The first time I ever led trad was about a year ago. I got a crash course in placing nuts right before. My friend mumbled some stuff to me, patted me on the back, and headed up the pitch with another friend. I would meet them up there. I nervously adjusted the sling containing the alpine draws and nuts. I thumbed through all the cams and started to climb.
My first piece was a nut, right off the deck. My second piece was another nut, perfectly slotted into a constriction right before a lieback. I didn’t trust it. I don’t know why. I was afraid of kicking it out. I froze. And then I lowered off it, too unsure of myself and my abilities to continue. The pitch was a 5.4 on low angle slab.
Since then, I’ve followed and top-roped a bunch of stuff. I took an intro to trad all day intensive clinic at Red Rock Rendezvous. I even led a few things up to 5.6, with lots of coaxing. But all of those were with a rope gun, someone with more mental fortitude than me. I’m a wuss.
Luckily (or unluckily) my rope gun as of late has been out of commission due to responsibilities like school, leaving me to fend for myself on the weekend. Not wanting to waste precious days with Tioga Road still open, I called up my friend, Joe, to see if he’d want to follow me up a bunch of stuff in Tuolumne.
After our little epic on Cathedral Peak a few months, I was surprised that he was super psyched and still willing head out with me. Off we went to Yosemite for a weekend. The objective was to climb all the routes we could before hightailing it back to the Bay Area.
Day one, things didn’t quite go as planned. I’d managed to lose my wallet so we spent a good chunk of the morning sorting through the car and through gear. After it didn’t turn up, we headed to Dozier Dome. The last time I was there was when I had the world’s worst cold. I couldn’t remember where we parked, what the approach was, nothing.
Finding the damn rock was half the battle. When we got there though, we had the base to ourselves. No lines or anything! I racked up for Holdless Horror, which I’d followed previously.
Holdless Horror was anything but. The route followed a wide crack that you could wedge your body into or delicately stem around. It was an intricate balance of trusting my feet and trusting my jams. Gear placements were plentiful and I even managed to not sew the whole thing up, running out a few sections on the “money” pitch.
Standing and fumbling with my gear was more terrifying than just going. I didn’t remember much from the last time I did it other than mistakenly soloing the first pitch; it felt like an entirely new route. At the top, I managed to get LTE and about a million fraud alerts about my credit cards. I spent the last bit of good daylight trying to cancel them all.
Sunday was Zee Tree on Pywiack Dome! While Holdless Horror had been a breeze, I was anxious and nervous about the last pitch of Zee Tree. It looked a little bit wide, wider than my fist for sure. It looked a little steep, no low angle slab here. Since most of the climbing was on friction slab, I’d kept my rack to a minimum: a set of nuts, singles of .3-2, and two 3s and one 4.
I hoped I brought enough. Aside from the first and last two pitches, Zee Tree was all bolted face climbing. I let Joe take the lead on those to help calm my nerves. Then it was my turn. Two bolts and easy slab led to anchor below the corner. I brought Joe up and then turned my attention back to the last pitch.
It was beautiful. It was intimidating. It looked pretty short. There was nowhere to go but up. My first piece was a nut. It was useless, but it was more for the mental factor than anything. I pulled myself over the bush and into the crack. It was now or never on this unknown terrain.
My first piece in was the 3. It wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t terrible but it gave me the confidence to keep moving. One jam at a time. Inhale, exhale. One foot in the crack, one foot on the face. Another jam, another deep breath. My #4 went in; it was bomber, and then I was at the top of crack and the top of the dome. My hands shook. My legs shook.
I wanted to throw up. I needed to pee. It wasn’t even close to the hardest thing I’d climbed, crack or otherwise. But mentally, it was a battle, not one I could back down from. I was the rope gun. I had to do it. And I came out victorious. The psych was high.
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