Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Weather Works in Paradise

Our first day back was so long awaited. We spent the season inhaling chalk dust and ripping up our fingers on gritty, neon plastic holds, lying on our backs at the Seattle Bouldering Project and daydreaming about the day we could be released from our winter confinement. About the day the rain would stop, and the sun would beat down on the rocks throughout Washington and we could once again spend every hour of daylight inching up their warm, dry faces. I live in a city that is wet for six months out of the year, and by the end of that sixth month, the idea of dry anything feels like pure fantasy. The concept of dry, sun-warmed rock seems so remote it's almost cruel.
Then the weather flipped upside down onto its head, and all of a sudden I was sitting at the base of the Lower Town Wall in Index with Andrew, hiding from the sun, and we were both covered in sweat and completely shell shocked. What is that thing in the sky? Why is it burning my skin? Why am I so thirsty?
In my rain daze, I'd forgotten that sunny weather isn't all pleasantly warm rock and gentle breezes. We were a few pitches up on the sun-exposed face, just above the shady, sheltering pine trees, and that burning orb in the sky was scorching the strength right out of me. After we rapped back to earth we slunk around for a while, looking for the next route, eventually retreating to the base of the rock where there was a slice of shadow and refrigerated air leaking from the cracks. Why is that bright thing making me feel sleepy?

Oh my God, in this city and its monotonous climate I've forgotten how weather works.
Our first day back was the beginning of April. It was cold in the shade but the rock was dry. We climbed a three pitch classic called Rattletale. On the second pitch, I discovered something new about myself. I don't actually know how to climb crack. I've been climbing now for 16 years so I just assumed I could catch on, but crack climbing is completely different than everything else. It's like a different sport.  When I daydream about climbing, I think about clean faces, catching a tiny lace-thin protrusion for your toe, gripping little chips with your fingers. Either that or giant, pumpy overhangs with holds like buckets. But not crack.
Smith Rock Face: Daydream Material
Not this junk show of jamming and and locking twisting and wrenching, tape and dirt and blood and skinned hands. I don't physically know how to do this, I realized, which is a bit alarming when you're already two pitches up. I scratched my head and thought about what to do next.  Then I lay-backed the whole thing, which is essentially like looking at a big, beautiful, bouncy rapid and deciding to take the exhausting, rocky sneak route on the left and hope that nobody sees you. (Which I'm also really good at doing.)
Layback Technique, aka Not crack climbing.
But Andrew caught me. And the next weekend we were back at Index, doing laps on the easy crack at lower town wall as he patiently showed me, move by move, the proper crack climbing technique. Because our plans before I go to Alaska involve cramming a summer's worth of big wall and trad into a few short weeks, and there's only so much lay back and sneak routes and faking it a girl can do before she needs to nut up and learn how to jam.
I'd like to point out, just for the record, that after the sun fell behind the cliffs and the day cooled around us, we started to function again. Andrew put up the most inspired lead I've ever seen, a really effing hard route called Zoom, and I was able to follow him, and we were redeemed. And on the walk back to the car on the train tracks, in a tunnel of trees and their new, light-green leaves, I was reminded that we live in Paradise. There are many places of Paradise around the world and this is one of them. And so was the hole in the wall Mexican place we found on the way home.
Then again, maybe Paradise has less to do with where you are and what you're doing, and everything to do with who you're with. Who knows? I don't know such things.


Joe Jackson said...

Damned good post Baby Cougar.

SJJ said...

8 months of rain, not 6.

Jeff in Oregon said...

I remember Kalman's lesson last August about hand placement and rolling your elbow inward to lock your knuckles and not shred all the skin off. Still have yet to put that into any sort of practice, but every little tip is good advice. Also, may be a waste of time, but Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills has a good section on crack climbing.