Royal Arches, Regular Route

By: Bruce Bindner | Climbers: Bruce Bindner (solo) |Trip Dates: June, 1997

Photo: Gary Clark

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The valley is an endless sunlit chasm far below. I cower on a muddy, grassy hummock in the middle of a smooth slab and briefly consider my options. Far away, nearly halfway down the wall, is a team working on the pendulum/5.9. Waiting for them to catch up and lead this final pitch of the climb may take up to four hours. Another option is to bail from the climb. But, remembering the water after the pendulum, I reconsider, and look again at the 80 feet of slab between me and the beckoning forest at the rim.

The penji pitch should have provided warning. After the pendulumn, the supposed-4th-class traverse was in the middle of a waterfall. The clear, shockingly cold water splashed over my arms as I clawed beneath the current for holds. My climbing shoes quickly filled with water. Each move was a struggle both against gravity, and against the atrociously poor adhesion that the streaming sheets of liquid provided.

Eighty feet: Eighty feet between where I stand, and an easy stroll down the descent.

5.4? 5.6?

The rock here is coated with a thin veneer of running water. Each rugosity of the smooth slab, every wrinkle and rough spot, has provided a substrate for scum and algae growth. The south-facing exposure of this slab has provided sunlight, the minerals from the water draining over the rim have provided nourishment, and the result is a surface similar in quality and appearance to a playground slide coated with rancid bacon grease.

The third option is one on which I do not dwell. Imagination all-to-vividly provides a stop-motion strobe-lit image of a body accelerating down the slick rock, hurtling out into space, out of control, all options gone, forever, ruining the afternoon for everyone on the climb below me.

Chalk hands. Oh-so-carefully lift each foot, dry the sole of each Kaukulator, chalk the rubber, replace the foot on the slime-covered rock.

Left foot moves. Focused attention to the minutiae. Scrape a hold with wet high-tech rubber to clear off the slick algae. Lift the foot, carefully balancing, and cake chalk onto the sole. Transfer chalk to the hold. The result is a hold that, for 30 seconds or so until water creeps back into its territory, will support my terrified being above the hungry sunlit void as I scrape the next hold and chalk, pants getting too muddy to dry the shoes palms slicking across the greasy granite sunlit space stop-motion-strobe-lit- imagedon'tthinkaboutthat…

Dry stretch of rock, with an accomodating wrinkle. Halfway there. Ahead is a thin undercling flake and more wet rock, (but less algae,) the forest closer than ever before, individual grains of soil visible; chest clenched in a giant fist, relax, breathe, no mistakes now...

I step down on to the dirt and pine needles of the forest floor, and sob and laugh. Take another deep breath, walk up to the spring and get a drink. Look back over the slab, turn my back, and start the descent, tucking climbing shoes and chalkbag into the daypack. Casual.

Notes: Account of the last 80 feet of a solo of Royal Arches Route in wet conditions. Round trip time from car: 3 hours.

Editor's Note: The author is a Major Contributor to the North American Classics project.