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Soloing - A Fun Day


Submitted by michael on 2006-10-18 | Last Modified on 2006-12-10

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A Fun Route, A Great Day My daughter just asked me for a piggyback ride and I had to pass. It’s been two days and I’m just now feeling the after effects. My knees are wobbling every time I stand, my entire left side feels as if Rocky tenderized a side of beef, and my pinky has feeling again. I didn’t notice it was numb, then again there’s a lot of things that the body goes through when you solo hard enough for long enough.

It’s been more than sixteen years since I discovered climbing. Those that have climbed with me since have also seen the freedom I enjoy when climbing without a net. For as much as I have tried to reinvent the art of conversation, soloing is a private pursuit that I rarely mention, but I’ve been on a bit of a tear lately. Doing more than 1,000 routes in a couple months has people wagging their tongues and arguing whether the myth is reality.

The names rattle in their syllables – “The Vampire”, “Insomnia”, “Figures on a Landscape”, “Moonbeam Crack”, “Leave it to Beaver”, “Urban Struggle”, and “Swamp Thing”. Tales regarding Vegas, Bishop, Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, Suicide, the Needles and other areas permeate the campfire glow. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the silence of the past creating no pressures from my peers, but the pictures are showing up and witnesses extend beyond partners. What was once a private pursuit has become public. This myth is real. Everything mentioned were soloed without any form of escape during the last decade and a half, and recently were capped off with a binge to make an addict proud.

On Tuesday evening I arrived at Joshua Tree with nothing on my mind but to do a handful of routes before going to sleep. Instead I remained awake for most of the next 24 hours and soloed 280+ routes with more than a third ranging from 5.9-5.13a.

There are so many things to say, but words cannot compare. Do I warn of the danger? Do I keep this to myself? Do I brag to the world? Do I care what people think? In the end my actions will always speak louder than I ever could, but for just a moment, I’ll try to explain my world.

Welcome, it’s going to be a strange trip.

Have you ever touched the rock and felt your body levitate? Did you ever wonder what was so hard about the climb you just sent? Was there a time where you looked at a climb and stated, “I could solo that.”?

Now what if that happened the first moment you touched rock….

Stoney Point, pre-crashpad days. A friend heard I was scared of heights and decided to test my mettle on the brittle sandstone. A handful of hours with matching problems and I was deemed worthy of trying Tahquitz. The 1,000 foot “Whodunnit” was the conquest, of which I got to lead two pitches in my ratty Nike’s and tightened swami. Fear was quickly replaced by wonder and the day was finished with a run at the classic “Fingertrip”. Like most climbers, the bug had bit and with a new-ish pair of climbing shoes, I found I could stand on anything. Before long I found myself back at Tahquitz, enjoying the crisp touch of rock by myself. Some would call it foolhardy but to me it was the most natural thing in the world.

Years later, with miles under the belt, I found myself wandering the desert landscape of Joshua Tree with my iPod for company. A friend here, a stranger there, none of them were noticed as I continued on a steady pace. Before long, my feet had begun to ache and with a quick count, it registered that I had done more than 100 routes. My heroes had regularly done “Half-Dome” and “El Cap” days, but I had officially crossed the mile mark. That became my tradition. Never one to sleep much, I found myself taking walks and checking new lines before my partners woke, and those that followed tended to step back when they realized the rope was in the car. It was my time to enjoy the stone and though all can join, the ante is pretty steep of which none should ever play.

Then life tossed a curveball, and I swung at it. With a momentary taste of financial freedom I mentioned to my wife that I was in the mood to climb. After fifteen years, she was no stranger to what that meant. She just smiled and told me to get some pictures. No one expected me to live to thirty, might as well document some of the adventure if I make it to sixty. Give something for the grandkids to brag about.

Mile days began to find the numbers increasing and before I knew it, I found that training had begun to affect the rest. All that Ben & Jerrie’s Cherry Garcia kept the ballast in check and what once was hard, began to feel easier. Of course nothing surprised me more than when I discovered I did 160 routes in a handful of hours. I mentioned this to Richard Adler at Nomads who expressed shock and the most amazing encouragement. Where photographers, friends, and the famous treated me as if the devil had taken hold, others such as Richard, Dennis Rutherford, my wife, and my climbing partner for most of these adventures, Mark Niles, laughed and asked what was next. That’s when Richard told me about Todd Gordon and his record of 200 routes in a day at Joshua Tree.

