This approach opened the door to possibilities, because instead of having to follow the obvious weaknesses up the wall, the “rap-bolting” approach made it possible to piece together the thin and seemingly blank faces, and with that a new wave of hard free climbing was born. With the rap-bolting also came “hang-dogging,” which involves hanging on a rope to sort out the moves and sequences of the climb in order to free climb the route in its entirety without falls or hanging. Not only were new routes being established from the top down, but previously ground up aid routes were now being free climbed thanks to the hang-dogging and top down “sussing out.” At the time, both rap-bolting and hang-dogging were highly controversial for the “old guard” and brought the ethics of climbing into question, not only in France but the world over. However, these new tactics resulted in not only the development of harder routes but also helped to push the limits of what humans were capable of as far as physical prowess. The dawn of a new era had arrived and technical masterpieces were the result. “In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge had come to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless.” —Katie Lambert In the Verdon Gorge, one of the most famous routes of this nature was established in the mid-1970s by Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier. The two used fixed ropes from the top to find the line of holds and features that would became the 10 pitch traversing route known as Pichenibule. The route was not climbed all in one go until 1980, when the great Patrick Berhault climbed it at a grade of 6c+/AO (5.11c/A0), which was soon followed by the first female ascent of this rating by Marisa Montes. But it was in 1985 that Catherine Destivelle made the first free ascent of this route at a very sandbagged 7b++ (5.12c++) grade, quite an impressive feat, as this was at the top of the level in those days. Through the years, as the grades started to climb, the ratings of many of the original free climbs of the Verdon have leveled out and Pichenibule has finally started to settle around the more appropriate grade of 7c+ (5.13a). In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge came to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless. Then she suggested Pichenibule. This route would offer up everything the Verdon meant to me: a test of finger strength, technique, and nerve to try the run-outs. I had been made aware that the crux pitch, if done free, was quite hard. I wanted the odds in our favor for making a team free-ascent of this historical line, so I decided to stick with the style of the area and preview the pitch from the top.
I rappelled into the route with a fixed line and two micro-traxions (self-belay devices). The river raged 1,500 feet below and the walls swept away below me. The exposure wasn’t too bad, but as I looked at the holds on my way down, glistening in the sun, I realized this pitch was indeed going to be hard. I clipped into the belay, arranged my gear, and set off on a solo mission to solve the puzzle. I was greeted with powerful moves, very technical footwork and handholds, which were more like single-finger holds that were impossible to grip in the heat of the sun. I had to hand-over-hand up the rope to easier ground and then climb out to the top. I felt a little overwhelmed by the prospect of freeing this route. A little later in the day, after the sun had dropped below the mountains, I went back down to see if it was any better in the shade. The grip was better but the moves were still hard. The Verdon was showing me that the climbing there was tough, and I wondered if I wasn’t being too audacious. A couple of days later, after better acquainting ourselves with the climbing of the Verdon on the beautiful Surveiller et Punir, we roped up to try our luck on Pichenibule. After rappelling into the wall some 900 feet down, we led out, swapping leads through the run-outs, traverses and gouttes d’eau before finally arriving at the crux 10th pitch. We had timed it all just right so that the wall was now in the shade. Relieved at this, I tightened my shoes, had a few sips of water, double-checked my knot and got reassurance from Caroline that she would give me a soft catch if I fell. Then I set off. I climbed up the bouldery intro sequences to the very reachy and thin crux. I struggled to bring my left foot up in order to reach easier ground, and then I fell. I soared through the air and came to rest a few feet above Caroline. My fingers ached with numbness from gripping too hard and I yelled out in frustration and pain. Despite having fallen, the climbing actually felt achievable, but I wondered if I could do it again. I lowered back to Caroline, tied into the anchor, pulled my rope and set off again. The climbing seemed automatic. I wasn’t really thinking about what to do as much as I was just doing it. Before I knew it, I was back where I had fallen, bringing my left foot up and reaching for the better incut crimp. My fingers latched the hold and I exhaled with relief. I rested there for a little while before climbing the last 15 feet to the anchor. I had done it.,I had managed to free climb the notorious 10th pitch of Pichenibule! I belayed Caroline up and then set off again on the last run-out pitch to the top. As I sat there, belaying her up and watching the clouds turn a beautiful pink and gold with the sunset, I felt really proud to have found the sequence that the greats like Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier had seen as possible, and that Patrick Berhault and Catherine Destivelle had unlocked. I had finally arrived in the Verdon, with a great and supportive partner, and had climbed at a level that made me proud.
