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Yosemite

Yosemite

I first visited Yosemite Valley in 2008 on the tail end of my first climbing trip–which ended with Stefanie and I getting married in San Diego. It was my first ride through the valley and I was still green as a climber, so I could accept the chills that shot down my spine when I looked up into the cold stone face of El Capitan and imagined what it would be like to be adrift on that sea of granite.

In 2011, I visited Yosemite Valley again, with my partner Trevor, as we ended our cross country blitz shooting trailer footage for Project 365 and this time, I couldn’t leave without at least approaching El Cap and hiking up to the base. At the time I had no big-wall experience, so again I excused myself for only scurrying about the feet of “the Captain” and I dreamed of the next time I would return and I shuddered at the thought that I had run out of “look-see” visits.

Since the 1960s Yosemite has been the cradle of  American rock climbing and the routes that are travelled over stone have been both pioneered and repeated by some of the first and the very best climbers alive. Imagine getting to shoot hoops with Michael Jordan or heading down to the skate park and Tony Hawk lends you his board for a quick session. That is what it means to climb in Yosemite.  Rob once said “If you climb a route put up by one of your heroes, it’s like shaking hands with him at every handhold.” I don’t know of may other athletic pursuits that allow and indeed are based on such accessibility to anyone willing to accept the risk. There is an element of sharing that exists through time between all climbers, the small and the great, coupled with the risk.

The rock and the immensity of it all brings us together to revel in the challenge and the seemingly insurmountable odds.(Sound familiar?) There is a sort of magnetic pull that captures you and draws you in. As you walk closer, the rock looms up above you and it sucks the sound right out of the air. This is not a game–this is not a sport–it is an all out fight for survival in the most literal sense on thousand-foot rock faces.

Yosemite will challenge me on many levels. That is such a trite understatement. I am entering Yosemite knowing that I will not leave there the same as I am going in. I am prepared to be shaken to the core, prepared to push myself beyond mental and physical breaking points. I am planning at least one wall solo–no partner, just an MP3 player and a shit-ton of gear.

I began scratching the surface in Zion. Yosemite will offer bigger walls and more of them. It was amazing to glimpse what I can do. Now I will put myself in a position where I have no choice but to rise to that level not just for a moment, but to stay there and to rely on my ability to do so for extended periods. I am prepared to suffer because I know that is going to be a significant component of progress–the joy and the beauty that I will find there does not require preparation because I am always ready to be immersed in that.

For that matter, I am ready to feel desperate, to feel stretched to feel…alive. I am less afraid to go up than I am to spend my life on the ground wishing that I had taken that risk when I had the opportunity. Diabetes brought me here. Now I will return the favor and bring diabetes up the wall with me.

 

Goodbye, San Diego.

Goodbye, San Diego.

I stood in the dingy supermarket checkout line, waiting as the overworked clerk rang up the various purchases for those buying last minute installments of hot dogs, ribs, burgers and chicken for holiday BBQs. I tried to avoid making eye contact with the other shoppers lest my true opinion of highly processed, low quality meats would belie itself and I would wind up getting a switchblade in the ribs for my concern.

I was compulsively looking at my CGM, which has become a nervous tick at this point, enjoying the fact that I was not buying any food but merely accompanying Mike (my sister-in-law’s boyfriend) on his quest to get a few items. We had been chatting about my plans once I leave San Diego and my uncertainty regarding a possible return to this area next winter, to close out Project 365.

As I gave voice to the fact that the project is entering its 5th month, the enormity of everything at hand set in. How would I deal with being “at large” without even a semblance of a home base? I drifted into a fond reflection of the time I have spent here, the convenience of close, local climbing, internet and having an actual address at which to receive mail! I also thought about the fact that my downtime since Stefanie’s departure has been more of a burden than a luxury.

My reverie was interrupted at this point when the lady in the next line over began going ballistic, shouting “Oh my GOD someone stole my purse, someone stole my purse!”. She began frantically hurling chicken thighs and bags of Doritos out of her cart and onto the floor and checkout counter to confirm that her proclamation was not premature. Our clerk confided in me that this type of scene was not uncommon and to be vigilant about  guarding my wallet and possessions. My mind reeled with the thought of some scofflaw trying to rob me and not understanding my spastic explanation of why I would not be willing to surrender my CGM!

