Amazingly enough the gate was still open to the parking lot and the day was shaping up into one of the prettiest of the month. Mid-fifties and blue-bird skies. Final route decisions were made in the parking lot. I was thinking something really laid back and in the sun in the 5.6 range. Tim was eyeing something a little more sporty. He picked out Second Stanza. It's a four pitch 5.8+ just past lunch ledge that joins with the final pitch of My Route. Neither of us had done it and failing to see the + after the 5.8 rating and with just a little apprehension I agreed to give it a go. The little voice in my head was having quite the vociferous debate.
"Well you said you needed to get out on unfamiliar terrain and push yourself a little.:
"Yeah but the last climbing I did was back in August and the other night I couldn't even muster a pull-up on the ice tools in the basement."
"Well it's only 5.8 (yes this would come back to bite me) and besides Tim will be leading the crux pitch. The other two pitches were ONLY 5.6 and 5.7 how bad could they be. "
The braver voice won out and we hiked around to the base arriving at the small ledge in good time. My first impression was "steepnesss" wow did that first pitch look steep. At 5.6 I figured I could get my feet wet without too much embarassment. The first pitch was awkward and as I overgripped my way white-knuckled through every move and trying to find a groove I have been out of since I can't remember when, I realized how much I really needed to be doing this. OK so I grabbed a cam to keep from pitching off the awkward mantle but falling on a 5.6 for good style just ain't my thing these days. (It's never been my thang). I finally clawed my way to the nice ledge belay and tried to generate enought spittle to let Tim know that I was off belay after fiddling in a gear anchor. Tims grunts (although I think possibly played up a little to assuage my bruised and shaken ego) were a little satisfying. Eyeing the next pitch while he climbed up to me I knew it was all him.
In fine Henkels style he cruised the pitch which looked even steeper and more intimidating than the one I had just thrutched through as he stemmed wildly into the almost overhanging awkward 5.7 crux. Did I mention the awkwardness of the route. I guess it's been way too long since I've been on something I didn't know like the back of my hand. This is far from the climbing I had done in college when I dreaded repeating routes too many times. As I rallied myself and sketched my way up to Tim the second weaker voice was really screaming now, "I told you we weren't ready for this. Now we're two pitches up on a gear anchor with a 5.8 roof to pull on a rising traverse. LOVELY" I wasn't ready to hit the total panic button yet but my more assured voice trying to reason that it was only one crux move and that I could probably gut my way through it was getting more and more faint. Long lost was the earlier dream of soaking up sun drenched pitches of the kind of laid back climbing I'd become so accustomed and addicted to. Now was the reality of not overly cold yet shaded pitches of steep challenging climbing and a slow growing fear of the unknown (adventure?) Tim kept the banter light hearted and up-beat picking up the slack for my increasing brooding silence. He moved just below the crux got in a couple of pieces and then leaned back to get a nice long look and plan out his moves. Just before setting off he zipped his shoes back to me on one of the free double ropes (now I was really sketched). But then just as quickly he fired through the crux on what appeared to be nice large holds. The silent internal psych-up or psych-out continued as he quickly worked his way throught the rest of the traverse and set up a belay thankfully well within earshot and mostly within view of the entire pitch.
Now there was no back-out. I cleaned the anchor and set off delicately to just below the crux. It was all there. The holds were positive sharp edged and mostly within reach. I cleaned the last piece below the roof and launched up into the sequence only to run out of juice mid reach. I gave it the Klamborowski "College Try" at least half a dozen times before trying to figure out how I could cheat my way out of my predicament. The prussik cord I had over my shoulder was almost as thick as my double ropes and wasn't biting well. There was no piece of gear close enough to grab or clip a sling to aid through and there was nothing available for the pieces of gear that hung from my harness. The only way out was up and with much pulling from Tim I eventually dry humped my way to within reach of the finishing jug. Thank you Tim (Bones) Henkels for getting me into this ha ha ha.
Perhaps if I hadn't overgripped my way through two other pitches I would have had something left for that crux. Perhaps if a million other things had been different. In the end I'm blaming it all on Tim's shoes a full size larger than my own and three quarter high tops that were hanging off my derier through those critical moments for my failure at the crux. Whatever the reason the day was the best possible adventure to be closing out the year with and the company was unbeatable. Tim cheered and pulled and pulled and cheered and pulled some more on those skinny strands until I couldn't not get my big butt up that crux. I gave him a hard time for picking this winning route but secretly I really was thankful that he had chosen it and for the entire experience. It made the final 5.4 BOLTED pitch to the summit of Table Rock all the sweeter. As we coiled rope we even had our very own trail angel. A random hiker at the summit also named Tim gave us a snickers bar which we promplty split and inhailed after coiling ropes. Then after some summit shots in the waning afternoon light we walked lightly down the trail in gorgeous sunlight to the parking lot for some post climb home-brew libations while we sorted gear on the tail-gate.
I couldn't have asked for a better day out catching up with a good friend. Classic NC climbing experience. Pics should be coming soon. Tim has promised to send me his shots. I left my camera in the car and even if I had had it with me would probably never have thought to snap anything except maybe the summit shot. Glad I finally caught up with Tim as his visits are few and relatively far between. He and his wife head back to Quito tomorrow to finish out their contract for this year before finding out there next destination in international teaching. Safe travels to them and hopes that they may find better beer options in Ecuador in the coming year.
Uhmmmmm your lead Tim!
Smiling only after having been levitated through the crux.
You know you're with a true friend when they're laughing "with"you (harder than you're really laughing).
Safe at the belay.