I hiked up to Dinosaur Rock today with my good friend Bruno. He needed a belayer for his project, Milkbone (5.13a), which he had already been on 19 times. I'd been up there one other time, on a Saturday morning, and it was a zoo, but I was in awe of how strong and skilled Bruno was. I got a chance to go up Milkbone on a toprope and I pulled on every draw and still hung on the rope ten times. I will never come with 4 letter grades of this route. Arthur C. Clarke is famous for the expression "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Well, here's my soon to be famous climbing expression (probably said many times by many others): Any sufficiently hard climb is indistinguishable from impossible." Milkbone is impossible for me. Was it for Bruno?
Clearly not. He'd been making steady progress on it, though I think his best burn still included two hangs on the rope. He tried twice when I was up here before and obviously didn't make it. Today it was cold, which makes climbing extremely difficult for me, with my poor circulation. Heck, my fingers have gotten really cold in the gym before. But the friction is great in these 40-degree temperatures and Bruno's a fuzzy little foreign from up north. His French Canadian accent is so thick sometimes that I can't decipher what he's saying. I just nod and feed out more slack...
Bruno warmed up on Patience Face (12a) and he's been on it so many times he makes it look like a 5.9 cruiser. I'd seen him do this before, but I was still fooled. I knew the cruxes were above and he confirmed this by walking through the opening 5 clips. When I tried to follow this with completely wooden fingers, I was acutely aware of the 5.11 difficulty right out of the gate. Bruno cruised Patience and then traversed over to the anchor atop Milkbone. Here he hauled up a second rope and rapped down Milkbone, placing the draws. Then, while he took a rest, I tried and failed to get up Patience Face. A couple of bolts up it was obvious that my fingers were useless in the cold. It was painful and struggled onward only to get high enough on this traversing route so that Bruno could clean the rest of the draws when he descended from Milkbone.
Bruno lowered me to the ground and I tried to pretend that I didn't climb at all while suffering through the pain of my fingers thawing. Bruno shoed up and started. He cruised through the first two bolts of relatively easy climbing and took a shake at the no-hands rest. This would be the last one until the top. He fired the roof and struggled mightily to get the fourth clip, the toughest on the route. Now he faced the crux moves. He moved up nicely, with exceptional footwork, but just before the "jug", where he could clip the fifth bolt, he pitched off. I gave him a soft catch and lowered him to the ground.
Bruno wasn't discouraged at all. He said, "On this route, you need one go to really set yourself up to pull that hard." He superglued his split fingertip, drank, ate, and rested. Fifteen minutes later, he was ready for attempt number twenty-one.
He moved smoother this time, especially on the fourth clip, which he made much easier. He changed his sequence at the top of the crux section, eliminating a move, and hit the clipping jug. He'd only been clean this high once before. I yelled up encouragement and Bruno took a long time to shake out and recovery. I've been to this hold and it takes all my strength just to hold it. This is not a rest hold for me. It is one of the only holds on the route I can actually use, but no rest for me. Not so for Bruno.
Above lay the second crux and one he'd never climbed through from the ground. He didn't rush, but moved decisively and really bore down at the crux, executing a difficult bump to a better hold. When he clipped the draw above he let out a whoop of joy. I echoed that, but reminded him it wasn't over. The climbing above was at least 11+ and it was still possible to fall off. He remained patient and careful, clipping the last few bolts and then the chains. He'd done it. He screamed his satisfaction. On the ground I almost wept for him. Despite being a relatively minor partner on his project (this was my only belay session), I knew the work he had put into this. It is so satisfying to see someone succeed after a long, hard battle, and more so when it is your friend. And it was made very special for me too, as I got to be a small part of his success.
Bruno still had to clean up the mess I left on Patience Face and then climb back up to the Milkbone anchor and then descend to ground. I wondered how he'd celebrate his success. Would he want a high five or a fist bump? Neither was going to be sufficient for me. I'm a hugger and I was going to hug him. I needn't have worried. As soon as he touched down, we embraced.
There is so much I can learn from Bruno about training, perseverance, footwork, body position, and mental toughness, but there is something more valuable to learn from him. Once someone finishes a big project, they can react in a couple of different ways. They might want to just bask in the glory for awhile, taking a well-earned break. Or, they might immediately start looking at the next project, not satisfied with any limits on what they can do. Either one is a legitimate reaction. Which one did Bruno take? Neither. His first reaction to his great success was, "Now, I can go help Cody on his Seal Rock project!" His next was, "What's your project, Bill? What can I do for you?" After 21 tries on his project, almost before he had untied from the rope, he was thinking, "What can I do for my partners?" And this desire wasn't a quid pro quo, a tit-for-tat. He wasn't repaying a debt. He needn't repay anyone. He just wanted to give.
That's a pretty decent lesson to learn...