This whole trip to Smith Rock was about capturing one picture: the picture on the cover of the Smith Rock climbing guide book. The more I climb these days the more I want to capture the experiences of being on the rock. I want people to feel the exposure high above the ground, to grimace with me in the finger cracks, feel the awe of beautiful scenery, and share in triumph at the top of the mountain.
We had no idea what getting this picture was going to entail, but adding this goal to our climbing just added an extra dimension of awesomeness.
So we looked at the topos, did the research, and concluded that it was out of our league, but we were going to do it anyway. The last pitch was harder trad than I had ever done, and the rest of the climb was barely within my ability, and the romanticism of the project was too much to pass up. Even the route name: Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, was a sign that we had to push the limits.
Before I knew it, the rack was biting into my shoulder, the metal was clinking against my thigh, and I was leaving the ground with thunderous excitement. The sun was basking us in power. As I looked up at the monolithic rock towering above us, I could not wait to be a speck on the exposed face high high above.
This piece of rock was impressive. The shadowed face way above looked down on me like a parent, and I was the feeble child clawing my way to the top.
At the top of the second pitch I thought we were going to quit.
The climbing was hard. A plethora of curses floated up to me from my follower. I had just climbed on this rock a week prior but my partner had not. It's takes some mileage before your feet remember how to stand on nubbins the size of a pea. The rock was spitting him out like sour milk, but he kept coming. He churned past each crux and cloved into the anchor, breathless. I was ready to setup the rap-rings, and head back to the ground. I had already said "good game."
Nonsense! Ryan was ready to tackle this thing even if it took him to the vet. I said vet because he had just become a beast, and we would need an animal doctor.
I'm pretty sure I was shaking on the fourth pitch. The sun had gone behind the hill and an icy wind was kicking up. I don't know if I was quaking from the excitement or the cold. The fourth pitch was a beautiful line up slightly overhanging flakes with only awed spectators hundred of feet below. As i pulled through the crux and traversed over air to reach the next chains, I felt the last euphoric thrill of the climb.
I slowly froze at that fourth belay station. I wasn't smart enough to bring pants, and sitting on that exposed arete the wind started thrashing hard. The blood drained from my fingers, my toes were going numb, the freezing wind was ripping through me, and I was ready to be done with this climb.
The final pitch was the crux pitch, and I think I could say I was miserable as I hobbled off the belay ledge. I plugged a cam with frozen fingers and prepared myself to pull the roof crux. I heaved over the bulge and reached high for a rattly finger jam. I desperately reached for my gear and wedged myself insecurely between two slabs. The wind was roaring and trying to pull me off the rock. I yelled breathlessly in anger and fear, cursing the wind and the cold and my own anxiety. I placed my gear, crossed my fingers, and yelled "TAKE."
I hung on the rope, Ryan groaned from the harness constricting his nether-region, we were both in pain. I wasn't sure if this was fun anymore. "Last pitch" I had to remind myself. I pulled, flailed, and jammed my way up the crack. I climbed like a human being recovering from a stroke, but eventually I heaped myself onto the ledge with the chains. I pulled on them like a prisoner trying to break free, and I caught my breath.
When Ryan gained the ledge with me, the last thing we wanted to do was re-climb that pitch and get pictures. It was some kind of self-abuse, but in retrospect it was our penance to get the photo. We set up the top-rope and I rappelled down. We hauled that camera up 600 feet, we couldn't leave without using it. I climbed/ cheated my way back up the rock, and he shot me with tired fingers.
The top of the rock wasn't the vacation we hoped for. The wind gustedlike a monster and we had to leave quick. After many difficult rappels, the rope getting stuck once, and some sketchy down-climbing, we were high-fiving with bloody and black hands on the ground. It did feel good. We were rewarded by walking back to camp next to Tommy Caldwell, wondering if he could tell how badass we just were.
Written by Kyle Sherby
Photos by Ryan Thompson & Kyle Sherby