1)As a child I used to wheel my red wagon into the living room with a pillow and a blanket and lie in it to watch cartoons.
2)I was probably around 5 and maybe it was my birthday. My mom and I went to visit her sister, my aunt Leslie, who was living close to LSU. She gave me a pair of blue roller-skates. They reminded me of Montgomery “Good News” Moose from the Get Along Gang. He wore a blue turtleneck, yellow pants and brown loafers and was an excellent athlete.
3)My dad and I used to horse around a lot. My mom would always say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
4)My dad and I climbed the Magnolia tree in our front yard. He was way up towards the top and I wanted to go there, too. The branch I was on broke and I fell, hitting the bottom branch on my back and flipping over landing face first on the ground. My mom looked on in horror.
5)We had another Magnolia tree, which was taller. I always wanted to climb it, I never did.
6)I spent a lot of time in the small town of Donaldsonville, LA. My mother was born and raised there. My grandparents and two sets of great grandparents lived there. They potty trained me and taught me to talk. As kids my cousins and I used to play by the bayou, run through our Paw-paws garden, eat loads of boiled seafood, collected pecans and drank tiny cokes out of green glass bottles.
7)My Poppa, whose name was Ed Bahry, was Lebanese. He owned a record store which specialized in R&B. This is where I first learned about race relations.
8)My parents divorced when I was around 10. This was the first time my father could be openly gay.
9)He moved across the street from us, I thought this was the best thing ever.
10)When I was 12 my cousin Shawn died in the hospital after being in a terrible car accident on River Road. She had been driving, she was 15.
11)I was raised in a Catholic School. We had nuns as teachers. My dad’s homosexuality was in direct conflict with what I had been taught at school. This marked the start of my departure from organized religion and a move towards trying to understand what it really means to be oneself and about acceptance of differences.
12)My parents were great together. They were cool, loving and had fun. I know it was hard for them but they did their best.
13)I was a good tennis player but an even better runner. I ran track until I started hanging out with the kids who smoked pot.
14)I went to a public high school much to the disappointment of my mother. It was a magnet art’s and science school. I studied theater there.
15)The summer I was 15 I learned to rock climb at a camp in North Carolina. My life would be forever changed.
16)I went to a lot of raves and took a lot of LSD. At the start of my junior year in high school I ran away from home. I left a note for my parents apologizing and leading them to believe I had joined a commune in Texas.
17)In reality I was slumming it on the floor of an Iranian exchange student. Her name was Layla. She was beautiful, she was Muslim and she was a stripper. She found out I had Catholic Lebanese blood and she kicked me out.
18)I worked the graveyard shift at a chicken shack. It was a terrible job.
19)I homeschooled myself via Correspondence Courses and earned my high school diploma from Baton Rouge Magnet High when I was 18.
20)My dad lived in New Orleans through my high school and college years. I developed an intimate relationship with that city. Weekends and summers were spent there. I went to my first Gay bars with my dad, had my first alcohol called a Separator. I wore low-top Dr.Marten’s and we always went to Tower Records. I frequented late night coffee houses, had numerous snow cones from Plum Street Snow Cone, and learned what a Gutter Punk was. As I got older I saw a lot of music there, learned where the best Pizza by the slice was, had too many beignets and road the street car from Uptown to Downtown more times than I could ever recall.
21)I weaseled my way into a better job at a college bookstore. I worked there for 6 years before being fired for failing to return from a trip to Venezuela.
22)I started to rock climb more on the weekends and holidays. The closest place was a tiny crag in Alabama called Sandrock. My friends and I built a climbing gym in their garage. I was always “training” for Yosemite.
23)When I was 20 I was driving home from visiting my dad in New Orleans. I came upon 3 puppies in the middle of River Road. I gave away two of them and named the other one Sidney in honor of Sid Vicious. I had her for 9 years, she was the best dog a girl could know.
24)I had a housemate named Allison. She was funny. We lived together just off of River Road. She was from the small town of Gonzales. In 2007 she passed away from an infection. I think of her all the time.
25)My dad moved to NYC; we traveled to London together and accidentally got lost in the Red Light District. He opened up the world to me in many ways.
