Absolutely Free

There are some people in the world who can pursue something with an intense focus and determination that is amazing to watch. One guy that I met last month confessed that climbing was his whole life. He does other things only so far as they permit him to go on climbing, and thinking about climbing. I'm not like that. Maybe my brain just gets restless, or I haven't found that one passionate thing that I can devote myself to utterly. At any rate, when Tom left for Michigan, I thought that it would be nice to take a break from climbing for a while and do some reading, some drawing and other non-climbing activities that having been itching in the back of my mind for some time. Oddly, that is not at all how it worked out.The day after Tom left (Saturday) I met up with Yuji, Kenji and Kosuke and top-roped Bircheff-Williams. On Sunday, I got an unexpected phone call from Gianluca in the afternoon and ended up climbing Central Pillar of Frenzy with his friend, Adan. On Monday I turned down two different invitations to do either Braille Book or E. Buttress of Middle Cathedral. On Tuesday I had a relaxed day of aid practice with Doug, having made plans to climb the West Face of Leaning Tower with him on Thursday and Friday, and on Wednesday Adan (53K returned to the Valley and we set off to find the Center Route in an area called Absolutely Free on Lower Brother. Some break from climbing.

I'd never been climbing on the Lower Brother, much less in the Absolutely Free area, so I guess that bears mentioning. There is certainly a thrill of discovery about going to a new place. The route itself is nice. This (52K splitter crack on the third pitch starts out with a move of fingers, to tight hands, and is probably the most aesthetic pitch of the climb, but the other pitches are clean, interesting climbing. The fifth guidebook pitch, in particular, looks like it might be grueling squeeze chimneying, but consistently surprised me with alternatives to stuffing myself into the crack and wriggling like a stuck Santa. The views from the climb were also spectacular – the Merced river is huge right now, flooding huge regions of the Valley and turning it into mosquito heaven, and I hadn't seen the Valley from this angle before.

The trouble with the climb is what you have to do to get to it, and to get down from it. The approach and descent are steep, exposed, loose and dirty. At one point on the approach I stopped and asked Adan to throw me a rope. The moves were too insecure and dirty, and the consequences too dire to risk a fall. I'm proud that I did it all calmly though, if not exactly happily. A few years ago, I'm sure that I would have been nearly hysterical and in tears, if I'd managed to do it at all. One of the skills that I am learning through climbing is how to walk in the mountains. Someday it will be interesting to go back to one of the descents that had reduced me to tears, like the descent from Baxter's Pinnacle in the Tetons, to see what it looks like now that I have more experience.