Climbing with Lurking Fear
Planning to climb a big wall made me feel scared and unprepared for several month in advance. What if I can’t keep up with my partners? What If I hold everyone back and must bail on one of the pitches. Originally, Leslie, Jeannie and I planned to climb the Salathe Wall on El Capitan. But the unprotected chimney pitches caused a distrust in our abilities for all of us.
After climbing for three weeks in the valley we decided to climb Lurking Fear. For me this was my first time aid climbing a big wall and a good fit to learn and practice my skills. Lurking Fear is known for being a more beginner climb with its 19 pitches and the V 5.6 C2+ grading. Our timing was not the greatest and after a rainy weekend, parties from different starting days packed up the climb. When we came to fix two pitches and haul our water around 2 pm, there were 5 parties visible climbing and one party waiting to climb.
The first day passed slowly while passing one party and sitting in hanging belays for 8 pitches. We had some splitter C1 pitches but the hanging in the harness got all of us pretty tired. I thought I would finish the day with a C1 offwidth pitch. Never felt a climb so slow and never-ending. I bumped two #4 cams for 80 feet until I could leave another piece of gear. It was terrifying. The climb traumatized me by being exposed and only depending on those two #4 cams, that would surely not fail and had to be placed thoughtfully. I guess I was nerve racked when I finally got to (another hanging) belay. Once Jeannie and Leslie followed up, we got the haulbags stuck at the very bottom. Time passed and it got dark. I was getting terrified of climbing in the dark. With headlamps and exhaustion, I couldn’t trust mine or my partners judgments anymore. Especially with rope work. Leslie offered to take the lead and began a quest to find a bivy spot that was off route and supposed to be a traverse. She passed a bivy with two boys that did not want to share their bivy with us at all.
At this point I was so overwhelmed and tired with the darkness, that I just wanted her to come down and set up a bivy on the naked wall. Poor Leslie was confident enough to find a better bivy spot and pushed together with Jeannie the decision to move on. And turned out to be the right decision. Jeannie and Leslie had been following at this point and felt more energized than I did. We ate dinner at midnight and witnessed the controlled burns in the valley. It felt unreal to see the valley floor burning while we were sleeping high up on the wall. I was so tired and worried. Worried about not being able to continue climb the next morning because I was so fatigue. Leslie and Jeannie shared the tiredness, but once we packed up camp, we all felt energized enough to continue moving. I was surprised by the transformation of my body from exhaustion to normal climbing ability. We were immediately reminded of the popularity of this route.
The two boys (26 and 17) were still in camp when we rapped down to them, to get back on route. I waited at the bivy and watched the whole scene of three pitches. Once Jeannie almost finished her pitch, a speed party showed up and started to climb right on her gear. They were passing the boys and us (they were boys of course too). At some point the leader started talking about a rope on route and Jeannie asked very politely “are you talking to me?” It is hard in those moments to not get a feeling of ignorance and disrespect from climbers like him. I can’t tell how women usually behave since I barely pass women in the mountains. But men have the very typical attitude of pushing their own ego for any cost. We do not have a problem if they are faster, actually I was quite amazed by it, but we expect respect and empathy for anybody else on the wall.
The day went well, and we arrived in daylight at an incredible bivy that we had to ourselves. It was a medium-sized platform with caves building up along the ledge. We went to bed early and gave our bodies the rest that they deserved. Up to this point the climb was already adventurous enough but sometimes fate just has a little extra for you. Jeannie and I row-sham-bowed for the last two (free climbable) pitches and Jeannie won. We all were very excited to get to the top so early. On this pitch we left a cam a little off route and I was not able to clean it as an aide follower. Leslie and I sat comfortably on one of the spare ledges on this route and she belayed. Jeannie started climbing up a 5.3 and followed our direction to lower from a piece to clean the left cam.
So, Leslie is to the left of me, we are sitting with slack in our PAS and the haulbags are hanging on the steep wall to the right. Suddenly Jeannie’s piece blows while she is lowering off. She falls 60 feet into space below us. Leslie gets pushed to the right, into me and the rope wraps over my harness. The grigri and our ankers held. Once we realized what happened, we were unable to get out of our tangled position. Jeannie, who was fortunately fine, and had to jumar up the line that was strangling us. We fixed another line and Jeannie switched lines. We were released from the weight.
The event gave me enough time to think about what was happening and if we were all going to rip off the wall. First thing I noticed was Leslie’s arms that were wrapped in between our harnesses. Second thing was the pain in my leg that I felt immediately. Once we were all back on the ledge again, my leg pain continued, and I fed myself with some pain killers. Luckily, we sent a message to my spouse Akio that I got hurt and we might need some help. I think Jeannie was still in shock and just started working up the route. Leslie was probably the most conscious one and pushed me to contact Akio and took the communication over at some point. I wasn’t sure how bad my leg was, but quickly realized that I couldn’t really climb with it. I dragged my leg over the rock or used my knee instead of my foot.
Leslie and Jeannie worked hard to get me safely up and to haul up the bags on the slow slabs. I took more painkillers and after two more fixed lines we finally arrived at the top. Daniel ran up to us and built a sharp contrast with his naked upper body to the suffering we had endured. I took more painkillers and started the descent with our crew. Without them I would have lost all motivation to endure the pain to walk. Every hour or so, I needed a break and the tears and frustration overwhelmed me. Once the pain settled in my body, I lost my confidence in my ability to do easy rappelling or steeper steps. After slow 8 hours we all made it back to the parking lot. Leslie discovered an open wound on her forearm on top of the formation and Jeannie hit the harness so hard that a back pain started following her. Other than that, we were lucky to not been injured more.
I still couldn’t have asked for a better experience climbing with these two women. We believed in each other’s abilities. I knew that this was exhausting and hard for me. But it was an exhaustion and difficulty that I didn’t give any judgement to. It wasn’t because of my personal weakness or inability; it was hard because it was hard! With men, I compare myself a lot and put myself in a bad light. As if what they can achieve, I will never be able to achieve. Climbing with those two women made me feel closer to my personal climbing. We all have different climbing abilities, but we all show our emotions and share our thoughts about our perceptions on the wall. This made me feel like a climber more than ever before.