In that moment, I knew–there was no need to look back, because the best is yet to come. Wednesday morning bright and early, I’m out of here!

Loose ends, new beginnings

Loose ends, new beginnings

This week has been a flurry of running errands, making monkey-fist chokers, promoting our DHF Seeds grant  video (which still needs your support!) and making sure that all of the excess stuff has been trimmed down, mailed or sold, and that all my meds are secured—all in preparation for the next move into Yosemite. Being honest, I have to say that handling all of these tasks alone has been some of the darkest time for me personally–because so little is in my control. Climbing, the one area where I go to exercise control (or some semblance of it) has been uninspiring and not super aesthetic in the San Diego area.

Ups and downs I guess, that’s the plot. Sorry for the spoiler.

But…in addition to the “downs” there have been some very significant ups. For starters, I have been SO overwhelmed by the support you have shown our project in the voting for the DHF grant. It makes me feel like perhaps I am not as alone as I feel–and that is very encouraging. Stef has been very overwhelmed as well with her new, intensive job training but she has been doing very well despite 12 hour days with take home studying on the side. That usually leaves us about 5 minutes (if that) to speak every day but the amazing support for our project has been a recurring theme and has been elevating both of us as we buckle down to get our work done.

The people I have met through this project are some of the most excellent people I have had the pleasure of meeting–and while some people who I expected would be leading the pack in support of our efforts have been MIA, I have seen old friends and those that I never would have expected to care–step up and fill those voids and surpass my wildest expectations. Your support is a very powerful thing and I want you all to know that every “like” every “share” and “retweet” and email, every contribution, every extension of information or offer of hospitality…all of it…is what led me to this point and what will lead me beyond in the next several months.

So up till this point, I have been dangling my feet in the water, regarding living the climbing lifestyle. My plan was to “ease into it” during the winter and the spring and then take the plunge mid-late spring by living on the road and bumming it. Up til this point I have been back and forth between various climbing destinations and San Diego where we have been crashing at need. Up to this point I’ve had couches to sleep on and some semblance of a workspace. Sure there were clusters of days here and there where I’d wake up with sand in my teeth from sleeping in the dirt, but those were always the exception, not the rule.

Now it’s day 128. I’ve climbed 33,020 feet. I think my feet are wet by now. Once I pull up stakes here, the adventure will be dialed up a few clicks. Sounds fun, right? Basically it means that every single aspect of my life will be as minimal (and by extension, uncertain) as can be. Living out there in the mountains, on the rock in the dirt and telling the story as I go. As you may know, I feel very accountable to my readers. You have given me a lot–and I want to do the same in return.

Living “between worlds” where I have a couple weeks between trips  in San Diego to edit, upload, blog etc has given me the luxury of  providing that right up front. Now, I am heading into the belly of the beast–and I going to be blogging less. My goal is to solidly blog once every week with more when I have the opportunity. My goal is to write over the weekends and publish monday AM. I may wind up having a lot more access to space and time to post up and that would be great–but I’m not counting on it. I want you to understand what is happening and why.

I have also been able to give more “play by play” narratives and  as we move forward with fewer blogs, more and bigger climbs, there will be a broader view with a variety of photos. The story will have to come together before it can be fully recounted and told in full detail.

While there is a part of me that worries about my coming inability to hover over our email inbox and Facebook page, I know that once again, I must let go and step away in order for the real meat and potatoes of this project to fully manifest. Overall, it is encourages me because we have not even scratched the surface and I know that I can trust the constant support that you have given us to continue.

So as I go and hang it out there and put more on the line than ever before, for longer periods than before…here are a few things I’d like to ask of you:

  • Please be patient. That means that I can’t respond to your comments or emails as fast as I’d like–but I still need to hear from you and I need your support so don’t just assume that I’m too busy to care what you have to say.
  • Please follow us on Facebook if you haven’t already. Updating there is something that I can do from my 1990′s era idiot-phone so that is likely to be more active than this blog at times.
  • Please help us get more followers on Facebook by directing your friends to our page.
  • Please share our DHF video link with all the voting rules until June 15th–you guys are doing AWESOME and I’d love to see that support for our proposal keep growing!
  • If you’re in CA and are visiting Yosemite, come find the Dragon Wagon and say hi, or come climbing or hiking or whatever!