26)I moved to Austin, TX two weeks after I graduated from LSU. I ate a lot of Mexican food, bought cool clothes and spent a lot of money. I lived there a couple of years and did a lot of climbing on Texas and Mexican limestone. I worked at the climbing gym, I coached the youth team. We took a winter trip to Hueco Tanks. I decided I needed to pursue a life more centered around rock climbing.
27)I packed my truck with all I could fit and drove to Yosemite. I had a job working for the NPS in the Valley campgrounds. On a July 4th weekend I was pulled over around 2am after working a night-time Bear Roving shift. I failed to come to a complete stop on a right hand turn at a stop sign. They arrested me for .2 grams of weed in the form of a roach. It had been sitting in the ashtray, illuminated by their flashlights. I spent the night in jail, I wore an orange jumpsuit with blue tennis shoes. I was cuffed and then locked in a cold, white cell. They made me feel like a bad person.
28)I lost my job with the NPS. It was a true blessing in disguise. I worked for the Yosemite Association in the visitor center, then I worked for Ken Yager and the Yosemite Climbing Association. We put together an awesome museum exhibit. I did a lot more rock climbing.
29)I met Surfer Bob – he taught me how to climb Offwidths. I bought a pair of La Sportiva Kaukulators. I met Ron Kauk one winter day at the Cookie while I was putting on those blue suede shoes. We became best friends.
30)Ron taught me how to climb on hard, technical granite. He showed me the importance of good footwork and how to move with confidence. In 2009 we created a youth based non-profit called Sacred Rok.
31)In the late spring of 2010 I almost fell off the side of El Cap and died. I walked away with two broken ribs, a partially torn left MCL, a concussion and 17 stitches to the head as well as many bruises and a deathly fear of wet slabs.
32)I met Ben Ditto that spring.
33)In 2012 we got married at Rock Creek. Our wedding looked a lot like a Who’s Who of Rock Climbing. We spent our honeymoon in the Cirque of the Unclimbable’s. I gained an affinity for wet cracks and learned how much of a brat I can be.
34)Ben has also taught me a lot about climbing. More than I can really say actually. Since 2010 we have spent a little over a year in total climbing in Europe. One could be so lucky to have gone to places like Ceuse, St.Leger, Gorge du Tarn, Freyer, The Verdon Gorge, Chateauvert, Siurana, Montsant, Terradetts, Oliana, Col de Nargo, Rodellar, Picos de Europa, Poo, Cicera, and where we currently are – Chulilla.
35)Its nearing the end of 2014. I am 35 years old. We live in a van in the Sierra. We have a storage unit in Bishop and a PO box in Yosemite. I work for Sacred Rok and Eddie Bauer but we spend most of our time rock climbing. We travel a lot. Sometimes I feel hiraeth. I love my life, it’s always been different, there have always been social norms looming around but I still seem to keep living on the fringe.
Ben and I have been climbing around the Verdon for about a month and a half. In that time we have done some really good, steep, tufa cragging as well as a good deal of multipitch and technical, typical Verdon style climbing. One of the long routes that has my interest is a line called “El Topo.” Originally established in 1981 with a grade of A2 6b+ the 14 pitch journey now goes free at 8a. Although all of the pitches have been free climbed at one time or another, the route has never really seen a single push free ascent (a team of two Brits free climbed the route wall style this past August, but they did jug out towards the top and ventured into town for baguettes before rapping back down to complete the route.) Thus, my interest is piqued at the prospect of really giving this bad boy a go in a push and Ben has very willingly signed up.
We decided to give it a go on the Sunday before a week of rain was forecast. We figured the grand effort would have us tired out and appreciative of the rainy day rest days. Instead of partying with the rest of the locals Saturday night we went home, made dinner and packed everything for the next days excursion. Ben took a picture of the route with his iPhone as well as the neighboring routes to prevent any confusion. We even packed a small, telescoping stick clip, just in case. We felt prepared and super psyched.
We arrived at the Gorge around 7am, it was exceptionally cold on this November morning. We decided to rappel with the tag line and the lead line and since we would be hauling a small pack we kept our coats and socks and shoes on. We made three long rappels to a small pillar, we would either rappel down another couple of hundred meters or stop short after two more rappels and start climbing a pitch 5. We pulled and threaded the ropes as we talked about it deciding to make the call when got to the last big ledge a little ways below us. As I placed the ropes through my ATC and pulled in the slack my hand hit Ben’s hand, the iPhone has was holding went flying out of grasp through the air. We stared on, mouths agape as it flop-flopped through space, smacking the next ledge below and continuing it’s summersault out of view. We looked at each other in disbelief, there went the iPhone and the topo, too!
