“Mike got hit with a virus and is out… and my other partner doesn’t feel up to the challenge… you in?”
“Yes… I’m in.” of course I’m in… but what am I in for?
“You in…” two simple words generally answered with a “yes” or “no”. As I read the text knowing that the person on the other end who sent it needed a definite answer soon– I began to contemplate the repercussions of my saying that I was indeed “In”.
For the last year or so I have been living in Grand Junction working as a substitute teacher and training with my friend and coach Rob Pizem. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor… he is always motivated and well balanced– and so incredibly meticulous with safety that even my fear of heights is lessened when climbing on multi-pitch with him. As such my confidence in climbing is heightened and I think I can pretty much do anything (we should all be lucky to have someone that pushes us).
So as I read his text I immediately responded… “Yes… I’m in.”– what I was getting into was a complicated challenge that seemed reasonable when I first thought about it… but reality always has a different way of playing out.
The Challenge was to climb seven days in a row (not terrible I had done that before) and each day increase the number of routes by a power of two. SO– Day 1 would be a long route… Day 2 two (2) multi-pitches… Day 3 four (4) desert towers… Day 4 eight (8) pitches of trad… Day 5 sixteen (16) pitches in Rifle… Day 6 thirty-two (32) pitches in Clear Creek… Day 7 sixty-four (64) routes in Shelf Road. Sitting on the couch or hearing this most people think, “Huh, I can do that…” I know this because I thought that as well. Again; what we think is rarely reflected by reality.
Having done a few of Rob Pizem’s legendary challenges and feeling relatively in shape I figured we would have this done easy. But, like all good stories there is a beginning… and this is the beginning of the exponential challenge:
Waking to the sound of my alarm going off at 6:00 in the morning I rolled out of bed and began to dress for the ensuing day. The challenge had just begun as soon as I slipped on my favorite fleece lined pants and laced my Guide Tennies. I just received some new gear from CAMP and Adidas so I was excited. I packed my climbing shoes and crawled into my car to go meet Rob.
Our objective this day was to put up the First Free Ascent of an old aid line outside of Grand Junction. Not having a ton of experience in new routing I figure it would be a simple day of me following Rob up the route and learning as much as I could… how wrong I was.
As we hiked to the tower it was the usual banter… him making fun of me… me trying to fight back and losing horridly… as we rounded the bend of the canyon the line came into view. Sandy… chossy desert tower… thin cracks to off width, squeeze chimneys… and overhung… as usual (surprise- surprise)!
Keep in mind it wasn’t a balmy 60 degrees with a gentle overcast of lazy drifting clouds… it was cold… freezing… with a bitter wind that made taking anything off highly-undesirable… but the psych was high though the my sorness from the day prior was also at an all time high; besides I had my super puffy down jacket and that always makes things better!
Piz put the the first half of the pitch down no problem… he crushed through the difficult part and set an anchor… came down and asked me a simple question, ‘”Do you feel like adventuring?”
“Sure.” I mean it would be a good learning experience… and who better else to do that with?
I climbed to the anchor Rob had placed at the half-way point and as I looked up I saw what I considered a daunting adventure of kicking down sand, loose rocks, and the occasional spider’s nest. Good times were to be had by all as I constantly questioned the gear that I had placed in the rock, “Is it brittle… did I choose the right size to sit on… is the crack going to blow out… am I really just hanging here on a 00 Green C3 kicking off chunks of rock with my last piece questionable?“ Every-time I began to grumble I would hear PIz encouraging me which was helpful… then I would sing a ridiculous song to myself to help distract me from how gripped I was. To be honest I really wished I had that stupid broom that Piz always brought for new routing.
After I trundled for a bit and finally made it to the first belay station, I built an “anchor” and came back down to rehearse the pitch on T.R. Things went without incident and soon I was belaying as Piz began to ascend the second pitch. This is where the route became a little strange. I watched out over the canyon as the colder (if possible) weather came into the canyon… soon I began to notice small drifts of white dust floating down… at first I figured it was just chalk coming from above– However; it was snow… nature had decided that snow would be good. As I began to get lost in the landscape, I realized that it had been a while since I had paid out any slack… that was when I heard Rob say something outstanding…
“Well… I’m debating… cause if this goes we are both dead…”
“Ok…?” Of course. F*&k…
“It should be fine…”
Gotta love the certainty…
“Hear I go!”
I watched as he maneuvered around giant flake that reminded me of Megalodon’s tooth (giant prehistoric shark… check it out on the discovery channel!) and came to a horizontal crack under a roof and built an anchor. It turned out that the shark tooth may or may not have been attached to the tower. It was so huge that our weight would have done nothing… however; you never know sometimes…. ground up routing is always an adventure; so as he sat there he looked down at me and said something that I never thought I would hear in my life… .
“Ben I’m a little heady you’re going to have to do the next pitch… it’s only a 5.9 squeeze chimney.”– Rob
“Ok Rob… are you sure?” What!? You are never heady! The hell???
“Yeah I’m sure you need to do this pitch…” — Rob
“Seriously?” You gotta be messing with me.
“Yeah.” — Rob
“On my way..” F&%k!
So up I went realizing that I had never done a squeeze chimney… I was scared of run outs and we had no gear that would have worked anywhere for the first forty feet… As I pulled above the anchor and began to wedge myself into the crack I began to realize how committing this pitch was going to be… there literally was no coming down… or out… I hate it when people use the word “epic” to express their experiences on things… so I am not going to do that… the word I would use here is “Odyssey” … I odysseyed up that freaking pitch. It took me an hour to climb 40 feet… I had no gear placements… I was arching my back and frog-legging my way to the finish line! I could barely move quicker than an inch a minute. However; as I neared the end of the pitch there was a huge sense of accomplishment clipping into the anchor and getting the rope ready for Rob to come up. I figured it would take him a little bit to get up to me so I began to relax… I barely began to chill when Rob’s head peaked up of the ledge and he was scrambling up to me– all the while a crazy grin on his face as he explained to me that he has just sand-bagged me:
“I wasn’t really heady I just wanted you to have that experience… I just hosed you.”– Rob
” Ah, I kind of figure that was the case…” dammit…
I was a little shocked… humbled, confused, and my feelings of euphoria were slightly dampened. After he explained that I was tricked into climbing the pitch, he then explained the art of chimney climbing to me. It turns out that I had entered it facing the wrong way and managed to make a 5.9 much MUCH more difficult than need be!
After we topped out the tower and wrapped down Piz casually packed everything up called the route a 5.12 and began his trek back to the car. Day one was put down… I was bleeding all over, fully worked, psyched out, and looking at six more days of punishment… and each one was going to get more difficult… as I lay down that night to sleep I realized that a power of two is something that generally shouldn’t be misunderstood… one thought crept into my mind as my eyes slid shut…
The pain is only going to double each day. The routes are only going to get more difficult. Welcome to the Pizonacci Sequence…