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Taking in the Day

Submitted by roninthorne on 2005-08-09 | Last Modified on 2006-12-10

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This thing will give up... any minute now... really...

These words are crawling along the shoulder of the racing highway of my thoughts as I reset the sliding fist jam and dig grimly for another big cam... Birds twitter and the South Branch roars by far below, as sweat bees and no-see-ums compliment me on my choice of ascents.

Below the triple tier of roofs, down the short vert crack and ramp to the stoney belay twenty meters under my heels, Mike Fisher is also caught in the dance of airborne carnivores, flicking the double ropes up out of entangling twigs and sod, keeping my biomass off the talus with a professional lifeguard's ease.

"Puts itself up, doesn't it?" he cackles, a self-made cig jittering at one corner of his mouth, sunlight flashing off the lenses of his Smiths as he grins up at me. I nod and mumble something incomprehensible, searching for protection in an unsafe world.

The crack had been seducing us for a season, but its initially daunting appearance had kept us in a distant orbit, eyeing it in passing, pondering the potential charms of its classic roofs and the all-too-rare event of a handcrack in WV limestone. Hiking in or out, we spent a few moments of every trip calculating fall arcs againt the proximity of a young hickory directly behind the third crux, and wondering what lay on the ledges beyond the final overhang.

In search of the answer, I stem wide and settle a Hexcentric chock into the space the cam just would not fill, my quads starting to quiver with the effort of such a wide stance after sustained crack and chimney moves below. I peek out around the arete, confirming both the existence and the position of a bomber jug on the face. Recalling the discoveries of a previous attempt at the line, I match it on the inside of the arete, and swing myself out of the crack, lower body a pendlum as my arms crank in and lock, feeling the positive contact as my new Mad Rock climbing shoes glue themselves to the textured footholds. I press up, all my breath pouring out as I slap the top of the overhanging horn that is my total focus.

Chalk floats gently down in the slanting sunlight as I hang, suspended, in an eternal amber moment.

Back up into the throat of the chimney, one last cam in the horizontal there, and then a short hike up a ramp onto a tiny ledge facing a 15' wall of wildly flaring and diagonalling cracks, fingers to fists, all heavily vegetated and filled with moss and loose stone. Mike retreats into the curve of an overhanging alcove below as I tread the minefield.

Weaving vertically through the objective hazards, I find another ledge, home to a number of new blooodsucking fliers and a mature hickory. Behind this the last 20' of wall rises; thin, green and overhanging. The moves are hard 5.10 at best, the ledge on which I'm standing small and sloping, the pro non-existant. I have finished climbs in this manner before. In point of fact, one of my favorite sport creations ends with a casual stroll up an unprotected (and unprotectable) ramp/arete, all 5.8 moves... but with a long, long fall if you fluff them.

These moves are not 5.8.

Not by an equally long shot.

My arms are smoked from the hours-long process of exploring, cleaning and protecting a trad climb from the ground up in 90% humidity. My legs are faintly possessed of Elvis, keeping me swaying in a constant slow-mo mambo even as I stand, looking up, my fingers twitching in sympathetic synaptic response as the puzzlemaster in my brain combines moves and holds and stances into sequences, wanting to overcome this one last obstacle as well.

A sweat bee stings me back to waking and I laugh, shaking my head, turning to loop my rope around the tree, eyeing the horizontal crack behind me for back-up cam and stopper placements. The sun shines down on the colorful walls downstream, and somewhere, high above, a hawk screams once to the wind and the world. Mike calls up "Off belay!" and I begin to reel in slack, taking up rope, taking in the day.


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