 

Moonlight Buttress: a masochist, a diabetic and 1200 feet of sandstone

Moonlight Buttress: a masochist, a diabetic and 1200 feet of sandstone

A cold wind cut me to the bone as I sat next to Rob waiting for the shuttle to pick us up and take us into Zion National Park where we would try climbing Moonlight Buttress for a second time after having to bail due to weather a week before. “This is the desert” I thought. “It’s not supposed to be this cold”.

I had already sent Stef a “hail-Mary” text asking her to run me out another Icebreaker shirt and I knew that carrying more clothing than that would be counterproductive so I gritted my teeth and knew that I would just have to be uncomfortably cold until the sun came up at which point I would make the transition into the realm of uncomfortably hot.

When the shuttle arrived we stepped on with only the barest of essentials. We had packed light for a one day ascent. I was a bit bummed to not be able to “camp” out on the wall, but saving the trouble of carrying 100 lb. of extra food, water, sleeping gear and the like was more than enough of a trade off to make me feel OK about the whole situation. We were riding the first shuttle of the morning and we had it all to ourselves. Rob promptly fell asleep, using the rope as a makeshift pillow and as much as I tried to follow suit, I found myself dreading all of the unknown and the what-if’s that the day held.

Packing light is nice in that you have less gear to haul but it means that you have less room for error and that you had better keep moving and not screw anything up along the way. While the unknown loomed in my imagination the thought of having to cross the Virgin River invaded the loop of horrific hypothetical scenarios that played in my head. I knew what that would be like–COLD! First thing in the morning and fresh with snowmelt-runoff from the previous weeks inclemency to add a bit of discomfort to the already appalling water temperatures. I could almost feel the icy water as I sat there trying to sleep on the shuttle…

Oddly enough, I didnt worry too much about my sugar or insulin. I had expected my insulin sensitivity to be high, so I began cutting back my dosage the night before in anticipation of a grueling day on the wall. In general, I would rather be a little high than low when I am climbing so I put that in the back of my mind, ate my normal breakfast of fresh strawberries, yogurt and a handfull of granola and went about my business. I felt great as I stepped off the shuttle and Rob greeted the day by shouting at some wild turkeys and heckling another party of climbers on an adjacent wall from us. “This is going to be a good day” I told myself, only half convinced.

Our crossing of the Virgin River was about what I had anticipated: it was so cold that it hurt. I had the choice to take a longer, diagonal path upstream and across following shallower currents or just wade in deep and go straight across. I chose the former, and upon reaching the other side, a great deal of salty language ensued as I attempted to dry off and clamber up the adjacent bank to begin the approach to the base of the cliff.

The first pitch of the climb went quickly since we had left a rope fixed there from the week before. Soon we were 160 feet up and at the first belay ledge. Rob generously allowed me the first two pitches to get going, so I racked up and away I went. A small roof gave way to my feeble attempts and I soon was at the second ledge, which was very spacious and allowed me some room to place the camera in a small recess and get some pictures as I began to shed layers in the morning sun.

Checking my sugar after leading the 2nd pitch..it was 313 and I knew that this could completely derail the day.

The last thing I wanted to do was shoot up insulin on a big wall to correct a high--because then I could go low!

I knew that I had no choice but to accept the reality and deal with it. I couldnt let my sugar stay that high and I couldnt allow fear of going hypoglycemic stop me from correcting my blood sugar, no matter what.

Rob arrives at the ledge and I explain the situation. I half hoped that he would be daunted by my situation and suggest turning back or at least entertain that possibility for the sake of my own comfort...not a bloody chance...

There was no turning back. More than anything I just felt angry with myself for making a rookie mistake and cutting back my insulin too soon in advance of the climb. Then sun came out and it was getting hotter...

Rob is the man you want with you when things look grim. He is the partner you want on the wall with you when you know that you are about to push yourself beyond anything you have yet done...

I checked my sugar again at the 3rd belay. It was 323. What in the actual f*ck, I thought. Even after taking insulin it was going up. Part of me was so frustrated that I wanted to take another shot.