I felt bad and somehow responsible as well as a little concerned about the route finding that lay ahead. We disguised it briefly and then continued on with the rappelling. Our effort would not be thwarted by this mishap. I rapped down to the next ledge, this marks the start of the 2nd pitch of Les Marches du Temps. We had climbed this with French friend Jeff Arnoldi just a couple of weeks prior. The route has been great but I was excited to be on our way to trying something different and harder.
I arrived at the ledge and noticed a guidebook off and to the left, misplaced in some bushes and teetering on a small ledge. I had hopes that we could get the topo after all. As Ben descended towards me I told about the book and he made his way to it, climbing over trees and under bushes, through loose rocks before being able to retrieve it. Sadly, though, this book seemed to have been lost for some time as it was hard as a rock and could hardly be opened. The pages ripped apart as Ben tried to pry them open and eventually discarded the dead weight and continued with our rappelling.
Ben made one long rap about 55 meters down to the ledge that marked the start of the 5th pitch of “El Topo” I watched as he rapped over the lip, his ropes catching in two small bushes. I didn’t really like the looks of those bushes and thought that we should probably be going to the right of them, but, I wasn’t sure where the next anchor would be and decided to make the call once I was over the lip and could see below better. A few minute later he yelled that he was off and I shoved the ropes into my ATC. I made my way to the bushes with that initial feeling of needing to go to the right, but I could see down to where Ben was and he was positioned more to the left which meant that the ropes might get stuck if they were draped to the right ad dragging through the bushes. Abandoning my instinct to go around to the right I tried to clear them to their left. I shook my head as I passed them feeling that we might be in for a weird pull. On my way down I noticed an anchor halfway down and had the thought that we should be stopping there but looked down another 25 meters to Ben below and kept rapping down.
When I got to the ledge I realized that the anchor was to the far right and that it was totally arbitrary where we positioned ourselves on the ledge. I had a bad feeling about the ropes upon this realization and commented that this pull might be difficult. We started to pull the red tag line and it moved about 5 feet before stopping. We pulled and pulled and nothing. We tried to pull the green lead line, nothing. Ben walked to the far left and pulled – nothing. We both got on the rope together using our weight to help the scenario and nothing. Neither side would budge and after 15 minutes of this we realized that we were indeed stuck there with hardly any rope left to do anything with. We were at a juncture where there were no climbs which led out of this spot except to the far right where “El Topo” snaked its way up a subtle arete – but this did not help our situation. Above us loomed two roofs with huge bowls carved out of the rock in which the ropes were completely free hanging. To the left were choosy crack systems which led to no mans land. The ground remained about 150 meters below. The only way out would be to prusik up the ropes to our last rappel anchor.
I was annoyed at myself for ignoring my instinct because I felt certain the knot was stuck on those puny bushes. Ben felt the knot was caught on the lip, but my recollection of the lip was that it was fairly featureless save for a few bumps of rock here and there. I commented again that I had feeling about those bushes and that we would have been better off going to the right or at least stopping short that way it would’t be so far to get back up. But neither of those things mattered anymore and all that need to happen was to ascend the ropes.
Kicking myself for this huge waste of time I proceeded to set up to prusik up the ropes. With two cords – one being Ben’s chalk bag cord and the other being extra tat for hauling our bag I ascended the two ropes back up the 55 meters to the anchor. It started off awkwardly and slow but about 15 meters up I finally fell into a decent rhythm and started making outstanding time of less than a meter a minute! At that rate it was as if I could see the leaves changing color with the fall weather. As I dangled and prusiked and spun around in space I thought about the Yosemite pioneers and their impressive feats on El Cap with their archaic gear. I thought of that iconic picture of Bill Price prusiking his way up El Cap – I couldn’t imagine doing that for numerous pitches over numerous days and while I felt satisfied with our self-rescue capabilities I also felt like a true bumbler as I fumbled with my cords to slide them up our stuck ropes.
I finally reached the anchor we has passed and fixed the lines there so Ben could start to ascend as well. Then I kept going the last 20 meters to where the ropes were caught, as I got closer I saw our simple over hand knot caught beneath a branch of the bush no bigger than an inch in diameter – this partially dead thing was all that stood between us and the ability to pull or lines. Now, though this knot posed a different situation in that I needed to get my prusiks to the other side of it. This was a little complex and spooky but passed without much of a hitch and soon enough I was up at the anchor – tired, relieved, and a bit disappointed because we had lost a fair amount of time and we would be pushing the limit if we decided to continue with our original plan.
