Snake Hike

10 feet. All I need to do is cross those 10 feet and I'll be home free. Its not that hard, only 5.7 friction, but all of a sudden that seems fairly serious.

I retreat to my stance just below the useless bolt, shake out, chalk up my confidence, and try a lower line. A tantalizing series of foot holds brings me most of the way across the barely noticeable scoop in the rock but peters out as the rock steepens just below the ramp I need to be on. Back to my stance below the bolt to wonder whether this was such a good idea.

This climb has been on my mind for almost a year now, and I've trained for it all summer. I've put pitch after pitch of much harder slab below me, but none of that is making this 10 feet of 5.7 look any easier.

I chalk some more and try the direct line again. The left foot is on a typical granite dimple. Its ok,but not great and there are no hands. The move is clear, commit to the left foot, bring the right over, then one more move through the unknown to the ramp. All I need to do is trust the shoes. How many times have I yelled that up to someone else? Gently I ease some weight onto the left foot trying to convince myself of its solidity. The foot sticks but my nerve shatters and I retreat to my stance.

I contemplate my options, telling myself over and over again, that its ok, not to do this move if it doesn't feel right. When I established this climb as a goal for myself I knew that I might get to this position and not want to go on. In talking about it to myself and others I always tried to couch it in cautious phrases. "I'd like to," "Maybe," "If I'm feeling good," all designed to give the emotional room to bail if it wasn't going well.

But, I don't want to bail! That gentle ramp leading up to the dike is screaming out at me to just stroll on over. Taunting me, from the safety of those 10 feet of 5.7 friction. I consider applying cartoon physics and just taking a running start at it, hoping gravity doesn't notice me until I'm safely on the ramp.

Instead, I chalk up and go looking for holds on a high line. With my feet a bit above the bolt I find something I'm able to convince myself is a handhold. Just a tiny ripple in the rock, but its positive enough that I can pretend to crimp on it, and my spirits are buoyed as I retreat once more to my stance.

Two hundred or so feet below I can see Ian and Andy peering up nervously as they prepare to climb. I remember how easily those first couple of pitches had gone. I was only warming up when I found myself at the top of the first pitch. The inward focus seemed to block out the upward progress. It went so peacefully. Move, move, move, Oh my, I'm there? A few words to Ian on where to meet and I drifted on.

But here and now, the peace is gone. I'm tense, I'm gripped, I can feel my muscles contract involuntarily, I'm tired of this damn stance, and I really want to be on that ramp. I move back up the high line, regaining my imaginary hold. The feet here are worse and I'm sure this isn't the easiest way but I commit my weight and begin probing out left. I find another wrinkle for my hand and ooze a few feet further left. The ramp is now in reach but as I stretch for it I feel my chest come into the rock and my feet begin to loosen. I lean back and take a breath. Slowly, slowly, I mumble to myself. Smear left, Smear right, glide hips and I can finally step onto the ramp.

I'm so giddy I have to be careful not to make a stupid mistake. The ramp is easy but not so secure and I don't let out my yell of triumph until I have my hands on the dike. Above loom six more pitches of climbing, but they are all easy and I take a moment to smile inwardly before setting off. The peace is back and I settle into a gentle rhythm.

I wanted to do this climb to form a personal understanding about what soloing was all about and as I move through the rest of it I think I got what I paid for. For me, its simple, elegant, and fun. I'm intensely aware of my entire body even as I do 5.2 moves. It feels like the difference between leading and following. As long as I'm not afraid of falling its intensely pleasurable. But, when that confidence wasn't there it was incredibly unpleasant.

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