I decided to hold off and give it time. I did not want to be impulsive and over-correct. Meanwhile my body was using fluids to try and flush out the excess glucose through my kidneys. At this point I THOUGHT I was drinking enough water...

Rob, leading up pitch 4 as I belayed and fretted about my sugar.

At the 4th pitch hanging belay. I checked my sugar and it was down to 270. I can't remember too many times when I was happy to see a number like that!

The view from the belay--sheltered by a roof, so it was not terribly hot. This lulled me into a feeling of complacency-along with the fact that my sugar was coming down, and I neglected proper hydration out of untimely exuberance. What a n00b.

3 bolts and some Mammut Pro-cord are all that stand between us and the hereafter. Sounds scary but it's solid stuff.

Looks messy, but I've got it under control.

A little perspective on a hanging belay. No ledges, just air under your ass and you are suspended from the anchor by your harness alone.

Some creative aider-furniture building actually makes a hanging belay a LOT more comfortable.

Lots going on and it looks totally jingus, but it's reasonably comfy.

Oh shit! That's a long way down!

At the top of the 5th pitch it was "lunch time" and my sugar was 170 at this point. I had to choose between risking a hypoglycemic attack if I shot up to eat or just not eating anything since my sugar was high and risking "bonking" or running out of energy as we headed into the 2nd half of the climb.

Clif bar and raw almonds for lunch. I drank a bunch of water because I was beginning to cramp up badly by this point.

Contemplating the fact that I just shot up fast-acting insulin on a climb, breaking my own cardinal rule. I gazed out at the canyon and repeatedly had to reel myself back in as I began to feel real panic welling up in my gut. I didn't even want to talk about how I was feeling because it was as if recognizing the fear would feed its power. We were too high to turn around now, we had to finish and I had to deal with my sugar being imperfect. I reasoned that I had all the same resources available to me on this cliff that I'd have sitting at home on the couch. I closed my eyes and visualized myself on the couch feeling totally relaxed. It was the hardest moment I have had yet in climbing and diabetes--really having to juggle both simultaneously.

Rob led the next block of pitches, and I would lead the final two--by which time the insulin would be out of my system. Rob graciously allowed me the finishing pitches to top out the climb.

Waiting for my turn to lead, watching the afternoon sun fade in the canyon...

 

Rob finished his pitches and turned me loose. I felt good and I was stacked with Clif Bar Shot-Bloks just in case…I was still cramping badly but I drank as much as I could and cast off onto the final 200 feet of the climb, knowing that I absolutely had to reach the top since bailing was out of the question and there was about 1 hour of light left. I was moving slower than slow. I looked back down to Rob at the belay repeatedly and it felt like I hadn’t moved at all. I called down to him that he might have to lower me down to the belay and we could switch.

“There is no way I am gonna be able to finish these pitches before dark man”

Unfazed, he called back up, “I don’t give a f*ck man, this canyon is BEAUTIFUL in the dark! I don’t care if we are out here till midnight! Just make sure you’re feeling good and take your time. There’s no place I need to be right now—” this train of thought was interrupted by a stream of epithets directed at a group of swifts that began dive bombing Rob at the belay.

I felt good that Rob was feeling good about my chances of finishing everything off. I also felt myself reaching the end of my rope, figuratively speaking. I had been working hard all day to keep my shit together and I needed to tighten up my wig because I was feeling desperate  to be done–and that is never good and I recognized that as the first stages of something going way wrong.

I ate a bit of Clif Bar and took a Shot Blok. Suddenly I realized that I had been going low and that was messing with my head. Almost immediately I felt the strength and clarity returning. I called down to Rob that I was going to wrap things up here and that I would see him at the top. It was like a switch flipped and I started to hit my rhythm and soon I was within 20 feet of the top–and nightfall was less than 10 minutes away…

And this is where the “scary” climbing finally arrived for me after 1180 feet of feeling solid on the rock. Rob had described the top-out as “heads-up” 5.8–which, roughly translated, means, not super strenuous but scary enough to make you loose your bowels and if you fall…well…just don’t fall here. Without going into the myriad reasons why this would have been a really bad spot to fall, I can tell you that I was climbing over a ledge and it was almost dark. The rock before me was smooth, sandy and loose. It did not have definitive edges to hold onto–just rounded blobs that inspired less than no confidence.

