Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Naked Edge, Part II: With Rolo

I was up way too late (12:30 a.m.) on Sunday night and when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I turned it off and decided to rest for just a few more minutes. Then next thing I knew was that it appeared a bit light outside. I had fallen back asleep and don't know how I woke up. I looked at my watch: 6:25 a.m.! I was supposed to be in Eldo at 6:30 a.m. Yikes!

I flew out of bed, grabbed my clothes, ran down stairs grabbed a drink and Poptart and jumped in the car. I sped toward Eldo, watching the clock intently, willing it to move slower. This wasn't just any partner I was meeting. It would be my first time ever climbing with a true climbing legend: Rolando Garibotti! I had met him last year and I had seen him a couple of times since. We talked some via email and the phone and even bouldered once at the Spot, but he didn't know me very well and now his first impression will be that I left him waiting for me in the early hours of the morning. I think it is rude to show up even a minute late when meeting my closest friends and in this situation, I should have been there ten minutes early, waiting for him, and ready to go. I was mortified. You only get one chance at a first impression, as they say, and I just blew it.

I looked at each car coming the other way, hoping that it wouldn’t be Rolo leaving in disgust. I pulled into the lot ten minutes late and there was one car in the lot. The trunk was open and a rack and rope lay draped across it. It was Rolo, ready to go with his harness on. I jumped out, apologizing profusely, as I struggled to get my harness on, bungling it once in my attempts to quick get ready. It was a bit cold and overcast, but Rolo was unfazed about our plans and I didn’t have time to do any rethinking. Before I knew it was we were hiking into the Naked Edge.

Rolo is an Italian born, Argentina-raised, world-class professional climber. He guides full-time, year-round, everywhere in the world. He is the foremost authority on climbing in Patagonia and has climbed there countless seasons since he got within four pitches of the summit of Cerro Torre when he was 17 years old. He is perhaps best known for his incredible, recording breaking time of 6h45m for the Grand Traverse. This is a full 90 minutes faster than the late, great Alex Lowe. How can anyone be that much faster than Alex, you say? Rolo talked about this a bit today. He is so modest that I’d doubt some of this, except that he even more scrupulously honest than he is modest. He claims that Alex made a couple of mistakes that more than cover the time difference and that Alex was definite fitter than he was. Alex didn’t take any water or food. Rolo follows a strict regiment of a GU every forty minutes. He calls it the “GU Police” and when they come calling every forty minutes, like it or not, you down that GU. Rolo also did the entire traverse in sticky rubber approach shoes while Alex did it in regular running shoes while carrying, and switching into and out of, a pair of climbing slippers. Regardless, they are both superhuman.

Rolo also climbed the Infinite Spur on Mt. Foraker in Alaska in a 25-hour push. The previous fastest time on this Alaskan Grade VII, 5.9, 90-degree ice route was seven days! He’s also soloed the Naked Edge a number of times, so he wasn’t here for any challenge. He was here to help me climb the route. Now why would he do that for me? I don’t know, but I’m not asking any questions. Maybe it sort of like a lawyer doing some pro-bono work.

We crossed the bridge a little before 7 a.m. We walked to the base of the Ramp Route at my suggestion. I didn’t want to hold him up any longer than necessary and it provides the quickest access to the Naked Edge. I told him that I’d usually simul-climb up to the base of the Edge, but I figured he wouldn’t be doing any simul-climbing with me, as he had never climbed with me. He suggested two quick pitches and I thought it was a wise choice. He led off up the ramp and around the corner and when the rope came tight I was already moving up.

I climbed up the ramp, around the corner and then up the steep 5.6 hand crack. Once I gained the ramp above, I could see that Rolo had continued clear up to the base of the Naked Edge. Cool. I was simul-climbing with Rolo! Rolo is also famous for bringing short-fixing to Yosemite big wall speed climbing and he and his partners, Aishan Rupp and others, claimed numerous Valley speed records in the early 90’s. He’s climbed the Salathe Wall in nine hours, with no simul-climbing! He climbed the Nose with Rob Slater in just five hours and 48 minutes.

