By Mark Anderson
The alarm sounds. I scramble to shut it off before I wake the kids. I grab my bolt kit and slink out of the house into the eerie darkness. After 45 minutes of driving I shoulder my bulging Crag Pack and trudge through the brush. My knees aren’t what they once were, and I wonder if these sacks stuffed with steel bolts, hammers, drills, batteries and rope have something to do with that. I bushwhack up the endless slope until I finally pull up at the lip of the cliff. Dawn is just tickling the tips of the Indian Peaks off to the west, and suddenly, its worth it.
I sling my 70 around a solid block and chuck it into the void. El Cap, Temple, Denali, The Totem Pole—and yet somehow I’ve never gotten used to that first step over the lip when my full frame finally falls firmly onto my harness. The loneliness makes it worse, and yet I wouldn’t want it any other way. I lower down the wall, always scanning for possibilities. Today’s itinerary is pre-determined though—no time for the whack and dangle shenanigans of the weekend. I have to drain my two batteries, slam in 30-some bolts, and get to work ASAP. Sure, that means no shower, sitting through staff meetings with a thin film of rock dust covering my body, but its worth it.
I arrive at the desired altitude and set to work. Insert the drill bit, lower my sunglasses, and drill, baby drill. Blow out the dust and hope the wind is sufficient to push it away. Nope, right back into my face it goes. In this game, you have to pick the right moments to inhale. Swap out the bit, grab a pair of bolts from the sack and hammer away. Wrench, tighten, lower to the next spot. Now that I’m under the roof I can’t reach the rock, so I embark on an awkward display of aerial acrobatics, hook-in-hand, groping for some purchase. I snatch the lip of a recessed flake and place my hook, precariously lowering my load onto it. PING! The acrobatics resume. Finally I get a tipped out came in a shallow groove—just enough to lean back and bite the drill into the grainy stone. A few more bolts like this and my abs, back, and shoulders are totally wrecked, but its worth it.
The wall ends in a slab, where the bolts go in fast and easy. Jug like mad, back to the top, then down again to repeat this exercise ten feet to the left. Jug like mad, back to the top again, then another ten feet further left, and so on until my second battery sputters to a halt, just a few inches too-shallow for the last bolt of the fourth route. Goddamnit! Now I have to come back to this same spot next week to put in one more lousy bolt. Shoulda bolted the anchor last. Oh well, it’s worth it.
Jug like mad, haul the rope up, buttefly coil as fast as you can, shove it all back in the pack, then down I go—this is what really wrecks the knees. At least I don’t have the weight of the bolts on the way down. Jump in the car and push the speed limit all the way to work, driving with my knee, changing clothes and combing what’s left of my hair as I go—don’t try this at home, kids. My work day is only beginning, and yet I feel like I just crossed the finish line. Running on fumes, I have to plow through a mountain of emails and get psyched for three hours of meetings. At least its worth it.
And just what is it worth, exactly? Will anyone ever climb these routes? If so, will they enjoy them? Will next year’s guidebook author doom them to the trash-heap of 1-star obscurity, saving the best ratings for his own creations? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. I don’t consider this philanthropy or community service. I’m doing it because I like it. I like to explore, to lay my hands on a piece of stone un-fondled by previous climbers. As much as it sucks–and it certainly sucks–I stil love it: the work, the dust, the wasted days when hoped-for crags don’t pan out, the exhaustion at the end of a well-used day. I will climb these routes, and I will enjoy them. I will enjoy them with a small handful of close friends, without the blare of some hipster’s tinny dub-step from a nearby iPhone. That makes it worth it. It provides a sense of purpose, and a sense of fulfillment in my climbing at times when such things are hard to come by. Maybe someday some other loner will discover the fruits of my labor and enjoy them as well. Hopefully, but either way, its worth it.