I down-climbed to the ledge to look at the moves again, hoping that in the fading light, a bit of panicked dithering would do the trick and a ladder of in-cut holds would magically appear. Instead, it got darker and my situation became more grim. I cursed Rob’s sick sense of humor. I climbed as high as I could again, to within a few feet of the final set of anchors. The pinkie of my right hand detected a small weakness in the rock and I frantically brushed the sand out of a tiny crack and blindly stuffed a green Alien cam into the fissure. It gave me enough purchase to make a long and tenuous move to clip the chains and slump down in my harness as darkness fell over the canyon.

The headlamps were in the haulbags which were down with Rob at the belay. I methodically set up the anchor and haul system to finish the pitch and our climb. I was ready to be on flat ground for a minute. This is where things went mildly south. The haul bag got stuck 3 times and freeing it from the snags after a full day of climbing and dangling, was harrowing. It felt like the canyon didnt want us to escape–it was as though it had allowed us to get right to the brink of the top only to reach out and snag our bag and tangle our ropes.

After a lot more oaths and sweating and a few bashed knuckles, we topped out and began our 3 mile hike downhill where we rendezvoused with Stefanie who drove into the canyon to get us and at 12:05 AM we had finished. 11 hours, high blood sugar, low blood sugar, stuck ropes, stuck haul bags and icy waters not withstanding, the determination to finish and the brotherhood of the rope won the day–and the night.

Sorting out a tangle

Sorting out a tangle

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable”

–Helen Keller–via Rob Schwarzmann

The last several days have been a bit of a blur. First there was attempt 1 on Moonlight Buttress a week ago and we all know how that ended–and in the inclement weather days that followed, a lot of anticipation built up and on Wednesday, day 92, in about 11 hours, Rob and I sent Moonlight Buttress–a classic big wall climbing route up 1200 feet of vertical to slightly overhanging sandstone–slightly taller than the Chrysler Building to put it in perspective– in a solid one day effort.

So what does that really mean?

I have a lot of emotions that I am dealing with right now and I am not sure how to explain it all. Certainly there is an athletic achievement there on a personal level because it is a larger and more committing climb than I have been on yet. 1200 feet is a long way to climb and it seems longer when you are measuring your survival in every passing increment. There is a very personal component in the fact that climbing a wall with a partner is a melange of physical suffering, emotional duress, comical anecdotes, exasperation and brotherhood. It was (and continues to be) a very rich experience that will not simply yield to a single blog’s effort–and this experience will likely be a key that opens up worlds beyond that I can only anticipate in the most vague terms at this point.

The past several days marked not only the passage of the first 25% of Project 365 but also a shift in my mindset in terms of what I believe is possible for myself as a person of average athletic talent. Do you know what it’s like when you can feel something is changing and you know it’s big, but it’s so big that you can’t really wrap your head around it? I think that’s where I am right now and while it is exciting, it is somewhat disorienting too.

Climbing is more than a sport. It is not a game where you can step off of the pitch when you twist your ankle. Having a bad day is a luxury that you simply don’t get, and I am learning about both the ass end of this concept (suffering, forsaking comfort, pain, dehydration, isolation) and the worlds of possibility that are opening up as I push myself farther than I thought I could go.

I spent a few of the inclement weather days leading up to this weeks effort on the internet reading some Facebook status “flaps” where people were complaining about having diabetes and how hard their lives are and chiding other people who don’t see it as an excuse or who don’t see it as being a “big deal”. There was the usual discontent over the fact that there still isn’t a cure mixed with outright self pity at how unfair life is…

Having diabetes is hard. Yup. So?  What, you want a low carb cookie? There isn’t a cure, just effective treatments that can enable you to live an amazing life if you’re willing to step away from the computer, quit complaining and go get after it. Life is suffering, hardship. Accept this and you can deal with life. Embrace it and you can create something beautiful. Few things provoke my ire like hearing people complain about having this condition as though it is the end of life itself, or a curse. No one gets out of here alive. Death and suffering are not optional. What you do with your time and what you make out of your hardships are choices that you get to make again and again and that is a huge privilege–a gift.

