The next few days on the wall were, in a way, unstressed. I had already aided the Monster Offwidth and the burden of “failure” had been removed. I could focus more on climbing and on where I was. It was uplifting to find the moves on both the .13a “Boulder Problem” pitch and the .12 “Enduro Corner” less stout than I had imagined. The spectacular .12b/c exit roof onto the Headwall captured me and put me into a globe where I could see everything: the exposure, the granite, and I felt here, more than anywhere else on the wall, the freedom that Big Wall Climbing produces.

On the Headwall I took a good whipper as three pieces popped out of the first, hard-to-protect section. I was left dangling at the lip of the roof, but oddly felt little in the way of fear. Maybe my dehydrated mind was too focused on summiting. Maybe I was too tired. Either way, I worked back up the Headwall, this time on aid, and inspected the long, flaring crack for a future free climb attempt. The wall soon burned into that brilliant orange of evening granite and the wind, still warm and dry, picked up. The last section of the Headwall is a right leaning seam, with smears and tiny crimps. I envisioned myself on this, exiting the flared pod, and firing for the anchors. For me, this section is enough to bring me back.

I realize now the mistakes I made in planning for my ascent. The weather of course played a significant role, but going ground up, hauling everything, trying to onsight the route…these were unrealistic for many reasons. In retrospect, I can see myself working the pitches top down and stashing important supplies along the way before making a push from 3,600 feet below.

As Dustin and I topped out an odd feeling seemed to overcome both of us. It is so sudden, stepping onto a summit, and it is so little (in meaning, and in reality) when compared to the entirety of the route. You think so much about the summit along the way that all of the significance of a climb can be lost - the trials of each pitch stacked on top of one another, the thirst, the fear, the hauling, the intimate dialogue between partners about life. These things make up a climb and on the summit I realized how fleeting and momentary the “top” is and how eternal and important the rest of our climb was…

Day three continued and the temps hovered in the upper 90s. After the Hollow Flake I continued into the humid twilight and found myself stuffed into the “Ear,” a horrible and slick bomb-bay chimney that ends at the Monster Offwidth. I fixed the line, rappelled into the darkness - into 2000 feet of melting, eerily black air - and Dustin and I set up our ledge and I dreamed the nightmare of what lay ahead.

The next morning, my fingers puffy and cuticles bloodied, I popped some Vitamin-I, ate a quick bite, and jugged to the small ledge that was the highpoint of the previous day. Before we had started this climb I had assured myself that the Salathe Wall would stay shaded for the majority of the days we were climbing, maybe breaking into full sun around 1pm or 2pm. How wrong. By the time Dustin was up to belay me and I had racked up the three cams I would use for the 200 foot pitch, the granite was already sweating and glowing.

I set off. A 5.12a traverse and downclimb lead to the gut-wrenching, puke inducing 7-10” crack. Excitedly, I made the crux span to the Monster Offwidth onsight and began inching my way upwards. Maybe my nightmare was, after all, just a dream. After about 40 feet, my body seeming to always slip down more than I went up, my lips bloody and cracked, my endurance completely sucked away, I could go no further. It was a nightmare. I grabbed my cam and took. It’s amazing how demoralizing this moment was. The sun backing. My inability to fit into the offwidth and get my feet into the necessary heal-toe cam. My thirst. The unavoidable knowledge that the heatwave would continue. Ultimately, the thought that I had let down not only myself, but my wife who had put up with my crazy training schedule and sacrificed much for me to be up here. I pounded my helmet against the wall and let my head stay there, my body completely devoid of any will or ability to do this pitch.

Already, Dustin and I knew we would have limited water and to stay and work this pitch would waist precious supplies for the next few days. I had misplanned and mistimed and mistrained - the Monster Offwidth is, what I came to learn, the mental crux of the Salathe Wall. And so, here is where my free attempt ended…for this season. I aided up the rest of the pitch and sunk into the Alcove, unbelievably bummed. After about an hour and a half rest, and with the psyche of Dustin, I overcame this dull-drum and decided to keep freeing as much as possible. Despite the crippling heat I would try to make this a real, fighting attempt to free what was left of the Salathe.

Together we looked up. A wind stirred like a hair-dryer. The desert dry air stung our lungs. I tied in, put on my shoes, and began again…

It’s been a long journey to the top of El Cap. A while back I made a goal to free the Salathe Wall for my 30th birthday and my friend Dustin agreed to take the trip with me. With the help of training guru Mike Anderson I set out to get fit and his advice definitely paid off, 5.13 felt easier than ever, my finger strength shot up, and my endurance seemed long-lasting. However, as I soon found out, El Cap requires much, much more.

