Type II Fun: The Rostrum

Type II Fun: The Rostrum

Once again, Nikolai yelled “TAKE” and fell on the crux up there, out of sight. The rope yanked my weak body and I was glad to be held up for a moment more. I felt exhausted, parched, pumped, nauseous, sleepy and light-headed. I still had to climb 5 pitches of off-width and finger cracks in grades up to 5.11c… and Nikolai still had to lead them.

Then, once again, he started climbing and I re-positioned my feet on that 2-inch deep incut into the granite of the Rostrum column.

So, once again, I wondered… why did I bring myself to this, again?

As the question bounced back and forth against the inner walls of my empty skull, I noticed that my stomach and knees were aching and the latter were a red mess of road rash. Also, I was low on water.

For a second, my thoughts paused: I coughed out another green alien and blew my nose aggressively.

The Rostrum Column, Yosemite

Since the second the Rostrum had been put on the table, I had felt uncomfortable. It had been like handing a bone to a dog that’s suffering from gingivitis. I had known that Burning Man would turn my vitality around, burning a month’s worth of life in a single week. The Cathedral Peak ascent in Tuolumne with Kyle and Minwah had been a good idea. They were nurturing and compassionate as we climbed up that low angle cliff with pure air, and it had reduced my flu symptoms.

This time though, I was pushing my limits, and my body was not ready for it. I was doing it simply because the opportunity had been there, and fleeting. I couldn’t help but think back at the man, who had run into the fire of the Man like a crazed moth. It was no longer him, but a corpse that they had pulled out of the fire in front of my eyes. That IDIOT!
Am I like him? Running towards danger…

I was just glad to have finished my own lead block: the first three pitches. Just as I had been apprehensive of the climb since the first seconds we had talked about it, racked up, driven, hiked and then rappelled to the base of the column… I got flash-pumped within the first few seconds of climbing the first pitch. Lie-backs have always felt insecure to me, and I quickly found myself over gripping and hesitating. I looked down and saw that the last piece was uncomfortably far and the ground below felt uncomfortably close. Luckily, a blindly placed shallow Totem cam felt secure on the first try and looked acceptable on inspection. I moved a couple feet up, but then started doubting the Totem when I saw the face move over to another flake. My hands already felt like they would soon give up. I desperately tried to add a Camalot but only two lobes fit, and as I felt my seconds counted, I finally decided to move on, no matter what.

Further up that same pitch, I found myself placing a lousy nut to protect the moves out of a squeeze chimney, above a ledge of sharp rock. I should have brought my ball-nuts, and I really should have brought my knee pads. This is exactly the type of situation I should avoid when feeling weak.

There had been a glorious mental victory though: while getting rest at the anchors, I had decided to not bail on leading the rest of my block. With confidence, I tackled the 5.10d face and a 5.11a finger crack, something I had never even top-roped. This harder climbing was well protected and far less awkward than what I had just overcome. Only taking one small fall -which brought much joy – I worked through the pitches, until I finally thought I was claiming my victory by building a traditional gear anchor at a comfortable stance, below a roof. Normally I would have checked my topo, and instead of that 2-inch in-cut, I would now have been standing on the plush ledge a few feet above, with my partner in sight while he tackled the crux.

This week was not the right time to climb the Rostrum. I was pushing myself.

The feeling was most comparable to the very first time I ever climbed in Yosemite Valley, following those two Hungarian ‘rock devils’ who had reluctantly agreed to let me tag along after being introduced. KoviTommy and Bence had chosen Bridalveil Falls East that day because they were curious about the ‘infamous midget chimney’ off-width crack on the last pitch. That time also, I was barely recovering from a cold that had hit me after a long lazy beach vacation and my body felt like I had gone a year without training. I was winded on the second pitch, after my first ever chimney and commented “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever climbed!” Bence replied coldly “it’s only second pitch”. Earlier he had suggested I should “go home” when I got afraid at the exposed fourth class approach. I had eventually pushed through to the top, and we then descended via an epic rappel, unable to find the walk off after an hour of hiking on cliff edges in the dark.

Even though I made it through that rough experience, why did I now choose to put myself again in a situation that would be so difficult, with clear knowledge of my weak condition?

In 2016, with his newborn child and wife hoping for his safe return, Tommy Caldwell struggled to find meaning during his traverse of the Fitz Roy mountains range. In the video, he shared thoughts that ring close to home. There is an instinct of survival that is hardwired into our nature but rarely used in our dummy-proofed world. Everything around us is designed for safety, leaving our ‘courage muscle’ to stiffen and atrophy. If ignored, it can rot and pollute our soul, as do the muscles of a comatose patient.

The simple truth is that I never feel more alive than when fighting death. I need challenges in order to overcome, goals so I can achieve, and wounds so that I can heal. Perfection, ease and comfort don’t inspire the hero inside of me. It’s the unwelcoming vertical reality of rock that forces me to connect with the power that pumps blood through my veins, pushing the ‘chi life’ through my chakras and into the universe.

We all seek challenge on our own terms.

Later that evening I was sitting in the dark, belaying Nikolai as he tackled the final run-out off-width pitch. My brand new Petzl Headlamp had rubbed against a wall and detached from the strap. His was low on batteries. I popped another caffeine pill to stay awake and prayed that the traverse and swing fall that might result of it would be short. I had somehow managed to move my body up the steep, often overhanging rock without fainting, pitch after pitch. Now I stared down at the many lights that a rescue party was shining around the river bed below. Occasionally they would shine their long beam in my direction, reassuringly checking on our status. I dearly hoped that Nikolai would not fall, and tried to remember whether it was rescue or hospital care that was costly in the USA. I was pretty sure that if you refused the ambulance, there was no bill…

Bridalveil Fall
Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley

Sitting on a camping chair with a view of the Bridalveil Fall, waiting for AAA to come tow my overheating van to a shop in Fresno, the whole story now seems kind of fun. Once my sore muscles no longer scream in protest and the scabs on my wrapped knees heal, I know that I will forget the desperation and suffering that inspired this rant. This is what we call ‘type 2 fun’ in the climbing world: those memories that are only enjoyable in conversation, after some time has passed. I gave myself rest time, good food and sleep. I chose to not push my van to disastrous temperatures by attempting to drive out of the valley with a clogged radiator. I don’t want to push myself right now, and I’m not afraid to ask for help. When I’m this tired is not the right time to place risky bets on my ability to perform.