I guess some of that online nonsense inspired me in a way. I occasionally feel like I am a missing out on some greater truth or understanding of the diabetic universe since I am not sorry that I have diabetes and I am not preoccupied with discussing it apart from the aspects of my life that are my greatest motivations (nutrition, exercise, climbing, sustainable living etc).

On Wednesday, I pushed myself–hard. I broke through a wall–a mental one. For the first time I had roller-coaster blood sugars on the biggest and most committing climb I have done in my life (Moonlight Buttress). Dangling hundreds of feet off the deck didn’t really phase me. Knowing that I had failed to control my sugar starting the night before and that even from the beginning of the climb my sugar was sky high left me in a situation where I had to deal with it and take insulin far out of my comfort zone. I sat on a belay ledge, 700 or so feet off the ground, and stared out into the vastness of Zion Canyon and realized that the time for running away from this scenario was over. I had to face this specter of my condition or else…well there was no other option.

I knew that this type of thing could happen when I stepped off the ground and I knew that a small part of me had been hoping for this show down for a while. I couldn’t and wouldn’t purposely have a blood sugar crisis in the middle of a climb but I knew that the fear of this happening was holding me back and it would eventually have to be dealt with. This fear has been coming to a head since the start of our time here in Zion and I had felt the anticipation building like a humid afternoon that gives birth to a tumultuous evening thunderstorm.

This fear is the voice that whispers in my ear when I tie into the rope and it hangs off the back of my harness, cluttering my headspace when I am climbing above my protection or facing a 30 foot whipper.

“You don’t belong here. You’re a diabetic. You know that sooner or later you’re just going to get f*cked up and make yourself look like an (insert pejorative here) and possibly die in the process. You should accept society’s view of people like you and get a normal life and job and live within 5 minutes of a hospital–because you are defective and you can’t cheat reality forever.”

It may sound excessive to some of you, but thats a snippet of whats in my head when I climb. What changed on Wednesday is that for the first time, I had an opportunity to confront this “adversary” who has lived unchallenged in my imagination –as a fear of “what if”–until we faced off on the steep upper pitches of Moonlight Buttress. It was more committing than anything I had done, ever, and I pushed my body far beyond the point at which my mind begged me to just give up and quit.

In the process I learned a lot about what I want to do differently the next time I am on a route of this length and I am looking to repeat this route next week, to really try and improve on Wednesday’s performance. Knowing that I am able to deal with highs and lows on a route is a powerful step forward for me. I have never really had to do that while ON a climb before.

However, every victory is only savored for a short moment–because it must then give rise to some new progress or else what is the point? I don’t know what will happen next or that it will be a day and night type of paradigm shift but I feel like a new realm of possibility just opened up to me and to everyone who chooses to live their life in spite of the conditions that get in the way.


 

If at first you dont succeed…go bigger!

If at first you dont succeed…go bigger!

Last week was going to be my first bigwall climb. Who wouldn’t be psyched about that? The weather looked iffy so we (Rob and I) decided to do be conservative and go for it anyway. At the base of the climb, as I craned my neck to fully take in the 1000 or so feet of vertical stone that soared above us he confided in me that our signal to turn around would be any rain whatsoever. After hauling 100lbs of gear between us across the virgin river I was far from excited to retreat.

Ferrying gear across the Virgin River in 45 degree water which was mercifully shallow.

 

Everything but the kitchen sink...

 

I drew the lot of leading the first pitch–160 feet of a little bit of everything. There was some wide cracks, thin cracks, face climbing, trees, brush, sand, loose rock and all of those endearing characteristics that make desert climbing so much fun after it’s done with. I made the mistake of not bringing enough runners to extend my gear placements so that the lead line effectively ran in a sort of zig-zag that put a lot of friction into the system. Rob told me that he saw it happening and thought about saying something…but didn’t. Oh, also I managed to run the rope straight through a tree which added to the fun.