I scampered up the ramp to Rolo feeling very self conscious about looking like a dork or doing anything wrong. He suggested we climb the Naked Edge after an email I sent out describing it as my current project. He just wanted to help me succeed, but I found myself wishing we had chosen a route upon which I was more competent. Alas, it was too late for that. It was time to lead the first pitch. We carried a small rack, but it was quite sufficient, even for me on the pitches I led. We had a single #2 and #3 Camalots, two #1 Camalots, five or six smaller cams and some nuts. We never used the #3 Camalot, which says something about how solid Rolo is on the final pitch, but of course we already knew that: he solos this route.

I climbed up the first 5.10 section to the sloping stance below the final obtuse corner. Rolo pointed out some tricks on this lower section and I tried them out with good results. He also gave me beta on finishing off the upper section before I left the belay. It was to no avail however, as I fell off early! I made a mistake low down and took a fall. I got back on and established myself on the rock. Rolo calls up, “That’s a no-hands rest there, so you can still get a redpoint.” He was just trying to be positive and encouraging and I appreciated the thought. I climbed up, desperately, to the crux section where I placed a marginal blue Alien. I tried Rolo’s trick of reaching out to the arĂȘte, but I had the feet wrong and it seemed so far. I struggled for a bit, searching for something that would work, trying to move my feet up, before I fell off. The blue Alien held and I took a small fall. I got back on and made it to the belay. Rolo followed with style and I watched carefully, hopeful to gleam some secrets. His move out to the arĂȘte looked effortless and I silently vowed to try it again next time.

Rolo led the second pitch and I followed without incident. I led the third pitch up to the ramp below the fourth pitch and Rolo soon joined me. He asked if I wanted him to lead the last two pitches. I hadn’t been on the Edge for two years and had never led the tricky, 11a fourth pitch and here I was with the biggest rope gun in the world. Yet I resisted the temptation and racked for the lead. Rolo prepped me with all the knowledge he had about how he climbs and protects the pitch. I followed his beta and got up to the pin. Enroute I had clipped a couple of fixed pins, placed a bomber .75 Camalot and what I thought was a good RP. I got into a backstepped rest and placed a tight cam in a funky crack off to my left. I then struggled to get up into the chimney and was nearly there when my foot popped and down I came. The funky cam ripped and I bounced off the wall with my shoulder. The rope pulled tight and popped the RP out of the crack because I failed to put a long enough sling on it. Thank god the pin held or I would have hit the ledge. I fell about fifteen feet or so.

I climbed back up, replaced the RP and added a longer sling to it. I then backed up the pin that held my fall with a green Alien and then replaced the funky cam placement, this time with a slightly different piece – a yellow Alien this time. I did the same, funky foot maneuvers, but when I got up to the same position as last time, I immediately pushed back into the chimney. I used a healthy amount of body scumming as I inched precariously up the chimney into I could get a more secure foothold. I stood up and clipped the pin. I backed it up with a small cam and then made the final 5.10 moves out right to the belay.

Rolo followed and racked for the final pitch. He performed the boulder problem off the belay in a very cool, unique manner. He climbed it further to the right than I’d ever seen before. It helps to be tall for this solution. Rolo is just six feet tall, which should put him only a half inch taller than me, but he walks tall. He appears two or three inches taller than me. He makes me want to stand up straighter when I’m around him. He stretched to the right and then back left. He walked up this boulder problem easily. He went up the ramp and ducked under the point and around to the other side of the edge. He calmly waltzed up the very overhanging, burly crux. He even stopped mid-crux to yell down the exact sequence he used. When he finished the difficulties he looked down over the edge and explained it all again. Then he ran up the easy stuff to the end of the route.

I did the boulder problem okay, albeit with lots of effort, but didn’t fall off. I ducked around the point and then proceeded to get absolutely crushed. I just didn’t have the power, strength, technique, endurance, right approach, whatever. I just didn’t have what it took. It was ugly and I eventually stood in a sling. It was a horrible performance, but I must start somewhere. It is hard to imagine me ever leading this pitch clean, but maybe by the twenty time…

We downclimbed the East Slab descent to the trail and were back at the bridge less than three hours after we left it. This is a reflection on Rolo’s speed and certainly not mine, as I fell and hung on every 5.11 pitch. It was a great morning, though, and a thrill to climb with Rolo. Now if I can just borrow his arms…


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