How done? So done that I couldn’t muster the energy to write this until, what are we now, damn near two weeks out from my finish date. The last thing I updated anyone about was our trip to Salt Lake City to film and support Steve Edwards’ 54th BDC. He has since begun chemotherapy, and you can follow along on his wild ride by clicking here.
So that was Monday, when we got back. Monday night, kinda late, like 1AM. We were tired.
Day 24 (Tuesday)- 30 Pitches Led on Gear
The next day had rain in the forecast, so we woke up relatively leisurely to head into town and grab sustenance. Consistent showers had our spirits down, but hashbrowns and pancakes brought them back up. While we waited for the world to dry, we planned the rest of the remaining BDC week by reserving a bike for the bike park, arranging to stay with Scot and Michelle at Alta Lake, and staring at the Chief in hopes of divining three easy ways up the face.
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At around noon, the rain ceased and, though the air remained humid, a decent climbing afternoon began to take shape. Vikki and I drove to the Smoke Bluffs to attempt 30 trad leads, with gear borrowed from the ever-psyched Eric Wolff.
Honestly, the day was fairly uneventful. I did 30 different routes, with a Vikki belay for each. I didn’t fall, and managed to plunge pieces into cracks rated as high as 5.10. The rain early on had clearly kept most of the climbing public away from the crags, and I got to get a lot of pitches in at the more popular walls. I finished in the dark with three very short routes.
I would’ve liked to try some of the harder lines, but the combination of humidity and shortness of time meant we had to be strictly business. The good news is that, though uneventful, the day roughly doubled the number of trad pitches I’ve ever led, and I got geometrically better at choosing the right-sized piece to chuck in a crack. This would prove useful for 3 Routes on the Chief day.
Day 25 (Wednesday)- Lift 300,000 Pounds
I was a little bit tired from the previous day. It was a lot of sweating and cleaning gear and double-checking systems to make sure I wouldn’t deck every time I leaned back to lower. Given the rain, it seemed like a good day to put things up and put them back down again.
We spent a few hours in the library to try and catch up on some things, so I didn’t get to lifting until about 330pm. The Squamish Athletic Club closes at 930pm, and while 6 hours seems like a long time, 300,000 pounds is also a lot of weight. I had never been to this gym, and was hoping for a lot of weight machines (as opposed to free-weights), because they tend to be easier…pulleys and levers, as we all know, increase your ability to do work.
There were lots of weight machines, and I celebrated. Then I looked more closely, and found that the weight plates were simply numbered sequentially, instead of labeled with how much they actually weigh. Which is awesome if, instead of “I do 100 pounds on the lat pulldown,” you’d rather go around with the swollen pride of someone who does 8 on the pulldown machine. What I’m trying to say is, why the hell would any weight machine be designed that way?
I spent a lot of time doing leg lifts and pulldowns, since I figured out how much those plates weighed based on what 100 pounds on the pulldown feels like. I also did some bench pressing, calf-raising, shoulder pressing, and, well, exercising. Time wound down much faster than I expected it to, and I was 36,000 pounds short of my goal when the gym closed. What resulted, of course, was me in the campground, hanging out with friends and hoisting the 20 pound dumbbell we keep in the truck. 1800 times.
Sometimes, these challenges feel really, really silly.
Day 26 (Thursday)- Ride 30 MTB Trails
I was a bit concerned about this one, because mountain biking can totally f*ck up your body. Furthermore, I’d spent the previous day working out every muscle I have, particularly my legs, and those would have to absorb a lot of the brunt of today’s challenge. Thankfully, I had a sweet downhill bike to beat up, and a riding partner who is Savage. Alex Savage, to be exact. (He’s also a colleague. Check out his EpicTV series and be wowed by what real bikers do ’round these parts.) He picked me up from camp, and we drove up to Whistler. Bla bla bla logistics and we were on the chair a bit before 11am.
I was nervous. I had no idea what was coming…I could envision bombing down a trail and suddenly coming to a gap jump (I don’t jump gaps) or a logroll (I don’t roll logs) or a big drop (I do drop, though generally unintentionally) and eating shit, and getting injured…especially since I had done a lot of wrist curls the night before to finish up my lifting. You see, the hands do most of the braking and control. If they’re weak…
We started with a mellow run, hitting about 7 different trails on our first lap. The second lap was similar, and we had put away more than a dozen trails well before lunch. A couple more laps, and we took a sandwich break with 19 trails under our belts.
This challenge didn’t mean that I had to ride all of each of 30 trails, just touch my wheels to 30 different trails. One trail was the “Intermediate Skills” segment, a 100 yard run of two fairly tame jumps and a dropoff. This was great practice for Crank It Up, which is the “classic moderate” of the park: wide and smooth and fast, with rolling jumps and banked turns. You can survive by going slowly and rolling over the jumps, or you can go faster and get a bit of hangtime. A few close calls aside, I managed to do a few jumps and not get dirt and roots in my teeth.