Once Ben arrived at the anchor we made the call to climb out on Les Marches du Temps and for the second time around we suffered in the heat of the low, fall, sun on sharp crimps, water pockets and small feet. The misery of the situation sent me further into a grumpy mood and no matter how hard Ben tried to cheer me up I sank deeper into dismay. Luckily the climbing on Les Marches is no harder than 7a and we ascended the pitches quickly. Somewhere around pitch 7 as I followed I heard a whizzing coming by and looked up just in time to see something the size of a softball fall a ways behind me and crash into the wall below before exploding into pieces. I yelled up, “What the *uck was that?” To which Ben responded solemnly, “My power paste.” He had dropped his homemade energy paste – another casualty of the day. It seemed like we would be lucky to get out of there without losing more possessions.
We topped out around 2:30 just as the intensity of the sun was making us a little delirious. It was hard to say what the underlying reason(s) were that thwarted our attempt that day – was it the unseen powers of the universe telling us no in order to save us from some bigger blunder? Had the dropping of the iPhone with the topo been the first warning to abort mission? And once we ignored it the ropes got stuck to further dis-sway us? Or was it just bad luck, and bad judgment and we were due for learning some lessons? Either way we didn’t get to do what we set out to do but we didn’t die trying and I learned (once again) to go with my instinct and in the end we are more curious and psyched to try “El Topo” than ever. So after these many days of downpour we are hoping to get back out there and try our luck again.
Sorry there are no pictures of the mini-epic but the phone got dropped!
I started to cringe with each step, steeper and more angled than the previous. The weight of my pack and the events of the day were starting to wear on me and my ankle was getting sore. I was walking differently to compensate for the discomfort and then finally, feet hit flat ground and we were in the home stretch back to the truck. As I dropped my heavy, not so heavy burden to the ground and commenced to follow suit I looked up at Patrick with a smile, the words “Thanks for a great day” spilling from my mouth.
Six months prior I had fallen at the Buttermilks and landed with one foot squarely on the pads, the other crookedly in the hole between the pads. Upon impact my talus cracked in two places. For a minute there, after popping it back into place, I managed to convince myself it was fine. In reality it would be two months of disuse followed by months of rehab. At the time this seemed exceptionally cruel as we had just returned from spending a fall and winter traveling and climbing in Spain. I had red pointed my first 5.14 as well as numerous other memorable routes and I was feeling strong and psyched.
We returned to Bishop in February and I hit the ground running. There were a few problems on my mind at the Buttermilks and I went after them almost immediately. I was rewarded with quick ascents and as exciting as that was I was also starting to feel a little confused. I went out climbing even on days I really didn’t feel like climbing and I questioned what my motivation was. I was starting to not feel present and just at the height of that feeling I broke my ankle. It was as if the universe was telling me I needed to sit down and get grounded again.
No one ever really told me how badly broken bones hurt, or how they go through a range of pain or how the mental and emotional self also hurt. I can safely say one thing I learned is that healing hurts – almost more than the break itself. For days I could hardly get out of bed, the discomfort coupled with the amount of energy it took to drag myself around were just too much. I watched movies, I read, I wrote, I cried, and I slept. Despite the pain I never filled my prescription for Percocet – I just endured and winced with the waves of discomfort. I never filled it because I was afraid of it, because I knew I would fall into a depression as the time wore on and if I had those pills I would probably find myself down a very dark hole.
I’m a very physical person – at times in my life one could equate my happiness with my activity level. I have always been this way. I love nothing more than trying hard, pushing myself, sweating and feeling the deep burn. I enjoy my body and using it to it’s utmost capacity. This being my first broken bone I was afraid of the down time, afraid of not expressing myself physically, afraid, afraid, afraid. Some days were better than others and I grew a lot as an individual during that time. I reflected on what things are important to me and what I came up with was an array of things but at the top of the list was health. I went on to take this apart and ask myself what about health is important, is achievable, am I working with currently and how could I continue to work with that in the longterm?