I had no intention of breaking any records when climbing. If that was the case, I’d push a little harder on the rope and spray a little louder to the press. My goal was to enjoy new routes and if possible, rack up a few miles. But then again, some of my favorite songs are cover tunes and I’ve always had a tremendous respect for the originals. For those that don’t know him, Todd has been an incredible force in Joshua Tree climbing and continues to push his desert passion online and off. To me he has been an inspiration to the playground I’ve threatened to call “home” all these years.

So I set a goal to some day do two miles of climbing. The rules were simple:

  1. If you climb up, it counts, but you have to top out completely.
  2. If you climb down, it counts, but you have to touch the ground with complete control.
  3. Repeats count, but within reason.
A side note regarding my specific run: I chose to climb everything solo. This meant no rope, no crashpad, no gear, no rappels, no ability to escape whatsoever. For me soloing is about me and the rock. If an escape is available, then there is doubt, and once there is doubt, then walk away. This is not a game, though I do have more fun than most.

Then, a once in a lifetime experience happened. I soloed from the ground up, a short little route called “The Moonbeam Crack” (5.13a). To some it’s just another run, but to me it crossed the Rubicon that 5.13 held hostage.

Back at home I corkscrewed in my sleep, prompting my wife to smile the way she always did when I missed the obvious. Apparently everyone but me knew what was about to happen. The intention on Tuesday was to drive to Joshua Tree to meet with Dennis and climb a few routes as practice for a project in the near future. Instead I showed up to a couple ravers and climbers enjoying the seventy degree evening with a half moon for light and for the next 19 hours enjoyed an experience that balanced the emotional, intellectual, and the physical in a way that even I couldn’t fathom.

As for the statistics, there are those that will argue otherwise in pushing the numbers one way or the other, but I’m a harsh critic and felt the rules were fair to my personal game. My goal was mileage. If I wanted to do more, then I would have used a rope and not taken so many naps. Then again, I might not have turned the volume up so high but sometimes you have to listen to your inner child and go for it.

That being said:

  • Number of Individual Routes: 251
  • Number of Total Routes with Repeats: 280+
  • Number of Hours: 19
  • Memories: ???

The memories are for me, but some are fun to share. Getting “Moonbeam Crack” then jumping on “Watusi” and swearing it’s a slab to the folks hanging around; The British couple’s faces after watching me go up and down Hemmingway Buttress 18 times (9 routes total) in 20 minutes without a single dynamic move; The way “Leave it to Beaver” glows in the early morning sun, and has holds the size of Buicks; My hands sinking into the jams of the Banana Cracks, refusing to let the wind take control; Laughing when I heard the raver’s sigh of relief that it was my headlamp and not the ecstasy making the light go up and down Condor Rock; Wanting "EBGBs" and realizing I have no way of getting down; Listening to my partner chuckle because he could finally get a picture of me when I stopped in the crux of “Taxman” to change tunes; Hearing crickets from high on Moosedog Tower where my wife had prior learned how to belay on a multipitch; Seeing Dennis not only solo a 5.9, but then perform the bravest act by walking away from a 5.6; Enjoying the warmth of the sun and good company after finishing my day on “Double Cross” and realizing something special just happened; Stopping to enjoy the memory of my daughter getting “Elvis leg” during her first lead ever on a little known climb called “Mad Race” which in the end truly defined what this experience was like.

There was a lot of laughter throughout the experience, and plenty of philosophy along the way. Dennis and others made this more fun than I could ever describe. I wish I knew what made me tick, or why I can do these things. A friend once stated that I am simply doing the stuff that everyone else says they could. I don’t know if that’s so much truth as it is fantasy, but it makes for good conversation whenever there’s a lull.

The joke among a few is that when you don’t have to deal with placing gear or the fear of failing your partner, everything else is easy, but that’s too flip. Everything else smacks of ego.

In the end, I only know that there are times when I touch the rock and everything is in balance. Unlike running a marathon where the body sets a repetitive motion, or a basketball game where athletes hit a zone for a few minutes, there’s a surreal moment unlike any other where I feel alive. I’m lucky enough to be able to tap into this for hours at a time.

There are no drugs, though I do enjoy a cup of coffee. There is no alcohol, though I like my glass of wine. It’s just a moment where reality is pushed by my dreams, and I do so enjoy a good dream.