I could hear the raindrops splattering on my helmet as I topped out the pitch and I knew that meant at least a delay of game, best case scenario. I fixed the haul line to the anchor so that we could simply ascend the rope and go again if the rain let up. By the time I got back on the ground you could see squalls blowing through the valley and the rock was beginning to run with small rivulets of rainwater. Rob was happy to hang out as I got some time lapse footage but we both knew our attempt was off.

Zion Timelapse from Living Vertical on Vimeo.

Sandstone is a very weak, porous rock compared to granite. When it rains, sandstone becomes weak and friable because it soaks up water which destabilizes the bonding agents (lime) which hold it together–sort of like a fair-weather concrete. Usually it is prudent to give at least 24 hours of drying time after a rain before climbing on sandstone. Failure to do this can be dangerous, as protection placements and handholds lose their reliability and you also run the risk of being the jerk who ruins a word class climb for everyone by breaking off important holds.

The rain has been on and off since then, with today being the first solidly nice day. It snowed up high recently and only now is it starting to melt. We have decided to try and go big this coming week and try firing Moonlight Buttress in a single day–and the weather is forecasted to be perfect! Initially we wanted to go plush and take our time on the wall but we re-evaluated that and decided that it would make more sense to do something less contrived to up the ante and bang it out in a day and practice the essential alpine skill of hustling–by doing more with less and keeping moving.

Today is day 90, and with the last few days of inclement weather we have been forced to boulder indoors or take on non-technical objectives. Hopefully we will be outside this afternoon, tacking on the footage. At last count I have accumulated 24,650 vertical feet.

Introducing Rob, and big wall climbing with T1D

Introducing Rob, and big wall climbing with T1D

Having taken the time to get over myself and the fact that my “welcome back” to Zion involved getting my ass handed to me, I have accepted whatever humiliation may come my way as I get over irrational fears and tighten up my wig in preparation of sending harder.

 

With this in mind, Stefanie and I have begun discussing the benefits of my climbing with more partners who will push me and who will have a different impact on my climbing rather than my simply staying in a comfort zone. I have several friends here in Zion from the days when I worked as a guide at Zion Adventure Company, and I have recruited our former neighbor (and current host) Rob Schwarzmann to climb Moonlight Buttress with me.

Moonlight Buttress is bigger than anything I have yet climbed and it will be a multi-day ascent, meaning that we will be spending at least one night up on a porta-ledge suspended hundreds of feet up–sleeping, eating, climbing all without coming back down in between.

 

I have been wanting to climb a big wall with Rob since I met him. To say that he is a character would fall far short of the truth. You might know him though–if you have ever been in Zion, there is a good chance that you have been heckled from afar by Rob as he frequently addresses passers-by from his perch hundreds of feet up a wall. He talks to strangers like he has known them for years, gives up his seat for little old ladies, and never misses an opportunity for a smart-assed comeback. I have never met another person who enjoys suffering quite as much as Rob and his climbing style can only be described as furious. While many people in our society today live quiet reserved lives, sipping their experiences from a teaspoon of social convention and accepted etiquette, Rob drinks straight from the carton.

 

When there is a question of suffering or things are looking grim, he is happier than a pig in shit and loving life more than ever; it is so infectious that you are forced to stop panicking and relax long enough to actually sort things out and escape the paralysis of fear–and when you’re back on the ground, he will give you a place to crash for as long as you want, and the pants off his ass. Literally.

 

I am wearing a pair of Mammut pants that he just decided that I needed to have (this is not the first time this has happened) and so bestowed them upon me. I have given up on trying to compare him to anyone else or trying to understand what makes him tick. I am just psyched that we will share a rope for a few days on a wall and I know that there is a lot that I have and will yet learn from him.

 

On a different note I have concerns about my tendency to freak out over my blood sugar and I am worrying that it will suddenly turn on me once I am suspended between heaven and earth. I am not used to being so exposed and vulnerable. I know that I can complete this climb and deal with being isolated on this wall through the same principals of making good choices and being aware of my blood sugar and prepared for highs and lows. I am my own best caregiver and I know Rob will keep me on task as he has done many times in the past.

 

Still there is a great deal of uncertainty that goes with hanging it out there—but that is what I am here for. So while I can’t control what is going to happen out there, I can make sure I have all my gear situated, my glucose tabs, and a glucagon kit for good measure!

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