To see my video of this climb, click here!
The first time I climbed ancient art, I watched a party begin aid-climbing on Cottontail, a tower directly across the gully. I had climbed four pitches and summited before they reached their first belay-station. “That looks so boring” I thought, “Why are they moving so slowly?”
As winter rolls in, everyone seems to roll out of my town. Moab seems almost crowded in the warm seasons, but around December , when the days shorten and snow falls, I start to run out of partners.
The male: female ratio is weighted toward males in any season, but in the cold months I start to feel like a rare bird, and since both of my Vertigirls teammates left town I’ve been doing a lot of projects with….. men.
So, Instead of hanging around at the belay, begging for the sharp end, I decided to try some aid-soloing. There’s a funny little unnamed route up a chimney between The King Fisher and Lizard Head Rock. I had never aided before, but it seemed easy. You just use your ladders to climb from bolt to bolt right?
Wrong. For my first aid-solo, I chose a second ascent, unlisted climb, a mile from the road and thirty miles from cell reception. Maybe not the safest decision, but I had watched my partner Andy Lewis establish the route for a highline earlier in the week, so I was pretty sure I could make it.
The system I have figured out for Aid-soloing is to anchor my rope to the first two bolts with a knot, then run the rope through a gri-gri at my waist and leave the free end hanging, with all the slack stacked in a haul-bag at the bottom. As I climb I run the rope through my gri-gri, protect at every third bolt or so, and pull in slack when I get scared (which is about every two minutes).
The Gri Gri is cool because I know it will catch me eventually, even if I’m upside-down or both of my arms somehow fall off. What I don’t like is the way the weight of the excess rope can pull itself through the device, short-roping you even after you’ve given yourself slack to climb.
This happened three or four times on the route, every time it switched from aid, to even the shortest section of free-climbing I had to hang a sling around my neck and use it to pull the gri-gri arm as I took both hands completely off the route to feed rope through the stupidly safe device.
Despite needing three hands for the gri-gri, everything pretty much went okay. I found aid climbing to be scarier than it looks, which makes sense because you move at a snails pace, linking bolts. I shot some of the most boring footage ever, and I still can’t figure out how something so slow can feel so awesome. The project took me two days and I felt like I was racing the whole time!
The feeling of summiting, by myself is unmatched by anything I’ve ever experienced in the past. I could see to the parking lot, and there were no cars besides my own, nobody around me for ten miles at least. The sky had cleared completely and sun was shining on the white snow, which always makes the rocks look vivid, alien-planet red.
I couldn’t believe I had made it all the way up here on my own, or that it had taken so long and been so painful. Every knuckle I have was skinned, my mouth was full of dirt, and I was physically exhausted, but as I looked out at the rest of the Fishers I couldn’t help counting how many towers I have left to solo this season J