I've done a few climbing routes (Yellow Spur, Bastille Crack, First Flatiron, etc.) so many times that I've asserted, jokingly, that I could climb them blindfolded. Of course I wasn't serious and it was only an indication of how well I knew these routes. I knew each hold, each foot placement, and the exact sequences of moves. But seeing someone climb a route that they don't know, without sight, is something altogether different.
|Erik and Connor just above the first-pitch roof|
I teamed up with these two to climb the Yellow Spur. I met Connor earlier this year when a small group of us Minions scrambled by him and his buddy on the First Flatiron. He knew of the Minions and we got to talking and he amazingly remembered that I knew Erik, as we'd done one bike ride about five years ago (on his tandem). I'd been hooked up with Erik via our mutual friend Hans Florine, but after that one outing we fell out of touch. Connor got us back together.
|Connor Koch at the top of the third pitch|
Watching Erik hike along a very technical, rocky trail, coated in ice made me wonder if he's truly blind. I said as much to him and he came clean. He can see, but will only admit to it until after he retires from climbing, kayaking, bullet catching, etc. He knows he had good thing going. Erik taps along with his trekking poles faster than any of the tourists in Eldo. He didn't trip. He didn't fall. He didn't stumble. I think I did all three.
Erik isn't perfect though. He has terrible fear of heights. He only climbs because of the huge advantage he has of not being able to see. Think of all those poor acrophobic sighted people. Probably potential world-class climbers like Erik, if it wasn't for their damn eyes. Sure, one could use a blindfold, but they'd undoubtedly be hounded by cries of cheating, akin to those from using oxygen on Everest.
|Erik belaying Connor on the fourth pitch|
Indeed Erik does figure things out. He never asks for help to do anything. He know exactly where all his gear is and how to use it all. When we stopped to spike up, he peeled off the pack, reached directly into his pack, pulled out the spikes, felt around for their orientation, pulled them on and had his pack back on practically before I did. Gearing up, we just hand him the end of the rope and he ties in. He cleans gear, anchors at belays, sets up and rappels without any assistance, pulls the rope, coils, etc.
While he never asks for help and hardly ever needs it, he is appreciative of any information you give him. He never says, "I don't need help." Never says, "I can do it on my own." He doesn't need to assert his independence. When you've done what he's done (he kayaked the Grand Canyon and the film made about this just won the Grand Prize at the Banff Film Festival), you don't need to tell anyone what you can do. Instead, he's thankful and appreciative. He makes you feel good for helping him. When I climbed with him on one pitch, I gave as much direction as I could (frequently getting his rights and lefts reversed), but his speed of climbing seemed independent of my instructions. When I paused to clean a piece of gear, he'd climb up into me. If he doesn't get any hints about the terrain, he just keeps climbing. It might take longer to search out a solution, but I never heard him once ask for a tip.
We climbed with two 70-meter ropes. That's one giant potential mess and it motivated me to belay only at ledges. I led the first pitch, which is incredibly circuitous. It goes like this: up twenty feet to a roof, traverse 90-degrees to the left underneath it to some jugs, then turn 90-degrees again to go up, above the roof turn 90-degrees back to the right and traverse the lip, then up 45 degrees to the belay at a tree. Pulling almost 500 feet of rope up that was arduous, but watching Erik cruise the burly 5.9 roof with minimal vocal help from Conner made it seem fun.
|Connor and Erik climbing the last pitch.|
I led a short pitch to the top of the wall, intersecting the arete descent from the top of T1 (where the Yellow Spur ends) and immediately descended left to the notch and the rappel anchor there. From there we did a 70-meter rappel back to the Red Ledge, then traversed north on the Red Ledge to the bolted rappel anchors at the top of the second pitch of the Dirty Deed. Another rappel here (less than 60 meters) put us back on the ground, just as it got dark.
What a great mini-adventure with two incredible people. We hit it off well, but I think these two would get along with anyone. They are just so positive, so pleasant, and so very capable. We vowed to return and start a bit earlier in order to complete the entire Yellow Spur. I'm going to talk them climbing with a hundred foot rope and do a bit of simul-climbing, if necessary. I suspect that won't bother Erik in the slightest.