And like all good climbers, there is nothing better than telling a tale or spraying a line, especially when it will create a campfire laugh. My personal favorite of late is when a friend asked for beta on a nasty little 5.10d. I sent him a photo of me soloing it naked and told him to look for the hidden c—klock. I haven’t heard that he sent it since, but then again, I’d be scared of what touched the rock prior too. Buyer beware that smear may be a bit juicy.

And I have to admit there are moments where it’s fun to listen to someone argue about a pinkpoint, redpoint, yellowpoint, or purplepoint, as I untie and just plain send to the consternation of the crowd. After all, under my rules you either send the climb or do not send the climb, color does not matter.

In the end, this is only one more chapter in a lifetime full of memories and the page is about to turn. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.


The Individual Routes (for the curious):

Moonbeam Crack 5.13a, The Watusi 5.12c, The Condor 5.12a, Leave it to Beaver 5.12a, Baby Huey Smokes an Anti-Pipeload 5.11d, Pocket Pool 5.11d, Presupposition 5.11d, Butterfly Crack 5.11c, Lascivious Conduct 5.11c, Gomma Cocida 5.11b, Left V Crack 5.11b, Papaya Crack 5.11b, Afternoon Shakedown 5.11a, Arizona Crack 5.11a, Big Moe 5.11a, California Crack 5.11a, Cheap Thrills 5.11a, Dwindling Greenbacks 5.11a, Fast Lane 5.11a, Prejudicial Viewpoint 5.11a, Right Banana Crack 5.11a, Liquid Confidence 5.10d, Left Lizard Crack 5.10d, Restaurant at the End of the Universe 5.10d, Boortemous 5.10d, Uncle Fester 5.10d, ‘Til Death Do Us Fart 5.10d, Panther Crack 5.10d, Semi Tough 5.10d, Trautner-Fry 5.10c, Brief Case 5.10c, Billabong 5.10c, Lower Right Ski Track 5.10c, Left Banana Crack 5.10c, Clean and Jerk 5.10c, Coco-Loco 5.10b, Chicken Lizard 5.10b, Gait of Power 5.10b, Third Time’s the Charm 5.10b, The Falcon 5.10b, Toxic Poodle 5.10b, Matt’s Problem 5.10b, Direct Start 5.10b, Left Peyote Crack 5.10b, Bimbo 5.10b, Falcon and the Snowman 5.10b, I Just Told You 5.10b, Bloody Tax Break 5.10b, Taxman 5.10a, Mr. Bunny’s Refund Check 5.10a, In the Pit 5.10a, Tails of Poodles 5.10a, Prepackaged 5.10a, Not Forgotten 5.10a, Ride A Wild Bago 5.10a, Hot Knife 5.10a, Heart and Sole 5.10a, Toxic Avenger 5.10a, Silent Scream 5.10a, Right V Crack 5.10a, Cool Wind 5.10a, Morning Warm Up 5.10a, Riff Raff Roof 5.10a, The Castrum 5.10a, Chili Dog 5.10a, Stains of the Stars 5.10a, Pixie Stick 5.10a, Zondo’s Perks 5.10a, Lizard in Bondage 5.10a, War Crimes 5.10a, Just Another Roadside Attraction 5.9, A Hot Fudge 5.9, Psycho Groove 5.9, Fighting the Slime 5.9, Break a Leg 5.9, Which Bitch 5.9, Life in the Fat Lane 5.9, Right Lizard Crack 5.9, Alligator Lizard 5.9, Progressive Lizard 5.9, Black Eye 5.9, Bloody Mir 5.9, Pope’s Crack 5.9, Sphincter Quits 5.9, Legal Briefs 5.9, Tofu the Dwarf 5.9, Boulder Dash 5.9, RAF 5.9, Stick to What 5.9, A Last Cigarette Senor? 