After 7 laps, we had 32 trails done, including a couple of black diamonds! We finished at about the time we both began complaining of stiff hands, death grips, and blisters. It was time to go find Scot, Vikki, and Michelle. Though it was an expensive day (a $200 birthday present to myself), this was probably the most purely fun of the challenges. Alex was a great tour guide, and he even nailed a drop-jump-drop feature. The whole day was like a roller-coaster you get to control, and instead of screaming kids, you get trees. Seriously fun times.
Day 27 (Friday)- Yup, I Still Hate Swimming
Swimming is supposed to be low impact and good for recovery, so it made sense to do it the day after mountain biking. Furthermore, Scot’s folks have a house on Alta Lake, and swimming across a lake once sounded much better than swimming across a pool 134 times. Scot volunteered to man the support boat, a tiny fishing skiff with a little battery-powered trawling motor. We motored to a dock, I dove in, and he slowly motored next to me for the next three hours.
I’d been told the lake would be warm. Given that the lake is fed by springs and snowmelt, the water was warmer than expected. However, warm it was not. I’d planned to swim a large triangle (dock to park across the lake, to another dock at the south end, then back to the first dock), and after the first leg I donned a wetsuit that we had brought just in case. (In case what? In case I couldn’t feel my body…) I also drank some hot chocolate, that Scot had brought (also just in case).
If you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “gee, this isn’t much of a challenge. Tear up the best bike park in the known universe and follow up with a gorgeous lake swim?” then you have a point. However, I tell you still that there was quite a bit of suffering involved. You see, it was quite windy. The middle leg was awful. I was cold, and the wind was blowing a consistent 20-30mph in my face. There were whitecaps. I swallowed a lot of lake. I had no goggles, so swimming the crawl wasn’t as much of an option as it would otherwise be. So, like the wrinkled, swim-capped, kickboard-holding geriatrics at the YMCA, there I was puttering around a cold, windy lake with my head above water and the rest of me submerged. At least the final leg was downwind. The funniest part is, I’d put beers in the boat, expecting the swim to be leisurely.
Day 28 (Saturday)- Blackberries
This wasn’t very challenging. Vikki and I picked a LOT of blackberries. Then I made a bunch of muffins and a bunch of pancakes. Many, many people enjoyed them.
Day 29 (Monday)- 3 Laps on The Chief
I didn’t really plan this one as well as I maybe should have. We didn’t finish the previous day of filming until about 10pm, and we had gotten up at 430am. That’s not an excuse, per se, just a statement of fact. Thankfully, I did know that Jeremy (remember him from our sprint up the Grand Wall?) was down for a route in the morning and another in the evening, and that my friend Evan would be psyched for a run up the Grand Wall in the early afternoon. Jeremy and I started a little bit late in the morning, and we were walking to the base of the Apron a little after 8am.
We quickly simul-climbed Banana Peel, Boomstick Crack, and the first few pitches of The Squamish Buttress. Jeremy cruised the classic .10c pitch of the Buttress, and we finished the rest of the climb (the other pitches don’t really merit a mention) and were back on the ground by just past noon. Jeremy would rest and gather intel on Stairway to Heaven, while I climbed the Grand with Evan.
After a quick bite, Evan and I walked to the base of the Grand Wall. We’d planned to do Apron Strings to lengthen the route (since we weren’t going to do the Roman Chimneys, the continuation of the route past Bellygood Ledge. BTW, Alex Honnold just smashed the speed record on the Grand. 38 minutes, including the Chimneys.), but there was already a party ahead of us. Since time was of the essence, we did the asshole thing, which was to scramble up the Flake Escape Ledge and beat them to the base of Mercy Me. Sorry about that!
Evan is one of my oldest climbing friends. We go way back to the naught-ies, to the Santa Barbara days. He was the only person who ever dragged me up long easy routes in Yosemite, and taught me much about trad climbing. It was a joy to share this route with him, and we spent plenty of time catching up at the belays. We certainly didn’t win any speed records, and the sun was beginning to set by the time we got back to camp.
Jeremy and I conceded that a 15-pitch adventure route that neither of us had climbed before would be a bit too epic for our final route of the day, so we settled on climbing Diedre into Butt Light, the latter being the easier variation of the Squamish Buttress. We got started as the sky grew dark.
Intending to simul-climb the Apron, I set out for the base of the right-facing corner that signals the start of the main portion of Diedre, but, as we would find out later, I actually found the right-facing corner that signifies the start of the main portion of Sickle. We didn’t learn this until a few pitches later, when I was alone in the dark, 30 feet runout above a slung tree and staring at the photo of the topo on my phone. Thankfully, the route we’d wandered on to was 5.9 and not one of those runout 5.11 horror shows the Apron also has. (We’d been wondering why, if we were on the extremely popular Diedre, there was no chalk on the route)
So we finished Sickle and wandered through the woods up to Butt Light. We found the climbing to be quite fun. Even though we’d done the introductory pitches earlier that morning, the darkness and fatigue added another element. The resulting feeling was akin to drifting through space, as muscle memory and confidence blended smoothly with disorientation, darkness, and isolation (without any sinister undertones). We would not be returning at a “reasonable” hour, which meant time was not a concern, and we were free to float in our respective trances. The hardest part of Butt Light is a cool 5.9 section, followed by a 5.8 chimney. Ledge-walking fills in the rest of the climbing. With limited visibility, the only challenge was route-finding, and we topped the route at around 1230am.
