I’m an old man now. On the 7th of February I crested the mountain of life and joined the ever growing population of geriatric rock climbers out there, I turned 30. It’s all downhill from here, I am sure of it.
For my birthday I decided to play the birthday challenge game to test my mettle and see what I could do, can I climb 30 pitches in a day? When I was younger, back in my late 20s, I climbed 30 pitches in a day like it was a warm-up routine. Once I climbed 173 pitches on El Capitain in a week, but all that was back when I was a young man. So I picked three routes in Zion National Park, scratched out the math on the back of an envelope, 10 + 9 + 8 = 30? No, thats not right, Ill have to add a 4th route, but then I am going to link pitches together, so how do I factor that into my “Pitch Count”?
The whole idea began to feel more and more contrived, was the guide book telling me how many pitches each route was or was it determined by my actual stop and belay pitch count? Ok, how about 1000 feet per decade of life or 1 route per decade, the options were endless and each was based on some bizarre rule set that someone else created and would judge me upon, better stick to the rules. But what are the rules?
So I packed the car and loaded my wonderful girlfriend into the passenger seat and we set off to Zion. Carmen would jumar the Moonlight Buttress with me, a proper 3:30am alpine start would have us climbing by about 4:45. After the Moonlight Buttress we planned to rappel and then move the show over to the Monkey Finger, again with Carmen in tow I would lead the entire route, this one onsight. Again rappel, meet up with my good friend Andy Reger and head off to Shunes Buttress for a late afternoon jaunt up the 1000 foot 5.11+ and finally wrap things up with the 3 pitch route ‘The Headache’ to bring the text book pitch count to 30. This was going to be wonderfully miserable.
The peaceful alarm tone began chiming, stirring Carmen and I to life on a cold and windy morning, although it was actually unseasonably warm this weekend. We had coffee and breakfast and drove into the park where we forded the river. The raging Virgin River lapped at our ankles as we walked across the 12 foot wide monster. There was nobody on the route or even at the base, amazingly we beat the hordes of eager beaver aid climbers who want to push the same purple camalot for 1000 feet up the finger crack that is Moonlight Buttress.
Carmen and I started climbing in the dark, we were both happy and excited to be heading up this great route revisiting a place we had been a year ago. The climbing went smooth, even by headlamp. As the sun illuminated the sky we sat on the Rocker Blocker laughing and joking. I jumped up off the block, nearly latching the big jug but slipped and managed to fall back onto the block. Carmen laughed at me as I leapt off the block again, this time latching the hold and continuing upwards.
The moonlight is gifted with some of the most incredible belay ledges, perfect rests between each of the incredible splitter finger crack pitches. I fixed the rope and teased Carmen as she followed me up one pitch after the other, cheering and encouraging me as we moved up the wall.
We stepped onto the summit at about noon, quick math told me were about two hours behind schedule. We stood on flat ground at the summit for a few moments, Carmen had done wonderfully and I was really proud of her. She hadn’t climbed a wall in a year and here we were, atop the Moonlight by noon and we had an amazing time getting there.
As we started rappelling I looked over to Carmen, “I don’t think I am going to do the other routes.”
“I was too slow, wasn’t I?” she asked me. It sounded so negative but I didn’t feel any negativity towards our effort. I felt joy and contentment, I had had so much fun to say that Carmen was ‘too slow’ seemed to belittle the whole morning.
Over the seven years of our relationship Carmen has supported every crazy climbing idea I have ever dreamed up. She has been one of the best climbing partners ever, from X-rated cragging pitches to big El Cap routes. While on the Moonlight I realized that there are several types of partners, some you can rope up with and rage at a full octaine pace from sunrise to sunset, others you never stop laughing with, and some you have an amazing time with and when the route is done you crack a beer and enjoy the company. I have pushed carmen into each of the categories at one time or another, but today, she fell into the latter. We weren’t destine to climb thousands of feet that day while trying to find ourselves through hardship and suffering, that day we climbed one of the best routes in the world, laughing the whole way and at the end, content, satisfied and happy, we cracked a beer and enjoyed the company of each other and the great friends who came out to Zion for my birthday.
As we rapped down I looked over to Carmen, thinking of her comment about being too slow. “Remember how I got way too drunk on your 30th and spent the evening puking in the bathroom, and then out the cab window? Yeah, I did that and you jumared a little slow on my birthday, oh well! I really don’t give a shit because I had a great time.”
We both laughed as we zipped down the rappels. Within forty-five minutes of leaving the summit we were standing at the river below slapping high fives with a small group of friends and discussing the new plans: have fun, enjoy life, make a great dinner. Much more fun than suffering through three more routes to arbitrarily link together 30 pitches of rock climbing.