The work I do with Sacred Rok as camp cook has pushed me into a realm of being responsible for not only my own diet but the diet of many youth and mentors/adults. I cook seasonal foods, organic foods, local foods, whole foods – basically real food. Being an athlete I also want to know what is the most nutritious and beneficial way I can eat for performance. These two things coupled together with the down time of recovery pushed me to enroll in graduate school for a masters in Holistic Nutrition. I’m a few months into the program and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s pushed me further to consider each thing we put into our bodies.
After a few weeks of being broken I started to get creative with my exercise. Unable to walk or put weight on my right leg I resorted to a lot of floor exercise – like one leg push-ups, ice-bucket lifts with one arm, countless ab work outs, I even started to strap weights to my legs to do leg lifts, and then I entered into a serious hangboard program. I eased into it and always followed suit with push-ups, wrist curls and other oppositional training. Having trained on the board for years I quickly arrived at the point were I was ready to start training max strength. This involved a series of different repeater exercises with added weight as well as pull-ups with weight. It also involved one arm hangs and one arm pull-ups – these involved taking weight off until I could do a pull-up unassisted. It helped structure my time and give me direction even though it seemed like I would possibly peak in my fitness at a time when I wouldn’t even really be climbing. I did it anyway.
Before I knew it it was time to start using my foot again. I developed a program to recovery that included physical therapy, pilates, bike riding and some strength training for climbing. I went to physical therapy twice a week from April until June at the Bishop Physical Therapy Clinic. I worked with 2 PT’s who really helped push me and get me back on track to an even stronger me. They helped strengthen and stabilize my ankle, my foot, my toes, my calf and both hips. It’s amazing to me how once a person starts to pay more attention to their body they start to realize other imbalances and weaknesses. For sometime now I have been going to see Mary Devore at the Bishop Yoga and Pilates Studio. She has been my primary body worker and through her excruciatingly healing touch has helped show me certain problem areas in my body. Stuff that’s been there probably since infancy and accumulated throughout the dramas of life. During my rehab time she taught me how to use the Pilates Reformer. Originally this contraption was referred to as The Universal Reformer because it “universally reforms the body.” It works the small stabilizing muscles as well as a deep core and it also helps to align the body. This marvelous machine has done more to balance me out than anything else. In wanting to train strength I could think of no better resource than Ian Nielson at Mammoth Strength. He is not only a great friend but also a great coach and very knowledgable about the body and how it works. He helped me understand how to structure a training week as well as establishing exercises on the gymnastic rings, hang board and systems board. I worked some with him through my recovery and once I was climbing again.
During my rehab time I also gave in to a long standing desire to own a road bike. For many years I have wanted one but substituted my mountain bike tires for road wheels – it worked for a while but with rehab as a good excuse I bought myself the sexiest, fastest bike I could afford.
I took some intro rides around the Owens Valley and became better acquainted with two super fun and super rad Bishop locals who were also in the rehab process: Trish McGuire and Christie McIntire. Together we rode through some beautiful places and reveled in our bodies abilities to heal and strengthen.
As I got stronger on the bike I took on longer, harder rides solo. The top two being riding to Glacier Point and riding the whole Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne. They were both hard, both alpine starts and entirely worth it.
Sometime in May I was able to start climbing again. I took it incredibly slow, only top roping for about a month and not really climbing anything too hard. Even though I had been training and was feeling strong it felt weird when I started to move on rock again.I wasn’t breathing and I was guarding my movements; things weren’t flowing freely. Thankfully 18 years of climbing have given me a good foundation and I was back to feeling natural and confident on the rock within a couple of weeks. My psyche was high – I felt more motivated, more positive and more appreciative of climbing than ever. I took the opportunity to tick some classics, revive some long forgotten gems and just enjoy myself.
At the start of July I had been leading for about a month and was eager to get into some long valley routes. In scouring the guidebook for things I hadn’t done I came across some lines that had been forgotten to the lichen. I ventured out trying some of these and found a bag of mixed results. Certain unnamed routes should be left in the past and certain other unnamed routes are “c’est incroyable” and will be getting some more attention from me in the future. I also came upon the fact that I had never climbed the Chouinard-Herbert.
On a hot July 4th Christina Freschl and I left El Portal in the dark, the crickets still owned the air time as the birds hadn’t quite come out of their slumber. We arrived at the Four Mile trail parking just as the cool blue light of morning greeted the Valley. Marching up the Sentinel approach I felt lucky to be able to walk up there, much less climb the route. My ankle had been healing perfectly and this day would be a great test.
