipped the anchors, fixed the rope for Jim, and collapsed in my harness, as well as one can at a hanging belay. 


Jim jugged up to the anchor and unleashed the energy he’d been saving for the last 11 pitches, firing up the strenuous 5.10+ lieback despite his fatigue and sending it clean.  I relaxed into belaying and jugging mode as Jim took us up the remaining pitches through a glorious sunset and into the night.  Jugging the final free-hanging pitch felt like the hardest thing in the world, but I pulled onto horizontal ground and stumbled up to the tree atop El Cap in a tangle of rope at 9:30 PM, high-fived Jim, Will, and Sam, and indulged in the amazing luxury of sitting down. 


Despite little familiarity with speed techniques, fatigue from a week’s climbing, and several major rope-cluster incidents, we climbed The Nose in 16:45, roughly what Long, Westbay, and Bridwell accomplished 27 years ago.  We had done what I thought was impossible merely days before.  After sharing the last Cliff Bar, we shouldered the ropes and gear and began a 3 hour descent down slabs, thickets, and fixed ropes towards the cache of water, pretzels, yogurt, and malt liquor we’d deposited on the valley floor, on the other side of a long, long day.

                                          Swedish climber Eva styling a crux on The Rostrum

                                            Anton firing hard on the final steep pitch of The Rostrum

                    Anton always maintained high spirits, even in the depths of the Harding Slot on Astroman

                                  Anton leading into the crux "changing corners" pitch on Astroman

high on Astroman

                            Success atop Washington Column and the hardest rock climb I've ever done

                                                                  Sunset over the Valley

Rush hour on the Great Roof.  The other party doing NIAD: Will Kahlert (green shirt) belays Sam Hennessey up the Pancake Flake (above).  Pavel of the Russian team ascends immediately beneath the roof, I am aiding up his gear behind him, and Jim (blue backpack) ascends our rope to the anchor.  (Long-range photos were shot by Tom Evans,

Myself hauling up Pavel's gear toward the roof.

More shenanigans.  Pavel belays his partner below while I begin rope-solo free climbing up the Pancake Flake above him.  Jim ascends below in the shadow of the roof.

Jim leading off Eagle Ledge

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brushing the Veil

Astroman, Yosemite Valley, with Anton Olausson

Brushing the Veil


“There are cracks to other worlds, places in our daily existence where you can pry the walls open and arrive on the other side—if you can get your fingers around the edges.”
                                             -Derek Franz, The Door and the Guillotine, Alpinist 36

“The Harding Slot is a dark place,” an old-timer in the Valley warned me.  I’d heard talk of how narrow it is, so I figured it would be dark inside.  Eager for the glory of success, I was enamored by the idea of getting up there and grunting it out.  I wouldn’t understand his meaning until I actually did.

In the middle of the Slot I reached a point where I was stuck, exhausting myself trying to make progress but unable to make any. I strained my neck to look down and in my peripheral vision could just make out the rope dangling freely from my harness toward my last gear, dozens of feet below.  I knew enough to recognize that I couldn’t retreat, there was no other option; I had to free climb out of this thing.

I hit a point of hopelessness.  It was so damn hard; I was straining every muscle and couldn’t gain an inch, or I’d gain one and slide back down, gasping.  I felt at the brink of despair.  I moaned in desperation, I bellowed in rage, the Slot didn’t care.  Its iron indifference to my anguish was terrifying.  The cold granite, slick with my condensing breath, felt like a tomb.  My pulse throbbed in futility against the walls and my raw shoulders stung and after so much useless flailing I finally accepted that I could not do this on my own.

Stuck in the Slot, I rested and surrendered my ego, my will to conquer.  I surrendered to the crack.  You win. I am weak.  Compared to my flailing life the stone is eternal.  I am a small blink in its memory, but I burn with the heat of blood and breath. 


On his solitary ramblings, John Muir recognized that as grand as they are, the mighty stones here yield to an even more constant force, the river Merced, the river of mercy.  Sweating and breathing in the dark cage of the Slot, I asked for mercy from the spirit of the place.  I humbled myself before this spirit.  I am weak.  May I pass? Through my narrow view of the sunlit world I watched two ravens drift past on some invisible thermal, imperturbable. 

I surrendered to the spirit of the Valley and started moving upward in half-inch bursts.  Where before I could not move with all my effort, I could now make progress. Somehow I recognized that it was not my strength I was using.  Obviously it took energy, the conversion of glycogen to ATP in coordinated contractions of muscle fibers in my legs and back and arms and chest, but was not my strength.  The movement flowed through me, from the valley to the sky, like a wave that I was suddenly shown how to ride.  I repeated my request as a mantra: valley of mercy, have mercy on me; when I stopped moving to rest I spoke this and kept moving.  In half-inch increments, whispering this prayer, I gained 2 inches, then 6 inches, a foot, two feet, until the Slot widened and I could get a chickenwing, move my limbs, and surge upward into sunshine.  It felt like being born.

It seems there’s a thin veil between our world of clocks and measured quantities and the world of essence and spirits.  Mired in the tentacle web of schedules and demands of 21st century industrialized existence, we’re too busy to notice it most of the time, but sometimes, when life really gets down to the essence, we can touch it.  In the dark heart of the Harding Slot I brushed against that veil.  I relaxed my iron grip on ego and let something bigger move through me.  I became a vessel.  I was allowed passage.