5.9, Morituri Te Salutamus 5.9, Bilbo 5.9, La Reina 5.9, Middle Peyote Crack 5.9, Direct South Face 5.9, Wild Wind 5.9, Spoodle 5.9, Overseer 5.9, Funky Dung 5.8, Sail Away 5.8, The Haberdashery 5.8, The Flake 5.8, Feltoneon Physics 5.8, Double Cross 5.8, Ranger J.B. 5.8, Right Peyote Crack 5.8, 3rd Class It 5.8, DOA 5.8, Fun Stuff 5.8, Raging Intensity 5.8, WAC 5.8, Bombay 5.8, Bouncer 5.8, Rhythm of the Heart 5.8, Fluff Boy 5.8, Pfundt’s Folly 5.8, Too Bold To Bolt 5.8, Penny Lane 5.8, We Dive at Dawn 5.8, The Reverend 5.8, White Trash 5.8, Half Time 5.8, Driving Limitations 5.8, Wandering Winnebago 5.8, Sheet Bends 5.8, Big Step 5.8, Right ‘N Up 5.8, Up to Heaven 5.8, Scotch with a Twist 5.8, Filth 5.8, Baby Point Five 5.8, Tiptoe 5.8, Mr. Bunny v. Six Unknown Agents 5.8, Boulder Crack 5.8, Bryant Gumbel 5.8, Which Witch 5.8, B Flat 5.8, B Sharp 5.8, Blonde Bombshell Babylon 5.8, Mush Puppies 5.8, Lurch 5.8, Fingertip Traverse of Josh 5.8, Jane Pauley 5.8, Cranny 5.8, Wallaby Crack 5.8, Lizard Skin 5.8, Poodle Lizard 5.7, Roy’s Solo 5.7, Boulder Face 5.7, Zsa Zsa Goes to Jail 5.7, Bitch, Bitch 5.7, Andromeda Strain 5.7, Granny Goose 5.7, Steady Breeze 5.7, Tight Shoes 5.7, Ostrich Skin 5.7, Out of Step 5.7, Lucky Charms 5.7, Calcutta 5.7, Vaino’s Lost In Pot 5.7, Scream Chuck 5.7, Gin Fizz 5.7, Flies on the Wound 5.7, Swishbah 5.7, Disappearing Belayer 5.7, Duchess Right 5.7, Court Jester 5.7, I’m So Embarrassed for You 5.7, Beck’s Bear 5.7, Stucca by a Yucca 5.7, Practice Rehearsal 5.7, Crown Jewels 5.7, Mr. Misty Kiss 5.7, Frosty Cone 5.7, Scrumdillyishus 5.7, Princess 5.7, H&R Block 5.7, Deceptive Corner 5.7, Bucket Brigade 5.7, Stichter Quits 5.7, AA 5.7, White Lightning 5.7, Dung Fu 5.7, Poodlesby 5.6, Hidden Taxes 5.6, Tranquility 5.6, Klingon Pizza 5.6, Fat Man’s Misery 5.6, Scotch 5.6, Juggurnot 5.6, Whiskey 5.6, Dum Roodle 5.6, Duchess 5.6, The Mikado 5.6, Date Shake 5.6, Nuts and Cherries 5.6, Double Decker 5.6, Who’s First 5.6, Debbie Does Donuts 5.6, Double Dip 5.6, Eff Four 5.6, Ranger J.D. 5.6, Toe Jam 5.6, Outer Limit (crack) 5.6, West Chimney 5.6, SOB 5.6, Linda’s Face 5.6, Filch 5.6, Chili Dog 5.6, Curtain Call 5.6, Karpkwitz 5.6, Tulip 5.6, Komodo Dragon 5.6, Rip Off 5.6, Lizard Robbins 5.5, Adam’s Happy Acres 5.5, Mr. Bunny’s Tax Shelter 5.5, Lizard Taylor 5.5, Donna T’s Route 5.5, Minion 5.4, Duchess Left 5.4, Mad Race 5.4, Deadheads 5.4, Myrmecocystus Ewarti 5.4, Hillside Strangler 5.4, Eyesore 5.4, Eschar 5.4, Walkway 5.4, Final Act 5.4, Mother Goose 5.4, Gotcha Bush 5.4, Squat Rockets 5.4, Beginner’s Three 5.3, Knaug and Hyde 5.3, Double Crack 5.3, Toe Jam Express 5.3, B-2 5.3, B-3 5.3, Be Wary 5.2, Scaramouch 5.2, Linda’s Crack 5.2, Route 1326 5.2, Marchesa 5.2, Decent Buckets 5.2, Button Soup 5.2, Chute up 5.2, Helix 5.2, Eyestrain 5.2, Simpatico 5.1, Brimstone Stairway 5.1, Ambulance Driver 5.1, B-1 5.1

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2 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 Beyondreach
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 2007-01-11
That is what climbing should be.
 helpimstuck
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 2007-01-23
I agree with beyond enjoy climbing every bit and dream as if there wont be another.

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