Saturday, April 24, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Masturbation, smoking and drinking. These are what Driller, Napoleon and I-- not necessarily in that order-- are giving up until our route is done. Think of it as climbing Lent.

Of course, that we have made these epic vows hasn't spurred us on to actually DOING anything. Napoleon, incipient yuppie cunt that he is, claims he is in the home stretch of a business or accounting degree, and claims to have put away not only his climbing shoes but also his K-Y jelly, his epic stack of XXX DVDs and of course his pink shotgun.

The Driller, marginally further along the path of yuppie cunthood, is actually employed as an accountant. Now, they say April (just FYI, April is the new March) comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.

The Driller is changing that-- for him, March comes in like a tax return, and goes out like another, even longer, tax return-- but is still confining him to his cube, and iPhone fantasies about actually seeing the sun and touching real rock, not to mention his charming girlfriend.

I am the luckiest of the three of us route-stooges. After a delightful three weeks in Indian Creek and Zion, I came back to a girlfriend, cool job and-- after seeing the residents of Ginger Slack's old house smoking weed and doing trackstands-- vague fantasies about converting my ancient pink-and-yellow Dave Scott into a fixie. In other words, only Spring was on my mind and I was fully vacillating between yuppie cunthood and half-baked hipsterism.

But my Dad got sick, and it rained, and I was seduced into climbing with Sarah Spankofsky, she who for the SECOND time last summer spanked Zombie Roof into new-and-improved 5.13a submission. So basically I have been doing with my route what I have been doing with my fixie bike: fantasising.

So in the meantime, let's visit Indian Creek together, shall we?

I got off the plane in Las Vegas and met The Filth, whose wife had departed for work up north the night before. After one evening doing tequila shots, sucking on strippers' toes and getting into fights with Las Vegas' finest, The Filth spent the day cruising around Vegas, trying to not spend $400 to replace his muffler, which, trying to find free camping in the Grand Canyon and high-centering his ancient Subie, he had ripped off and then tied back on with baling wire. Perhaps, he reasoned, some down-and-out Mexican would weld the thing back on, which is what happened for $40. After cramming my 5 cubic feet of gear into the 3 cubic feet available, The Filth grinned as the Subie rumbled to life-- and I mean that literally; the car shook and made a massive, Transformer-sized sound somewhere between a ripping beer fart and a schoolbus being crushed into recycling. You know you're a dirtbag when you're totally psyched that your car starts.

Since we had a six-hour drive to Moab, we bought 12 beers, and by the time we pulled off the 191 into a mud pit, the howling sideways wind and rain were barely noticeable. We woke the next morning to more of the same, and luckily hadn't driven 30 feet further along the gravel track, where a diahrea-like spew of brown flashflood would have made life miserable for the poor Subie.

We provisioned in Moab and headed out to the Creek, where we found camping under the Jacks. Now I am not going to bore you even more than I already am with a blow-by-blow of the next 2.5 weeks, so I will just include a few highlights and pictures.

On the way in, fantasising about an epic Zion day doing The Big Lebowski, The Filth proposed that we have a Half-Dome day: 20 pitches. That would get us in shape for T.B.L.

First, this is what getting into the Jacks was like. We were horrified. However, on our first day off, we consulted a mechanic in Moab about the muffler, which sounded every day more and more like one of those Hummers that the Indo-Canadian Surrey drug-dealers or the Langley pot-growers drive-- fart-canned. The mechanic said that the three inches of mud caked onto the car were actually holding the muffler in place.

Now, sometimes the weather was wonderful.

At other times, we huddled under a tarp that The Filth had gotten from Dickfinger. Yes, that's right: while in J-Tree, The Filth had run into a former fat-kid and now incipient hardman, had a few snow-day drinking sessions and had become climbing buddies with him, and ended up re-naming him Dickfinger.


"Cos he's got a finger shaped like a dick. Industrial accident."

Well, thank Christ for Dickfinger's tarp, because after our first day of getting shit-kicked by Creek Cracks-- the old adage, "5.10 is HARD in the Creek" proved true-- we started getting shit-kicked by the weather. Luckily we managed to drink whiskey, cook beans and talk shit about the endless parade of Coloradan SUVs that paraded in and out of the Jacks. I am always flabberghasted that people complain about how much they have to work, and how little time they have to climb, and here they are, driving $40,000 trucks. The Filth, on the other hand, has it right: he drives a $2,000 beater, and, in the last 18 months, has worked precisely zero days.

