When the phone rang, at the ungodly hour of 8:45, I wondered - who could be
calling to interrupt my first morning of unemployed slumber? Finally, around
9:15, curiosity got the best of me, and I dragged myself out of bed and
checked the voicemail. Surprise, surprise, it was Ken, playing hooky from
work and looking for a co-conspirator. Since I'd just put myself on
permanent hooky the yesterday, by firing my job, it looked like I was free.
Maybe I'll become everyone's hooky partner? Not a bad gig. No pay, but the
benefits aren't bad!
Ken picked me up around 10, which gave me just enough time to get a quick
email fix (hey, I just quit my job!), wipe the crusted salt from my rope and
grab a few not-yet-rusted draws out of the post-Thailand gear jumble. We'd
decided to head for Eldo. Ken was fresh off of two weekends of beating hard
routes into submission up on West Ridge and Rincon. He'd suggested some
'moderate single pitch stuff' on the phone, but in the car he casually
mentioned Suparete, 11a/b! Was this the same guy I knew before I went to
Thailand? The guy who was working a 10 in the gym? I was the same fat
(fatter, actually, but that's another story altogether), weak headcase as
before, but had he gone all Dave Graham on me? I whimpered into my old scone
and we rode on.
Eldo was dry and warm, temperatures in the mid 50s and sunny, with only a
few cars in the parking lot. At the back of the truck, he hesitated and
suggested that maybe we should just rack up at the car and do Rosy
Crucifixion. Sucking in my paunch, smoothing down stray sideburn hairs and
deepening my voice, I tried to play it cool:
"Sure thing man, I'm up for whatever. I'll do Rosy; it's on my tick list for
Ken of course had pre-sandbagged me into thinking each of his previous
efforts on the route had been flail-fests. He's like that. Sorta low-key and
casual, calling a route 'hard', casual and Midwestern, with a sort of 'o'
sound in there. Well, I bought it hook, line and sinker. He said he knew the
exact gear we needed and we could just hoof it up to Rosy, "committed".
He must have noticed me choking back tears of panic, staring silently up at
the Redgarden Wall, because he made the call at the last second.
"Eh, let's bring our packs. Just in case."
Translation: "This way we can do Icarus (5.6) or Swanson Arete (5.5) if we
So we shouldered the packs and headed up the trail, forgoing the slabs in
favor of a leisurely hike in the sun. Ken's laconic nature, saying little
and hiking casual as could be, put the fire into my calves and rattled the
mucus out of my chest, as usual. I felt like a yammering gumby puffing and
huffing along behind.
We racked up off the trail, and started the scramble up to the base of the
climb. I've only been there once, to do Ruper, and so I took the lead.
Promptly, I was pawing around on fifth class territory. Ken showed me the
way, and I followed him across the slabs and through the fourth class
scramble that is the crux, er, approach for Rosy. At the base, I anchored in
and sussed the line of obvious, chalked holds working straight across the
face, above the steep drop-off of the Lower Ramp, to a sling belay about
forty feet away. Didn't look too bad. Once Ken got the first draw hung, and
removed the piece of gear that kept him from tumbling down the ramp, he
stepped up and committed to the opening moves. I've seen Ken climb a fair
bit, and he was as solid as any day you might see me climbing the stairs in
my basement. No shaking out, no Elvis legs, maybe not even any chalk - he
casually fired the moves, only pausing briefly to place gear and make what
appeared to be a rather casual step down and long reach. And just like that
he was at the belay, just forty horizontal feet away from me. No problem.
Kool and the Gang, all that.
Once he had me on, I stepped up and realized the holds were not as juggy as
he'd made them seem - in fact it was taking all the body tension and
footwork I could muster just to stay on. Seconding a traverse is a funny
thing, because the falls are pretty much the same. Of course, I didn't have
to place gear and I had a running stream of beta to help, but I was still
going limp like veggies in the microwave by the time I found the crux. That
step down and reach was a blind foot stab, weight-transfer on sloping holds,
a few feet from the next piece. I hung out, blind to the feet he was trying
to direct my attention to, forearms flaming. My last effort to step down
sent me for a brief ride over the void that, at the very least, got me past
the crux. I clawed my way back on and whimpered to the belay, finally
reaching the end of the first pitch roughly three hours after I'd set off.
Ken offered me the next pitch, and once my sphincter relaxed and I could see
through my tears, I stammered something that must've sounded affirmative.
Before I could cry "Uncle!" the rack was mine, detailed gear and move beta
had been transferred, and my hands were only slightly less claw-like than
I started up the second pitch. Though also short (maybe sixty feet), this
pitch is dead vertical and then some. It was important, I knew, to show no
weakness. Five feet off the belay I was fishing in my third piece and
apologizing for accidentally leaving both my vim and vigor in the car (turns
out they'd fallen out in the front seat). The encouragement was continuous
and, despite the fact that I hung on gear, whimpered like a puppy, and
stitched up that pitch like a split noggin, I eventually pulled the final
mantle and collapsed, broken and spent, on the belay ledge. I clipped the
rusty bolt anchor (my sense of post-Thailand irony fully intact) and put Ken
He threw me a bone and climbed the pitch with just enough grimace and
attention to make me feel better. The guy's got class, ya know? He chose the
11d variation to the final mantle - where I'd belly flopped and air-pedaled
my feet on 5.8 territory, he casually cranked over the bulge. After a minute
or less of rest, enough time to hand over the rack, he fired up the third
The third pitch is steep and climbs an odd system of flakes and blocky
protrusions, and offers no gear for about ten feet off the belay. Again, Ken
led the pitch with alacrity, briefly mentioning something about a pumped
left arm. Musta been the arm he used to clean the 21 pieces off of the last
pitch. Nonetheless, he was rock-solid on the pitch and had me on belay in
As I started the third and final pitch, gallons of lactic acid coursing
through both forearms and my abs screaming, I spotted a flock of circling
birds ala 'Scary Faces'. They circled, silhouetted against the Canyon floor
and the Bastille. I was inspired by the beauty and peacefulness of Eldorado
and reminded of how lucky I was to be out there.
Two minutes later my right leg was vibrating like some sort of battery
powered instrument of kink, the pump was spreading into my back, and I
realized I was being unceremoniously slapped in the face by 'Eldo 5.9'. By
the grace of god, or the silent deal I'd made exchanging my soul for a
no-falls follow of the pitch, I arrived at the belay and crumpled into some
snow, little pools of saliva drooling out of the corners of my mouth.
We unroped and fourth -classed it to the nearby Vertigo rap station. There
is a ridge just above the rap anchor that is at the bottom of the Chockstone
Chimney rap, Italian Arete, and the beautifully huecoed face of Body
Tremors. It affords a vista of the canyon and West Ridge to the west, and
the Upper Ramp routes to the East. It is an amazingly serene place, and we
spent a few minutes there, enjoying the day and the quality of the climb.
Ken had put a nemesis to bed, and I'd very obviously awakened one. We
discussed returning to swap leads and do some routes on the upper ramp.
The raps were uneventful and, after another leisurely hike in the sun, we
found ourselves on the patio of the West End Tavern having beers and greasy
hamburgers. I admitted to Ken that part of what drives me to climb in Eldo
is that it intimidates me. Rosy Crucifixion was a great way to open the Eldo
Playing hooky? Gimme a buzz.