With our dates set, Dustin and I met up in Sacramento, and entered the valley on Sept. 12th. With the temps hovering around 97 degrees, I made my way up Freeblast, the solid 12 pitch 5.11 that includes hard slab and a crazy chimney. I sent every pitch first try despite the slick rock that seemed to be oozing beneath the gigantic sun. We rappeled that night, slept in the van, and awoke the next morning to pack our haul bags and jug/haul to Heart Ledge.

With 90 lbs of water, a porta-ledge, and all our gear, we soon realized that hauling was not going to be easy, but consoled ourselves with the fact thought: just keep drinking and eating…and everything will get lighter.

It didn’t seem to work…

After a good nights sleep on Heart Ledge we got up with the sun and an already humid and hot breeze. The 11c pitch of the ledge felt as greasy as bacon, but I managed to somehow keep my smears as I held on to a nickle-sized crystal and lunged for a jug. Next up was the infamous Hollow Flake and a spectacular 5.12 traverse (which is rather difficult to find) to get to its beginning! This would be my first big test.

The traverse followed big spans between good foot holds and not so good handholds. Then a wild down-climb on an arete that got me to a stance where I needed to commit to yet another cryptic traverse. Back and forth I went, unable to commit to the final move to what appeared to be a juggy-crack-flake. Then, I remembered Michelle’s words, climb with a pure heart and go for it. And so I stemmed as wide as I could, matched a non-existent crimp, and blindly lunged to the hold, latching it and barely controlling the barn-door swing. I let out a whoop! and entered the ever-widening Hollow Flake, a terrifying feature that looms in the back of every Salathe Wall Climber’s mind. With the onsight of this pitch I felt confident and excited. But the temps continued to rise…

Part 1:

“This trail’s so fucking long. La Lala La La. There’re so many stupid mosquitoes. La Lala La La. But I don’t care, cause I’m going home to see my babe, my Lovebug. La Lala La La.”

That’s about all I remember to my song of self-induced delirium. Sometimes climbing borders insanity. Sometimes it pushes you to the edge. Sometimes the line fades and you cross back and forth. I had begun to wonder ten miles from Titcomb Basin, my 100 pound pack broken and knotted around my waist, if maybe I had bit of too much. The thought of biting, that mosquitoes bit me in droves and sucked at my life, made me furious. Had I bit off too much? I really thought about the action of biting and it made me so incredibly hungry. I watched a hamburger dance ahead of me, pirouetting through the pines, spinning deliciously across the trail. Maybe I really was losing a bit of my mind.

I’ll rewind, if one can rewind, and take you to a time before a little bit of me snapped. It was a slow process, snapping, one built on mental and physical exhaustion. It took time. It took dedication. In the beginning, all I remember is mud.

My soaked approach shoes swung from a carabineer on my backpack. Their constant thwap made me think back to the rolling log that had cast me into the tumbling stream, or was it a river. I never know how to differentiate between the two, but for our circumstances, to make sure that you can see it clearly, I want you to envision a plummeting body of water that smashes into boulders and roars like some conniving carnivore. I sloshed through the remaining water and stood triumphantly on the other side. I spit as all victors do and watched as my saliva rolled into a ball of mud. Now I can read the foreshadowing, but at that moment I was oblivious. Up to that point the trail had been relatively calm, and so I smiled nonchalantly, sat down, and replaced my dripping shoes with sturdy Chaco Sandals. Not half a mile later my feet sank deep into the earth and as I pulled them forcefully out a loud slurping sound echoed and reverberated off the granite domes. Schlwap. Schlwap. Schlwap. The sound pulsated like a second heart for 11 more miles.

Read below to find out just how we got to where we are right now…!!!

This last honeymoon post really encompasses our final week and a half on the road. So take a deep breath and have a shot of something strong…then maybe this babbling will seem a little more coherent.

From Great Sand Dunes National Park we drove pass the beautiful Spanish Peaks and up to Denver where we doused our bellies with the flavors of Snooze and then, under the delightful hallucinatory coma that followed, veered the mighty Big Red into Boulder where our mates Dustin and Barb awaited.

We had a very berry time in Clear Creek Canyon with Dustin and his friend Mike, climbing at the Wall of Justice (sadly we left our camera in Big Red – and the only pictures we have are from phones). I had a good day and was able to onsite all the classic rig-a-roos as the pros now call them, except for Finger Prince, a 5.13 bolted crack that I got second try or, a la deuce. Michy onsited two hard and very tubular 11s, Miss Trial and Hanging Judge, and we rounded off the evening with a meal out with the two bugaboos, Dustin and Barb.