So here is The Filth, in the Hole:

Other days were picture-perfect for climbing, like the day we went back to SuperCrowd crag and did some classics. First, The Filth did Supercrack:

We then ran into the unlikeliest of things: a pair of French trad climbers. One of them led Fingers in a Lightsocket. His buddy then led it on his gear, and fell, ripping his third-to-last piece. After many, many attempts, he got to the top. I tried it next.

"You bring ze black Alien" said the Frenchie, which I did, and inserted into the crux, and then fell off, ripping the fucking thing and scaring myself shitless.

We did the usual thing on days off-- fixing the car in grocery-store parking lots, enjoying the views, drinking.

One day a blonde showed up in a truck, her late-teen son in tow.
"You got any big stuff?" she asked.
"Sure do," I said, and we both laughed.
This was Sybille Hechtel, who in 1973, at the tender age of what must have been 14 or so, did the first all-girl ascent of El Cap.
The Filth was unwilling to lend her big gear, and her son said "MOM! Can't we take the day off? I'm TIRED!" and then told us that he'd been climbing (read: leading all pitches for Mom) for four days straight.
But the same grit that got her up El Cap got The Filth and I digging our #6s out of the bin, and she drove off, shushing her son.

On our last night, our neighbours, a pair of bluegrass-playing college students from Colorado, showed up at our fire with two banjos, a keg and a mission. It being in Utah illegal for anybody other than a licensed drinking establishment to have a keg, the Coloradans were breaking the law by schlepping a bi silver keg full of brown ale around.

"We gotta get rid of this!" said George.

"I'm not getting wrecked," said The Filth, "we gotta drive to Zion tomorrow, and rack for our aid route."

Two hours later, all thoughts of Zion had disappeared as a new mission had appeared: kegstands! This involves inverting yourself and drinking beer out of the keg.

I don't remember much of the evening: I know that there was a blonde named Chelsea, who only giggled, and there was bluegrass being played, and that there were a couple of super straight-laced Coloradans who were not amenable to trash talk, and that The Filth did hs usual with me, which is to throw me to the ground in preparation for anal sex, which I, like a corporate wife or a high-end hooker, deny him, in order to maintain his interest, and that the Filth decided-- "in what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity"-- he would learn to play the banjo, and that there was absolutely no alcohol or firewood left the next morning when we crawled out of our tents and into mind-numbing epic hangovers.

We then drove to Zion, where we tried Lunar Ecstasy (V,5.10+, C2). Now this is what I learned about aid climbing.

Well first there is the business of racking. Aid climbing is not like cragging, where you can go and have a bite between burns. Your entire life, from eating and climbing to sleeping and shitting, has to be packed into a haulbag. This proves surprisingly complicated and long:

I also learned that...

a) I will never be an aid climber.

b) It is THE SLOWEST activity that you can still reasonably call a sport. Aid climbing makes golf look like Formula One.

c) Other than, say, invading Iraq, or keeping track of 300,000,000 social insurance numbers, aid climbing is the most amount of clusterfucking that one could possibly attempt.

d) The only thing less comfortable than a portaledge to sleep on would be a cell in Guantanamo, or perhaps a toilet in Abu Ghraib.

e) Free-climbing C2 without offset DMMs is heart-attack material. At one point, I was quite literally screaming at the top of my lungs with fear, before I slammed in a cam and, shaking and whimpering, lowered off, past ten pieces that, when The Filth aided up them, blew, one by one, when he bounce-tested them. I felt "better" after that-- a fall would have broken legs, and likely worse, so retreat was not merely the act of a wuss but also logical.

We ended up being so slow that we only did the first 4 pitches before realising that we were in way over our heads (no offsets = major fear and big falls). So the Filth led the first of the A2 pitches-- 3 hours for 25 meters-- and we bailed. Here's some pics:

This looks like a huge clusterfuck, but it's actually a well-organised belay, set up to not only keep The Filth from dying as he seconds, but to haul the alcohol up to us.

And here The Filth leads some C2+, without offsets, making things scary.

Anyway. The trip ended with getting some presents for the Girl and her girls, and no trip to the US would be complete without a cop encounter. I was pulled over in Utah and the cop said "in Utah, you must signal for at least two seconds before making a lane change." Which really obviously means "this car is such a piece of shit that you guys must be meth dealers or Mexicans." Anyway, he didn't charge us with Driving While Poor and we made it to 13 Mile in Vegas, where Tony and Hannah had saved us a spot. This is them in the A.M., off to do Cloud Tower.

On our last day, we snuck into A Casino, got into the pool, where I underwater-shaved and we enjoyed stunning views of The Pool Attendant Girls. I went back to Vancouver, while The Filth hightailed it back to Zion. And now I await Driller and Napoleon's return to the new-route arena, where we have a couple of lion cubs to slay, and then the Chief to challenge.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Climbing, or having babies?

