I'm finally home in Tahoe after two long months of hectic travel, the last month of which I spent in Morocco for a film project with Sender Films for this year's Reel Rock Tour.
I recounted the details of our epic 24-hour mission on The North Face site here. In a nutshell, Hazel and I tried to free climb a route called Babel, a 2800ft big wall. It is difficult and technical climbing, and we wanted to do it in a day. After it was all said and done, I am really proud of our effort. We gave it hell, everything we had, and never once gave up on the idea that we were going to make it to the top and walk off, no matter how slow or tired we were.
The day looked a little like this: We woke up at 3:30 a.m. to begin our climb. We forced down some food and caffeine and hiked an hour and a half to the base of the route and began climbing at 6 a.m., just after first light.
The first half of the wall is characterized by difficult technical slab climbing (less than vertical) - very few holds, spaced protection, and little room for error when it comes to balance and technique. We climbed slowly because we had no idea where the holds were and there was no chalk on the wall because no climbers had been up there recently. It was the ultimate unknown challenge - just a 2800 ft blank wall before us. We climbed slowly through the first 1000 feet of rock. I fell at the very end while trying to climb the hardest 7c+ (13a) section. After 150 feet of battling I failed, slipping off in a zone where no holds seemed to be (there were, I just wasn't finding them). I let out a heartbroken scream followed by a few sobs. I was already feeling tired and my skin was thin. We had far too much climbing left to keep moving so slowly. Hazel followed me up we continued to push, higher and higher.
We climbed onto a steeper terrain, replacing less than vertical technical climbing with more physical overhanging sections of rock. The change in angle was welcoming for our skin and toes, which were aching from the small holds below, but now the physical tiredness was setting in and our arms began to suffer. We finally reached one of the easiest of the sections. I was looking forward to this pitch, to moving quickly on easy terrain. I offered to climb first and set off, motivated by the possibility of gaining some height and letting my mind and body rest for a bit. I was so, so wrong. I soon discovered that the nearly 200 foot section had only three pieces of protection. The climbing was confusing and there were bushes and loose rocks intermingled among the solid stone. I finally committed to the long distances but arrived at the belay on a massive ledge with my confidence shattered and nerves fried. My mind and body were wrecked. I couldn't think straight. It was nearly 7 p.m. already. We had five sections of hard climbing left and only one hour of daylight.
It was still my turn to climb first and I faced a hard climbing above. Hazel offered to go first and I said no. I wanted to turn it around. I focused and set off. I ignored the long distance between protection, committed to the small holds that had begun to feel like razor blades, and just kept moving up in the fading light. I reached the anchors with a renewed attitude and psyche. But it was short lived. Hazel followed and then took over leading. Now it was dark and freezing cold. I shivered and tried to be supportive as she quested up the next section in the dark. Three times she broke a hold and came flying off the wall - a fit of frustrating screams and cursing. She kept trying again though, and eventually succeeded. The last headwall yet again it did not let us take our guards down. This time it was so dark and cold I could barely move or talk. I watched Hazel climb higher and higher without finding any protection or solid gear. I followed up, feeling weird and shaky and desperately wanting to stand on horizontal ground after nearly 15 hours on the wall. When I reached the belay Hazel expressed that she felt it was too dark and we were too cold and tired to safely continue on Babel. We opted to walk along the ledge until we reached an easier gulley we had previously scrambled up when we climbed another route on the same wall the week before.
We quickly climbed up the gulley, reaching the top at 10:30 p.m. - 16 1/2 hours after leaving the ground!!! Relief melted through me. We had reached the end. We were stoked with our effort. It wasn't over though. We still had to walk back down to Taghia. The hike is usually about three hours, but this time it took us five. We got horribly lost trying to find the trail that leads down through the cliff band. My headlamp died and Hazel's was weak so we relied on the moonlight to guide us. We eventually found the right path after several failed attempts and a few conversations about whether or not to just try and sleep until daylight when we would be able to see better. We stumbled into the gîte at 3:30 a.m. - 24 hours after we left it to set out on our journey.
I woke up the next morning with a deep ache in every muscle and joint in my body. The skin on my finger tips was so tender I could barely dress myself without wincing, and my hands were so sore they wouldn't close into a fist. It felt glorious. There's a certain blissful exhaustion that comes with completing such a journey, a joy in pushing oneself to the absolute max, feeling totally spent and empty. It's cathartic and invigorating.
Now I'm back home in Tahoe, looking forward to the next journey!!!