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Barefooting in The Wasteland

by Emily Gindle » on Dec 20, 2010 0

Have you ever read T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land? I “read” it in college, which is to say that I ran my eyes over every word several times while nary a one sank in. It’s beautiful certainly, and epic, and travels a long landscape of emotions, but even with a copy of Cliff’s Notes, a class discussion, and a sit down with my teacher, the poem was still wholly confusing to me. (My teacher gave me a B in that class just to be nice.)

So I found myself lucky to be the middle climber of a three-person party when we decided to scale a route of the same name. Being the middle climber means I don’t have to do the hard stuff; I get to climb the whole route on top rope while the guys on either side of me swing leads. It’s kind of like taking a graduate level poetry class and your teacher giving you a B just for being there.

The route winds around as much as the Eliot poem, running up into a chimney, pulling some sticky, unprotected moves to step off the chimney block onto the face, dead-ending at a big sweeping roof, and then taking a pitch to go left to the very end of it and then another pitch back right over the top. It’s beautiful. Much of the orange rock is covered in alien-green lichen. There are big blank slabs and beautiful blocky roofs, and huge sections of rock covered in big eroded plates. The whole route is a gorgeous wonderland of all these different granite dimensions, and from everywhere you can look off the rock to the quiet rugged canyon below, dropping down in a jumble of trees and exposed rock, and beyond that, ranch land that fades from orange to purple on the horizon.

On a summit that’s only a bit bigger than a kiddie pool, all three of us changed into our Fivefingers. Chris, the latest convert, still likes his stiff-toed boots but finally caved in to the harness-packable size and lightness of the Vibrams, and we all sigh audibly when we get our cramped climbing shoes off and spread our toes, preparing for the long descent that some people call the hardest part of the climb.

First, a rappel down a gully and then an easy but treacherous-looking scramble down a ridge along the dome that looks out to a tumbling landslide into the drainage below. Another rappel off a tree, another scramble down the broken ridge. Four more rappels to go. This hike in climbing shoes would be excruciating, but boots or trail runners would make me feel clumsy in this crumbling canyon. It’s nice to have more contact with the ground, to grip the sides of boulders with my toes so I don’t go sliding off into the abyss.

We make a rhythm of the first person rappelling carrying the extra rope, reaching the ground and continuing on to find the next rappel while the rest of us follow and pull the first rope. In this way we leapfrog our way to back to the base and our packs, while Chris changes into his boots and Logan and I leave our Fivefingers on for the hike out. Time and practice has made our feet tougher, stronger, our balance better, our awareness acute, and while Chris still picks over the pieces of fallen down cliff sides, we can now take it in stride.

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