So yesterday I got out with my oldest and dearest climbing partner, Bones, the man who taught me how to ice-climb, multi-pitch and take a crap while wearing full winter gear. I was happy to be out of the city, and we fully busted out the politically incorrect shit-talk. No women present and all.

But, since we are both in LTRs, we are talking about babies.

"I can't imagine anything cooler than having a kid," said Bones.

"Hard trad climbing," I said.

"Yeah, climbing is pretty awesome" gushed Bones

"Ok but, climbing can kill you. You can't die from fucking."

We laughed for awhile, and then did a few more routes at the weirdly-utterly-deserted-on-a-perfect-day Penny Lane crag.

At the end of the day, I started up Crime of the Century and got my ass handed to me. Bones and I were laughing about me being as weak as a pre-coffee Napoleon, or a post-Friday Driller, or just me in my natural state, no similes necessary, he mentioned how at least one young Squamish trad climber (and there are many) who shall remain unnamed recently soloed Crime (5.11b) while totally loaded. Young people in bars get beer goggles at closing time, when pretty much every sexual option looks perfect, and climbers apparently get beer goggles too. Except that Crime, whether or not you are well-oiled, is awesome. Even if you woke up the morning after, hung to the gills, you would roll over, look at it, and want to jump right back on it.

We also ran into King Can Al at the base of Crime. Now, this man is legendary in Squamish. Of a Saturday, you will (and I mean WILL) find him cruising around the Bluffs or the Apron, with three things in his hands: shoes, smokes and King cans. He will pull up to a crag, crack one, light up, and then freesolo something.

It's often hard to tell what offends people more: that a climber is smoking and drinking beer at the crag, or that he is freesoloing. I have seen people quite literally freak out when seeing somebody solo-- "HEY MAN! TIE IN! I'LL THROW YOU A ROPE! DON'T DO IT!"-- this sort of thing is standard. But this is NOTHING compared to smoking or, God forbid, having a beer. People take climbing VERY seriously. Which, after even a moment's realisation, is ridiculous. What are you accomplishing when you climb? Well, it's fun, or thrilling, or challenging, or whatever...but you are most certainly not making the world a better place, or helping the poor, or alleviating suffering, yadda yadda yadda. Let's face it, we climbers are selfish thrill-seeking bastards, often with massive egos (which I would have if only I climbed better), and our sport, while kinda cool, is ultimately silly.

OK, fair enough, if there are children at the crag, you might want to lay off discussing Sensitive Topics, like anal sex with animals, or how the poor are responsible for fucking up their own lives, or who is responsible for the recent economic meltdown. But other than that...

Anyway, sorry, I could see immediately that all was not well with Al. He had beer and smokes and shoes, but no chalk, and then he told us-- four days earlier, he'd take a 55-footer off Penny Lane (5.9) while soloing. On his way down, he fell backwards until he was upside down, but then hit his shoulder just above the fingercrack mini-dihedral, which rotated him just enough to land him basically flat on his back. He got four broken ribs, a broken clavicle, some kind of muscle injury in his shoulder, and his bell rung pretty good.

Al chatted away. The poor guy not only wasn't gonna be climbing for awhile, but cos he sounded like a broken record. Classic symptoms of head trauma include short-term memory issues, and it seemed like Al had to repeat things two or three times to make sure he'd remembered them. He ambled off. I wondered about the accident. He's been climbing forever and he's probably soloed Penny Lane a couple of hundred times. Had he been boozing? Was it wet? Was he distracted? Did a foothold break?

So, yeah. Babies. Free-soloing. Beer. Falling. As dusk fell we walked down the trail. I was happy for a great day with a great partner, and oddly glad when my phone beeped, and it was a text from my girlfriend, and I was able to answer.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I spotted him across the room. He was wearing a harness, and bouldering, and so was I. We were both climbing single. Our eyes met, and locked, they way they do in Filipino romance novels, or gay bath-houses. Next thing you know, we were roped together.

Let's call him "Pavel," from Czech Republic. No "the." Pavel was in Canada, visiting his brother, and had come to the gym, expecting to find something like the scene at his local ba-- I mean, home crag: fifty people who were all equally psyched to be getting sweaty and sore together. But Pavel met with the usual "do I even know you?" stares, this either because it was Vancouver, or because he was wearing a very tight, bright pink wifebeater and striped Spandex tights. Since this was before the appearance of hipsters, poor Pavel enjoyed neither ironic nor genuine acclaim, and rather dejectedly bouldered away, wondering why none of the groups of three wanted to rope up with him.

