I’m working extra hours this summer to take every other Friday off, and this is the first. The extra day makes the weekend into a whole different thing, not just an extra day but a day when few people are out. Ann is interested in learning to place traditional gear, so I suggest we spend the day doing some aid climbing. Bud Gates did this with me at Fossil Falls in the Mojave in 2002, and it taught me more about placing good trad protection than anything else I’ve done. It is an extremely long, tedious process, perfect for a flex Friday.
It’s windy, so we head to the protected and appropriately named Friday’s Recess area on the Nautilus. There are very few people around, but we me meet a couple of guys I recognize from the gym, Al and Jay, on the ever-popular Friday the 13th, 5.10b. This turns out to be to our advantage, though, as they offer to put our rope up for us, saving me the long labor of aiding up myself. I would like to attempt a regular lead of this climb, but I’m not up to it yet, so a free toprope is welcome.
I introduce Ann to the slow process of aiding, which involves hanging and climbing on each piece of gear she places. The climbing is done using loops of webbing for footholds (called etriers or aiders), which on a steep double fall-line crack like Friday the 13th can be as exhausting as a traditional ascent. Her gear is all solid and good, she even laughs with satisfaction when she slots a big sturdy hex. By the time she gets halfway up, though, she’s wiped out. I forget to have her clip the toprope through a piece to prevent swinging, and when she unclips she flies across the recess and into the opposing wall. Nothing serious, she’ll have a bruise from landing on the rack, but it limits my options for a non-aid ascent, as the swing from the bottom of the climb is big enough to be a little dangerous.
My solution is to place gear above me as I climb, taking it out and moving it up as I go. This may be just as strenuous as leading the climb, maybe more. I require several rests on the way up, and by the I reach the anchors I’m completely spent, my hopes to lead this climb someday drained along with my energy. Now that I’ve recovered I can’t help but think that a little more care, control, and technique might see me through, but I’ll need some practice to get there.