Yesterday Cory I and went up on Yam with the goal of sending the Yam project we've been working all September (day seven this season, 13 into the project). It was an absolutely perfect Fall day, a sensory feast. The first six pitches went down first try, including the sixth, which I'd been unable to climb in the past. We were super-stoked at the top of pitch 6, especially 'cause the last hard move on pitch six is low-percentage. Six pitches down, two more "easy" pitches to go--or so we thought... In retrospect it was a bit like when Bush hung the "Mission Accomplished" banner for Iraq, it wasn't really over now was it? I'm going to write about pitch 7 because I can't stop thinking about it.
Pitch 7 started off with some 5.10 climbing up a less than vertical headwall of very sharp "Yam Velcro," meaning that the surface of the limestone looks like a dry bowl of Captain Crunch cereal, only each crunch spike is skin-cutting sharp. The spikes tend to break off occasionally, but the rock is in general excellent grey limestone. The pitch is generally well-protected with bolts (as is most of the route, some bigger runs but you're unlikely to die on this route). No problem, paste hands, feet up, let the spikes hurt so good. Then the pitch steepened up to vertical to gently overhanging, with blobs of the grey Velcro mixed with more friable yellow limestone. Those of you who climb on Rockies limestone will know the mix. I was tired but still felt reasonably strong, and kept thinking that in one or two moves I'd get a good hold and then it would be jugs to to the belay. The slow slide into being pumped silly started when a foothold broke and I had to give all my power to hang on. Suddenly I was on the edge of falling after climbing maybe 10M of a 35M pitch. No! Up and just out of reach I could see a bigger than usual Crunch nubbin, but so far away and it would probably break anyhow... The clock was on, no time to rest, I hiked my feet up on lousy footholds that were crunching like mad and thought, "This won't work," but I had to try, fuck it, go down fighting man! I hit the Cruncher but oh so barely good enough to hold or maybe not, no, yes, wobbling, barely barely on. For the next 20 minutes I was able to oh so barely bust out a move, recover just enough to make another one, repeat. I have never, never, tried so hard on a pitch for so long in my life--so many times almost falling off, then not, just a swinging quickdraw's force from falling off. Normally when I'm that pumped I fall off, but this was pitch 7 on the redpoint effort of the biggest rock route I've ever put up, I refused to fall and so somehow didn't. Footholds broke slightly, my skin started to bleed, but I was making it work. Finally I got to an awkward rest where I could alternate hands, but my feet were on crunchy nubbins so I was only able to get the feeling back in my hands, my forearms were bloated like balloons and weren't going down in pressure. I could see the belay so close, and then the "rest" started to turn into work. Go! A paralyzed friend of mine once explained that he could use his hands better with "extensis," which means bending his wrists back so the tendons were stretched and his finger stayed curled better. I think this is part of the reason our elbows go up and out when we're pumped stupid, we're using extensis to stay on. My elbows went up into the super pollo as I scrabbled upward, Crunch nubbins flying off until there was nothing left to give and I was in the air and hanging on the rope, a jug in plain sight about a foot higher. 20M of all-out desperate climbing came down to a foot... At first I was too tired to do more than hang there, then the pain came in the skin and the world returned with a rush. I had given absolutely everything I had for the last 35 minutes--skin, energy, will, and I had come up short by a single move...
I lowered down thinking I'd just find the good sequence, pull the rope the rope and redpoint next go, but I couldn't do any of the moves I'd just done, there was nothing left in my mind or body, and each time I touched the rock I had to consciously not let go from the skin pain. The splitter Fall day was cooling fast as the sun set, and I suddenly realized we had to get to the top of Yam somehow (rapping after the fifth pitch would be very complicated, the ends of 70M ropes hang totally free a long way from the wall). What if the next "easy" pitch was like this too? Quickdraws became my friends, and fortunately the last pitch wasn't too bad, relatively easy 5.11. We had done an ascent of the route from bottom to top, but not free, and not free is not done in my mind.
If I had been able to hang on for one more move and make the belay I'd call that pitch the best "onsight" climbing of my life (I'd rapped the pitch, but didn't know the moves at all, so not a technically pure onsight effort). I tried harder and succeeded more than I ever have on a single pitch, but still came up short. I alternated between feeling heart-broken over failing so close, and yet calm with the fact that I'd done my absolute best.
Today I wonder how hard that pitch is--could be relatively easy, on top of Yam I felt like I do at the end of one of those cragging days where you've climbed more hard routes than normal and then climbed some laps on a hard route and then tried to do the "warm up" to cool down and can't... It doesn't really matter, I met my match high on Yam. I really want to do a continuous free ascent as that always feels best, but I know it's common to claim an ascent redpointing each pitch in sequence. We could go back up, rap down and redpoint the last two pitches like others have done on big wall "free" routes, but that seems somehow weak to me, the goal is always to climb from the bottom to the top. I don't think I have the fitness to climb six pitches, four of which are solid 5.12 with one likely 5.13, and then figure that pitch out, so perhaps the thing to do is to rap down, figure it out, then head back up for a one-day free ascent? I'm sure there are climbers who could onsight the whole climb, and I hope that happens as it would be cool, but I want to do my best and finish this rig in a style I feel good about. But it's early October here in the Rockies, we only have so many days for success before the days are too cold, and the rare warm days too short for a route of this size and difficulty (for me). This morning I can barely walk with the foot pain, and my hands are oozing plasma road rash so it's going to take some time to hang onto anything but smooth plastic keyboards or maybe gym holds. Climbing sure is interesting!
I just got an email from Cory: "My hands are fucked...I can't even be clever about
saying it...they are just plain fucked!"
Yamineering sure is fun.