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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Free Solo Climbing the Flatirons - Page 3

Written by Nicholas Ducker
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The way was not as obvious as I hoped. The book promised that after a traverse out right, the route would lead to easy slab climbing. Looking ahead I saw the gully flanked on the left by the Pullman Car and on the right by a 20ft wall which led to the slab I had climbed previously. The gully was guarded by two overlaps, the first being about 10ft and the second being about 15, with a natural tunnel bored underneath. I thought such a feature would be mentioned in the guidebook and the climbing certainly didn't look 5.0, yet the line seemed to hug the left wall of the gully, over both overlaps. I could see the storm creeping in and decided that I best put the book away and keep going, assuming that the route would unfold before me. I traversed slightly right and headed up the gully. This was my final error, that almost cost me my life.

 

 

As I neared the first 10 ft overlap, the climbing became tenuous. The overlap itself ran from the right wall directly across for 2/3rds of the gully, then the last 3rd to the left about 40ft lower. This formed a 10ft wall on my left hand side as I climbed higher into the gully. Directly in the middle of the overlap there was a polished indent where water had been flowing for 1000's of years. I spotted a fixed piton in the indent and figured that it was definitely not 5.0 if it warranted a fixed piton. Yet as I looked around I could see no super easy looking way to climb the overlap. I looked down at what I had just climbed and decided there was a lot of risk in down climbing what I had just ascended and the storm looked more ominous than before. I was beginning to panic. I spotted a crack in overlap in the wall on my left and figured that was the easiest way up. Traversed up and left to it and begun climbing it. The moves seemed solid enough for someone who was on the end of the rope, but I was not. As I mantled left onto the overlap, I found the crack stopped and there were no good hands above me. I spotted another fixed piton directly in-front of me and concluded that I had indeed lost the original route and was now on something of an unknown grade. I stopped for a second, left foot on the overlap, right food precariously balanced on a tiny down-sloping foothold partway down the overlap wall and began to panic in earnest. I could not down climb safely and was at the start of an unknown route of unknown difficulty, roughly 550 ft off the ground with an electrical storm moving in. I tried to gather my thoughts and stuck my left hand pointer finger in the piton and pulled through the next few moves and found myself facing the second overlap.

 

 

The next 70ish ft of climbing was insecure slab climbing on mossy granite. I began climbing up towards the next overlap, seriously shaken from the last 5 minutes. This time the overlap was 15ft high with an arch in the middle. The rock underneath the arch looked crap, flakes of rock cascading over one another that looked as if they would break if I so much as touched them. The right hand side looked bare but the left hand side was pockmarked and had a few cracks running in the right direction. I decided this was the best option and started heading up towards it. As I got higher the slab became more and more featureless, still well within my ability, but I had my old sloppy climbing shoes on and the rock was covered in dry moss that would grit up and cause your foot to slip. Halfway up the slab I almost lost it. I knew if I fell I would be rolling down granite slab for several hundred feet before hurtling into boulders below. I didn't know if the features ahead of me were even climbable or how hard they were. No one on the trail hiking trails or in the town would be able to see the tiny speck of human against the wall. I began thinking about my family, about my mother who had only in recent weeks lost her own mother. What kind of son was I to be putting my life at risk, why had I put myself in this situation. My stomach was twisting itself into knots and I felt something I'd never felt before, the feeling of being tangibly close to the end of my life. Muttering to myself and semi-delirious with panic, I forced my limbs, almost frozen in fear, to move. Left foot, right hand, right foot, left hand, repeat, until I reached pockmarked wall. That crack was good and I began up the overlap. As I climbed up the crack ran out again and I found myself using a pockmark, with my feet on mossy holds. I had to move right and up, but a floating shard of rock projecting from the left wall was blocking my torso. I had another mini anxiety attack and realized the next few moves would be the difference between life and death. I found a side-pull out right on top of the overlap, moved right and out and under-clinged the shard with my left and moved my right foot up. “If my foot slips now, I will die” I thought to myself, images of my mother wrought with sorrow, flashing through my mind and whisper of death seemingly right behind me. I weighted my right foot, found a good left, released the under-cling and found a thank god crack just underneath it and moved up on top of the overlap.

 

 

Immediately a wave of relief washed over me. I could see the end of the climb. Above me was featured slab that turned into scrambling on some loose rock to the top. I told myself to stay calm and focus, I'm not out of the woods yet, the adrenaline still pumping through my veins. I climbed slowly and deliberately until the last 30ft where I almost ran to the summit.

 

 

I topped out and found myself sitting on a boulder next to the hiking trail. 2 women were descending the hike and cheerfully said “Hello! How are you? Did you climb up?”. I meekly responded with something like “I'm okay, almost died I guess”. They laughed and kept on descending. I busted out the food and water from my backpack and sat there for a minute in what seemed like a surreal world. 5 minutes ago, I thought I was going to die a horrible death. Now I seem to be back in reality where things like that don't happen. I changed my shoes and started to descend via the trail, eating an energy bar to combat the building feeling of nausea. I walked all the way home that day feeling like an idiot, a bad son, and that I'd got away with something I shouldn't have.

 

 

That was the day I almost died

 

  

 

 

(c) Nicholas Ducker

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Tuesday, 13 January 2015

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