Day two took us to Boulder Canyon’s Animal World Wall, where we did several really nice 12s and a super 5.10 called Talking Out of Turn. Day three brought us to Boulder’s very own Snooze, where we relaxed with a perfectly engineered bag of weed and our Eggs Benedict and Pancake Flight (ok, we didn’t buy any hash, but we could have). After our big “Farewell to Colorado” meal we lifted our bellies into the van and Dilly-Barred (TM Matt Spohn, but I will sell to Dairy Queen) our way to Vedauvoo…where we climbed four really classic routes at the Holdout Wall, including the slabbiest 5.12 I have every been on and, Eleven Cent Moon, a super-d-dooper-over-the-top 11d!

Phewweee! It’s going to be just a bit more to get you all caught up. Day two at Vedauvoo brought us to the classic, Horn’s Mother, a 5.11 offwidth crème-de-la-crème. As the clouds darkened and sprinkles of joy began to fall out of the sky I tied in and Michy frowned and franticly pointed upwards towards the looming swaths of billowing and electrically charged death balls (it’s all about perception…I thought they looked more like cotton balls). Needless to say, I slipped and slithered and cursed and tore my way past the crux and into a dripping alcove, where I sat and pondered my educational upbringing, surely I was smarter than this?

With lighting bolts crashing about, we packed up and said good bye to the amazing Vedauvoo and let the wind violently blow Big Red to Jackson Hole, where we canoodled the evening away in a quant little bungalow built in the 1920s!

While cruising the Grand Tetons we ran into Nadene, a long lost friend…what a qawink-e-dink! And another amazing thing: Driggs, Idaho. What a great place that we will definitely return to and better yet, it is home to Teton Canyon, a pretty little climbing area with a lot of sweet routes and sweaty potential. Most the walls were sopping, but we managed and afternoon at the Grand Wall where Michy did a cool 10c called S.O.S and I managed to free the Aid extension called Guides Wail, a technical 5.13. Yippy skippy!

And finally, this all brings us to City of Rocks, surely the best climbing area on the planet. A day and a half here will make you silly enough to eat a noodle off a cat’s nose! And I guess that’s where we are at…

We did it! We hiked to the top of the Great Sand Dune, the largest most sandy brownish goldish reddish yellowish cold in the shade hot in the sun dune in North America. Here is the proof. And see those clouds? They rained and hailed and blew cold air on us! Off to Denver to eat at Snooze and then to Boulder to see Dustin and Barb and climb in Boulder Canyon. Be home soon!

We had a great time in Penitente Canyon in S. Colorado. With some crazy weather the hordes were kept at bay and we had the canyon, at times, completely to ourselves! The climbing is very technical and low angle with lots of microscopic edges and pockets. I was excited to get a lot of routes, including a Flash of the classic Bullet the Blue Sky, 5.12d and fast ascents of two great 5.13s, Casandra and A Virgin No More. Michy climbed the very cool 5.12, Forbidden Fruit, in the rain and also worked out the moves on a 5.12b called Sister Mercy. All in all it was a great first visit to Penitente Canyon and we will be back.

Sante Fe had a very cool Folk Art Museum with these crazy wood carved animals!

We also made our own Japanese Kite!

And we met Ricardo Cate, a native artist from the Kewa Pueblo. His cartoons are excellent and we bought a few of his paintings which will be showing at Stoneworks Art Gallery when we get back!

A few not-so-awesome things:

1. Getting to the Four Corners and it being closed
2. Taos (Eek!)
3. Matt being blown out of the van in a fiery ball because of a gas leak
4. Sexist idiot at a crag who insulted Michy (reward, Michy climbing the route he couldn’t even start)
5. Both coming down with a bad cold
6. Raw finger tips (Matt thinks they are cool)
7. Matt’s cracked big toe (Michy thinks its cool)
8. Guy who listens to sappy reggae on an iPod portable speaker at Great Sand Dunes National Park (2014 version of boom box on a shoulder)

But they have made us giggle in the aftermath!

A few not-so-awesome things:

1. Getting to the Four Corners and it being closed
2. Taos (Eek!)
3. Matt being blown out of the van in a fiery ball because of a gas leak
4. Sexist idiot at a crag who insulted Michy (reward, Michy climbing the route he couldn’t even start)
5. Both coming down with a bad cold
6. Raw finger tips (Matt thinks they are cool)
7. Matt’s cracked big toe (Michy thinks its cool)
8. Guy who listens to sappy reggae on an iPod portable speaker at Great Sand Dunes National Park (2014 version of boom box on a shoulder)

But they have made us giggle in the aftermath!

Two climbers in a van eating m&m's

Sights