After we had a couple of burns on my 5.3 project-- burns which were as scary as they were difficult, since I had to be careful to not fall off the crux and onto the children's birthday party below--Pavel said

"I have for you present" and disappeared into the locker room. He reappeared with two enormous bottles of Urquel and inserted one into his mouth to remove the cap.

"Hey!" I said, brushing aside a couple of eight year-olds, "you can't do that here!"

"Why not? Is problem?"

"Yea, it's Canada, you can't drink beer here. Sorry Pavel."

"Is strange. In Czech Republic, we drink beer in climbing gym, always."

Pavel, smile drooping somewhat, returned the beers to his pack, and I thought I'd console him with an invite to climb in Squamish, which he hadn't yet visited.

Two days later, we stood at the base of The Bottom Line, two pitches of bolted 10a that lead to Deirdre 5.7.

I had a harness, rope, rack and waterbottle. Pavel had a thirty-litre pack, out of which he pulled a rack that had Cyrillic lettering, metal slings and totally random sizes of nuts and what looked vaguely like cams.

"Thees equipment from Russia. I can get for you. Very good price," said Pavel, fondling what looked like an Alien that appeared to work backward. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with my eyes or brain. It seemed like there was something missing from this cam, or perhaps it was designed to work in reverse gravity environments.

"You want to buy?" asked Pavel.

"No, but thanks."

"Why not? Is problem?"

Pavel jumped on the first pitch and hung on the first bolt, gasping. I got worried. Pavel had told me some stories about climbing sandstone in Czech Republic, from which I got three main points:

a) there is almost no gear
b) what gear there is, is either crap, or pieces of tat, wadded into balls, and crammed into shallow cracks.
c) the climbing is so scary you need to be well-lubed to be successful.

I thought, "ok, the guy climbs that, he must be a hardman," a thought process that gumby me used to regularly engage in with anybody who climbed harder than me, which was to say, everybody. But not only was Pavel having trouble with the moves, his pack was enormous. ONE of us was going to have to lead these slab moves, and the other was going to have to haul the monster. Pavel lowered down and pulled out a bottle of Urquel from the pack.


"In Czech Republic, we climb one pitch, we drink one beer, always. Is problem?"

He handed the lead off to me, lit a smoke, and I set off up the route. On the third or so pitch of Deirdre-- oddly deserted-- he tried to lead again, with his rack of alien Aliens and weird Friends, but downclimbed back to the safety of smokes and beer. By the time we reached the top, the pack was six bottles lighter, and there was singing in Czech at the other end of the rope.

As we sat on Broadway and pulled our shoes on, Pavel fired an empty bottle down the Apron. Lovely rink-a-tink-tink turned into a CRASH and a "FUUUUUCK" from far below.

"Hey!" I said, "you can't do that here."

"Why not? I should not leave bottle here to make litter. Is problem?"

We made our way down, and, as was my wont even before Napoleon stepped on the scene, hoochies screaming, we went for a coffee. Pavel swayed in the coffee-shop lineup, and when we got to the barista, he pulled out a cigarette, and said

"Please one beer."

"Uhh, we don't serve beer, and you can't smoke in here, sir" said the girl.

"Why not? Is problem?"

As we drove home, I asked Pavel how he'd liked his stay in Canada.

"Is very nice, Canada," he said, "very clean, pretty. In Czech Republic, we drink one beer, smoke one cigarette for one pitch, always. But here, you must put bottle in pack, and you cannot drink, and you must smoke only in outside, this makes pollute of outside. I do not understand Canada and beer. I think is problem."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We're BACK!

Like Led Zeppelin said, it's been a long time, a long lonely (x5) time!

I have set up a hit counter and it astonishes me that there are often as many as 200 people with nothing better to do than to read this blog. So therefore I will only temporarily disappoint the .00000065% of the Internet who reads this, and tell you that, yes, I have material coming out of my ass (no, not THAT kind of material-- this is GOOD shit) and yes I will publish some of it soon. For those of you who are bored shitless, there are buttloads of good porn sites, discussion sites, etc, to tide you over while Gumbies Off Blog dithers-- feel free to email or post your suggestions.

So stay tuned. Coming up-- hair sponsorships, dirtbag style, The Vow Of Abstinence, another trip to the Creek, some old stories, and, oh yeah, we will eventually be getting back onto our route. So tie up your helper monkeys, feed your cat some cheese slices, check out American Idol, buff them pipes, buy a pair of tighter pants (a fashion dictum that for the first time in about fifty years applies to both men and women) and bust out those musty ropes and's Spring!