The route was amazing and was quite the trip into the past. The climbing went quickly and we beat the sun to the summit. Partnering with Christina was perfect for this endeavor – she is efficient, tough as nails and really good energy to be around. We had a marvelous day out on this old-school classic.
As the summer heat rose I migrated to the High Country. For the last 8 or so summers I have been fortunate to do a lot of climbing in Tuolumne. Some might say I have climbed it out, but that just isn’t true. There are some newer, obscure routes that beckon me – one of which was Mikey Schafer’s Night Shift. In mid July Christina and I made an ascent of this test piece and wow what a route! Anyone intrigued by this line better bring their A-game in the tech-ten department – mentally and physically.
For the past few summers I have been making ventures into the Hulk. Last year after climbing the Venturi Effect I got psyched on the other hard lines, one in particular called Solar Flare. If anyone is familiar with this wall, then you will know the bright orange sun spot on the left side of the formation. The Sunspot Dihedral climbs the right side of this “sun spot” while Solar Flare climbs the left arete of it. In late July Ian Nielson and I went in for a couple of days to try our hands at Solar Flare. It is a stunning route. I believe actually at one point while digging deep on the 12d crux pitch slab arete I yelled, “Holy shit, this is like Eat your heart out Mikey Schafer.” Needless to say it was hard, techy, physical and at times cryptic. I fucking loved it! Ian was a great partner and while neither of us made a full free ascent we had a great time, did some stellar climbing and got inspired to go back.
Last year my friend and frequent partner Patrick O’Donnell and I discussed doing the Hading Route on Conness. By August of this summer it had been in the works for a year. I had made it a goal to be feeling as fit as ever for this endeavor since it consists of a 4 mile hike in and back out, a 1200ft climb and an elevation of 12,600ft. My training, my bike riding, all of my climbing as well as the trip to the Hulk had me feeling pretty fit and the mission was a great success. The route was amazing, the location sublime and I never felt stronger at elevation than then.
This route, although easier, felt similar in character to the Chouinard-Herbert. Much of that sentiment stems from how historical both routes are as well as the ancient fixed gear that gives a glimpse into a bygone era. The old YC stamped pins in the CH with the some of the original bongs made such an enjoyable trip down a historical path. As I led my way up the notorious 5th pitch of The Harding Route on Conness I felt similar appreciation for the old bolts. They are old Star Drives and the hangers are original Harding chopped piton, hole punched, ring hangers. They are amazing little pieces of art. My appreciation stemmed not from desperately wanting to clip them but from an admiration of the story that played itself out on this Alpine rock. To think of Harding out there, drilling those bolts, groveling through the squeeze chimneys with his hammer dangling made me smile. We are lucky to have such beauty so close!
In between Alpine endeavors and long routes I worked with Sacred Rok, enjoyed the vibe in Tuolumne, did a lot of school work, and spent a lot of time on the East Side. I sport climbed a lot, returning to crags like the Tioga Wall, Bear Crag and Pine Creek and checked out other spots like Column of the Giants. I found myself to be in good shape, having power and endurance and maybe even annoying my friends a little by doing their projects first go. I made some first female ascents at Bear Crag, Tuolumne, and Pine Creek and the second overall ascent of a new route at Pine Creek called Planet X ((13b), its the extension to Planetarium and its really worthy.)Not to brag too much but it’s been great fun!
I was fortunate that my ankle break was so textbook and didn’t require surgery. I was lucky it healed so well. As of now there are days when I don’t even remember I broke it, which is interesting because in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel normal again. I owe a lot to my dear husband, Ben Ditto, for all of his patience, help and support. It would have been a long, hard and miserable journey without him. I also owe a lot to all the people who helped me through rehab and training – without this core group of knowledgable and kind people I would still be a gimpy mess.
There are a few little projects to tie up and one more week of work before this Sierra sojourn comes to an end. I will meet Ben in France and we will spend the fall and winter in Europe again. The Verdon Gorge will be the first stop, a place that has been a dream of mine for many years. I am looking forward to spending some time there, pratiquer mon francais et bien manger.
I wish all of you a great end to summer and happy fall climbing season – and may the snow gods please deliver an abundance of moisture to the Sierra!
also…in case you all are wondering where Ben is in all of this:
In June he made a free ascent of the Freerider – like a bowse! In early July he departed the US and met up with the Belgians and Cpt Bob for another sailing expedition. As of now they have been to Greenland where they established some new routes and boulder problems and have been in Baffin Island doing the same. Stay tuned for more on their adventures.