Today, resting in El Cap meadow, staring up at the towering wall and preparing for another mission of even greater scale, I can vaguely remember the trials and fears of Astroman like a whimsical dream.  This day passes like others, the sun unerring on its endless march toward the west, but I feel something… different.  The touch from across the veil lingers on me, like smoke on my clothing.

Reflections in the Black Mirror

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Stoned Oven V 5.11, with Tucker, Dec 1 2012


Reflections in the Black Mirror
In the Black Canyon of the Gunnison there are two kinds of routes: there are casual shorter routes that offer a fun day out with friends, and there are the BIG routes, lines that stretch from the river to the rim and take a full day’s commitment.

Climbing big routes in the Black Canyon is an essentially unique experience.  There are numerous beautiful climbing venues spread across the southwest, yet I continue to return to this dark hole; I cannot resist its pull for long.  Beneath the rim of this vast chasm I’ve learned the pit-of-the stomach seethe of dread followed by the blossoming joy of relief.  Despite the physical prowess required to scale these massive walls, a climber in this place needs to be more than a honed athlete; he need a grittiness of soul, the ability to grimace in spite of despair and cling desperately to the audacious belief that he will prevail despite mounting evidence to the contrary.  Climbing here defies the complexities of glory and ego and is refined to something essential: a simple act of survival. 

We climbers pride ourselves in our strength and stamina; we soar in body and soul to great heights on towers and spires above the earth, but something changes when we descend beneath the rim of this canyon.  We are seasoned in exertion and conditioned to hardship, our minds are stalwart in their resistance of fear, but after hanging from the walls of this dark place long enough, the darkness inevitably seeps in.  The mind is weak; it can only resist for so long.

There is a moment that occurs when the comfort-seeking mind fires its last futile volley and capitulates in the face of overwhelming reality; it is the moment when the climber finally stops lying to himself and accepts: this is happening.  The sun is setting, the rim is still hundreds of feet above, the next pitch does not appear adequately protectable…we are still hanging from the walls of this chasm and it WILL get dark and there are still HARD obstacles between us and the rim.  In that moment, you are weary from exertion and your water is gone and the fabric of your mind is worn thin from rubbing against the edge of danger and you want nothing more than to leave the perilous vertical chossy world and stand on the flat face of the earth we were born to walk on…and you are still hanging from the wall, and this is happening, and it is not guaranteed that you will make it to the canyon rim; you want it to be easy, but to make it, you will need to be bold. 

This moment sucks.  This moment is also probably the reason I leave the comforts of home and community to pursue quixotic adventures in dangerous places, because this moment is a mirror: faced with the realization that this is happening, and that the way out is hard, I discover the true fiber of my being.  Hanging from the walls of the Black Canyon, I have been forced to stare face-to-face at the hideous visage of my own cowardice, and I’ve also felt the surge of courage as I embrace fear and move resolutely upward, towards the rim, towards the flat, safe, comfortable world.



Friday, December 7, 2012

Summit Poetry


On a golden blue-sky November day, my roommate Tucker and I climbed The Priest in Castle Valley via the spectacular Honeymoon Chimney.  On the small summit we discovered this poem in the tattered summit registry, which dated back to the 80's and includes the scribbles of hundreds of elated climbers.

Freedom is pain:
The wolf in winter
slavers at the sight
of trampled crimson snow.

Pain is freedom:
Do not accept
the undertow’s embrace
as did the rocks
ground down to sand.

The gravid light of the moon
is the night’s cold knife.
Open yourself to everything
except the momentary innocence
of your betrayal:
The talons of angels
will pierce you, regardless.

There is no easy way to the summit of the Priest; every path requires significant physical and mental commitment.  We read this poem several times on the summit before rapping down to prepare for a late ascent of Fine Jade, which took us up incredible cracks through the golden hour and subtle twilight into the night.  I don't know what these words mean exactly, but on that narrow summit it seemed a worthy human effort at grasping what we and all those scribbled names were doing up there on the tip of a precarious dagger of Windgate sandstone in the vast desert of eastern Utah.  

Maybe freedom is pain; I spent 2 months on the road this fall, living a simple, dirty, sometimes lonely existence out of my car, waking in the pre-dawn cold many a time to pursue arduous goals on the sheer cliffs of Sierra granite.  Maybe pain is freedom; at Indian Creek after Thanksgiving I committed to tortuous sustained ring-locks on an immaculate wall, and despite the excruciating pain in my knuckles and toes, the beauty of the place and the sensation of soaring on the sharp end encouraged me to crank even harder to claim my purchase in that ephemeral place.

As to the last stanza, I do not feel betrayed, but I am grateful for the challenge offered by the steep places of the earth; climbing forces me to return to innocence, again and again.  In the vertical world, there is no lying: I am inspired.  I am  scared.  I am desperate to save my own life, and I am elated to feel it pulsing through my straining limbs, one miraculous heartbeat after the next.

Tucker spelunking up the Honeymoon Chimney

preparing for the wild step-across

stickin it

Hale Melnick, fellow rock-scrambler.  We met on whimsical outings on block breaks at Colorado College.

Tucker beginning Fine Jade in the late afternoon

"Man will you pass me that #4?"  Nick Chambers on the assist.

The windy summit of Fine Jade

Tucker battling the offwidth on Crack Wars, III 5.11

Nick Chambers victorious on the summit of the Priest