The Durance Route starts at the base of the leaning pillar. To get to the pillar you can add a pitch from the southern base, or you can scramble up the north talus field, up a “ramp” to the start of the first pitch. We chose the scrambling option and ended up putting on our climbing shoes half way up. It was a steep, unroped, scramble that left me wondering what I’d gotten myself in to. Fortunately I couldn’t see the drop off so I wasn’t that bothered. Looking up at it from the bottom is the only place to truly appreciate how high the beginning of the climb actually is.
Pitch one is a crack between the leaning pillar and the wall. The pillar started moving in 2005 and has since stabilized. The guide book suggests placing gear in the crack next to the pillar rather than against it to prevent further movement. Pat ignored this. I don’t blame him. The secondary crack was kind of far away, and though well protected, I don’t think he wanted to fall and swing.
Pitch two is a 40 ft parallel crack/offwidth – the crux pitch. Patrick lead and I left my bag to be hauled up. At this point, still full of energy, the whole pitch was an awesome problem to be solved. At one point Pat had yelled “Oh! Handholds!” I found them too, obvious and perfectly placed to give my poor fists a break. I found my rhythm: high step, hand jam, butt scoot, repeat. Two pitons helped the gear on the way up. I almost completely fit inside the crack on the right. There were many chicken wings and my shoulder is still bruised, but it was still fun.
Bill lead the third pitch. This one was short but had an awkward start. Once he figured it out he sent it without trouble. I on the other hand had my typical third pitch freak out. I took me two tries to get settled but I made it up. I’m not sure what the issue is, but it’s recurring. The snacks I carried up definitely helped, though next time I think I’m going to substitute vitamin C tablets for orange juice. More bang for the weight.
The fun part about climbing the tower via this route is the audience. Right below us was the intersection of two paths and a few telescopes. Every time we’d look down there would be a small group of people watching us. At one point Bill waved and got a round of applause. Nothing like getting the celebrity treatment before you’ve actually accomplished anything.
The next pitch has two variations. The “Jump Traverse” where you actually have to jump over a gap, traverse over then climb up 100 ft, or Bailey’s direct variation which takes you up 150 feet to the last set of bolts. We opted for the direct variation. Patrick lead this pitch up and out of sight. For me this was the hardest. I was tired, Patrick couldn’t see me so the rope was too tight. The crack was too big for my hands/arms but too small for all of me, making it hard for an inexperienced crack climber. By the time I reached the top I was burnt out and sketched out. I belayed Bill up the route with my back to the miles of open sky and my eyes steadily fixed to the wall. In short order Bill popped his head over the edge and I cloved him into the anchor.
But I did.
I still can’t believe it.
How many times have you done something you thought you’d never do? Did you finish that project? Or conquer that internal struggle? Learn something hard? Make something incredible? Or have you just not tried.
So what’s stopping you from doing something incredible? Make a plan. Do it with friends. Don’t ever sell yourself short. If I can make it – you can for sure.
What’s your Everest?