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The Fivefingers Climbing Experiment

by Emily Gindle » on Dec 05, 2010 0

Ah, Cochise season. Psyched for a full day of backcountry climbing, we loaded the car, tossing in packs, rope, harnesses, gear, and a little summit pack with a couple liters of water, a camera, and snacks. We stopped for burritos on our way out of town, as is the ritual, and drove down the highway, carefully dousing our breakfast with salsa while listening to This American Life. I love Wednesdays.

(One more boon to wearing Fivefingers for travel: they’re ideal if you’re the kind of restless person who likes to sit cross-legged in the car seat, or put your feet on the dash, or any number of seating configurations which may or may not be annoying to the driver.)

At the last minute we picked a couple of multi-pitch routes on the Out of Towners dome, which I had never been to and Logan had only visited once a few years ago. The east side of Cochise Stronghold is beautiful, a mountain range of small but steep canyons and ridges with tall granite domes speckling the mountainsides like scattered marbles. We parked and hiked through the classic Chihuahuan desert, grassland and stunted oaks and sharp agaves, blazed through the nonexistent trail that, like all climber trails, goes straight up as fast as possible, and found ourselves at the base of the steep and somewhat blank dome.

Most lines in Cochise are really aesthetic, following cracks or sweeping laybacks or big open dihedrals. The Out of Towners dome is mostly blank. While it’s not quite as exciting to look at, this kind of slab climbing is magical to me: with nothing straightforward to hold on to, and with your feet balancing on tiny, millimeter-wide edges or cupping slight bulges, the conclusion one must come to is that supernatural forces are what keeps the climber on the rock. The first rule of slab climbing is you do not think about slab climbing. The moment you get nervous, you peel off.

Logan is roped up and ready to go when we check the route description so we know how to get off the top of this massive rock. There are two methods to getting down: a heinous and lengthy walk off the top or a double-rope rappel. We only have one rope. The twins are resting in the closet at home. Good thing we have our Fivefingers and headlamps, the essentials for the trek back.

So Logan’s about to get on the rock when I reach back on my harness to check my climbing shoes, and they’re not there. My heart sinks. In our haste and disarray, my climbing shoes were shoved under the car seat and subsequently forgotten.

In my classic unfaltering optimism, I assume that climbing in my Fivefingers on top rope can’t be so hard; sure I might slip sometimes but if I’m always following I can’t fall that far. So I play around at the bottom of the rock for a little bit, just trying to traverse around the slab at the start. It’s not easy. The rubber sole that’s rounded around each toe won’t let me bite into any micro edges. My toes are strong enough to cup little divots in the rock, but this is pretty exhausting to my feet and calves, and every move requires probably double the body tension than it usually does. It’s the angle of my feet, really: in order to get more contact with the rock, I’m trying to turn my toes up more steeply, which means I can’t pull as tightly into the wall, which means I’ll need good handholds, and on this route that’s not going to happen. This route is all about disappearing hands and feet.

There’s no waffling allowed on this route. Once you start it, you have to get to the top; there’s no way to bail. I would have been willing to try a pitch and maybe more, but I wasn’t willing to commit to 500 feet of trepidation, waiting for my round chubby toes wrapped in their non-sticky rubber to give way. I think about climbing barefoot, but the gritty granite will tear up my babied soles. We realize it’s time to head to other adventures.

The hike down is actually really fun, with a lot of stopping and scrambling and exploring the jumble of rocks piled in the canyon. When we get back to town, we decide to go to a CrossFit class, where my Fivefingers are put to use sprinting and doing box jumps and Olympic lifts. It’s a shoe you can perform with in almost any activity, except those that require some sticky friction and a square edge. Sorry Fivefingers, but sometimes I still need my climbing shoes.


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