Whoa… I’m still alive… what am I doing today… oh yeah… I’m doing that.
I looked over to see what time was on the clock 5:50… 10 minutes before the inevitable sounds of having to wake were perched in my mind.
I should just get up.
As I stretched.. Rob stirred… it was time to seriously begin the real part of the challenge… 64 routes at Shelf Road, Colorado; mid-spring. As I began to move I took the normal mental check of what hurt and what didn’t… oddly it was just pure fatigue that plagued my body at this point.
No aches… no pains.. uh oh.. that can’t be good.
“Ready to go?” Rob asked.
“Yes…” No… not really.. but I have no choice.
As we piled into the car, I lost all expectation. I had no idea what was going to happen with the day… what I was going to do… except one thing… I was not going to back down. Even though every fiber wanted me too. As we drove to the crag Rob regaled me with his stories of his climbing past and Shelf Road and each one was hilarious and slightly unnerving. I heard about sharp pockets… vicious crimps… and worst of all having to use your feet to make it to the chains of the routes:
What!? I can’t just pull… uh oh!
As we parked the car and began to assort the gear for the upcoming slaughter… I felt like gladiator underneath the Colosseum– a mixture of fear, excitement, and adrenaline enveloped every fiber of my body… but I booted up and began to hike with Rob to the Cactus Wall.
Gear unpacked… I was ready to go… then the reality of the situation hit me… we were in an ice-box. As we rounded the corner to our first four pitches of the day I was numbed out. 7:00 in the morning with a wind-chill will crush anyone… this development topped with exhaustion… fatigue… crushed me. I lost it all… whatever mental stamina I had was gone with the wind.
“You ok?” Rob.
“Oh yeah I’m fine… just not dealing with the cold…” mayday…
“You know you can sit a couple of the pitches out…” Rob.
I really could sit some of the pitches out… “I know…”
“Seems like it would be a waste after all the time you put in…” Rob.
Challenge accepted… “You know me Rob… I’m all in.”
After the first four were accomplished we were able to move around a corner and avoid the arctic breeze that was so nicely creating frozen out conditions. This was where the day took a drastic turn for me. I no longer was capable of having any emotion. Somewhere along pitch 16 it was all my energy to make sure I was attentive to lead belay Rob correctly. That was when pitch 24 hit… and I hit rock bottom literally. This is not a figurative language play… I literally untied from the rope… went to go get my belay gloves, tripped and fell flat on my face off a two foot ledge.
“Whoa you ok?!” Rob
(Muffled noise from the dirt) “I’m o…k….” OWWWWWW
“Dude what happened?” Rob
” I don’t know… things just happen with me.”
“You ok to belay?” Rob
“sure.” game on again.
32 pitches in my feet had swollen and I couldn’t wear my shoes completely. I kicked the heels off… laced the toes down as hard as I could and just kept plugging away. I watched as Rob became more and more and more synchronized… his movement and body became one… on the other hand I watched as turned into a mental patient that had no control over his body.
“Feet up Ben… Geez oh man.. your technique sucks!” Rob
“I know!” Seriously!? We both know that my technique sucks this is why I am climbing with you!
“Just keep plugging away you’re doing fine.” Rob
Uh oh… he is encouraging me… I must be doing really bad…
Pitches 40- 49 I blacked out. I seriously can’t remember what they were… try as hard as I might right now… they don’t exist. I know we did them, I just don’t remember them.
However; when we hit the count down for 15 pitches left something awoke inside of me. A little voice that gave me just a little bit of hope.
You have done 15 pitches.. you can do 15 pitches. Boot-up cowboy it’s time to ride!
And so we did… we managed to climb something that required a mono-pocket, we managed to find routes with dynos… but we sucked it up and we pushed through and ended the day before night had fallen. No headlamps were needed to make our way back to the car that day… and as we sat; I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had suffered through some of the worst conditions I had ever climbed in… I had pushed my limits beyond anything I had ever thought possible… and we were still breathing. There was something special in that and still is.