I tell myself how great I am, how incredible I am, how I am the best around. Nothing’s ever gonna keep me down. I hear the title fight song in Karate Kid when Daniel-son takes on Jonny of Cobra Kai.
I’m standing on my feet. If I shift my weight too much on the Squamish granite, fifty feet of black rock would tumble by me before a bolt arrests my fall. This isn’t Daniel-son’s tournament. This is much more real. I need confidence to take on the runout slab and I search for inspiration. Shannon Falls rages next to me as I step high on one foot, preparing to crane kick on Local Boys Do Good, a 5.11 slab route. This is about balance, this about having no fear, this is about to get ugly.
Seven years ago, I slept under a rock behind the Chief campground. I had no money. I still don’t have any money but I had even less than. I was younger though and able to deal with my severe levels of dirtbagging. Yogurt from the Save-on dumpster, stolen croissants from the store’s bakery and a healthy sampling of the bulk section kept me fed but it was the rock that fueled me. The sweeps of granite on the Apron, the long friction filled slabs and the enormous walls above consumed me for two months. I returned two summers later, spent another summer below the Chief, and then another and then this summer. I wanted to free climb those slabs and then tackle the huge walls.
I’ve never been much of a slab climber. I spent my formative climbing years in Yosemite, scrambling up easy cracks and aiding the harder ones. Though the national park is renowned for its glacier polish and footwork intensive climbing, I never got good at technical rock scrambling. I figured that if I couldn’t stand on my feet, I could stand in my aiders.
My second summer in Squamish, I met Strong Alex. Alex has a propensity for ticking off every climb in an area. The slab routes in Squamish were no exception and I eagerly toproped a dozen 5.11 low angle granite climbs behind him. With the safety of a toprope, I was able to move comfortably on the slabs, taking my technique to a new high point. I fell in love with the friction. My footwork improved and so did my climbing.
This summer, I realized that I needed to work on my weakness even more to become a better climber. Unfortunately, Alex wasn’t around to rope gun for me. He took his finely honed slab climbing to the next level, applying his ability to harder climbs and bigger walls- freeing the intial slabs and tackling the headwalls of the harder climbs. I was far behind him. My enormous fingers can barely be stuffed into the pockets of my fat boy pants. Crimping down on tiny edges and hauling my enormous ass up is not my strong suit. Some guys climb 5.13 off the couch. I’m more of a guy who barely climbs off the couch. I knew that working on my weakness would make me a better climber though. I try to believe though the going gets rough that you gotta hang tough to make it.
My lady friend and I arrived in Canadia a week ago. Though her grand image of Squamish is long crack climbs like the Grand Wall, I managed to trick her into believing that slab climbing is fun and would help her on the steep jamming of the Grand Wall’s Split Pillar pitch. We worked our way through a few introductory slabs, toproping some 5.9 routes on the Upper Malamute, doing the Bulletheads Xenolith Dance (5.10b), and then getting our swerve on the Apron’s White Lightning (5.10c r/x). Shannon Falls’ Local Boys Do Good was taking it to new levels of extreme. Think 5.11 extreme. Think Mountain Dew EXTREME.
I hit the ground. 30 seconds later I hit the ground again. I brush off the soles of my shoe, climb up the precarious first few moves and then deck once more. I untie and prepare to have a hissy-fit. Kim asks to boulder the first few moves, seeing a precarious series of wrinkles that I miss. She cruises to the first bolt, clips it and lowers. My slab climbing rope gun sticked clipped the first bolt for me. I feel like I have Strong Alex with me, only way way cuter. I generously toprope the first twenty five, I mean fifteen, I mean five feet of difficult smearing and tiny pebble mantling. And then I’m on the sharp end. There’s no Strong Alex or Cute Kim to put the rope up for me. There’s only me, my fat fingers and a strong desire to be a better climber than I am. I start stepping.
A few years ago, my lower lumbar was fused. Steel rods and pins are screwed into my lower back significantly decreasing my flexibility. High stepping is virtually impossible for me. Daniel-son was handi-capped when Jonny took out his leg but Daniel-son still won the tournament. I let the steel in my back flex a little. The sweep of unprotected granite fell away. I don’t think about my injury, about the lack of protection or the desperateness of the situation. Instead, I prepare. I prepare for things to get ugly. I prepare for Mr. Miyagi’s crane kick.
My weight shifts. My leg moves. Fight ‘til you drop, never stop, can’t give up, til you reach the top.
I karate kick my foot onto a wrinkle in the stone. I just crane kicked Jonny in the face. Things just got real ugly- I kicked that slab in the face! I laugh at myself, knowing that my climbing is improving. Mr. Miyagi would be proud. My dreams of going from the slabs below the Chief into the enormous walls above are slowly being realized through my improving technique. The triumph will not last. I’m sure another weakness in my climbing will be exposed on the higher, bigger walls. But for the moment I revel in my accomplishment. I hear the sound track. I’m the best around. Nothing’s ever gonna keep me down.