Thanksgiving in the Vertical World

December 9, 2014

Related Topics: Athletes, Holidays

Why eat only pie and turkey for Thanksgiving when you could enjoy that fine meal with a healthy serving of pain!?! That wasn’t exactly our plan when Jewell and I drove south for some Thanksgiving rock climbing in Zion National Park. But, 22 hours into Thanksgiving Day as we topped out on the overhanging and aptly named Streaked Wall, pain was certainly what we had feasted upon.

 

Thanksgiving under the stars in Zion National Park.

Thanksgiving under the stars in Zion National Park.

 

But first, the actual dinner: from Rubicon Ledge the imposing red, orange, and black Streaked Wall rises nearly 1500 feet. To get to Rubicon Ledge one has to navigate steep desert brush, loose soil, and three pitches of 5.8, before reaping the benefits of the fine bivy and scenic Zion canyon vista. After enduring horrendous bushwhacking and sandy post-holing, and three pitches of hauling in the dark, my sweety and I sat down for our holiday dinner. The roasted chicken (because small turkeys aren’t an option) melted off the bone, the mashed potatoes that we’d hauled up the cliff could have used gravy but were still delicious, and the apple pie was naturally mouth watering. Rinsed with some Elijah Craig bourbon, our day-before-Thanksgiving-meal was nothing short of luxury desert dining.

 

Cleaning up, sorting PROBARs and getting ready to climb.

Cleaning up, sorting PROBARs and getting ready to climb.

 

Thanksgiving day warmed us in our sleeping bags as the sun illuminated the huge wall over our heads. Oh no, we’d slept in! After wolfing down our Oatmeal Raisin Meal Bar we hurriedly packed our haul bag and started climbing. Aid climbing is notoriously slow going and with short early winter days, we knew we were getting into trouble just a few pitches off the ground. Jewell led the second pitch of her block, hammering knife blade thin pitons into the tiny seam, and I dug my headlamp out of the haul bag. It was getting dark and we weren’t even halfway up the strenuous big wall. I offered to my sweetheart the first of my many apologies, “Jewell, I’m so sorry I didn’t bring a portaledge, I think this is going to be a long one.”

 

Starting up pitch 1 with a long way to go.

Starting up pitch 1 with a long way to go.

 

With her lovely smile and frequently expressed compassionate understanding for my sandbagging underestimates of the adventures we pursue together, Jewell, summoned her best, “No problem Kyle. Can you hand me the rack so I can start climbing?”

I lost count of how many PROBAR Bolt and Bite’s we ate while climbing through the night, but the bulging mass of empty wrappers in my pocket was a good indicator. I led another difficult pitch of thin nailing and tiny hook moves in shallow pockets on soft sandstone. The glow of our headlamps illuminated each move and the dark abyss below our feet was a scary indicator of the direction a leader would fall should a protection piece fail. “How is it that they never get old?” I said to Jewell while munching on a Chocolate Cherry Cashew Bite at one belay exchange sometime around 3am. “I know,” she responded, “it’s like comfort food with good ingredients.”

 

Jewell cleaning the final pitch after 22 hours on the Streaked Wall

 

Topping out on a big wall is a magical moment. Harnesses can finally be removed, peeing on your climbing partner is no longer a hazard, and lying on the flat ground feels welcomed after so much time suspended in the vertical world. As I mantled over the last move on the final pitch the first rays of sunshine hit my back. “Off belay!” I yelled to Jewell as she promptly clipped her jumars to the rope and removed the gear from the last pitch. The hard work was over and so was Thanksgiving. We passed out in the morning sun, exhausted from the day’s feast.

 

Summit. Nap time.

Summit. Nap time.