Sauron's Eye - Remembering a Legend

I was scared.  The red sandstone arch towered overhead and I knew the first pitch was going to be hard and  dangerous.  I could already tell that this was ‘no mistakes’ climbing.  It was a Brian McCray route though, so it was to be expected.  It was what Chad and I came here to do.

I had mentally prepared to climb Sauron’s Eye several times, gearing up but then aborting at the last minute.  I was afraid of the route.  During the first ascent one of the best big wall climbers ever broke a hold and fell nearly 100 feet breaking his back and coming moments from death.  He was saved by McCray two pitches from the summit.  Legend has it he never climbed again after that.

The route had only seen two and a half ascents.  For the second ascent Brian told me Ammon McNeely went up to the route aiming for a one day ascent but returned three days later.  McCray’s friend and climbing partner Kurt Arends went up there and climbed all the 'hardest parts' alone but stared up at the 5.10d R/X pitch and said no way.

I was scared of the route.  Fear can be motivating however, and I didn’t want to hike all this gear back to the car empty handed.  Sometimes you just have to get started, see how it is for yourself, make your own choices in the moment.  So I started climbing, piece by piece, move by move, deep breath after deep breath.

Soon my feet were hanging in open air, the steep wall bulging and rolling above me.  I forced my mind to be light, if you’re light and happy in thoughts you will be lightweight on the feet.  When you are light on the feet you can climb one move at a time and float up the route.  So up I went.

In the end Chad Umbel and I completed the third ascent of Sauron’s Eye (Grade VI 5.10d R/X A4+) over three days of climbing during February 2016.  When we finally stood on the summit I think we both felt the bitter sweet sensation of victory and loss.  Brian McCray was legend and I had been fortunate to also call him a friend.  I was lucky to work with him as a rigger in Las Vegas, he helped me on my first day by teaching me to drive a scissor lift and trying to get me electrocuted.  He nearly succeeded and laughed his ass off with that snarky grin wide across his face.

Chad and Brian were close friends.  They climbed together often, traveled to Alaska, worked together and probably argued like brothers.  So standing on the summit of Brian’s favorite first ascent left us both feeling accomplished and empty.  He would have been happy for us.  He would have grinned that evil smirk and he would have found something to tease us about. 

Chad scrambled out to the edge of the wall in the darkness.  The lights of Vegas glistened out in the distance, the city we all hate but the city we all love for its proximity to these wild places.  Chad opened the small film canister and took a silent moment to stare at the dark ashes inside, Brian’s ashes.  There was a light breeze on this cold February night that calmed for a moment.  Chad cast the ashes out into the wind.  In the light of our headlamps they hung in the air like a specter.  For a moment they just floated over the edge of the wall, slowly the ghost twisted and turned and blew away into the night sky.