The Spindle is a 100 foot tall, 20 foot diameter finger of rock, that pokes up from a valley behind Kastraki. You can see it from everywhere and it is an icon for the town. As I hiked up to it, I began to think how terrible it would be for me to come all the way, and not get to the top of something. Dangerous thoughts. As the next day broke with still no sign of a partner I returned to The Spindle intending to rope solo it.
Rope soloing is one of the more dangerous, less pleasant, and more rewarding (for some), forms of climbing. Unfortunately, I lacked several key pieces of gear: solo belay device, jumars, aiders, enough carabiners, etc... But, I just finished writing this article on Camp 4, and the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing, so I thought to myself-- you know, those guys didn't have any of that modern stuff, wouldn't it be cool to climb this thing in old fashioned style!? (hint: the answer is no).
Typical footwear for this sort of outing is sturdy hiking boots, the kind that protect your toes when they get bashed against the rock. And, it turns out, this is one of the few pieces of apropos gear I actually have with me. I left them on the ground.
You see, most of this climb looked to be a bolt ladder. By aid climbing standards, that is about as easy as things can get. Clip a sling to a bolt, stand up on it and clip the next. What could be easier than that? The problem was, I couldn't see the whole route from the ground, and what I could see had a few suspicious looking blank spots with no bolts. Hmmm.
So, instead of hiking boots I wore my Boreal Bambas. These shoes are meant to be worn for short periods of time doing extreme free routes. To get a sense of how they feel fill your tightest pair of dress shoes with broken glass and bang on your toes with a hammer for a few minutes. Ok, now we are ready to tie into our clove hitch and set off on this nostalgic outing.
Things were going fine until I hit the first of those blank spots. An hour passes and I am still at the first of those blank spots. The next bolt was about 10 feet away. To far to reach, I would need to do some free climbing (climbing without pulling on the bolts) to reach it. The moves were not very hard, 5.6 to 5.7 or so, but I was uncomfortable with the rock, my belaying system, and the whole situation.
With a partner, they pay out rope as you go, and if you chicken out, the reel the rope back in as you down climb. With a solo system, you pay out all the rope you will need to reach the next safety point and then head out hoping for the best. I really didn't like this.
Adding insult to injury, a large crowd of tourists gathered below me to watch the flailing. Eventually, after a long series of feeble attempts, I sucked it up and climbed to the next bolt. I don't think I've ever been so gripped on easy climbing.
A few more bolts and I reach the half-way belay. I set up a solid anchor and rappel the free end of my rope to the ground. At this point, the idea is to ascend the rope retrieving all the carabiners I had left for safety as I went up. Unfortunately, I lacked the devices, jumars, for ascending the rope, and I only have one cord for tying a prussik knot, the usually backup. But, I do half-remember a knot from a climbing book that involved wrapping a sling around a carabiner and using that sort of like a prussik. I think the knot had a German name, and this is a German route, so I set about trying to tie one.
After a few tries I get something that I can slide up the rope and then doesn't slide back down when weighted, so I'm on my way. Except for one thing, it's terrifying. I can't imagine being halfway up El Cap with a 50lb sack dangling from my waist using this ridiculous setup The knots seemed to be just barely holding and I tied a safety into the rope every three feet or so.
After an excessive period of this torment I got to the belay and set off on the second pitch resolute in the thought that nothing could be as scary as what I'd already endured.
The second pitch started with a series of traversing bolts and then turned a corner onto what I couldn't see, but hoped (and assumed) would be easy ground. Things were going fine until the bolt quality started to decline. Below, many of the bolts were new and obvious replacements for the originals. Here, I was on 20-year-old original German whatcha-ma-call-its.
As a turned the corner, I was relieved to see the bolts keep going. But, they were getting progressively worse. They were large, but the rock was very soft and as I looked behind them (easy to do, they moved) I could see that the holes had started to erode.
About 20 feet from the top I discovered I couldn't reach the next bolt. The original ascenionists must have free climbed here. It doesn't look that hard, only a few feet of 5.7 or so, but the thought of leaving the safety of my slings with only these trash bolts as protection was not a happy one. Punishment for many past sins of optimism.
I sat there and thought about it, I felt the holds, I stared longingly at the top, I considered the options. It was hot, I was tired, my feet hurt and I was emotionally wrecked. Down I went.
Of course, I had to retreat off the same trash bolts I was afraid to climb above. I clipped three of them together and painfully reversed the traverse back to my previous belay and finally to the ground.
Well-- all's well that ends alive I guess, but it was a very frustrating outing