We were out of food and water. All that remained was the hike down. This, of course, is when things got kinda funny. Epic, even.
We’d done the hike earlier that day, but Jeremy noticed that the trail continued straight past where we’d scrambled up a via ferrata. “Maybe if we stay to the left, it’ll go around the peak and hook up with the trail lower down.”
So we chatted and hiked along the well-worn trail as it slowly descended. We joked about getting cliffed out, but we were following a highway of a trail…no way it didn’t lead somewhere. After ten minutes or so, having walked this ledge in a downward direction, the trail began to appear more and more faint, almost as if people only walked the first part of the trail. Almost as if lots of people had made the same mistake and turned around. The “trail” grew less obvious at such a gradual rate that neither of us realized that it was no trail at all. Suddenly, we reached a large tree root. Beyond the tree root was darkness. We cursed.
At this point, our options were to A) hike back to the turnoff for the 1st Peak, then hike all the way down to camp or B) rappel into the void, hoping to find a trail or ledge leading to the trail. We really didn’t like option A, and option B was made slightly more attractive by the clear evidence of a previous rappeller (a piece of webbing left tied around the tree root).
We backed up the webbing with a sling and Jeremy bravely descended into the darkness. I could see little but a shrinking circle of light, but I could hear Jeremy alternatively cursing, wrestling with a tangled rope, or discomfortingly saying “I dunno, I don’t see anything…” I began doing some mind math: if he has to prussik up 35 meters, then we have to hike up and then back down, we’ll be in bed by around sunrise… Jeremy descended past something, and I couldn’t see him anymore. All I could hear was the occasional and increasingly faint “I still don’t see anything.”
I thought to myself, this has to work. There’s no way it doesn’t. There isn’t that much mountain, he has to hit something. Then: “Okay, I’m standing on something now. I’m going to go off rappel…”
I held my breath.
“I see a yellow reflector.”
I joined him at the bottom, and let me tell you folks: the rope barely made it. With the knotted ends of the rope in my brake hand, I swung over to the left and plopped down on terra firma. I think we hugged, but I can’t remember exactly. After a quick creek bath at the bottom of the trail, I checked my phone. It was 4am.
Day 30 (Tuesday)- 30 Top 100 Boulder Problems
I had a list for this day. But I didn’t have an early start. Didn’t even hit the boulders until 230pm. Too tired to make any moves earlier than that. As predicted, it was a cumulative beatdown. My whole body was exhausted, likely dehydrated, and depleted. My mind was somewhere orbiting Tralfalmadore, with a million and one little things in the back of it that I’d been neglecting: a backlog of footage; constant guilt for not capturing the moment (whatever that might be); batteries to charge and a campsite we might be getting kicked out of and family I haven’t spoken to in way too long….
As per usual when overwhelmed by life, I went bouldering.
I saved the 5 top 100s closest to camp for the end of the day, and started with Summer Vacation. I’ve done this awesome V0 about 30 times this summer, and it’s a pleasure every time. Then Kristen and Matt joined me for the moderates in the area. Climbing awesome problems with people who haven’t done them is also a pleasure, as you get to share in the psyche you felt the first time you did it.
The sun was getting low and my body still hadn’t warmed up by the time I got through the Easy Chair area classics. Vikki was doing her best to keep my energy up, as I was flagging pretty hard. Besides the general fatigue, the problem with the previous day having taken so much longer than anticipated was the fact that I didn’t have a chance to tell folks about the bouldering, so I had nobody to climb with. Bouldering’s more fun and stoke-inducing when you’ve got friends to share it with. After Trad Killer and Heartbreak Hotel, I was at 20, but doing 10 more meant I’d have to either drive or walk far, and that I was looking at finishing in the dark (again). Vikki was busy making plans to get headlamps and to leave me at a problem to go get the truck to speed things up…and I was done. I mean, seriously done. I was so over it. I didn’t want to climb anything except into bed. I’d proven many times, both in this challenge and in previous days, that I was capable of climbing a large handful of moderates. Most of the problems I would go to were ones I’d done two weeks previous. I didn’t have any desire to subject Vikki to another long night of following a groaning and sweaty me around, and I didn’t want to have to sleep until noon the next day just to be able to pull myself out of bed. I was done. So instead of dragging my poor girlfriend around the forest all night, we met our friend Jeff Blum at Wormworld Cave. It’s a Top 100, and I figured I’d have some fun giving it a shot and helping Jeff with beta. We did some finishing interviews. I had a beer.
Epilogue This was going to be a wrap-up post, but it turned into a blow-by-blow of sorts. I’ll write up a post with my reflections of the overall experience. Having never done a challenge anywhere near this scale, I learned a lot, and hopefully some of it will be useful to others designing their own challenges. Or maybe I’ll find it useful in the future. Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading thus far. A big thanks to you, because you’re why we do this stuff. I have many many more thanks to give to everyone who helped with the challenge, but I’ll save that for next time. Now, I’m going to get back to that giant backlog of media we’ve got…