The chimneys came all too soon. C blazed up the first three pitches, pulling up the climbing derby of me and W behind her. I had somehow signed myself up for crux pitches, citing my new found adoration for the beasts. When W asked me at the second belay whether or not I was ready for them, all I had to say was “ If ego has anything to do with it, I guess I am. I have gone around telling the world I love chimneys, I guess I have to love them”. It was true. I had only led one chimney in my whole life, but having committed to the challenge, I tried to smile and convinced myself I was capable.
The nice part about chimneys:
-You can rest anywhere… but only once you have figure out which limp or long bone is jammed where.
- Squirming is your best option, if you can allow yourself to throw dignity out the window, hollar, splash and use your helmet as a cam occasionally… you can get up anything.
- drop any sense of grace or techique, improv seems to work best so if that is your thing. Go get it.
...Six hundred feet later it was over. I had placed a number 4 and 5 inch cams numerous times for the first time in my life and negotiated countless different awkward positions and body wedges. C and W were both good sports, having deliberately and clearly stated earlier that they both hate chimney and crack climbing and all for that matter, they trailed the packs up as patiently and calmly as they could.
Once W hit the last belay ledge at the top of my leads he was gunning for the sharp end. Although for me, the climb seemed over, we still had 7 pitches to go... That alone is more pitches than this team usually climbed in a day. So off he went, placing minimal gear and fighting for daily light. He soared up pitch after pitch, linking where he could and impatiently tugging deliriously drowsy and giddy versions myself and C up behind him. After watching him frantically try dynamic moves without appropriate gear placed below him, I got hostile. “ We are NOT in a rush! Take it easy, take your time, place gear, be safe” After all, we knew we would be finishing in the dark, walking down at night is better than being stuck on the cliff because of a stupid mistake.
My attention was harnessed from weeks of writing and research Canadian climbing accidents. I found myself often writing up potential accident reports in my head as I swapped leads and attempted to manage my risks on multi pitches. That unsupervised decision not to tie knots in the ends of my ropes, or whether or not I should wear my helmet on this pitch… had more obvious answers, a more committed attention. I found myself actively fighting complacency and lucky passes, and when any of us lapsed, there others would step in; double check, review systems and methodology. Years of misplaced confidence on luck in the mountains are no reason to get sloppy. Especially when you are 1000 feet vertical.