A soft morning greeted me as I turned over in the TOF, hidden back from the road near the Marion Mountain trailhead in the San Jacinto Wilderness. Fog filled the gaps below, a silver ocean lapping against the steep, forested hillsides. Light smoke from early campfires wafted on the breezes as I rolled up my bag and pad and straightened out the seats. The road wound down into Idyllwild, and the local men had gathered in the Red Kettle for coffee and fish stories as I took a table in the back to wait for Steve and Rob to show. Each was right on time, and I unloaded stories of Shasta on Steve over a steaming plate of eggs and sausage and hash browns and coffee. A quick jaunt up the hill brought us to the Devils Slide trailhead, but we headed south instead to the gleaming north face of Tahquitz.
It's a beautiful place: tall trees, lush green undergrowth crowding the tricking streams which, in a month's time, should be gone. Up the talus highway to the base of the face, I gazed at the overlying cracks and slabs and smiled. We geared up, Rob taking the first belay as I shot photos, and Steve glided up the face, gamely looking for the bolts on the route. Hard Lark (5.7) proved even harder to follow, to Steve just looked for what looked like "fun", turning it into "Steve's Aesthetic Route" (or SAR, for short). He would belay both Rob and I simultaneously the whole day, which was at times wonderful -- climbing side by side with someone, testing out different ways of attacking the same moves -- and difficult -- feeling like I was blocking Rob, or dancing around the ropes -- for me. But Rob was a highly calming influence, and since I was in whimper mode (don't really know WHY, it just HAPPENS) I appreciated his good humor and laughter to no end. He and Steve were having a great time up there.
I was also loving being on the rock, but in a much more subdued manner than usual. To be able to look above the trees from the face, hear the wind rushing through their needles, watch clouds shift and dance. This part of climbing is still so new to me that I am not sure how to interpret it. There is an intimacy, a trust, that has to be built between the climber and the rock. Another level of kinesthetic sense that I haven't reached yet. Sending energy and strength to my big toe; knowing the coefficient of friction between the granite and my shoe rubber will hold; the rope goes up. After the third or fourth pitch, tied into the anchor, I sat on a ledge, legs dangling onto the steep slab a few hundred feet over the top of the talus highway. Brow furrowed, I strained to see the trail heading up towards Marion and Jean, watched the clouds starting their encroachment on the ridge.
The rain started at the top of the fifth pitch, two claps of thunder reverberating between the faces and rolling up the canyons. Soon, rivulets poured through the cracks, the slabs made slick, hands cold. Steve led one final time (he led all day), responding to my desperate, "Purple rope, UP!" as I got into my own head again and worried. Rob cracked a funny midway, and I started giggling at last as the top came into view. I guess this part of climbing is, for me, what golf is to others: some days you nail your game, others are a practice in frustration. In the sticky humidity following the storm, we ate a late lunch, then followed the long walk-off back to the waiting trucks as the sun cleared the skies overhead. Rob and I talked of Tuolumne, and I hope we can meet up there for some climbs together. I know the only way I'll ever feel that intimacy is to keep throwing myself on the rock... but delicately.
A few pics from the day:
Rest of the pics are here.
From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard, Be Safe.
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