Segal clips into the anchor point on the project, and we both stare up at the splitter. Nothing on either side for fourty feet, plumb-straight, 2 pitches long, white-gold granite. Basically, as good as it gets. We jostle around on the old pink cordalette I left here two years ago, hopping our little portaledge around to best get suited for a go. Two summers ago my partner and I rappelled down this crack. We replaced some old slings, beefed up the ancient pin anchors, and slithered down the ropes, mouths agape. In the past couple years lots has changed; I had a bad injury, I rehabbed, I asked myself the big questions. I wanted to hike in here but couldn’t because my ankle was too fucked up. But this splitter never left the back of my mind, a big itchy question mark that wouldn’t go away. And the pink cordalette and mini-biner is a definite, real-life reminder that I was indeed here two years ago, that it wasn’t just a dream, though that day feels like a decade ago and yesterday all at the same time.
At the top of the pitch hangs Kyle, new to the mountains and eager to get some footage. I met him a couple years ago in Yosemite and immediately liked his enthusiasm, so I asked him to come along on this trip. He’s got his blue static line all coiled up and viewfinder trained on me, so I lace-up the boots tight and prepare to drop into some seriously insane rock climbing. I’ve got the heebie-jeebies now: might be from the building electrical storm, might be from the exposure. Sometimes I think I’ve kicked the spine-tingling fear that comes from climbing in an ultra-exposed posititon. What’s your problem, Will? The gear couldn’t be more bomber. But its where I am: one laser cut crack in a sea of blankness.
Time to cut adrift.
So I start climbing up from the gear, like some granite mariner so far from home, heading into who knows what. Then all of a sudden, my perspective changes from macro to micro, and my stomach settles, and the fear fades away. Little grey and black crystals latticed into each other. The bite of the crack on my first knuckle. The subtle pressure of rubber on rock. Be gentle on the feet. Not too much pressure on the toes, just enough. I can feel the wind whistling behind me, and as I peer under my shoes while spying footholds, I see the glacier nudging against the wall. Then suddenly I’m pumped and way above the gear. The perspective changes again, and the “where I am” factor comes flooding back in. Gravity wastes no time in ripping me from the wall, and I’m rocketing down the face, arms windmilling, waiting for the rope to catch me. It does, and we’re all okay, but we scream anyway because our hearts are racing.
Back at the belay we look up and dark clouds are swirling around. Then it starts pouring. Then things go electrical. Big thunder crashes. Kyle hasn’t seen anything like this before so his eyes are alight with excitement and fear. We zip down the soaked fixed lines, gri-gris hissing like snakes.
At camp the sky has been pacified, and the sky is blue again. I grab the water bottle full of bourbon and pour the team a couple fingers each, pack the mugs with snow then slice up a couple limes, squeezing the fruit with chalky, chapped hands, hands still shaking a bit. Stir the mixture up with a tent peg and hand ‘em out. The adrenaline starts ebbing, my hands stop shaking, and we stare at the wall, then each other, grinning, shaking our heads, and laughing.