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It was spring break last week and my wife took the boys to Florida to visit her grandmother. DR and Alison, my fellow sharks (editors) were cruising distant shorelines so it was just me and the then intern, Hayden Carpenter, holding down the editorial edifice. I felt like a teenager whose parents have left him alone in the house with the keys to the car. The possibilities were dizzying. I could follow my heart’s desire and do anything I wanted, get into any crazy fix or predicament, cause any amount of trouble and heartbreak. So I did what I always do in situations like that. I peaced out and went climbing.
Pretty much since I was born, I’ve been obsessed with first ascents so it wasn’t even a question of what Hayden and I would do. New routes, duh! To quote DR, who was paraphrasing Jimmie Dunn, “First ascents are easy. All I need is a rope, a rack and all this shit in my pack.”
Adopting this catchy motto, Hayden and I took only the basics required for establishing modern sport routes that don’t suck: Two 60-meter ropes, a rack of cams, a medley of nuts, hooks, bolts, drill, blow tube, wrench, hammer, climbing shoes, harnesses, ascenders, quick draws, slings, chalk bags and extra chalk. After 35 years of first ascents, I’d learned we’d also need some specialized gear so I added what I’ve dubbed the 10 Essentials: small brushes, large brushes, a small electric drill with a rotary brush, a tooth brush, a nut tool for digging out pockets, a whisk broom, a large blow tube, goggles, a surgical mask and a small trowel. Since there was no trail to this cliff situated in a sea of Western Colorado Quercus gambelii (scrub oak), we also took some hedge clippers and a rake. And that’s it! Consequently, our packs weighed roughly the same as my seven-year-old son and his four-year-old brother and my Jack Russell combined.
The approach was, surprisingly, not too heinous and we hung our lines over two 30-meter “gems.” The day passed in a literal haze as we scrubbed and pried and huffed and puffed and chalked and bolted. Eight hours later, when the dust finally settled, we’d successfully started cleaning two routes that looked like they’d be awesome climbs once we spent about five more hours buffing them.
We drove back to town spraying excitedly about the moves and made plans to reconvene that weekend to continue the process of scouring and polishing in hopes that one day we could actually climb the lines. Never mind that my shoulder was so crippled from bearing down on the brushes that I could barely steer the truck. These climbs were going to be sick!
That night I was in too much pain and, ironically, too excited about the new crag to sleep so I did what everybody does when his or her mind and body are overly agitated, I logged onto Facebook.
There was a new video on my page, posted by my friend Greg Erickson, so I clicked on it and watched a naked dude coolly soloing Dopey Duck, an awesome-looking 5.9 that ascends a clean swath up a face festooned in flakey black lichen on Shortoff Mountain in North Carolina. Unencumbered by any gear—not even clothes—this guy was obviously having a great time recreating in the sunshine on a splitter day. The irony reverberated through my bad shoulder like a hot poker. How pure, simple and … fun!
At the beginning of the vid you can hear somebody breathlessly exclaim: “This guy is f-ing insane!” And yet, as I dug grains of sand out of my ears and registered the throbbing pulse of my many scrapes and bruises, all I could think was, “I wonder what lunatic cleaned that rig?”